Evolution of a 21st Century Department

 


Address by Liseanne Forand, President, Shared Services Canada, at GTEC 2012

November 7, 2012

Introduction

Good morning. Let me start by saying what a pleasure it is to be here today. This is an audience that understands how information technology can improve how government works and how it serves Canadians and businesses. More than that, you understand the challenging path from good intentions to great results. So, I thank the GTEC organizers for the opportunity to talk to you about Shared Services Canada and the work that we are doing.

Many of you probably know that this is not my first time on this stage. But what a difference a year makes. When I spoke a year ago, SSC was barely three months old and was taking the first steps to deliver modern, reliable, secure and lower-cost IT infrastructure services to federal departments and agencies.

A year later, I can point to a great deal of progress. The foundations are in place. We have achieved our expected short-term milestones. We are engaging partners across government and in the private sector. We are on track to deliver the IT transformation that the government expects in the future – and the high-quality operations that it requires right now.

Today, I want to describe that progress. Equally importantly, I want to talk about the path ahead for SSC, for the government IT community and for all our partners as we work together to deliver results across an ambitious agenda.

Background

To do that, let me start with a brief reminder about the compelling need for the work we are doing.

Over the past few decades, individual federal departments and agencies built and maintained their own information technology infrastructures. Departmental IT staff organized and managed them as best they could with the resources they had. But over time, government leaders and external experts alike came to see some systemic problems.

Whether it was the Auditor General or the Administrative Services Review, experts saw opportunities to do better. They called for a strategic and unified government-wide approach to fundamental IT core infrastructure services. They knew that integrated services were already a proven success in many large organizations and the same could and should happen in the Government of Canada.

In August 2011, the government responded by creating Shared Services Canada. It mandated SSC to achieve three key objectives: maintain operations; generate savings; and find and implement government-wide solutions to transform IT infrastructure. It launched SSC with a specific mandate to streamline and consolidate the Government of Canada’s IT infrastructure and to deliver:

  • one email system;
  • a government-wide footprint of fewer than 20 data centres; and
  • a single government-wide network and transformed telecommunications services supporting voice, data and video.

A challenging mandate? Absolutely.

But we accepted that challenge. We knew that others had already achieved what we intend to deliver – better results, reduced costs and greater security and reliability. We knew that we could learn from their lessons and best practices.

Building a New Organization

After the August 2011 launch, we created a new federal department. I could spend an entire speech on what needed to be done to build Shared Services Canada from the ground up, but let me just list some of the milestones.

  • We welcomed more than 6,000 employees from our 43 partner departments and agencies, and held town hall meetings all across the country – either in person or via videoconference – to give them an opportunity to hear about our mandate and to ask any of the dozens of questions that they had.
  • We worked with employee bargaining agents to support employees’ transition into the new organization.
  • We began to create the full range of business management services we need to support SSC activities and to ensure our accountability for resources and results: for example, we signed on to SAP Sigma hosted by PWGSC for our financials, and we joined the Agriculture Canada’s PeopleSoft 8.9 cluster for human resources. In case you are wondering whether shared systems work, we deployed the financial system in 4 months!
  • We engaged partners across the government and in the private sector – including by structuring our governance and management committees to gain the perspectives of government and private sector partners.
  • Parliament passed our enabling legislation which formally enshrines our mandate in the Shared Services Canada Act.
  • We gained the procurement authority that allows us to acquire what we need to operate the IT infrastructure we have today and to modernize it over the years to come.
  • And, last but hardly least, we developed an integrated approach to operations that enables us to deliver services to our clients, 24/7.

Maintaining and Improving Delivery of IT Infrastructure Services

I’d like to expand on that last point about our integrated approach to operations.

While transformation gets a lot of attention in discussions of SSC, we have always kept an overarching objective in sight: to keep the IT lights on for some 2,100 mission critical systems across the government.

Getting the most out of the IT infrastructure we inherited is a priority every minute of every day for us. We know that 43 partner departments depend on us to deliver, to support business continuity and to improve ongoing IT operations. We know that a factor in the success of our transformation initiatives tomorrow will be the respect we earn among partners by delivering on our commitments to them today.

That’s why managing operations is so important to us. For example, our governance model includes a weekly Operations Committee that is chaired by the Chief Operating Officer. It focuses on the mission critical systems and programs that support Government of Canada services to Canadians. It identifies and provides guidance on issues for our operations staff to address at an enterprise level. And it enables us to learn from each other: performance results are tracked closely and communicated to our partners.

Now, when I say that SSC is providing continuity in IT operations, I don’t mean that the status quo just ticks along. We learned early on about the wide diversity in capacity, infrastructure and support of the operations that we inherited. Some operational environments were quite robust. Others, less so.

And, as any of you with IT operational experience can appreciate, every day brings new situations. Everything from single points of failure, poor change management practices and inappropriate vendor support clauses, to empty diesel tanks and hungry rats – I feel as if I’ve seen it all over the last year. For the first time ever, a single operational team has visibility across 95 percent of the Government of Canada’s IT infrastructure – when it’s working, and when it’s not.

SSC operations staff are building on that enterprise-wide view to identify and begin to act on key vulnerabilities across our operations. In this way, we have been able to identify interdependencies between departments that would have been very difficult to address under the old model. In the case of the Canada-US border, for example, we are tracking the performance and support models of up to 17 key Government of Canada partners to avoid situations where trucks line up at the border for hours, with all the productivity costs that entails, just because the email system has gone down in a 9 to 5 operation somewhere in downtown Toronto.

Experience to date has shown SSC the importance of bringing a true enterprise perspective to our IT infrastructure and network operations – not just to improve service but also to eliminate duplication and cut costs. For example, we reviewed key contracts and spending commitments that our partner departments passed along to us to find opportunities for savings – including those required as part of our Deficit Reduction Action Plan commitments.

For example:

  • Ending dozens of individual departmental research subscription services contracts has cut costs significantly.
  • SSC is engaged in the planning for new building projects in the National Capital Region to move toward common and modern IT infrastructure for all departments in those sites, from the outset.
  • And we’re leveraging an existing network solution for secret documentation to address multiple needs across multiple departments.
  • We have also reviewed over 700 IT projects we inherited from our 43 partner departments to look for ways to deliver once for the benefit of the enterprise.

Renewal of the Government’s IT Infrastructure

In tandem with our efforts to maintain operations, we have also launched our three major transformation initiatives in the areas of email, data centres and networks. I’d like to take just a few minutes to bring you up to date on them.

Email

As expected, our Email Transformation Initiative is furthest along. The Government of Canada is on track for a new email system to be in place by 2015. SSC will deliver a consolidated solution with consistent naming standards and service levels as well as secure and reliable services. It will be designed to work well in desktop and mobile environments. And it will cost less.

We’ve already made substantial progress on the Email Transformation Initiative. We have created and assessed the inventory of 63 existing email systems in 43 departments we serve. We have confirmed requirements with the partner organizations that depend on us to get this right. We have incorporated considerations into our project scoping such as data sovereignty, security, user-friendliness and application integration.

The work to date has led to a procurement process that is now in progress – which I know is of particular interest to many of you here today. It started last spring with the launch of our Industry Engagement Phase, followed by the Request for Responses for Evaluation Phase, which began in September. We expect to launch the Bid Solicitation Phase in the new year and award a contract by the spring of 2013. The new email system will then be implemented in waves over 24 months.

Data Centres / Networks / Telecommunications Services

While SSC is full speed ahead on email transformation, we are also building the foundation for our other two areas of transformation through broadly similar approaches.

The Shared Services Canada mandate from the government is to consolidate data centres and associated networks, centralize their administration and rationalize service delivery. The results that other organizations have achieved from similar processes tell us to expect greater efficiencies, lower costs, better security and improved service quality.

We see from the experiences of others and our analysis to date that transformation has extra benefits too. For example, we anticipate substantial and positive environmental impacts from a more efficient use of energy and reductions in e-waste. Ultimately, the new approach to networks and data centres will give departments a common infrastructure that supports the tools, including telepresence and videoconferencing that are essential to workplace innovation, increased productivity and cost.

The work to achieve all those goals through transformation is already taking place. We have begun to inventory and analyze the current state of the data centre and telecoms that we have brought together under the SSC virtual roof. We are engaging with partner departments to clarify business requirements. We will use those requirements as the focus for formal processes to engage with industry as SSC defines the end state for networks and for data centres. That will lead to the necessary procurement processes and a phased-in implementation.

Engaging Partners and Stakeholders

You’ve probably noticed that engagement is a consistent theme in our work to date and our plans for the future, whether with partners in the Government of Canada or with the private sector. This is a fundamental SSC commitment. We know that there is no monopoly on information and insights in an environment as dynamic as IT. There is every reason to listen to and engage partners who can help us deliver the best results possible for the government and for Canadians.

This commitment to engagement takes many forms. With our partner departments, for example, we have developed Business Arrangements that set out agreed principles and expectations that will govern our relationships. By focusing on service level monitoring and reporting and through a range of governance mechanisms, we are operating transparently and with a tangible commitment to service excellence.

In terms of SSC engagement with industry, I have already mentioned how we are defining our transformation end states and setting our direction on procurement. But it goes further. SSC needs and wants early, open and ongoing dialogue with the information and communications technology sector. Given the complexity of our transformation initiatives, it’s important for us to be able to tap into the most up-to-date solutions for the best results possible. We know we can gain a great deal from listening to experts in industry about the directions we are considering.

Our proposed IT Infrastructure Roundtable is one way that we are pursuing a consistent, structured approach to engagement. This quarterly roundtable will bring together people from SSC and key government partners as well as leading technology innovators. It will be a forum for discussing the long-term transformation agenda. Participants will have opportunities to discuss the emerging technologies in the marketplace that may be most relevant to government needs. And we will be posting updates on its work on our website so that those who are not in the room can also benefit from the discussion.

We see the roundtable as a true dialogue. It will give us the opportunity to learn from private sector experts. And it will enable ICT sector leaders to learn about key initiatives within government of interest to them, including future directions for innovation.

Continuity is not Status Quo

I have commented on what Shared Services Canada has done, is doing and plans to do to transform core IT infrastructure services for the Government of Canada. But while our work to date has focussed on continuity, as we move ahead and introduce more enterprise-wide solutions, staff, partners, and the industry are going to see that for us, continuity does not mean status quo. In fact, operational excellence is about questioning the status quo.

We are building an organization and solutions for the future, and the future will look different. There will be a great deal of change, but our commitment through it all will be to support our staff and to be open and engage with not only our employees, but with partners and industry as well.

Transformation in the IT Community

And that brings me to the last point I want to make – that SSC can play a key role in the transformation of the government IT community itself.

Today, IT people in government are often seen by their non-IT colleagues as “techies” who work off in the background somewhere. IT staff are seen as people who develop and support tech tools without becoming involved in the policy and program decisions at the heart of the government’s agenda. In today’s tech-driven world, that technical role just isn’t enough. Governments deserve more from the IT community. And the IT community is ready to deliver. I heard that time and again as I participated in our town hall meetings earlier this year, as our employees talked about how this new enterprise-wide approach, and the fact that the Government of Canada now had a department centred on IT, could open up a whole range of possibilities.

I see a future in which key government decisions take technology into account from the start. I see a future in which IT people in government make contributions to policy development and program management by bringing their insights to those processes, so that Canadians benefit from policies and programs that are keeping pace with their tech-driven lives.

We need to create awareness that the members of the government IT community can and should make big impacts throughout their careers – and not just in technical roles. They must be given the opportunity to leverage their technical expertise in career paths that value their understanding of leading edge technologies. We need to broaden learning options so they can develop the full range of skills and knowledge they need to become effective public service leaders, wherever they serve.

In Shared Services Canada, we want to build that kind of workplace. We know we are home to a critical mass of talent and expertise. We have designed an organizational structure that fosters collaboration among our staff, in an environment that promotes innovation and excellence. We intend to build on that by transforming and expanding what it means to be an IT expert, whether in operations or in other areas. We will be a place that offers attractive career-building opportunities for people who want to have positive impacts on this country and its citizens.

We are operationalizing our plans through a Workforce Management Strategy that emphasizes planning, learning and development. It will encourage employees to gain the people, management and other skills required by leaders at every level in the public service. As an organization, Shared Services Canada is committed to supporting our staff and to helping build a government IT community that can have a far bigger impact than it does today. And this is especially important because, as I said earlier, the future is not going to look like the past and we all have an interest in shaping it and being ready for it.

Conclusion

Shared Services Canada has been launched at a time of unprecedented change for governments. We are determined to be a department for the 21st century. Through consolidation, streamlining and continuous improvement, we are committed to providing our partner departments with the modern, secure and reliable IT infrastructure and services they need, at a reduced cost to Canadians.

We have already made important progress in that direction. Since August 2011, we have built an organization, brought talent aboard from 43 departments and agencies and taken on the day-to-day challenges of operating the IT infrastructure that keeps a modern government running . And we are making the progress that we need to make towards the transformation of the government-wide email, data centre and network services.

There is much, much more to be done, of course. By the time that GTEC rolls around next year, I look forward to talking to you about:

  • the email solution that will be in implementation;
  • our work with industry and departments to further our plans for data centre consolidation and telecommunications transformation; and
  • the ways in which we have improved service, security and results in every day operations all across the departments we serve.

But for now, let me just close by saying that at the end of year one, the SSC value proposition is proving itself to be robust, our staff continue to deliver service excellence on a daily basis, and a commitment to innovation is at the heart of our operations and our plans for the future.

Thank you and I very much look forward to continuing to work with you and with all our partners.

Liseanne Forand
President, Shared Services Canada