During a panel discussion held at GTEC 2014, senior executives from across the government of Canada and external experts gathered to share enterprise systems-thinking efforts that are underway and gaining momentum. The call to action is recent, clear and well documented. How are leaders responding, what progress is being made, what are they learning along the way, and what’s next?

Enterprise thinking and a whole-of-government approach are not limited to centrally led initiatives – they have and continue to exist in many forms. Some are driven from the centre, such as Treasury Board Secretariat, with some success and many lessons learned. Others are led by departmental champions, such as National Resources Canada and Public Works, or exist within the permeable boundaries of individual departments and agencies, such as the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Every indication is that the push to enterprise will continue and intensify. In fact, the case for opting out will be increasingly rare – from the largest departments like National Defence, to service providers such as Shared Services and Public Works, to small and micro departments and agencies.

Is “enterprise” worth it?
The macro case for enterprise is often much easier to make in terms of benefits to Canadians and the government as a whole – increased efficiency; improved effectiveness; and better services for Canadians are a few, all packed with value statements, outcomes and expectations.

The “rub” lies in the unpacking of benefits at a micro or departmental level where the case for enterprise can be dealt a fatal blow, often requiring significant investments, accrual of benefits to departments over significantly protracted timelines, and integration with department-specific priorities. It places additional pressure on an already transformation-saturated government and can pose significant risks if left unmitigated.

As the panellists explained, it is becoming increasingly challenging to achieve outcomes and results without “going enterprise.” Many of the easy wins in vertical silos have already been harvested and unlocking value within a very complex set of systems necessitates new ways of thinking, different behaviours and unwavering leadership at all levels. Leaders must be creative, brave, resilient and steadfast. They must embrace their role as networkers, designers, integrators and enablers in building out the GC enterprise.

Design is the cornerstone
Panellists emphasized the critical importance of sound design from inception. Terms such as “architecture” and “interoperability” can be intimidating; they are traditionally associated with technology, not the business (of government) domain. These, and related terms, must be embraced and adopted by the business, working in partnership with technology, to co-produce enterprise solutions in a collaborative and agile way.

Design is an evolutionary process and it must be grounded in sound principles, with clear goals and specific, measureable outcomes. It must also be flexible, adaptive, and fluid to be successful in a complex environment of existing interdependent systems (people, organization, technological).

(Re)building an enterprise platform that eventually supports the end-to-end value chain of government, from the outside in and from the inside out, requires that the component pieces integrate and align to work together as a complete system. “Enterprise” will support integrated service delivery for citizens and the public service, digitization, open information, and open government. It will serve as a launch pad for innovation in the future. Taking the time and investing the effort in sound design is the first step and a key determinant in achieving success.

The journey continues
In the interim, the enterprise drive continues as the structural, policy and instrument frameworks evolve. Core elements such as governance, directives and guidance, accountability frameworks, authorities and cabinet processes are but a few key components needed to enable the enterprise reality in the government today, and in the future.

Enterprise is on the minds of leaders across the federal government, private sector partners, and political leaders – design is just the beginning. More precisely, design is one element in a continuous lifecycle of design, mobilize, perform and innovate that breaks the seemingly endless cycle of stacking independent business transformation and modernization initiatives upon each other with little alignment and scarce integration.

Enterprise is a mindset, a competency and a capability needed to unlock value for Canadians where everyone has responsibility and a role to play.

For more about future sessions, join Halo MC’s public-private enterprise management discussion series. Contact collaborate_with_us@halomc.ca.