Shared Services Canada to begin talks on allowing federal departments to ‘opt out’ from centralized IT service

Recognition of reality. Will be interesting to see how departments respond over time:

Shared Services Canada is exploring transferring some responsibilities for federal information technology systems back to individual departments and agencies, in the wake of legislative changes weakening the agency’s monopoly on digital services.

Pat Breton, director general of procurement and vendor relations with SSC, said the agency has started reaching out to the 43 federal departments and agencies it counts as clients to discuss potential service improvements, including bringing certain IT operations back in-house, and plans to hold formal talks with departmental chief information officers in the coming weeks.

“We’ve been proactive in telling them that this is a new tool that we’ve got and we’ll be working with them to put it in place, where appropriate,” he told The Hill Times.

“We’re starting from the holistic needs assessment, gap analysis: What is the specific problem and what’s the best way to address it, and reach solutions together?”

The 2017 budget implementation bill, passed in June, made significant changes to the mandate of SSC, which was launched by the former Conservative government in 2011 with the responsibility of delivering email, data centre, and network services in a “consolidated and standardized manner,” and to offer optional technology-related services to government organizations on a cost-recovery basis.

First, it watered down SSC’s authority to consolidate IT systems across the public services by permitting organizations to opt out of using the agency in “exceptional circumstances.” It also restored the ability of individual departments to purchase software and digital hardware themselves, instead of conducting all business through the agency.

The bill, though, doesn’t allow for blanket exemptions from using SSC, with departments only permitted to opt out of using some services, according to Mr. Breton. Parts of departments can be granted complete exemptions from all SSC services.

The decision to grant the authorization is left to the minister responsible for SSC, Procurement and Public Services Minister Judy Foote (Bonavista–Burin–Trinity, N.L.).

When asked, Mr. Breton didn’t disclose if any departments had asked to opt out since the bill passed, noting that the SSC was only at the “starting point” of defining the exceptional circumstances process. However, departments like Global Affairs that work in remote and international locations would be “obvious areas for consideration,” he said, citing stringent restrictions on who can provide SSC services.

Under its mandate, only SSC employees can deliver its services, meaning the agency has to dispatch an SSC employee in every “point of [reference] around the globe,” according to Mr. Breton, who described it as “not efficient” and “not effective.”

He singled out departments providing services in other countries and working in remote and overseas locations as “consistent themes” where operating from a central location “may not be the most beneficial.”

The Hill Times reached out to several departments and agencies that would appear to fit the criteria or have been identified in media reports as encountering challenges with SSC to ask if they planned to seek an exemption from using its services, though none publicly confirmed they would.

Global Affairs Canada will “continue to work together and maintain our existing partnership,” according to a statement from spokesperson Jocelyn Sweet.

Annie Delisle, a spokesperson for the RCMP, said the national police force is “working closely” with SSC to try and find solutions to “fully meet the RCMP’s policing IT requirements, without compromising operations.”

A spokesperson for the Canada Border Services Agency simply said it “supports” the government’s goals and priorities, and will continue to contribute to areas related to its mandate of defending the country’s borders.

Statistics Canada said it values SSC as a “reliable service provider,” but clarified that while the budget implementation bill provides “more flexibility,” it doesn’t allow departments or agencies to opt out.

Source: Shared Services Canada to begin talks on allowing federal departments to ‘opt out’ from centralized IT service – The Hill Times – The Hill Times

StatsCan’s website struggled with software issues for almost a month, emails show

More bad news about Shared Services Canada:

Statistics Canada’s busy website was partially disabled for much longer than previously reported, as technicians struggled for more than three weeks to bring all of its functions back.

The long, slow road to web restoration is documented in a series of emails obtained by CBC News under the Access to Information Act — emails that raise fresh questions about the performance of Shared Services Canada, the government’s controversial IT agency.

The Statistics Canada website was taken offline late on March 9, after the government was alerted the day before that a common web software tool, known as Apache Struts 2, was vulnerable to hackers.

The Canada Revenue Agency site was taken down for the same reason, just as tax-filing season began.

At a March 13 news conference, a government official said the problems had been resolved after three days.

“We are pleased to note that any affected websites have been patched and have been returned to normal operations,” said Jennifer Dawson, of the Treasury Board Secretariat. Officials said at least one hacker got into the Statistics Canada site, but did no damage, and confidential CRA data was never compromised.

The CRA website appeared to operate without further problems after the fix.

But the released emails show the Statistics Canada website remained dysfunctional for weeks as a series of new problems were revealed.

“We received the results this morning and there are still some vulnerabilities so the focus will be to fix them and re-scan them today,” says one March 27 update.

Shared Services Canada, the troubled IT agency now responsible for maintaining Statistics Canada’s website, confirmed to CBC News that there were “intermittent outages” until April 4 — or 26 days after the problems were first identified.

The emails also suggest Statistics Canada was sometimes not in the loop as Shared Services Canada worked to restore the public-facing website, which is virtually the only means for widely disseminating data to Canadians.

Morning after

The decision to take down the website was made by Shared Services Canada, rather than by chief statistician Anil Anora or other senior Statistics Canada officials.

Internal emails suggest that a problem with Statistics Canada’s website was not reported to the current chief statistician, Anil Anora, until the day after Shared Services Canada decided to take down the site.

Anora and the other officials only learned it had come down the morning after, shortly before the Labour Force Survey — a key monthly jobs report — was scheduled to be posted online, emails show.

Wayne Smith, the former chief statistician who resigned in protest last September citing Statistics Canada’s eroding independence, says the incident shows the agency is still beholden to an ineffective IT provider.

“This was the longest outage of Statistics Canada’s website since it began operation,” Smith said after reviewing the released emails. “There is a risk of this type of event becoming ever more frequent, resulting in a serious degradation of service.”

And despite the Liberal government’s efforts to fix Shared Services Canada, the IT agency remains a problem for other government departments as well, he said.

“Still the same crowd, steering the bureaucratic boat that brought us the failed email system, Phoenix, the outrageously expensive integrated government website, and projects spinning out of control that haven’t yet hit the headlines.”

The released emails have numerous redactions, most to protect security information, and Shared Services Canada declined to fill in the blanks.

‘Consulted’ with StatsCan

A spokesperson for Shared Services Canada, Andrée Gregoire, said the agency “consulted” with Statistics Canada before taking the web servers offline, though a released email uses the word “notified.”

Source: StatsCan’s website struggled with software issues for almost a month, emails show – Politics – CBC News

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

To the current government’s credit, it engaged Gartner to review the implementation of the shared services initiative.

The question remains whether officials who promoted and supported the previous government’s strategy provided sound advice on the risks and mitigation strategies, and whether or not Ministers and the government accepted it or not.

Complex IT projects are hard, and government by its very nature is not agile, further exacerbating risk:

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.”

Source: U.S. consultants slam Shared Services Canada for failing projects – Politics – CBC News

Wayne Smith, former Chief Statistician, continues his critique of Shared Services: Questionable transfers from Statistics Canada to Shared Services Canada

 

It’s time to walk away from Shared Services Canada: Smith

Wayne Smith’s strongest critique yet, and yet one likely to be listened to, given the investment of funds and political/bureaucratic capital in Shared Services:

One might argue that it is rational to starve the legacy infrastructure in order to invest in what is seen as the target infrastructure. This might be true if there was actually a comprehensive and fully costed plan with a known (and near) end date. In fact, no one knows how long the transformation will take or what it will cost but we’re looking at decades and billions of dollars, not a year or two and millions of dollars. The legacy infrastructure cannot survive for that long a time without renewal. As the government’s experience with its new web site demonstrates, SSC’s direct cost for the hardware infrastructure will be dwarfed by the costs incurred in the 43 client departments as they modify their systems to make them transportable to the new infrastructure. This need to transform systems will make this a long-haul project indeed.

From the client departments’ perspective this deepening morass is further complicated by the lack of any acceptable governance arrangements around their relationship to SSC. Shared Services Canada is not accountable to its clients. Nowhere is it set down what obligations SSC has to its clients in respect of the base budget already transferred. Cash-starved SSC takes advantage of this situation by constantly redefining, to its own advantage, those things that it is expected to pay for. One of the more egregious examples was the reversal of an earlier Shared Services Canada commitment that it would accept responsibility to expand capacity in line with natural growth in requirements of client departments. So client departments, at the same time they are looking for massive amounts of money to transform systems to work in SSC planned new data centres, find their IT budgets being eaten away by unjustified and unaffordable SSC charges for hardware services. Departments with large budgets and a tendency to surplus funds annually might be indifferent (it’s not their money) but smaller, tightly run departments may find themselves in serious financial difficulty.

Can SSC turn this situation around? One needs only look at the steady stream of failures and ballooning costs of more modest government IT initiatives (Phoenix, Canada.ca web site, SSC’s own stalled email system) as well as the planning to date of SSC itself to conclude this is unlikely. And there are more centralization projects in the pipeline. One is reminded of Albert Einstein’s famous quip about insanity being defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Sometimes what looks like a better outcome on paper is unattainable. Sometimes a collection of human-scale solutions well-integrated into their environments is ultimately more robust and more efficient overall than the grand, massive scheme. There are better things to spend money on than breaking things that work. The government would be better-advised to back away from this initiative, re-think it (look at New Zealand for a more robust approach) and not move forward again until it has a complete, well-programmed and fully costed plan.

So, Canadians should watch the 2017 budget for any new infusion of funds into Shared Services Canada. The government invested hundreds of millions in the 2016 budget to bail out the SSC initiative, but this sum was nowhere near enough. Government IT operations remain at risk and transformation is largely stalled. This is not short term pain for long-term gain, this is an ever-deepening money pit.

Source: It’s time to walk away from Shared Services Canada – The Hill Times – The Hill Times

Sweating the details at Shared Services: What it will take to reset it

Good article capturing some of the major differences between the public and private sector, and why large-scale IT projects are so hard to do well in the former:

It’s not just that its top mandarins lack knowledge and interest in IT. It’s that the entire procurement system and its political overseers suffocate rather than expedite the rollout of large IT projects.

This is messy stuff — software underpinning data centres and telecommunications networks evolves constantly. Upgrading applications across dozens of federal departments inevitably produces conflicts. Programmers and their managers must be free to resolve them — and to drop approaches that aren’t working. The job demands constant testing and feedback at a very micro level.

Shared Services’ first chief operating officer, Grant Westcott, had nearly four decades of experience in government and the private sector — where he was instrumental in consolidating IT systems at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. But at Shared Services, nearly every move he made was constrained.

At CIBC, Westcott would have been given a budget, a mandate and left alone to get on with it. Had his projects been late and run over budget, it’s unlikely he would have lasted there nearly a decade. In the event, Westcott and his team streamlined the bank’s telecommunications systems and collapsed 22 data centres into just two, trimming CIBC operating costs significantly.

However, the federal government doesn’t allow for this sort of flexibility. Procurement documents contain page after page of technical requirements for programmers and IT consultants. The projects are over-engineered, in other words, in a usually forlorn effort to mitigate most conceivable risks.

Budgets and timelines are spelled out in meticulous detail — even though relatively little is known during the earliest stages about how projects will actually progress. And, of course, there is often extensive cabinet oversight of projects that are costly, late or affect government websites. Which is to say, most of them.

According to experts hired to do these projects, what is needed are wins — IT projects that succeed. And the best way to make these happen is to start with small steps — manageable projects or parts of projects that work. The more of these that Shared Services can string together, the more other federal departments will be willing to let it handle.

This would also make things much easier for Shared Services president Ron Parker — instead of continually revising deadlines for his agency’s main projects, he would be able to point to services actually being performed. Far more satisfying — assuming his people can get things done.

Source: Sweating the details at Shared Services: What it will take to reset it | Ottawa Citizen

Shared Services Canada: How politics sabotaged the government’s grand IT plans | Ottawa Citizen

A good long read by James Bagnall regarding Shared Services Canada and the failure of officials and politicians to anticipate, understand and manage the risks involved. Sobering read:

But Shared Services and Phoenix have something in common — a botched introduction caused, it appears, by deep flaws in how government operates. In both cases, cabinet ministers and bureaucrats underestimated complexity and risk. In this, they were hardly unique — it was the scale of the misjudgment that set the federal IT agenda apart.

Standish Group, a Boston-based consulting firm, has been tracking the performance of IT projects since the mid-1990s — with surprisingly little variation in results. The consultants last year examined 50,000 projects worldwide, including government and private sector. About 30 per cent of these efforts succeeded — that is, they were on time, on budget and produced a payoff. Roughly half the projects ran into difficulty and nearly 20 per cent failed outright. The larger and more complex the project, the higher the rate of failure.

Carol Bellringer, the auditor general for the B.C. government, last month offered three key reasons why IT projects fail: Government departments, she said, lack in-house expertise; they attempt “overly ambitious” programs; they justify the latter through “incomplete” business cases.

All three elements were present at the launch of Shared Services. Most of the responsible bureaucrats were not trained in IT, yet were tasked with remaking on the country’s electronic infrastructure. Many also lacked experience in project management with a heavy IT component.

“I don’t know how many times I heard from deputy ministers that they didn’t understand information technology,” said a senior Shared Services official, “They didn’t like IT and they hoped never to see anything to do with IT for the rest of their career.”

Yet it is a group of deputy ministers — the ones in charge of the most IT-intensive departments — who determine the shape and scope of large IT projects. And when it came to launching Shared Services — the centrepiece of the government’s online renewal — the already high risks were exacerbated by a political agenda that stripped it of the capital necessary to get the job done.

It will likely end up costing taxpayers a fortune to set things right again.

A government data centre in Ottawa.
Detail from one of the many legacy data centres in the National Capital Region.JULIE OLIVER /  POSTMEDIA

It had seemed so simple in the beginning. The idea for Shared Services emerged from the Conservatives’ fifth budget, tabled March 4, 2010. The themes were clear: The economic recession was over; it was time to regain control of government spending.

One aspect of the strategy — little noticed at the time — was the launch of a “comprehensive review” of government spending on administration and overhead expenses. This should have offered easy pickings: Federal government employment was near high tide; and most departments and agencies had expanded rapidly.

Daniel Jean, the deputy secretary to the cabinet of the Privy Council Office, was picked to run the review, making it a big deal. The PCO is home to 950 bureaucrats who provide advice to cabinet and the Prime Minister’s Office, and oversee the development of the civil service.

Jean reported directly to Wayne Wouters (pronounced “Waters”) — the clerk of the privy council and the government’s top bureaucrat. Among the members of the review helping out Jean were Benoit Long, a senior manager seconded from the office of the government’s chief technology officer, and Liseanne Forand, then chief operating officer of Service Canada. The latter department offers Canadians online access to pensions and employment insurance.

The administrative services review was carried out in secret, typical PCO modus operandi. Its members roamed the bureaucracy, collecting information and searching for ways to consolidate or standardize how things were done. Some departments were already moving down this path.

…Information technology offered an even richer vein of potential savings. For half a century, computer networks and software applications had multiplied willy-nilly as individual departments and agencies looked after their own needs. The result was a patchwork of incompatible, higher-cost systems. Standardizing common, basic technologies such as email, data storage and telecommunications seemed logical.

It had been tried before. But attempts to centralize the buying of high-tech gear and services had failed, largely because federal departments were allowed to opt out. Most did so. They did want to give up control of their IT networks to a central agency.

The PCO determined this time would be different. The prime minister had the authority to create a new federal department through a simple cabinet approval known as an order-in-council. Most departments, including a reluctant Canada Revenue Agency and Department of National Defence, would be forced to carve out a significant portion of their IT groups and budgets — about 40 per cent on average — and hand them over to Shared Services.

Crucially, the move would not be subject to scrutiny by Parliament. And so Shared Services was born on Aug. 3, 2011.

Speed was demanded of the agency from the start. Minutes of meetings involving senior Shared Services staff are studded with references to “tight schedules” and the “urgency” of getting projects done.

Part of that had to do with the sheer age of the government’s infrastructure. The hardware was in danger of breaking down and the underlying software for many applications was so old that suppliers such as Microsoft, PeopleSoft and Adobe had stopped supporting it.

The faster Shared Services could install new networks, the less money it would be forced to throw at solving the problems caused by older technology.

But that wasn’t the only reason Shared Services was pressed for time. Senior Shared Services officials said the Conservatives were eager to see cost savings, and impressed upon them the importance of securing an early win.

The PCO framed the upgrade in simple terms: Consolidate, modernize and reap the savings. And Shared Services would have nearly a decade to get it done. By 2020, the thinking went, the government of Canada would be able to offer its citizens secure, online services that would be the envy of the world; and Shared Services would be a magnet for attracting the best and the brightest employees in government.

But cabinet — and to some extent the PCO — failed to account for the complexity. They were proposing to create a new organization using bits and pieces from other departments and loading it up with a series of mandates on a tight schedule. The entire production was fraught with risk.

“They had articulated the problem and come up with an organizational response (in the form of Shared Services),” an independent adviser to the PCO said in an interview, “but they completely underestimated the scale.”

Source: Shared Services Canada: How politics sabotaged the government’s grand IT plans | Ottawa Citizen

No excuse for Ottawa’s bungled technology: Barrie McKenna

One of the rare commentaries that connects the dots between Shared Services Canada, the Phoenix pay system, and the inability of government to manage complex IT projects (admittedly, some of the most complex around).

It does beg the question, as posed by Donald Savoie in his book, What Is Government Good At?: A Canadian Answer.

One also has to ask the question, in all the decks, analyses, MCs and TB submissions, were the risks clearly stated and assessed? Did the public servants provide ‘fearless advice’ or not?

Maybe you don’t think it’s a big deal that tens of thousands of federal government workers are going unpaid because of the botched roll out of a new pay system.

Most civil servants are overpaid and underworked anyway, right?

Many Canadians may feel similarly untroubled that government data centres are frequently crashing, downing websites and leaving key agencies, such as Statistics Canada, unable to get timely economic information to financial markets.

But it does matter. Canada isn’t some tin-pot country that can’t pay its workers, run a computer or produce timely data. It’s a G7 country, a modern, advanced economy that should be a model of good governance.

There is a disturbing back story to these embarrassing headlines.

Turn back the clock to 2010. Stephen Harper’s Conservative government was eager to demonstrate it could wring billions of dollars in savings out of a fat government bureaucracy it neither liked nor trusted.

Two of the signature initiatives that emerged from this effort was the centralized Phoenix pay system and the birth of Shared Services Canada, a $1.9-billion super agency that would consolidate all of the government technology systems.

And for years afterward it would point to these efforts to bolster its reputation as a sound manager of the machinery of government.

Both have been unmitigated disasters.

The fallout from these moves continues to reverberate through the government. Not only have the promised savings never materialized, but Ottawa is now spending tens of millions more to fix the problems.

On Friday, Statscan’s chief statistician, Wayne Smith, abruptly resigned, complaining that the agency’s independence has been compromised by “disruptive, ineffective, slow and unaffordable” technology supplied by Shared Services Canada.

Mr. Smith’s frustrations boiled over July 8 when the agency’s main website was down for nearly eight hours due to a power switch failure, snarling the release of June’s jobs numbers, one of the country’s most important economic indicators. Statscan staff resorted to snapping the document on a smartphone and faxing pages to data users at financial institutions and media outlets.

Statscan’s website routinely goes down on busy data-release days.

The problems at Shared Services, which consolidated the information technology of 43 departments, go way beyond Statscan. The federal Auditor-General concluded in a report this year that Shared Services’ operations are so dogged by hidden costs, delays, security problems and poor accounting that potential savings remain “largely unknown.”

The Liberals quietly boosted Shared Services’ budget by $384-million over two years in its March budget, in part to keep creaky old computer systems from crashing. Critics worry that much more will be needed to fully modernize systems.

In late July, smoke inside a federal data centre in Ottawa forced the temporary shutdown of government e-mail and some websites.

Meanwhile, Ottawa says the estimated bill to fix IBM’s Phoenix pay system has reached $45-million to $50-million, and could climb higher. The government has promised to cover any out-of-pocket expenses of workers who couldn’t pay bills or were forced to borrow money when they weren’t paid.

Just like Shared Services, Phoenix was supposed to save the government money – $70-million a year – by consolidating a myriad of pay systems spanning 300,000 workers in more than 100 departments. Most of the first-year savings have now been wiped out.

A big part of the problem can be traced to a decision by the Conservatives to create a new payroll-processing centre in Miramichi, N.B. Roughly 500 – mostly inexperienced – new hires, would replace more than 2,000 payroll staff from across the country.

Ottawa has since been forced to add pay specialists in Gatineau, Que., and at temporary offices in Winnipeg, Montreal, Toronto and Sherbrooke, Que. – all to help fix the problem of workers getting paid too much, not enough or not at all.

Efficiency was never the main reason for choosing Miramichi. Putting the payroll centre in the city was political compensation for the closing of the long-gun registry, which had been located there.

The Conservatives fed the country a narrative about making government leaner and more efficient.

They delivered something quite different.

Source: No excuse for Ottawa’s bungled technology – The Globe and Mail

Chief statistician resigns over government’s failure to ‘protect the independence’ of StatsCan

So both the Harper and Trudeau governments have lost a chief statistician on points of principle:

Canada’s chief statistician has resigned in protest over what he says is the federal governments’ failure to protect Statistics Canada’s independence.

Wayne Smith says the government’s decision to create Shared Services Canada and centralize all information technology services across government has compromised Statistics Canada’s ability to fulfil its mandate.

“I have made the best effort I can to have this situation remediated, but to no effect,” Smith said in a note to the National Statistical Council, which advises him. “I cannot lend my support to government initiatives that will purport to protect the independence of Statistics Canada when, in fact, that independence has never been more compromised,”

“I do not wish to preside over the decline of what is still, but cannot remain in these circumstances, a world-leading statistical office.”

Shared Services was created by the previous government to centralize and standardize information technology across the federal government in a bid to save money. It has struggled to meet expectations with several agencies, including the RCMP and the Canadian Forces, which have complained of data centre crashes, red tape, bad customer service and unpaid bills.

Smith said he had issued a warning that ever since Statistics Canada began relying on Shared Services for its IT, the research department had begun losing control of the information it collects from Canadians through operations such as the long-form census.

In the note, Smith argued that Shared Services holds “an effective veto over many of Statistics Canada’s decisions concerning the collection, processing, storage, analysis and dissemination of official statistics through denial or constructive denial of essential services.”

“Statistics Canada is increasingly hobbled in the delivery of its programs through disruptive, ineffective, slow and unaffordable supply of physical informatics services by Shared Services Canada,” he added.

Failure to convince government

Smith wrote in a separate note to staff that he tried to convince the Liberal government to correct the situation.

“I have not succeeded,” he wrote.

“I believe it is the professional duty of a national statistician to resign if the independence of the national statistical office — as envisioned in documents endorsed by Canada such as the United Nations Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics and the OECD Recommendation on Good Statistical Practice — is compromised.”

 ‘I think we do need to re-examine this whole approach to trying to centralize government services and cut costs.’– Erin Weir, NDP MP

In a statement issued by her office, Public Services Minister Judy Foote said the government “is committed to effective, efficient and secure service delivery to Canadians through modernizing government operations.”

Source: Chief statistician resigns over government’s failure to ‘protect the independence’ of StatsCan – Politics – CBC News

More detailed article with commentary by Kathryn May and quotes by former Chief Statistician Ivan Fellegi: Chief statistician butted heads with federal government over Shared Services Canada — and lost

StatsCan says government’s IT agency providing ‘slower, lower quality services’

Government IT is one of the most complex areas given the range and scale of services needed. But this report, along with the current problems with the Phoenix pay system, provides pretty compelling evidence that the officials who sold the concept – which I support – did not adequately address implementation issues.

The political level is equally to blame for not having asked the needed questions and likely for under-resourcing the initiative:

Setbacks and shortcomings at the federal government’s tech support agency could delay Statistics Canada’s release of “mission critical” information required by the Bank of Canada, Department of Finance and commercial banks, according to a report.

The document, submitted to Canada’s chief statistician Wayne Smith, is one among more than a dozen reports, drafted at Smith’s request from all of his directors general. Smith asked for the reports in an effort to fully understand the impact of Shared Services Canada (SSC) on his department.

The memos, obtained by CBC News under access to information laws, detail how yet another federal ministry is embroiled in a dispute with SSC over services standards, red tape, billing and the capacity of IT infrastructure to keep up with departmental demands.

SSC was created by the previous government to centralize and standardize information technology services in a bid to save money.

At the end of February, in the run-up to the 2016 Census, Smith shared the results of this report with Canada’s top civil servant, Privy Council clerk Michael Wernick. The correspondence is entirely redacted except for the subject line, which reads Heightened Program Risks at Statistics Canada.

“Numerous challenges in terms of reliability, timeliness, effectiveness and affordability are being experienced, impacting delivery of programs, projects and plans across all program areas,” wrote Lise Duquet, director general of the StatsCan informatics branch.

She said the savings expected from consolidating services under SSC have not materialized, pointing to how ongoing support from the IT Help Desk is now more costly than when StatsCan operated the email service.

Lack of accountability

Despite “harvesting” $38 million from Statistics Canada with the promise to upgrade IT infrastructure, Duquet said StatisCan was told it would have to cover the cost of migrating all information to new data centres — something she said the agency cannot afford without putting its programs at risk.

Governance at SSC has been identified as a problem by other departments. Duquet echoed those frustrations, “Governance is very complex and there is a lack of accountability to deliver on expected outcomes that are critical to programs.”

Another recurring theme that surfaced in the reports is that SSC can’t or won’t meet StatsCan’s IT requirements because it refuses to upgrade computer infrastructure.

Daniela Rivandra, director general of the industry statistics branch at the agency, warned of the risk of a bottleneck of processing capacity this year. “This will translate into many programs having to delay releases and not meeting legislative requirements for providing the data,” she said.

“Having to delay their release would be unprecedented and will impact the ability of key users (e.g. Bank of Canada, Department of Finance, commercial banks, etc.) of making timely decisions, translating into considerable embarrassment to the government of Canada.”

Due to the poor level of service provided by SSC, the corporate services support division decided to self-fund a unit of 3 persons to provide support to our employees and to ensure that some SSC initiatives get done.– Yves Béland, director general StatsCan operations branch

The directors general’s reports also reveal deep concerns about  branches running out of server space. Craig Kunz said the operating system on which the Consumer Price Index depends, is at an elevated risk of failure, yet SSC has frozen procurement with no apparent contingency plans.

‘Slower and lower quality service’

Telecommunications is another persistent irritant.

“Our relationship and experience with SSC with regards to telecommunications have been quite difficult to say the least,” reported Yves Béland, director general of the operations branch. “Due to the poor level of service provided by SSC, the corporate services support division decided to self-fund a unit of three persons to provide support to our employees and to ensure that some SSC initiatives get done.”

Assistant chief statistician Connie Graziadei said service is slower and lower quality, especially on the rollout of cellphones to census employees working in the field.

She described how SSC provided cellphones with the wrong area codes or “incorrect cellphone providers were sometimes assigned to a phone, making it unusable in the geography where the phone was intended to be in operation.”

In one case, an employee had an unusable phone for more than two months. A StatsCan manager sent the woman a spare phone on the Bell network, instead of Rogers. While the employee was thrilled to finally be able to do her job, a long string of emails shows SSC was more concerned about StatsCan overstepping its authority.

“You are not able to simply “re-assign” devices when there is an issue. We have procedures in place to deal with issues like Dana was having,” wrote Todd Mair of SSC on Feb. 2, 2016.

David Kudlovich of StatsCan fired back.

“Two months without a phone [is] far too long when this is the sole device they receive from SSC. Two weeks is actually far too long. There are occupational health and safety concerns when an employee doesn’t have a means of communication and the employee cannot do their job they’re hired to do,” he said.

Yet the documents show the problems continued for several more months.

Source: StatsCan says government’s IT agency providing ‘slower, lower quality services’ – Politics – CBC News