We live in exciting times: an unprecedented level of innovation is taking place in our global society. We have created new tools and discovered new processes that interconnect us as never before. In the palm of your hand, you can be connected to your friends, family, businesses and government. This connection to content and information grows in size and quality every single day.
From my perspective, as corporate chief information officer for the Government of Ontario, this accelerated pace of innovation and increase in connectivity means it is an exciting time to work in the public service – particularly in information and information technology (I&IT). Enabled by technological innovation, IT professionals in 2011 have unprecedented opportunities to improve the government’s ability to engage and deliver services to citizens and businesses.
Our interconnectedness has raised expectations for service excellence by government, and across all sectors. Also, research and consultation points to new and more complicated economic and social problems resulting in part from cultural trends toward information ubiquity. This certainly poses challenges. Add to that the aftermath of a global economic crisis and there is a lot to do, but little appetite for investment.
Looking to respond to the challenge of needing “to do more with less,” IT organizations the world over are identifying new technologies and innovative practices. Technology-based automation leads to improved efficiencies and increased transparency.
Since 1998 in Ontario, we have coordinated and communicated our activities through progressive strategic roadmaps. Starting with a transformation to break down silos, consolidation of ministry IT branches into “clusters” and consolidation of infrastructure into a single organization has precipitated cost savings and laid strong foundations for IT as a business enabler.
Over a period of two years, a massive shift took place. Hundreds of people were re?assigned, over 100 large and small data centres were closed, more than 1,500 servers were decommissioned, a single email system was implemented and a single point of contact IT help desk went live.
This transformation of the infrastructure and the organizational landscape was critical to the future effectiveness of the IT organization, but also proved its worth financially: over $100 million is being saved annually.
The success of the changes and the lessons learned over the last six years enabled the building of the next key piece of infrastructure ? a data centre that would house the government’s most critical applications and data. The centre, based in Guelph, was built in partnership with Infrastructure Ontario using a new alternative financing method where we partnered to design, build, maintain and finance. This data centre was definitely built with tomorrow in mind.
We have made significant strides over the past decade, but there is, of course, no shortage of current and future projects to test our skills and our creativity. We are focused on three key activities going forward: supporting innovation, thinking laterally to enable business transformation, and managing and sharing information.
Innovation is about testing cutting edge technology and seeing if it can scale across our enterprise. This is exactly what we do at our Innovation Lab at the MaRS Centre in Toronto. As part of a cloud computing strategy, for the past year we have been evaluating the advantages of using cloud technology with our private and public sector partners.
Thinking laterally is about using IT’s horizontal viewpoint to make strategic linkages across the organization. Our Open for Business initiative means that businesses can interact with government using a single unique business number and can complete applications for licences and permits through a single window.
Our growing understanding of our data holdings is informing policy development, and permitting a future where citizens and business can play a role in social innovation and economic development. Look at the mapping information made available by Land Information Ontario as an example of our activities in this area.
We have put the foundational pieces in place, and we are determined to push ahead. My predecessors left a foundational legacy of solid planning and achievements that I am excited to continue. Due to their progressive thinking and focus on execution, I have the advantage of leading an IT group that is well organized, structured and equipped, and ready to use technology to meet today’s challenges.
Continuing our consolidation efforts will make it easier and more efficient for citizens and businesses to interact with government. Assessing new ways to partner with the private sector and the broader public sector will allow I&IT in Ontario to be a flexible, adaptable, and agile organization committed to delivering transformational change.
David Nicholl is the corporate chief information officer of the Government of Ontario.