Ontario should outsource as much of its in-house information technology systems as it can, the Drummond commission on cutting the province’s billion-dollar deficit has recommended.
That was one of a number of suggestions for better use of IT the commission made to help Ontario slice into its total deficit – which it estimates will hit $30 billion in six years — and balance annual spending.
The 562-page commission headed by economist Don Drummond on reforming the delivery of provincial services makes hundreds of recommendations for slowing spending, urging the government to ask whether many programs are necessary.
It focuses largely on the two big spending departments, health and education. But IT is also covered.
The province has eight ministry and one corporate IT clusters – down from over 20 a decade ago – which uses both staff and outside services from system integrators, consultants and providers.
On the one hand, the commission says, keeping certain functions helps retain IT expertise. But, it adds “in a constrained fiscal environment, however, outsourced contracts “may make the difference between the continuation and the end of some services.”
The commission doesn’t say exactly what should be outsourced, but it does recommend when making decisions the province put weight on value-for-money and effectiveness.
“Simply put, governments cannot afford to remain the only centres of expertise when it comes to IT service delivery if more cost-effective options are available,” says the report.
The commission also urges the province to push the broader public service, which includes public schools and universities, to consolidate their back-office systems. These include everything from payroll systems to contact centre services.
A deep look at whether the province’s IT systems are being used to their best may have been beyond the commission’s capability. But throughout the report are suggestions for possibly leveraging IT. They include:
—Centralize all back-office functions such as IT, human resources, finance and procurement;
—Accelerate the adoption of personal medical electronic records, working from the bottom up. Begin with doctors, clinics and hospitals and ensure that they use compatible systems. Then build bridges within a region, then across regions;
The province created eHealth Ontario to do exactly that. Then it became caught up in a spending scandal and has been trying to keep its head down ever since. This week its CEO promised it is making progress.
The report says in part: “Information technology (IT) is not used enough by physicians and other health care professionals across the system in a way that allows different disciplines and services to integrate their activities. Extensive use of IT is key to pushing the health care system to operate in a co-ordinated fashion. History has shown that huge IT projects are unwieldy.
Most gains will come from local and regional records, so electronic record-keeping should begin with FHTs and hospitals; these could then be connected and expanded from this base.
It is imperative, of course, that everyone use compatible systems that can communicate with each other”.
— Public school board information technology systems may offer effective platforms for co-operation with other provincial ministries, especially those supporting children;
–For universities, generate cost efficiencies by, for example, integrating administrative and back-office functions;
For the public service:
—ServiceOntario, a consolidated department which delivers high-volume transactions like drivers licences, needs more money, especially for updated IT;
— Transfer the call and Internet-based enquiries on employment standards and occupational health and safety from the Ministry of Labour to ServiceOntario. Expand the current ServiceOntario managed databases to occupational health and safety inspectors to permit more efficient management of enforcement activities;
–Eliminate redundant IT services, centralize common functions and increase outsourcing of IT;