Spotlight on Anil Arora, Statistics Canada, Part 1

InterGovWorld’s Spotlight series profiles executives, decision-makers and their initiatives across all levels of Canadian government.

Part 1 of Spotlight on Anil Arora, director general of the Census program branch.

In conversation with senior writer Lisa Williams, Arora explains how good project management practices prop up the national census, what was behind the controversy surrounding the outsourcing deal with Lockheed Martin, and how StatsCan mobilized a powerhouse task force to address urgent questions on procurement.

Q) Could you discuss your role at Statistics Canada, specifically regarding the 2006 Census; how did you prepare for that from a project management standpoint?

A) Speaking from the department’s perspective, Statistics Canada has an established governance structure and a project management culture within which we operate. We very much understand how to look at projects of various sizes and set up the appropriate expertise and the governance structure that makes sense.

With the census specifically, we’ve been conducting censuses pretty well every five years after the Second World War. We’ve built up an expertise that is now world-renowned, not just in the methodology, but also in our ability to manage such a large and complex statistical gathering exercise in this country.

We’ve got a dedicated project management office, called the census management office, and we have a matrix structure, which means that we use the services and the expertise of the various areas in the bureau. All these people, these experts from various parts of the bureau put together, function as the census project team. They work towards the carrying out of this fairly large and complex project. We’re quite proud of this management culture that has been at Statistics Canada for quite some time. I think that’s the reason why we are as successful as we are.

Photo courtesy of Statistics Canada.

Q) The fact that the census collection software and hardware were outsourced to U.S. company Lockheed Martin was met by protest from certain groups that were advocating its boycott via various Web sites. What was your reaction to that?

A) Well, first a little bit of context. Working hand-in-glove with Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC), we consulted with industry, starting back in 2001-2002.

We were interested in procuring some very specialized hardware, software, and some of the printing services that are required. That’s nothing new: previous censuses and other programs have also made use of the expertise that’s resident in the private sector. We don’t have our own trucks, or our own printers that print 40-odd million forms – that just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

In the government, we don’t create our own software for everything. Working with the private sector, but in a very transparent, open, competitive way, is the way forward, and that’s exactly what we did. The process was overseen by an independent evaluator as well, and the contract was awarded by PWGSC to Lockheed Martin Canada.

Lockheed Martin is a company that has a very strong IT integration and informatics integration presence, specifically in delivering census processing software and hardware. They started investing in the 1990s in this, and started working with the Census Bureau in the United States in 2000. They went on to do the same kind of intelligent character recognition and integration types of services for the U.K. census, the office of national statistics in the U.K. It was because of those two successes that they had invested in it and they put together the best bid.

People had an opportunity to express their concerns and they did express some concerns with the contract that was offered to Lockheed Martin Canada. We listened to them, and we decided back in 2004 that we would restrict the contract, and would severely curtail it back to the provision of hardware, software and printing services. This contract was not just with Lockheed Martin as they had secondary contractors with IBM Canada as well as Transcontinental Printing Canada.

Anil Arora, director general of the Census
program branch at Statistics Canada.
Photo courtesy of Statistics Canada.

There were concerns about the confidentiality, the security provisions and the possible impact of the Patriot Act. So just to make sure that we’d taken all the necessary measures, the chief statistician and I supported the evaluation of the infrastructure, software and hardware we had by three independent IT firms. These are firms that specialize in trying to break into systems, they do penetration-testing, and of course they were unable to do that (break in).

On top of that, we created a task force headed up by one of the most credible people you can imagine, the former Auditor General of Canada, Denis Desautels. He headed up a task force with Simon Gauthier, the former CIO for the Government of Canada, Jean-Pierre Soubliere, one of the founders of Systems House, and Robert Reimer, a partner specializing in IT security from Price Waterhouse Coopers.

The chief statistician gave them the mandate to oversee the security provisions that were put in place with contractor-developed systems as well as oversee the work of the three independent IT audits that were conducted. They put out a report, which we made public; it was on our Web site for quite some time. Basically the concluding remarks were that Canadians can put their trust in our systems that we’ve got in managing the census, and they themselves said they would have no issues with completing the census either online or on paper.

That’s the kind of transparency and seriousness that we gave to Canadians regarding their concerns. And of course it meant a lot of challenges for us as a project team to be subjected to that kind of scrutiny, but I think we were better off in the end, because of the transparency and the seriousness with which it was approached.

Read Part 2 of InterGovWorld’s Spotlight on Anil Arora, Statistics Canada.

Visit the Statistics Canada Census page.

Visit the official Statistics Canada web site.

Access Spotlight Central, an archive of all past InterGovWorld spotlights.

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