Ron McKerlie is Ontario’s Corporate Chief Information and Information Technology Officer. McKerlie describes the province’s governance and management of its IT modernization agenda.
Government exists to provide public policy leadership, and to manage and deliver services to its citizens, while keeping a solid grip on its finances and demonstrating clear accountability to the taxpayer. Today, the best way to understand the modernization of Information and Information Technology (I&IT) services in Ontario is to recognize that it is part of a broader modernization agenda that touches every area of the Ontario government. Ontario is committed to helping government agencies deliver information and programs better, improve management of internal operations and deliver enhanced services cost-effectively. Over the past few years, Ontario’s I&IT administration was presented with the challenge of delivering on those commitments while reducing overall I&IT expenditures.
Across the government, the goal of realizing I&IT savings in the order of $100 million by 2007/08 is being achieved. Ministry budgets were reduced by $40 million in 2006/07 and by another $60 million in 2007/08. A special group charged with tracking the savings verifies and validates that they were achieved in ways that did not impair organizational efficiency or service delivery.
The strategy of saving $100 million in I&IT expenditures was accompanied by a significant shift in roles and responsibilities with respect to I&IT in the last 18 months. I&IT resources across government have been consolidated within the organization. Decision-makers recognized that it was essential to have more clarity about roles, responsibilities and processes in order to improve their ability to manage and steward resources wisely.
The strategy has been to focus on infrastructure beginning with the move from clusters to a central organization with the creation of Infrastructure Technology Services (ITS). ITS replaces the Office of the Corporate Chief Service Delivery and iSERV organizations. Today, across the Ontario Public Service, employees are seeing the benefits of I&IT infrastructure service consolidation and standardization: they take their requirements to one service desk; they communicate across one email system; their desktop computers are provisioned and maintained to a province-wide standard. The result is lower cost, greater efficiency and, most importantly, the basis for flexible and effective interoperability in support of increasingly integrated services.
I&IT is one of several functions, including audit, that have for some time been ‘clustered’ to provide common services horizontally across groups of ministries. I&IT staff have now been consolidated with cluster-type functions and a common cluster organization model has been introduced to facilitate standardization of customer services and minimize issues that arise if in the future cluster “membership” is adjusted. This organization model puts cluster focus on applications, information management and service management.
That said, business areas are looking for more than just cost savings; they are looking to I&IT to provide tangible service improvements. According to McKerlie, I&IT is ready to deliver: “We took the time to develop a vision of where we want to go as an organization and how we can get there. We’ve taken time to communicate that across the organization and we know that clearly stating our values and our mission enables us to incorporate those values on both personal and organizational levels.”
In consultation with their business partners, the I&IT organization is working to define a Strategic Plan that will guide their efforts and deliver substantial value to the organization over a five-year period. One of the pillars of this plan is improving the way the government attracts, develops and retains I&IT staff. Another pillar is delivering first-rate services to customers and subsequently increasing their customer satisfaction ratings.
“It won’t be an easy job,” McKerlie observes. “There are lots of tough issues that we’ll need to address. We recognize that the expectations of citizens are driving partnering and collaboration across departments. The way we deliver services and information is increasingly being formed around citizen needs as opposed to our organizational structures. I&IT will provide critical support to that trend, from areas as basic as consistent data definitions to the networks and systems that deliver solutions. We have a lot of re-tooling to do to enable these new service delivery approaches”
Those with some knowledge of Ontario’s clustering of its information technology organizations might think that since the I&IT organization is already united, their part is done. The reality is the next step is to join up the businesses and business processes that those clusters support and it is important to remember that modernization is not specific to I&IT. The cross-government modernization agenda is a comprehensive exercise that encompasses internal service delivery within the Ontario public service, and external service delivery to citizens and businesses. Those are the real change drivers.
I&IT is now starting to grapple with applications and how to manage them more strategically across the organization and across their life cycle. Like most large organizations, in the past Ontario launched projects as they were needed. That strategy has now changed. The portfolio that was built is being looked at from a much different perspective. Similar to any other tangible assets, existing systems undergo a natural “rusting out.” As a result, the current I&IT portfolio contains an interesting array of solutions, some of which are becoming expensive to maintain because they require many different licenses and many different skill sets. I&IT is evolving past those legacy issues to identify opportunities for common solutions and becoming much more structured in application development so that over time, their applications portfolio will become much less diverse.
Moving to more common applications is happening within the context of business needs. Ontario public service managers now recognize that a narrow focus on business requirements can rule out the substantial cost savings and additional functionality of common applications. They now see that the redefinition of their requirements can create those opportunities, so they are starting to call on the I&IT organization for strategic advice, to help them understand the environment and make the best resource choices. The work the I&IT organization is doing with their business partners is a really important indicator of organizational maturity.
Renewed and modernized I&IT in Ontario will support the government as it works on its priorities and mandate, but more rigour and discipline is required to generate optimum results. As well as infrastructure consolidation, I&IT is making significant strides to improve all areas of management: process management, service management, asset management, project management, performance management.
Well-established and mature governance processes have been critical to I&IT’s success. A deputy ministers committee provides strategic guidance to the I&IT organization and a meeting report always goes forward to the larger Deputy Ministers Council so