December 5, 2012Doug Hadden
Doug Hadden, VP Products
We participated in the Financial Management Institute of Canada Professional Development week in Ottawa, November 26 to 30th. The theme of the week was Focus on Value. This is a large and well-run annual event with almost 5,000 people attending. The conference is focused on government financial management – in particular, at the federal government in Canada. As always, there were some high-profile public servants who spoke at the conference.
I don’t want to “bite the hand that feeds”. But, frankly, I think that many of our senior public servants presented some curious, confusing and contradictory messages around information technology directions. There’s no need for the messaging to be so contradictory. Sure, it’s always nice to cover all the “motherhood and apple pie” basics. But not at the expense of clarity. I think that most of the public servants attending FMI are now more confused about IT direction in the Government of Canada.
Standardization and Standardization
There was significant rhetoric about standardizing business processes within the Government of Canada. This has been a standard theme for a decade or more coming from the Treasury Board Secretariat. And, there is value that could be achieved through process standardization.
Yet, there was no talk about IT standards that have far more potential value. No talk of open standards, web services, service-oriented architectures. It seemed as if the Government of Canada may be adopting monolithic proprietary IT standards and will not achieve economies of scale.
Standardization and Transformation
Many of the speakers spoke about process standardization and government transformation in the same breaths. Process transformation is all about new “leapfrog” processes that are “out of the box”. It’s about looking at the role of government in a completely different way. The result of transformation is improved effectiveness.
Process standardization is all about consistency and predictability. Standardization, in many ways, is the enemy of transformation. Transformation is about creating distinct value while standardization is about eliminating distinctiveness. Process standardization often imposes inefficiencies in order to improve manageability.
Legacy Technology and Legacy Technology
The Government of Canada is trying to reduce IT rust – legacy systems that generate high costs to maintain. (And, to reduce the number of systems.) There was a lot of rhetoric about “legacy systems” at FMI from senior public servants. Yet, many of these public servants proposed that the Government of Canada should use legacy Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software. It was as if few of the public servants were aware that technology has changed dramatically in the past 10 to 20 years.
I’ve written about the widespread use of proprietary legacy client/server code among ERP vendors. These vendors claim to have web-based software – but, for the most part, they don’t – by any strict definition. And, integration methods are also complex and proprietary. Unlike, the use of open standards.
I am troubled by the rampant use of the word “innovation” to describe systems consolidation in the Government of Canada. Is the use of “shared services” a sign of innovation or is it a return to the mainframe world of chargebacks? Where is the innovation in legacy technologies? How is treating the government as an “enterprise” a new and innovative concept?
Here’s the open secret: ERP was not designed for government. ERP architecture is monolithic and does not adapt to a shared service model that requires any flexibility to support regulatory process differences.
Some Advice for the Government of Canada on IT Rhetoric
I am concerned that the Government of Canada is trying to solve 2012 problems with 1990s solutions.
The Treasury Board Secretariat and Public Works and Government Services Canada should either admit that they want to use comfortable legacy technology or decide to transform government. Possibly to try tactical uses of innovation in a mostly legacy environment.