As the Canadian government pursues its goal of creating IT efficiencies and delivering more engaging and secure services to citizens with its Shared Services Strategy, the challenge now is to design and implement IT models that are proven and will meet the growing demands of the population in our digital economy.
The good news is that the Canadian government need not face the challenge alone and different ministries are already recognizing the expertise and resources that the private sector can offer to help expedite the Shared Services Strategy.
On November 22, 2012, then Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose launched a roundtable bringing together government officials and representatives of the information and communications technology sector (ICT) on a regular basis to help direct the transformation of the IT system.
This is an integral step to ensuring a successful transition to a shared services model. No one person, company or ministry will have all the answers and know-how to make it happen. By turning to the collective expertise of the private sector, the daunting journey of amalgamating many systems into one cohesive and efficient system will be – in part – guided by those who have the understanding and experience to successfully navigate the potential pitfalls and hurdles that stand in the way.
Thankfully, there are cases that Canada can learn from.
The Alaska state government’s recent centralization of its IT services should be of particular interest to the federal government. Shared Services Canada will be facing many of the same challenges Alaska faced – both from a technical perspective as well as a geographic one.
Alaska’s Division of Enterprise Technology Services (ETS) sought to consolidate 16 departments and agencies’ IT services, each with its own unique system. Like Canada, Alaska’s sparse population and large landmass presented similar challenges.
ETS turned to the private sector for help in designing and building its centralized system. Cisco, Microsoft and NetApp helped ETS navigate the potential pitfalls by working together to create a solution that reduced complexity, improved overall efficiency and security, lowered operating costs and could be deployed quickly.
Together, they created a unified and virtual computing system that addressed Alaska’s current and future data demands. ETS built a private cloud on a flexible shared infrastructure from NetApp and Cisco, which offered a consolidated, more efficient solution, saving valuable IT resources through features such as secure multi-tenancy and disaster recovery. A comprehensive and intuitive management and support system made it much easier for IT workers to track and monitor storage and server performance 24/7.
ETS designed the solution to be almost completely virtualized to address the geographic challenges. Almost 95 percent of the environment is virtualized, from mailboxes running on Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 to many customized databases used for government processes running on Microsoft SQL Server 2008, to help maximize resource utilization.
The unified infrastructure enabled the State of Alaska’s many departments to share resources, accelerate the delivery of services and benefits to its citizens and save taxpayer dollars.
IT takes a village
The saying “it takes a village to raise a child” is especially poignant here. As an industry – let alone a country – we all have a stake in the success or failure of a shared services model. As the Alaska example demonstrates, a collaborative approach between public and private sector is an effective way to mitigate risk and develop a solution that addresses the needs of the government and Canadians.
The private sector will certainly be able to help in designing and building an agile data infrastructure that addresses the current and future security and data demands – it is what we do. What’s more important is that the private sector brings a business perspective into the equation. A business acumen will help ensure that the system is designed to improve workflow and productivity, while remaining extremely cost-effective, giving Canadians a better bang-for-the-buck.
While we won’t see the end-product for a few years, the government and Minister Ambrose’s decision to tap the collective experience of the private sector is a promising start. The journey to a centralized IT system won’t be a simple one, but with a collaborative effort between the ICT village and Shared Services Canada, success seems evermore likely.