Shared services canada says it’s modernizing government, saving millions of dollars hilltimes
1. 11/13/12 Shared Services Canada says it’s modernizing government, saving millions of dollars | hilltimes.com
Shared Services Canada says it’s modernizing government, saving millions
By JESSICA BRUNO | Nov. 12, 2012
Just over a year into its mandate, bureaucrats at Shared Services Canada have built a department from scratch and say they are saving the
government millions of dollars by cutting unnecessary duplications in IT.
“We have a wealth of opportunity when it comes to economies of scale,” SSC president Liseanne Forand told the House Government Operations
Committee Nov. 6.
Shared Services Canada was launched by the government in August 2011. Almost its entire 6,500-person staff and $1.8-billion budget was created
by transferring existing IT responsibilities from 43 government departments, representing 95 per cent of the government’s IT infrastructure, that
had previously handled their own technology needs.
“What a difference a year makes,” said Ms. Forand of the department’s rapid establishment.
One of SSC’s major priorities is to transform the way government organizes its email, its data centres, and its networks by modernizing systems and
organizing them more efficiently. The government expects this will save a lot of money.
“There is a consolidation dividend, just by brining these operations together, before we’ve even started to transform,” said Ms. Forand. She said
that the transformation process would unfold in waves over the next six to 10 years.
SSC has already identified significant savings on the government’s phone bill. By replacing the government’s aging phone systems with telephones
that use the internet instead of a traditional phone line, the government will save $50-million over the next three years, said Ms. Forand.
“Office desk phones, those cost us about $31 a month, whereas IP phones are more around $15 a month,” she explained. SSC is also looking at
switching people to mobile phones, getting rid of landlines completely, where appropriate.
The department has an unprecedented bird’s-eye view of all of the government’s IT assets. Like never before, SSC can fill a department’s
technological needs by taking advantage of systems that another department might not need.
“One department had a data centre in Regina that was nearing end of life. It was part of their plans to build a new data centre in a floor of an
office building in Regina. Well, we found that we had space in a different data centre that another department had in Regina, so we were able to
not build,” said Ms. Forand.
2. 11/13/12 Shared Services Canada says it’s modernizing government, saving millions of dollars | hilltimes.com
The government has about 300 data centres (large computer centres that house much of the government’s IT infrastructure) of varying size across
Canada, according to SSC. Most of them were built in the 1970s and 1980s and advancements in technology have made them obsolete.
“Two things have happened through data centre evolution. The first thing is power efficiency and cooling efficiency,” Grant Westcott, chief
operating officer of SSC, told the committee.
“The second thing is because technology is a lot more compact, you can use a lot less floor space,” he said.
The government’s data centres currently take up about 600,000 sq. ft., but Mr. Westcott said that after the government has finished modernizing
the systems they should take up about one-third of that, across just 20 centres.
“All of that adds up, by the time you get increased efficiency and less floor space, you are going to end up with an environmental bonus at the
end,” he added.
Email systems are also getting a makeover. There are currently 63 email systems being used in the 43 departments. By 2015, SSC plans that there
will be one.
SSC has been consulting with industry to investigate possible replacement systems. In January it plans to open up bidding on the project from a
list of five to 10 pre-qualified contractors. It expects to choose an email solution by spring 2013.
The department made room in its budget for a maximum cost of $80-million, but Ms. Forand said they would have a better understanding of how
much the new email system will cost after a supplier is chosen.
To protect the system from future hackers, SSC has invoked the national security exemption to Canada’s free trade agreements. This means that it
does not have to publish the details of how the system works in the bidding process, and it doesn’t have to consider every foreign bidder, Ms.
“This new solution will support a consistent approach to all aspects of email, including instant messaging, calendars, contacts, folders, directories
and anti-virus and anti-spam production,” added Ms. Forand. It will also be both desktop and mobile compatible.
After a supplier is chosen, SSC anticipates rolling out the new email system in waves across multiple departments over the next two years.
“It’s actually a bit mind-boggling why this has actually dragged on for so many years to get to this point, but I’m glad we are bringing in all the
services into this much-needed efficient perspective,” said Conservative MP Ron Cannan (Kelowna-Lake Country, B.C.).
Shared Services Canada also took part in the government’s strategic operating review. It found $150-million in savings, $75-million of which have
already been completed this year, said Ms. Forand.
“We did take great care to protect our ability to maintain operations while realizing those savings. We didn’t want those changes to affect our
ability to operate the systems of government. We also didn’t want those savings to jeopardize our ability to launch our transformation agenda,” she
Ms. Forand said that the department worked to identify savings that came from the department’s increased buying power, compared to individual
“It’s not that I’m favouring firing people, but I would have thought that if you had consolidated 43 departments into one, that you would have
more people than you needed because of that consolidation,” said Liberal MP John McCallum (Markham-Unionville, Ont.), his party’s
government operations critic.
While no workers were affected or laid off, Ms. Forand said that about 250 future jobs were cut from the department’s plans, and 50 jobs will be
eliminated via attrition.
At the Government Technology Exhibition and Conference in Ottawa Nov. 7 SSC senior assistant deputy minister Maurice Chénier explained in a
seminar about SSC that the new department was different from most government organizations.
“We’re quite unique: 35 per cent of our expenditures are on staff, while 65 per cent is on things. That ratio is usually totally reversed,” he said.
Ms. Forand said that “a good foundation is now in place” at the department due to the past year’s work.
Still, “SSC has much more to do to realize all the objectives the government has set for us,” she said.
While the department works on modernizing the government’s major systems it must also “keep the IT lights on for some 2,100 mission-critical
systems” she said.
“Government runs on IT infrastructure. If the IT infrastructure doesn’t work, the government doesn’t work,” said Ms. Forand in a keynote speech
to GTEC Nov. 7.
SSC must now provide tech support to the 43 departments, in many cases on a 24-seven basis. It is also working on improving the systems it
“When I say SSC is providing continuity in operations, I certainly don’t mean the status quo,” said Ms. Forand.
3. 11/13/12 Shared Services Canada says it’s modernizing government, saving millions of dollars | hilltimes.com
When SSC was created it also took responsibility for about 750 in-progress IT projects from the individual departments. With SSC’s whole of
government approach, some were consolidated while others were cancelled outright.
“There were several places where they might have five videoconferencing projects all going on at the same time. Five different suppliers, five
different ways of going about it, five different project management teams. We’ve be able to consolidate some of those projects,” said Ms. Forand.
Mr. Chénier said that departments are encouraged to work together on similar IT project proposals, and that more and more, that is happening.
“I’ve seen more and more clustering of demand on the business side, and trust me, that is a huge help,” he said.
But SSC wants to continue to have healthy competition between its potential suppliers.
“I wouldn’t want the committee to think that we are going to end up with one big huge contract for everything that we buy, or even in each
category. We are going to want to continue to have a diversity of suppliers to make sure that we have a good competition,” Ms. Forand told MPs
Dealing with IT across the entire government is requiring a culture shift, noted a number of bureaucrats.
Kevin Radford, SSC’s senior assistant deputy minister of operations, cited the way IT managers handled a recent cyber attack from the hacktivist
group Anonymous as an example of this new thinking.
Over the past two weeks, the government has been under a denial of service attack from Anonymous. The attack works by overloading a particular
website with access requests to the point where it can’t serve its actual users.
To handle the attack, for the first time, information protection groups in each department worked together and communicated what was going
“Every morning at eight o’clock they all get on the phone and they have a chat on what’s happening. Every four hours they get together and they
put a report out to program leads saying, ‘This is what’s happening,’” Mr. Radford said.
“There is really good collaboration on that particular front,” he said.
In the future SSC plans on consolidating the individual response groups into a single centre, said Mr. Westcott.
“The creation of SSC was transformational from a government of Canada perspective, but it provided the external shock to us to get our act
together in terms of business process renewal and IT transformation,” said John Turner, assistant deputy minister of information management at
National Defence at GTEC.
For the creation of SSC, National Defence moved over $300-million, the equivalent of more than 220 full-time jobs and a number of military
personnel to the new department, Mr. Turner said.
At the time, there were “intense discussions with SSC in terms of negotiating thing back out of what was being fenced. That led to the odd dust up,
but things are much improved now. We’ve evolved the partnership to actually the point where we have a very good working relationship,” he said.
When SSC was first created, departments’ chief information officers were “kind of skeptical” said Marj Akerley, CIO at Justice Canada at GTEC.
“But I think [SSC] earned a lot of trust over the last year,” she added.
Ms. Forand said that the confusion initially surrounding her department has worn off following a number of town halls and other meetings
designed to explain SSC.
Now, “there isn’t that sense of oh my god, what’s happening, who are these people and what are they going to do?” she said.
Mr. Radford said he recently learned of a briefing paper making its way up the chain of command in a “fairly large department” that complained
that SSC was not consulting on the email project. He blamed the criticism on the department’s own lack of engagement.
“They could have picked up the phone…and they could have found out that there is an entire requirements gathering phase during this period of
time,” he said.
“There is an equal obligation on the part of the partners to participate in it. This isn’t something that we’re just going to deliver as a service, it’s
something that the partners need to be engaged and committed to,” he said.
Deirdre Kerr-Perrot, vice-president of Canada Border Services Agency, said that “there’s a lot of goodness” to be gained from her agency’s
relationship with SSC.
“Our expectation is that we will have a more robust infrastructure, and that we as CBSA don’t need to focus as much on infrastructure, we know
that SSC is taking care of it,” she said at GTEC.
Fifteen months in, Ms. Forand said she feels like she’s seen it all.
“Everything from single points of failure…to empty diesel tanks and hungry rats,” she told the crowd at GTEC.
At the committee, the New Democrats were concerned that the government’s much-touted modern systems would turn out to be a problem in the
4. 11/13/12 Shared Services Canada says it’s modernizing government, saving millions of dollars | hilltimes.com
“When we talk about transformation, can we guarantee that by the time the project will be done, it won’t be obsolete? … Are our systems going to
be flexible enough to adapt to new technology? I’ve worked in the government and I know that at the time there were systems that were supposed
to be very modern, and yet we’re still dealing with green screens, and 10 years later we are still having the same problem,” said NDP MP Jean-
François Larose (Repentigny, Que.).
Ms. Forand has said her department will be prepared for whatever comes: “The future is not going to look like the past and we all have an interest
in shaping it and being ready for it.”
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