Shared Services Special
May 29, 2012

Transforming government IT infrastructure

Shared Services Canada (SSC) was created on August 4, 2011, to streamline, standardize and transform the government of Canada’s IT infrastructure services to deliver a digital platform for the federal government of the future – one that is modern, reliable, secure, and provided at a reduced cost.   

The government’s IT infrastructure has traditionally been managed in silos, with each department establishing the services that it required to carry out its business. As the pace of technological change increased, so did the challenges faced by departments in ensuring that their infrastructure could support new needs. Over the years, the infrastructure became more and more fragmented, as well as costly to manage and maintain. The former Auditor General, Sheila Fraser, in her Spring 2010 report, noted that the government’s systems could not “be easily updated to respond to the changing business needs flowing from new laws, regulations or industry standards” and warned that “an aging critical system could break down and prevent the government from delivering key services to the public.”

The creation of SSC is one part of the government’s response to those risks. It brings together resources from 43 departments and agencies with a mandate to establish whole-of-government solutions and to improve the delivery of IT infrastructure services.

For the next eight years, SSC will transform the government’s IT infrastructure in three key areas: email, data centres and networks. There are over one hundred different email systems across the government, which is neither efficient nor cost-effective. The government has over three hundred data centres countrywide and their use is not rationalized: some operate well below capacity while others struggle to meet demand. Add to that over three thousand overlapping and uncoordinated electronic networks and it becomes clear that we have an opportunity to find efficiencies, reduce duplication and leverage the government’s buying power to achieve economies of scale.    

The first project that will be undertaken is consolidation of the email systems of the 43 partner departments into one secure, reliable and cost-effective system. Planning is already underway and we expect to implement a solution within the next three years. Among other benefits, a single email system will simplify the maintenance of the Government Electronic Directory which is currently costly to maintain and difficult to navigate for both employees and Canadians seeking information and services. Functionality, security, reliability and cost will be factors in developing a new system that is simplified and modernized in terms of both directory services and addresses.

The streamlining of government of Canada data centres is another important project that will be done in a gradual way. The initiative is expected to take about eight years to implement. Our objective is to reduce the number of data centres from over 300 to fewer than 20, while improving the way in which they are managed. Detailed and long-term planning will allow us to make use of common servers and technology, leveraging synergies and skills, instead of contracting for additional storage space and services.  

As we streamline and renew data centres, we will also streamline the telecommunications network backbone that supports them. We will eliminate overlap and duplication; converge voice, data and video transmission; and increase the efficiency and security of the network overall.

Security of systems and information is top of mind for SSC and its government partners. As we plan the transformation of IT infrastructures and services, we will take advantage of the opportunity to work horizontally with partner departments to improve delivery of services to Canadians in a secure, reliable and integrated manner.

As SSC establishes its transformation plans, it will learn from the many organizations, both public and private, that have adopted shared services models for horizontal internal functions such as the delivery of IT infrastructure. Governments at every level and of widely diverse sizes are now benefitting from their adoption of this approach, including very large state governments like California, with a population of over 36 million; some functional areas of the U.S. federal government; and a number of Canadian provincial governments, including Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario.

Their successes are encouraging. Between 2002 and 2011, B.C. reduced its data centres from over one hundred to two. Michigan reduced its email systems from 40 to two, and shifted from obsolete and unreliable infrastructure to modern enterprise solutions in the process. Ontario reports that its IT transformation initiative, launched in 1998, is saving at least $100 million annually. It is also worth noting that as Ontario’s shared services have evolved, its rationale and approach have changed from aggregation and consolidation in order to decrease costs, to a focus on service innovation that supports the public service and improves organizational performance.

Just as the achievements of other organizations inspire us, the challenges they have faced help us appreciate what we need to succeed. Every aspect of SSC’s mandate, structure and model has been carefully considered to deliver increased efficiency, better quality and service excellence.   

A first key element for success is that the IT services we deliver are mandatory for the 43 identified departments and agencies. A number of jurisdictions reported that initial attempts at enterprise approaches were unsuccessful due to their voluntary nature. By making services mandatory, the focus is shifted from whether to how: how can we deliver service improvements using a more modern approach?

Secondly, SSC has been given the authority to operate on an appropriations basis, rather than by cost recovery. This approach will enable a new partnership to emerge whereby SSC will work with departments to manage organic growth and renewal cycles for IT infrastructure as a partner, and not a traditional IT service provider.

Thirdly, because commodity-type services tend to be more easily consolidated and standardized, and present opportunities for innovative sourcing models, SSC will put a special focus on ensuring that its procurement activity is driven by its broader and longer-term objectives and conducted in a manner that is fair, transparent and inclusive.

And finally, SSC is relying on IT expertise that exists in government. Our partner departments and agencies have developed many innovative processes, principles and tools over the years. SSC will work with departments in an open, transparent and collaborative manner, engage their expertise and leverage best practices in terms of other new and cost-effective approaches.

Over the past few months, we have been busy building our organization from the ground up. Through two Orders in Councils (August 4, 2011, and November 15, 2011), SSC’s workforce has increased to just over 6,000 employees. Through this transition period, our priority has been to maintain operations so that partner departments can continue to deliver quality services and programs to Canadians. We have also established relationships with key stakeholders and partners that will help us successfully deliver on our mandate.

April 1, 2012, marked the end of SSC’s transition to a new department and the beginning of its transformation of the government of Canada’s IT infrastructure. Just as other departments do, SSC will report through Parliament and to Canadians on its plans and priorities, and on how it will achieve its transformation objectives.  

IT infrastructure is the backbone of mode

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