During her career in the federal government, Rita Moritz has gone from witnessing advancements in the way information was managed to becoming a leader in the information management revolution.
Moritz, who began her public service career in 1979, in the translation bureau of the former Department of the Secretary of State, is director-general of the information management branch, corporate services sector, at Natural Resources Canada (NRCan). Her interest in IT was whetted when she joined a systems development team in 1983. By 1986, she had transferred into the Secretary of State’s Computer Systems Directorate full-time, but soon found her interest was not fuelled by the nuts and bolts of technology.
“The technology aspects were interesting, but my focus was often on business analysis, project management and change management,” Moritz recalls. “Those were the aspects I thought were most interesting.”
Moritz, who took on her current role in September 2000, recently spoke with Assistant Editor Blair McQuillan about NRCan’s information management (IM) initiatives, how the challenges faced by her organization mirror those of other government departments, and the aspects of her job she most enjoys. Excerpts from their conversation follow:
Q. Could you explain what the Information Management Branch within NRCan is responsible for?
A. We’re responsible for corporate IT for NRCan. We operate the corporate infrastructure – which includes the Wide Area Networks, because we’re distributed across the county – and the Metropolitan Area Network here in the National Capital Region. We also manage the common office environment which is the servers, the software licensing and e-mail operations for example. We take care of that up to the server level departmentally. We also operate corporate applications, give direct IT services to our Corporate Services Sector and to Executive Offices and Branches.
We also do corporate information management. That includes functional direction in information management, implementation of the management of government information policy, and departmental IM strategies, as well as the information management services to the Corporate Services Sector – things like records operation.
The third thing we deal with is Access to Information and Privacy. That’s a job that ensures the Access to Information Act is respected; we give functional advice on access to information and privacy.
Q. Could you give an example of one of the most important initiatives you’re working on right now?
A. We’ve been trying to deal with the information management issue here at NRCan for a while, and the reason is that we are a science-based department and our business depends on information. Last year, we partnered with the Library and Archives of Canada to help them develop an IM Capacity Check. Piloting that tool gave us a maturity rating for about 31 elements that influence whether an organization is managing its information effectively.
We gathered IM professionals from across the department and had some really interesting debate. In the maturity model there are “as is” ratings and “to be” ratings, so you have to identify up front where you are in this maturity model. Of course, some sectors in some areas are further advanced than others, so there was a really interesting discussion around what is the departmental position on this.
We had a similar exercise to determine what the “to be” would be – what do we require to run our business effectively and still comply with all of the legislation and other imperatives that we have? Our business happens to be science, happens to be policy, happens to be running programs, so it is quite a diverse business, which is a challenge.
Then, with the arrival of the Management of Government Information Policy, which just came into effect May 2, we further identified what the “to be” rating would need to be to comply with the policy. So we now have a map of the opportunities and gaps and we’re now completing a “go forward” plan with the steps required as well as the cost. As a result, we’ll know where we are today, what we need to do to get to the compliance level for MGI, and in some areas we have to go to a higher maturity level because our business is information.
Q. What are the challenges you face with information management?
A. The size and scope of information management is daunting, especially with the electronic stuff. Who has been systematically managing their information on their desktop? I’d like to meet the people that have. I think it is so daunting, there is a risk of doing nothing because it is just too big, which is not what we want to do.
The other aspect is understanding the situation. Part of the challenge that we’ve had is getting the IM message out and making people understand the situation that we are in. I would say this is true right across the federal government and at other levels as well.
Also, accurately sizing the gaps. There isn’t a formula you can apply to this. It’s not an easy thing to measure. Sizing the gaps and then determining the cost is very difficult.
In addition, deciding what’s reasonable versus what’s perfect can be difficult. Who wants to say that we don’t want to fully manage our information, but to look for the ideal you risk overwhelming people with the size of the issue. We really tried to talk about what’s reasonable. What’s reasonable within existing resources with maybe a bit of an increase and what’s reasonable within a three-year time frame.
Sharing the drive to work on it is very difficult. When people have all of these program pressures and you’re trying to make information management everyone’s business – that’s one of the challenges. You have to develop ways to get the individuals to share and help develop some tools. People often jump to the technology – I believe there are technological elements to it that can help – but it’s not a technology problem. In fact, it helped to create the situation that we have.
Q. Speaking of problems, what challenges does NRCan face that other departments and agencies don’t?
A. The challenges that we face will have similarities with other departments. I don’t think there is anything I’ve come across that is unique to NRCan, but one of the key ones for us is that we have very different lines of businesses that are geographically dispersed and dealing with a wide variety of stakeholders within one department. That means that anything we do in terms of enablers, in terms of information, of IT, of the Internet, has to be of value to a variety of businesses and this diversity is really a challenge. For example, we have programs around energy, forestry, mining, explosives regulation, seismic monitoring, aeronautical mapping, all of which are very different lines of business that are sharing a common infrastructure. That’s a challenge, but I don’t think it’s unique to NRCan.
Q. When you look back on your time with NRCan, what do you see as your organization’s greatest achievement so far?
A. The thing I’m proudest of for NRCan is how we’ve worked together as an information community. We call our annual conference the Information Professionals Conference and I’m quite proud of how NRCan works together on projects such as the one I’ve described.
We’re able to move forward, to get these kinds of topics on the radar screen of our senior executives and we can come up with a concerted effort to make progress. I think that is really something that’s very well entrenched in this department.
The other thing that’s very impressive is that the IM and IT communities worry about each other’s issues. Generally, we address issues jointly from both points of view and we address them from a business and departmental perspective at the same time with a view towards looking for improvements in service delivery. We also try to get the best value for our money.
Sustainability is a key thing we look at here. We look at the impacts and the downstream costs and obligations of doing something. The fact that we look with a realistic view to our collective capacity is fantastic. We’re not launching the dream and letting it fizzle. It’s always with a realistic view and I think that’s something we can be proud of here. I see ourselves as a community that has become ambassadors for doing things right as opposed to doing things over.
Find more information on:
– NRCan at www.nrcan.gc.ca
– Library and Archives of Canada at www.nlc-bnc.ca
– the Management of Government Information Policy at www.tbs-sct.gc.ca
Blair McQuillan (firstname.lastname@example.org) is assistant editor of CIO Governments’ Review.