Ontario is about to launch two pilot IT outsourcing projects that it hopes will lead the way to significant cost savings as the province tries to keep spending under control.
One project is for a unified communications system to be installed in a refurbished Toronto building that some 2,500 provincial staff will move into next January.
It envisions the government buying telephony as a service with virtually no hardware supplied by the winning bidder. Instead, all staff will have softphones on their PCs, which will also be equipped for video and audio conferencing.
If things go well, this pilot will be a template for rolling out a unified communications system to all provincial government offices in the greater Toronto area.
The second project, for which an RFP was just issued, calls for a single company – or consortium – to supply maintenance and support services to one of the province’s five IT clusters. The usual practice is to hire people on contract to do the work.
The two projects were among several initiatives outlined Tuesday by Ontario’s chief information officers to members of the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC), which represents suppliers of technology.
The province’s IT heads meet annually with ITAC to let vendors know what Ontario’s information technology spending plans are for the coming year – and to emphasize the province wants to work closely with the private sector.
In interviews after the meeting, the two people who oversee these projects explained their significance.
The unified communications pilot is part of a telecommunications modernization services plan, said Marty Gallas (pictured), corporate chief of infrastructure technology services for the province.
“This new network is looking at converging the voice and data network to improve productivity amongst the workforce, and to bring solutions that enable folks to collaborate more seamlessly than we do today.”
The platform would also allow staff to work from home, or from provincial satellite offices when necessary, he added.
The request for information from potential telecom providers included some “innovative responses,” he said, including complete cloud-based telephony.
Because fibre optic networks are extensive only in southern Ontario, the province envisions a government-wide unified communications platform would only work in the greater Toronto area – if the pilot proves there are savings.
As for the possible savings, Gallas said a cloud-based UC system could save $5 to $10 per employee per month over than what the province pays now for telecommunications.
In fact, he was almost hiring as many software developers, analysts and project managers on short-term contracts a year as he had staff in his department. That just isn’t sustainable, he said.
“A big part of our work’s pretty standard, repeatable on the maintenance and support side,” he said. So it was decided to put out an RFP for a services supplier – either one integrator or a consortium – who will take work parcelled out by the department.
The supplier will do the work in its offices, rather than have Hollis and his staff overseeing contractors, and deliver finished applications.
“It’s a change in the way we do business,” Hollis said. “It’s not all our work, but it’s a big chunk of our ongoing maintenance and support, to start with.”
The contract – which Hollis estimated could be worth several million dollars a year — will last three years, plus the option for two years of renewal. There’s no guarantee of volume of work – the supplier merely promises that if suitable work is sent its way it will be done at set rates.
The approach could be adopted by other departments but is first being tried in Hollis’ cluster.
“We haven’t done this in the OPS before,” said Hollis, “so we’re going to walk before we run.”