It’s been just over a year since the federal government began consolidating IT functions, but there’s still some uncertainty among companies that sell technology services and products about what it will mean for them.
The first in a series of roundtables held last week with the private sector didn’t clear things up much, says the head of CABiNET, which represents small and medium sized providers of IT and consulting services to the federal government.
It’s true that the voyage has barely started, said Jeff Lynt, who is also president of inRound Innovations, a consulting firm that does a lot of contract work for federal departments.
But until the government declares an IT procurement policy his members worry that Ottawa may structure IT buying that gives preference to one or two large firms – think of Bell Canada, IBM or CGI – than smaller providers.
“Until they have really mapped it out determined their transformation plan these questions will still be in the air,” he said.
The government’s plan is built around the creation of Shared Services Canada (SSC), whose goal is to build a single email system across the public service, slash the number of data centres to 20 from about 300, and create a government-wide voice and data network.
Earlier this month SSC president Liseanne Forand told a conference that there’s been a great deal of progress since the August, 2011 announcement creating her department. Taking over existing infrastructure from 43 departments, SSC now has 6,000 staffers and created an operational team that oversees 95 per cent of the federal government’s IT infrastructure.
However, on data centre consolidation and the telecom network SSC has yet to make decisions, and that’s worrying CABiNET.
“When Shared Services Canada took over it put a stop to (spending) opportunities in various departments because of the unknown,” Lynt said. “What we’re asking for is to clear it up as quick as possible.”
That in part is what the quarterly roundtable sessions, which started last week are about. The roundtable is made up of officials from the public service as well as from CABiNET, the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC), the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance, Invest Ottawa, Canadian Information Technology Providers Association and Communitech.
Its goal is to help shape the IT transformation project by looking at developing best procurement practices, standards for security, data and applications and accessing innovative technologies.
At last week’s meeting the government talked generally about how it will work on creating a new IT architecture, Lynt said.
Public Works minister Rona Ambrose, who has responsibility for the IT transformation plan, said in a statement that “we want to work with the ICT sector to draw on innovative, proven industry solutions as we transform the government of Canada’s technology platform. Their input is vital to helping Shared Services Canada develop a more efficient, secure and cost-effective IT infrastructure to serve Canadians.”
“They’re certainly giving us the right message that they support small business,” Lynt said. “But we still need a lot of answers.’