A year ago, if you wanted to start a new business in Ontario, you went to an office of the Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations and filled out some forms. A few weeks later, if luck was with you, you’d get word by mail that you were registered. Today, you can surf to a ministry Web site, fill in an online form, and be registered in about 20 minutes. Not only does the new process save registrants time, it also eliminates paper and reduces work for staff.
This is but one example of the new high-tech, self-service face of the Ontario government.
The province is undertaking a massive overhaul of IT use and management, designed to make government more responsive, efficient and cost effective.
Soon the people of Ontario will be able to apply online for a master business license, equivalent to a SIN number for companies. And eventually they may even be able to pay their corporate taxes online. If they don’t have a computer or Internet account, they can always go to an Ontario Business Connects terminal in a local mall or public building. Plans call for over 100 of these ‘workstations’ across the province.
One of the key strategists for this ambitious renovation program is Scott Campbell, a career civil servant who is currently Assistant Deputy Minister (ADM) for the Services Branch of Management Board Secretariat, the government department responsible for provisioning the public service and establishing rules of management.
Campbell is a business manager first, not a technologist. “I don’t have a BSc, I didn’t take Computer Science at university, so I’m not a techie in that sense,” he says. But with 25 years of government service, spread over 12 positions in seven ministries, what he has is a wealth of experience. And he’s been involved in managing IT since the early 1980s.
“Information technology is important to the day-to-day running of the business of government,” Campbell says. “But if we are going to fundamentally change how we do business as a government, we need to have a much greater IT capacity. And that meant, for starters, that we needed a strategy.”
The strategy initiative, which Campbell helped guide as chair of the project steering committee, took nine months, concluding in January 1998. Coopers & Lybrand (now PricewaterhouseCoopers) provided consulting services. The resulting document was approved in March.
The strategy lays out a radically new management structure, provides a plan to develop a technology architecture and build common enterprise infrastructure, and establishes a commitment to press ahead with specific key business initiatives such as Ontario Business Connects.
NEW MANAGEMENT STRUCTURE
In the past, despite the presence of Management Board with its central provisioning responsibilities, management of IT was vested mainly in the ministries. Under the new strategy, it will be split between the ministries and a new corporate CIO’s office within Management Board.
“Technology is an enabler, a driver of change,” Campbell says. “It’s not technology for technology’s sake. So we believe what you need is a judicious blend of people who really understand technology and can make it work, and people who know the business directions of the government, who can translate those directions into technology needs and manage the overall process.”
Ontario’s new CIO (unnamed, as of press time) will have responsibility for one of the largest IT enterprises in the country: 47,000 seats – basically PCs – and an annual budget of $600 million and rising.
Given both the importance of IT for day-to-day business and the pivotal role it will play in transforming the delivery of services, reducing the overall IT budget was not in the cards, even though many initiatives called for in the strategy will result in significant cost savings. Spending in fact will rise over the next few years, but not as fast as it would have without the strategy, Campbell says.
“What we are going to be doing as a result of implementing the strategy is spending that money more wisely and getting more value for it,” he says.
The new corporate management group that will help co-ordinate and manage IT spending includes six other key positions – the equivalent of vice presidents – all reporting to the CIO. Those positions include: IT strategy, development, service delivery, Year 2000, IT procurement, and human resources and change management.
“The reason for that latter position,” notes Campbell, “is that we believe there is a significant amount of work to do around changing the mindset of how people work in the IT community in the Ontario public service.”
SEVEN BUSINESS CLUSTERS
The radical part of the new management structure is the grouping of government ministries into seven ‘business clusters’ for IT management purposes. One such cluster, for example, is the Justice group which includes the Ministries of the Attorney General (courts), Solicitor General (police), and Correctional Services (prisons).
Each cluster will have a CIO who will take direction from line deputy ministers on establishing business requirements for each ministry, but from the new corporate CIO on how they actually fulfill those requirements. They will have to adhere to all the corporate CIO office’s policies and standards. For example, a cluster CIO cannot decide to establish a new wide area network for his cluster or one of his ministries and then go out and spend $5 million on bandwidth on his own. “The corporate CIO is already out there buying tens of millions of dollars of bandwidth,” Campbell points out. “And bandwidth pricing is very volume-sensitive.”
Centralization – not of business decision-making but of IT decision-making – is the essence of many of the changes the new strategy will bring. The strategy also lays out a plan to build common infrastructure, some of which is a long way in the future, and some of which has already begun.
TOWARDS STANDARDIZED DESKTOPS
A standardized desktop is one of the first items on the agenda. This is not a single configuration – although a limited number of configurations will be specified. Nor does it denote a single manufacturer of PCs – the government already has several manufacturers of record, including Dell, Compaq, IBM and Toshiba. They will remain.
The standardized desktop initiative is in part about finding a single source for leasing and other related services such as configuration, installation, maintenance and asset tracking. “We now want to go to a uniform strategy of leasing, with a full refresh cycle every two or three years,” Campbell explains. “Before, about fifty per cent of PCs were owned and fifty per cent were leased.”
While having a single source should reduce per-unit costs and simplify management, selecting the source by public tender is a complex and expensive process. “We want to have a process that’s fair, open and objective,” Campbell says. “But we also want to have a process that gets us the highest value for the least price.”
He expects the RFP to be on the street this month and the contract to be let by summer. In the running are companies such as MFP Financial, GE Capital, SHL Systemhouse, IBM and others.
The other main aspect of standardizing the desktop is selecting a standard office suite; currently about 65 per cent use Microsoft, and 35 per cent Corel/WordPerfect. Management Board will not attempt to impose one suite on all ministries – that would be too traumatic. But business clusters will have to select one or the other, and they will have to do rigorous version control.
Reducing the number of versions in use will reduce support costs, as most private companies have long since recognized. Indeed, many of the initiatives taken as part of the government’s overhaul of IT emulate current best practices in industry.
RETHINKING THE HELP DESK
One area that’s in for an overhaul as a result of the new IT strategy is the Help Desk. Currently, individual ministries and units provide support to their organizations. The government believes it can save money and provide better service by centralizing the Help Desk function and possibly outsourcing it. The question is: how will it do it?
“Do we do it by cluster or do we do it for the government as a whole? Is it in effect a virtual Help Desk? Are there certain things that go to one central Help Desk and other things that don’t – and so on. There are probably as many models as you can think of,” says Campbell.
The government has hired consultants to sort through the options and make recommendations. It hopes to settle on a model by the end of the first quarter and begin implementing later this year.
THE PRICE OF CARROTS
Figuring out how to move ahead on many of the new strategic initiatives is an expensive process. That is part of the reason Management Board approved spending another $110 million over three years, beyond the annual IT budget, to help implement the strategy.
The special fund has three uses. Some of it will be spent on boosting salaries of IT executives, who were too easy a target for corporate headhunters. Some will be spent on consulting fees for projects such as the common Help Desk and standardized desktop. Some will be used to provide financial incentives to ministries to follow the new rules of governance for IT – carrots to go with the stick.
“We want people to move to a particular office automation suite, to use standard PC configurations and so on, and this is a whole lot of work for them,” Campbell explains. So Management Board will, for example, pay the first year’s lease on standard-configuration PCs from the new lessor of record to encourage a ministry to get on the right track. After that, it’s on its own.
Some of the common infrastructure initiatives, including some big ones that will ultimately save the government significant sums of money, are further off. Tendering for a centrally managed integrated voice-data-multimedia network won’t begin for another 18 months, for example. “It’s a huge project,” Campbell says.
Today, there is a maze of unintegrated ministry-level and enterprise networks. The government outsources some services and manages other network infrastructure itself. Now it’s looking to outsource to the telcos management of one big network.
Other initiatives such as a standardized application development environment, and information integration – basically a data warehouse that will eliminate the need to duplicate information in every ministry – are lower priority.
One other key common infrastructure plank that is already beginning to be implemented is end-to-end security. It’s extremely important because of the government’s intention to move to electronic self-service models for providing services to the general public and businesses. Campbell foresees a time when citizens will be able to go online to update address information in their driver’s license record, for example – or possibly some master record shared by all ministries in the future. But clearly connections will have to be secure and users carefully authenticated.
An important step in creating end-to-end security was the signing of a one-year provisional contract with Entrust, the Ottawa-based Nortel spin-off, to supply public key infrastructure (PKI) technology and services.
The Entrust technology will be piloted in a couple of interesting applications. One involves equipping 1,000 social workers attached to Children’s Aid Societies with PKI keys that will let them access a central registry of child abuse offenders from anywhere in the province and update it.
In the past, if offenders moved from one jurisdiction to another, officials would lose sight of them and miss tell-tale patterns of reported abuse. “Now, having one registry and everybody having secure access to it, it certainly helps in tracking the repeat offenders,” Campbell says.
The Ontario Provincial Police will also use PKI for secure e-mail, and a team within the corporate IT group will kick the technology’s tires. If it stands up, the government will sign a five-year contract and begin using the technology extensively.
Campbell even envisions a time when every citizen will have a set of PKI keys – possibly on a smartcard – and use it for a whole range of interactions with government.
‘THREE-LEGGED STOOL’ AGENDA
While the strategic common infrastructure initiatives are vital to the long-term objectives of making government more responsive, efficient and cost effective, they are only part of the current information and IT agenda. Campbell compares the agenda to a three-legged stool. The other two legs are Year 2000 remediation and “business priorities” – major service delivery initiatives such as Ontario Business Connects and Integrated Justice.
“If you don’t work on all three legs simultaneously,” says Campbell, “you’ll end up with one leg longer than the other, and the stool will fall over.”
Integrated Justice, a joint project of the three ministries comprising the new Justice business cluster, is one of the most ambitious of the service delivery initiatives. It’s slated to be completed over the next four years.
When complete, the various parts of the system – police, courts, crown attorneys, corrections, probation, parole – will share common standards, systems and data. And major new systems will make almost every aspect of the process more efficient.
For example, when police make an arrest and charge a suspect today, they have to go back to the station and enter the information more than once on different forms and systems. Then when a case goes to a Crown attorney, the same data has to be entered all over again – and again when it moves to Corrections, and so on.
Under integrated Justice, police will enter basic information about a case or incident once, probably on a mobile data terminal right in their squad cars. All other forms, for all other parts of the justice system, will be generated automatically from that original data. This will save time, freeing police officers, for example, to spend more time fighting crime. It will also reduce errors. And judges, prosecutors, court and corrections staff will be able to call up information the moment they need it, instead of waiting for forms to arrive as they do today.
Consolidating data on criminal cases is just one of several initiatives. Another is electronic filing of court documents related to civil cases – already undergoing pilot testing in Toronto – which will streamline the currently unwieldy process of trying civil suits.
Campbell is also enthusiastic about Land Information Ontario, a project of the Ministry of Natural Resources. It will help achieve a key government objective of making Ontario an easier place for businesses to set up and operate.
“Conceptually this is very simple to explain,” Campbell says, “but it’s incredibly powerful for us as a government.”
At the heart of Land Information Ontario is a highly integrated geographical information system (GIS) that will allow users to search for and access a broad range of data about land and property in the province.
For example, by locating a known parcel of land on a map, a company could find out “every single piece of information we have on our public files about it” – how it’s zoned, its value, ownership, related environmental issues, mineral deposits, proximity to major highways, and on and on.
“It will enable us to make better use of our economic resources,” Campbell says. “And we believe it can give a really significant competitive advantage to industry.”
The CIO’s office is overseeing eight of these major service delivery initiatives altogether, albeit from a distance in some cases. Coupled with the common infrastructure initiatives and an ongoing IT operation budgeted at $600 million, it makes for an ambitiously packed slate.
“Our ultimate objective is to keep the lights on,” says Campbell, referring to ongoing IT operations, Y2K and other essential stuff. “But we also intend to transform government – the business priorities and IT strategy. That’s it in a nutshell.”
Tony Martell is a freelance writer specializing in technology and IT management. He is based in London, Ont.