Ten public sector IT trends for 2007

Governments in Canada have identified at least 10 priorities for a 2007 information and technology to-do list that aims to push operational efficiency, consolidate infrastructure resources and cut maintenance costs.

At the federal level, the move to shared services is focused on building enterprise architecture, where technologies like service-oriented architecture (SOA) and virtualization come into play. Three other hot areas of interest are identity authentication and authorization, voice over IP and converged networks, and (of course) information management.

1. Service-oriented architecture

Many of the largest departments in particular find themselves in the position of managing a significant number of legacy systems, with no coherent corporate architecture, says Michael Turner, principal consultant for e-Government Strategies.

Although the general trend is towards SOA, there is no specific prohibition against other architectural approaches, says Turner.

At the CIO Branch of Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS), for example, there has been agreement on the overall architecture for the common desktop services that Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC) will be proposing as one of the first of a new family of shared services.

“TBS has issued no specific technical direction to departments beyond their already stated architectural principles, other than favouring SOA as a general approach,” says Turner.

The shape of the first of these new shared services can be seen in the recently announced partnership between the Department of National Defence (DND) and the IT Services Branch of PWGSC, he adds. “PWGSC will take on management of all the desktop computing services in Ottawa. This will then become the model for service for other DND sites across Canada, and would also be made available for other department’s desktop systems,” says Turner, a former assistant deputy minister with PWGSC.

2. Network convergence

According to Turner, Service Canada is also partnering with PWGSC for a new converged enterprise IP network service that will likely be MPLS-based (multi-protocol label switching).

Currently a request for information is out on the street, with comments required early next month before an RFP is issued, says Turner. The goal is an omnibus contract that can then also be used to replace existing WAN (wide-area network) services for other departments, as and when required.

“If more widely adopted than just for Service Canada, the new IP network could also become the next-generation connection between departments and between government and the outside public Internet,” says Turner.

The new MPLS-IP network may also be used to replace the network portion of the federal government’s Secure Channel service, which has already been in place several years.

The RFP is expected to include provisions for modernization of call centre systems in Service Canada and potentially other departments.

3. Voice over IP

The federal government is also showing increased interest in moving to IP voice systems, running on the departmental LAN (local-area network) and WAN structure.

Turner expects that Service Canada’s RFP for converged network services will also include provision for implementation of VoIP-based telephony within that department once the other network and call centre improvements have been completed.

“The same service could potentially then be extended to other interested departments through this contract vehicle,” he says.

At the same time, PWGSC is working on a new RFI to begin the transition to IP technology from existing Centrex phone systems, for those departments willing and able to go that route, over the next couple of years.

“Of course, there will still be some specialized organizations, such as Foreign Affairs & International Trade, that may opt for their own procurement process to meet their specialized requirements.”

But some organizations, especially those with significant investments in traditional PBX telephone technology, have difficulty justifying the expense and operational disruption associated with a migration to pure VoIP telephone systems.

“Many of us have installed VoIP solutions in newer or smaller locations, but haven’t yet replaced or converted our main systems,” notes Roy Wiseman, CIO and director of I&T services for the Regional Municipality of Peel, Ont.

“We all recognize that we will need to do so within the next few years, but are trying to figure out how to do it.”

Wiseman says migrating to VoIP with an existing telephone vendor may be the least disruptive, but organizations have to consider whether their current vendors have the right VoIP products for the long term.

4. Identity authentication & authorization

Identity management will be critical to the maturing of online services offered by both the public and private sectors in the coming year and beyond, predicts Rose Langhout, corporate chief strategist for Ontario’s Ministry of Government Services.

Significant costs are associated with the proliferation of usernames and passwords, and the inevitable resetting of those many long-forgotten passwords, she notes.

Users want simple, easy access to services and are often frustrated by multiple sign-on requirements. More sophisticated authentication services can achieve a higher level of trust, but carry additional costs and administrative overhead for the user.

However, surveys routinely identify

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