As Corporate CIO of Ontario’s Management Board Secretariat, Greg Georgeff is the key driver of the e-government agenda in the biggest province in the country. He spoke recently with Chris Bishop of Public Sector Research Inc. Excerpts from their conversation follow:
Q. Now that the new government is well in place, what changes can we expect to see?
A. The government has clearly stated its commitment to move towards multi-year, priority-driven results-based planning, budgeting and reporting. The government has set priorities that will guide its actions over the next four years. Five key priorities have been established: education, health care, training, public safety and the development of a more participatory democratic environment. For each of these, a number of measurable outcomes have been established. To deliver on this, the following two key activities are being undertaken: Firstly, we are engaging with both the Ontario Public Service and the broader public service including agencies and commissions. Secondly, we are realigning planning within the CIO’s office to focus on the government’s key priorities, while developing strategies to deliver on results and performance targets we have established. We do not expect to make any significant changes in the I&IT organization in the coming year.
Q. There is a horizontal review of information technology under way. Can you tell us more about it?
A. This is one of eight horizontal reviews taking place within the OPS. It will help the OPS become a more horizontal organization in the future, by reducing or eliminating some of the silo-based areas we now have. These horizontal reviews are an integral part of the broader results-based planning process. This process complements the ministry-specific planning with horizontal planning on issues of common interest. There are number of so called “quick hits” we are trying to leverage in the short run, but the bulk of the results will be available in the fall. . . . This two-stage approach has made us market sensitive. We expect our new efficiencies will enable us to approve new projects that are currently on our backlog of projects.
Q. There is increasing interest in e-democracy for voting and for getting citizen feedback. What steps are planned to make this a reality?
A. We have already conducted an ideas campaign throughout the OPS, which was an online consultation with Ontario’s Public Services employees. More than 11,000 ideas and suggestions were received during the campaign. Also there has been a great deal of pre-budget consultation through town hall meetings, an Internet site and other forums. A Democratic Renewal Secretariat has been established with the mandate to modernize the democratic process. As part of this we are testing several citizen engagement tools. A framework for developing a citizen engagement policy is under way.
Q. The Provincial Auditor was critical of consultant staffing last year. What is happening in response?
A. At Management Board we have approved a two-pronged strategy for reducing our reliance on consultants. We have tightened rules around the use of consultants and have focused on driving down costs. In cases where work is ongoing, we are moving to more cost effective ways of getting the work done. We are also in the process of changing the current vendors of record program so we can comply with this new direction more readily.
Q. GO e-2003 was completed last September. What will happen now in the e-government arena?
A. As you say, the GO e-2003 initiative was declared a success at Showcase Ontario 2003, the Ontario Government-sponsored IT conference and exhibition. Now we are moving forward based on the results of the horizontal review I mentioned earlier to determine appropriate strategic directions for I&IT going forward. We are going to be using what we call SMART guiding principles. We want the interaction to be seamless, measurable, accessible, responsive and trusted. We want to provide seamless access so that citizens don’t have to know which level of government is responsible for the service they need. One good example of that is the seniors portal developed with the federal government and the municipalities. We will be managing our infrastructure and all of our operations, including telecommunications and business services, and measuring our results through customer satisfaction surveys and by benchmarking against other jurisdictions. Also we are focused on being responsive to clients and accessible to them by making services available where and when they want them. Of course, while remaining open and accessible, we want to ensure that we are trusted.
Q. Some jurisdictions are using fairness commissioners during large procurements. Does Ontario have plans to use them?
A. Our procurement policy and IT procurement branch uses fairness commissioners and has been doing so for quite a while. In fact, there are several areas of the OPS that use fairness commissioners.
Q. What critical activities are you pursuing at this stage? Are there any major new projects on the horizon?
A. If there is one thing that keeps me awake at night, it is solving problems in the area of privacy, security and authentication. This is a huge task and we have made significant progress both within Ontario and also through our work with the Public Sector CIO Council. There is a huge potential for the private sector to help us here because we want to be able to deploy and use these capabilities on a pan-Canadian basis. We are searching for true interoperability on a truly global basis for some functions, for example the availability of a personal health record for use while travelling.