Lessons from Canada's big bang Gov IT restructure

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Lessons from Canada's big bang Gov IT restructure
Jigsaw with figures

Comment: A new model for the Australian Government?

Canada has announced a restructure of government IT that sets a new benchmark for efficient delivery of technology resources.

Today we ask: is the Australian Government brave enough to take the same path?

Canada’s conservative Government formed Shared Services Canada in an attempt to save between $100 million and $200 million annually through streamlining the federal information technology strategy.

The move will shut down more than 90 percent of the Canadian Government's 300 data centres, leaving the nation with fewer than 20 when the plan is complete.

In addition, Canada’s government will rationalise its 100 different e-mail platforms to one all-encompassing system and all resources associated with the delivery of e-mail, data centre and network services are being transferred from 44 departments and agencies to a new entity called Shared Services Canada.

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Likewise there will be a standardisation of common enterprise applications across portfolios in the first instance leading to one Finance and one HR application across clusters of agencies.

The moves are intended to make the Canadian Government’s IT services and delivery more secure and reliable because there will be fewer network access points.

Shared Services Canada will use existing Departmental staff, buildings and budgets – threading all ministries and their networks through the same service portal.

“The crux of the strategy is that IT infrastructure is considered to be now a commodity in the same respect as electricity”, Corinne Charette, the Canadian Government’s CIO informed a Canberra Government Technology Summit last week.

“The issue that IT infrastructure should be the purview of individual Departments to worry about has been taken off the table.”

Within the next two months, Shared Services Canada will consolidate the existing resources and personnel relating to email, data centres and networks and associated internal services from 44 departments and agencies representing 80 percent of Government IT expenditiure.

Defence Canada and the country's police forces will retain their secure infrastructure, but back-office functions such as their finance, human resources, email and related common functions will be consolidated into Shared Services Canada within the next two months.

No new money will be provided for funding the merger and already Canadian public sector unions have aired their concerns about the impact on staffing.

Finance watches the merger

John Sheridan, First Assistant Secretary of Finance & Regulation at AGIMO told iTnews that his team monitors ICT developments in other jurisdictions, within Australia and overseas, in order to learn from others' experiences.

But he declined to comment on the merits of the merger, stating that it was a matter for Canada.

“The ICT directions taken by the Australian Government in the future will reflect the ICT Strategic Vision when it is finalised, following the feedback received after the release of the draft,” he said.

Australian analyst is pessimistic

Ovum Australia and NZ Public Sector Research Director Steve Hodkinson rated Canada's move a “high risk strategy”.

“I was shocked really in what they put forward,” he told iTnews.

“There are other ways to skin a cat to achieve savings which would have a better chance of success. Given that IT expenditure accounts for 5 percent or less of government expenditure, the game may not be worth the effort required to make this work.”

He said the idea of Government mandating IT from the centre has never worked anywhere to his knowledge.

“The fact that they are pushing a whole lot of existing technology into one shared service with no funding is a problem. A whole pile of junk in one facility is still a whole pile of junk – outdated technology that’s under-invested.”

He also had concerns about leaving operational staff in each agency.

“It’s harder to create the culture change on both sides of the fence.”

“If it’s all just driven by cost-cutting, and there is no investment in the change management and transformation of the assets, then it’s hard to see it is being successful.”

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