U.S. consultants slam Shared Services Canada for failing projects

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Ottawa is in way over its head by attempting a massive transformation of its information-technology (IT) systems under Shared Services Canada, says a scathing indictment of the agency’s failings since 2011.

The government of Canada “has vastly underestimated the size, scale and complexity of this effort. … They are attempting the largest and most complex public-sector shared-service implementation ever considered,” concludes a $1.35-million report by international consultants.

“We … lack confidence in the ability of SSC (Shared Services Canada) and the GC (Government of Canada) to successfully execute the plan.”

The Jan. 12, 2017, report by consultant Gartner Inc. was ordered by the federal government last August, after repeated failures of the Phoenix payroll system and complaints from departments about Shared Services Canada’s inability to deliver technology upgrades, including new email systems.

U.S.-based Gartner brought together a five-person expert panel to examine the agency and its projects, a group that included executives experienced in public-sector digital transformations in California, Massachusetts and Northern Ireland, as well as the former IBM executive who handled big projects within that firm.

Shared Services Canada outsourcing

A $1.35-million consultants’ report, obtained by CBC News under the Access to Information Act, says Shared Services Canada is in way over its head trying to manage a massive transformation of technology. (Shutterstock)

The report lauds the project of consolidating the federal government’s information technology, including creation of a single email system, but says “very little progress” has been made in the last six years because of persistent management failures.

“Decision making cannot follow current approaches,” said the document, obtained by CBC News under the Access to Information Act.

“Execution must be based on agile, effective decision making, with clear and singular accountabilities. This is the antithesis of governance today.”

The report repeatedly underscores the enormous scale of the consolidation project, likening it to combining the infrastructure of between 30 and 40 large banks.

Slow-footed

The consultants say Shared Services Canada is slow-footed, partly hobbled by complex procurement rules, so that an email solution it chose in 2011 and still has not completed has since been outmoded by new cloud services.

“The world in 2016 is much different from how it was in 2011, and the expert panel and Gartner believe developments such as cloud services should be given much more prominence in SSC’s future,” said the 198-page report.

Some of the document is redacted, including key financial information. The authors make a series of recommendations, chief of which is the appointment of a deputy minister for IT for all of government, to whom the head of Shared Services Canada would report.

In April 2011, then-prime minister Stephen Harper lauded the project to consolidate the government’s IT systems and data centres, saying on the election campaign trail that year that “we know we can save all kinds of money there.”

‘The project was set up to fail through underfunding, lack of service standards, and poor planning from the previous government.’ – Jean-Luc Ferland, spokesperson for Treasury Board President Scott Brison

The new agency charged with carrying out the transformation, Shared Services Canada, was announced on Aug. 4, 2011, after Harper won a majority.

But two projects in particular went off the rails in the early going, one to consolidate cell and telephone services, the other to consolidate email services. Both have been plagued by delays, among other problems.

And the new agency was immediately required to cut costs as part of a government-wide effort to wipe out the federal deficit by 2015.

Shared Services Canada data centre

Shared Services Canada is the department responsible for the federal government’s IT services, including its data centres. A new report says the federal government must create a new deputy minister of IT, to help get the troubled agency back on track. (Shared Services Canada)

Jean-Luc Ferland, a spokesperson for Treasury Board President Scott Brison, welcomed the consultants’ conclusions and recommendations, pinning much of the blame for the bad results on the former Conservative government.

“As the report makes clear, the motivation and objectives behind the creation of Shared Services Canada are even more relevant today than they were when it was conceived in 2011,” said Ferland.

“The report is equally clear that the former Conservative government failed to put in place the basic fundamentals for success at the time SSC was created. The project was set up to fail through underfunding, lack of service standards, and poor planning from the previous government.”

No timeline

Ferland said the government is still reviewing the recommendations, alongside those of the auditor general, House of Commons committees and other consultations. He did not provide a timeline for solutions.

“Our government’s ambition is to provide exemplary service to Canadians while making a seamless transformation to the age of digital government — not booking false savings, arbitrarily hobbling the public service, or cutting corners.”

Last year, Finance Minister Bill Morneau added $383.8 million to the budget of Shared Services Canada over two years to help it resolve a raft of problems.

The outside experts who contributed to the Gartner report were William Oates, former CIO of Massachusetts; Ron Hughes, former chief deputy CIO for California; William Wickens, chief executive of North Ireland Shared Services Organization; Luc Portelance, former president of the Canada Border Services Agency; and Sal Calta, former IBM executive.

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U.S. consultants slam Shared Services Canada for failing projects

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