Remarks for the Honourable Diane Finley, Minister of Public Works and Government Services and Minister Responsible for Shared Services Canada to GTEC


October 09, 2013
Check against delivery


Good morning.

I want to begin by saying how glad I am to be here as the Minister responsible for Shared Services Canada. This is an opportunity for me to talk not just to our government partners – but to people from the private sector technology leaders who are helping us deliver the savings, security and service that Canadians want.

We all know that Canadians have rising expectations when it comes to their dealings with business and governments alike.  They know how valuable technology can be in transforming services. I can remember when it was a big deal to use an automated teller machine, instead of rushing to the bank on Friday afternoon. It wasn’t so long ago that we had to fill out our income tax returns by hand and line up at the post office to mail them in. Now, that has all changed and it keeps changing.

Think of social media alone. It has entirely changed the way that we communicate. What is it they say... LinkedIn is for the people you know. Facebook is for the people you used to know. Twitter is for people you want to know.”

More seriously though, the technology that we’re talking about during this conference is much more sophisticated – and complex – than social media. As Brian Solis once said, “Social Media is about sociology and psychology more than technology.”

Here, at GTEC, you’re talking about – and working with and pitching - the type of infrastructure and tools that run government and help us tackle the priorities of Canadians: jobs and a strong economy, safe and secure communities; and savings in government spending that will help us achieve a balanced budget in 2015.

It’s serious business.

Since Prime Minister Harper announced the creation of SSC a little more than two years ago, we’ve seen early steps toward those results – with much more on our radar ahead.  We’ve seen partnerships develop across government. We are taking advantage of the leading edge views of Canada’s technology innovators to guide government IT infrastructure transformation. We’ve seen savings. We’ve seen advances in security. And we’ve seen service improvements.

Shared Services Canada is doing this by working with partners in the private sector and government to use the right tools, the right way, with the right scope.

However – let me quote Milton Friedman by saying: “one of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results.”  So, this morning, let’s talk results – the results already achieved, the pitfalls that are very real and that we have to watch out for – and the milestones that we can see ahead.

Taking Action

Let me start at the beginning. Our Government is committed to managing taxpayer dollars wisely in order to meet the priority needs and expectations of Canadians. Part of that involves modernizing how government operates – especially in back office activities. We know there are cost savings from streamlining operations. And we know it takes tough transformation to get the greatest savings.

Government IT infrastructure is a crucial element of those back office activities, both in itself and in terms of what it enables the government to do. Let me toss out a few numbers to set the stage for what Shared Services Canada is doing.

  • 2,100 – that is how many different mission critical systems the government’s IT infrastructure has to support.
  • 63 – the number of email systems in place across the 43 organizations serviced by Shared Services Canada.
  • 485 individual data centres.
  • 4,000 distinct local area networks.

Yet all of it is supposed to serve just one government, and just one Canadian public.

That jumble of infrastructure makes no sense. But that’s what happened when dozens and dozens of federal departments had their own IT budgets and could do as they wished with them.  That was what happened when there was no central authority – no clear strategic direction to drive costs down.

Allow me to quote Friedman again here: "When everybody owns something, nobody owns it, and nobody has a direct interest in maintaining or improving its condition.”

Now, that was not just our view. The Auditor General and other analysts saw room for much better results. Our Government knew it was time – in fact it was overdue – to drive change.

In August 2011, Prime Minister Harper unveiled the way forward. He launched Shared Services Canada with a key mandate – cut costs by consolidating, standardizing and streamlining government IT infrastructure services. He set the stage for the fundamental IT transformation taking shape now.

But here’s an important fact. We know this is risky business with a lot at stake.

From day one, the idea was to learn from the many other governments and major corporations that have already gone the shared services route – to learn from their successes and their shortcomings.

The idea was to learn from private sector tech sector leaders who understand what current and emerging tech tools and strategies can deliver.

The idea was to play this smart – because there are too many examples of the kind of good intentions gone wrong that Friedman talked about. For example, the state of Western Australia had a shared services organization too. It was shut down completely in 2011 after years of problems. From examples like that, we learned to focus the scope of SSC on infrastructure and not the big, complex functions such as enterprise resource planning systems.

On the other hand, our officials looked closely at the impacts of streamlining and consolidating IT services by governments in British Columbia, Ontario, Texas and Michigan. They learned how to handle the short-term challenges that arose, manage the difficulties along the way and figure out strategies to get benefits for their taxpayers.

That same commitment to getting the job done right – and learning from the experience of others – is behind SSC’s plan for the government’s IT infrastructure. That work is already underway with a lot on the plate for SSC. Here’s just some of it:

  • a single, more secure, government-wide email system by 2015;
  • consolidating the government’s data centre operations into seven modern, secure, efficient facilities;
  • streamlined networks and modernized telecom equipment and services, including workplace technology devices;
  • the telepresence and videoconferencing capacity improvements that our Government announced in Economic Action Plan 2013; and
  • working with partner departments to deliver Canada’s Cyber Security Strategy.

Generating and Reinvesting Savings

Now, I was able to list those deliverables in less than a minute. But you all know that it’s going to take time for them to roll out. Many will involve the active collaboration of partner departments, their Chief Information Officers and IT staff.

And it will take a lot of hard going at times – because we will not sacrifice what’s right and what’s needed for what might be an easier path. That’s not why we’re here.

Savings was at the heart of the mandate that Prime Minister Harper gave SSC two years ago. And it still is. With almost $1.9 billion in annual baseline costs for IT infrastructure in SSC partner departments at the time of SSC’s creation – we knew there were savings to be found.

SSC generated savings almost immediately, just from taking a government-wide approach, and those early savings are helping SSC to achieve the $150 million in overall savings that the 2012 Economic Action Plan Budget outlined.

Some of those savings came by cutting some of the more obvious forms of duplication. On the screen is a photo of mail crates. And inside all of them are envelopes with phone invoices. From different departments, from different branches, from different cell phone providers. Each one based on its own contract and terms. Each one being paid in a different way.

I challenge anyone – and I mean anyone – to look at that photo and tell a Canadian taxpayer why that old way of doing business made sense. Let me tell you, I’d look forward to that debate (just remember though – I’ve had just a little bit of practice in Question Period, especially over the past couple of years).

The telecom story is an example of low-hanging fruit – it was easy to identify (relatively easy to get our arms around) and was a quick win.

But there are many longer-term initiatives that need tackling as well... like email transformation. There is $50 million in annual savings to be had from this project. But there are even bigger benefits when you think of how departments – individually – have been operating. 

This is the Government of Canada and folks – we’ve been operating in an environment where some departments are still on Lotus Notes. And half of them are using different versions of Microsoft Exchange.

So we have an opportunity – when done right – to achieve cost savings now and create a centralized environment for the future.

I do want to repeat a point though, and be clear to our tech provider partners that this isn’t simply a question of reducing government costs today. We are making decisions today that will also have an impact on how we fund in the future – and what our priority infrastructure investments should and will be.

We are ready to reinvest, as standardized, consistent processes give SSC the flexibility and agility to meet the call for more bandwidth, more data storage and ongoing equipment modernization.  We are ready to reinvest in transformation from SSC’s own resources to give the government the cost effective, reliable secure infrastructure it needs.

Enhancing Security

As important as delivering savings is, it is not our only priority for Shared Services Canada. We know you can’t get far with Canadians today unless you are also paying close attention to security.

Last year, our Government launched Canada's Cyber Security Strategy. It sends the strong message that we take this matter seriously. This Strategy has three pillars but I want to focus on the first one – which is about securing government systems – and on that topic, we mean business.

I know that no major organization is immune to the threat of attacks from many, many directions. Certainly, an institution as big as the Government of Canada is always going to be a target. At one level, we are moving through policies that have teeth to take on this issue. At another, we have important mechanisms like SSC’s Security Operations Centre team who respond quickly and effectively when concerns are spotted.

I want to say one thing very simply and very clearly to current and potential technology suppliers and service providers here today: there is no place for untrusted equipment and services in Government of Canada networks.

So, frankly, it will be up to vendors to decide whether or not the competitive advantage of being able to do business with the Government of Canada is worth the investment in secure, trusted equipment. Plain and simple.

Improving Service to Canadians

Finally, we know that Canadians expect quality services and operations from government. They know that businesses are improving services thanks to technology. They want their governments to do the same. And they are right.

Some of that comes from how Shared Services Canada does business. For example, when Toronto was hit by a sudden flood this past July, SSC stepped up to ensure that priority infrastructure for the Department of National Defence kept going, despite the power outages.

Another way SSC and its partners are getting service results is through Cyber Authentication Renewal – an initiative that is nominated for an award here at GTEC. Quite simply, that project is making it easier for Canadians to connect easily to the growing number of online services that our government offers.

Thanks to that initiative, Canadians have already taken up more than 1.8 million of the new SecureKey and GCKey credentials. They are using them to view and update their personal information for Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security and to track their income tax refunds. Veterans are using them when they submit applications for disability pensions on-line.  Tourists are using them to book campsites in our national parks.

Delivering Results through Partnerships and People

Service, security and savings. Yes, those are our Government’s yardsticks for Shared Services Canada.

I cannot underline enough that our Government recognizes the challenges ahead. We understand the many factors that have prevented similar initiatives in other countries from delivering expected results.

A key way to avoid those pitfalls is to reach out to people with the expertise and insights that can help us deliver for Canadians.

The reality is much of that expertise is outside of government, in the private sector.  In a climate as dynamic as the IT sector, no one can claim to have all the answers. We have to listen. And we are.

Shared Services Canada is making a point of drawing on the immense private sector expertise in IT transformation that exists across Canada.  It is a goldmine out there, and our job is to use that expertise whenever and wherever we can.

And if the private sector has something off-the-shelf that we can buy instead of build, we will do that too. 

It just makes sense.

As an organization that does business with about 1200 companies, SSC has many opportunities to seek out open and transparent ways to collaborate with partners in the private sector.

A good example of this is the work done to date on the Email Transformation Initiative.  After government partners mapped out key requirements, SSC invited all potential suppliers and stakeholders to discuss those requirements. We wanted to know what the private sector had to say and make sure our expectations were based on the best that technology could deliver.

We followed up with one-on-one meetings that generated more feedback for us. Then we invited interested firms to pre-qualify for the competitive process. Four teams did, led by Bell, Dell, Hewlett Packard and IBM.

SSC and its partners in government worked closely with all four, to clarify technical and operational requirements – cutting down the opportunity for confusion and unpleasant surprises.  

This collaborative approach to procurement made a difference. For example, at the encouragement of the suppliers, the Government successfully pursued a direct contract with Microsoft to provide the software. This enabled the suppliers to focus on how they could best help us implement the new email solution across the government.  

We are also hearing from many of the associations that represent the different interests and perspectives in the tech sector. The Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance, the Information Technology Association of Canada, the Canadian Business Information Technology Network and the Canadian Information Technology Providers Association are just some of our connections to business, large and small.

The same is true at a local level. On my way in here today, I chatted with the people representing Invest Ottawa and the vibrant tech community in this city.

Next month, I look forward to visiting Communitech in Kitchener-Waterloo, when we welcome the Information Technology Infrastructure Roundtable to my home region of southwestern Ontario. I want to single out the Roundtable because it is proving to be an excellent way for SSC and key government IT partners to connect with Canadian tech sector leaders.

I believe there is a lot that government technology leaders can gain from listening to people in Kitchener-Waterloo, which is such a hotbed of technological innovation, with both established firms and startups building an active tech community.

If it wasn’t evident that I was not so subtlely trying to give a shout-out to my region – I was. 

For the benefit of Canadians, the government has to be open to new ideas, innovations and new ways of delivering services. At the end of the day, SSC was created to modernize IT infrastructure, to change the way things are done and this means new ways of working with the industry, partners and people.

Transforming the government’s IT infrastructure for the 21st century means changes.  Employees and our industry partners need to know it’s not “business as usual” anymore. To continue with the clichés, this is the “new normal.”

But they also need to know that the path to savings, security and service, involves open dialogue and communications with everyone involved. We are all in this together for Canadians.


Let me conclude my remarks this morning by putting the work of Shared Services Canada in the context of our Government’s agenda. We are committed to addressing the needs and priorities of Canadians – in our economy and in our communities.

Our creation of a single-government-wide authority for IT infrastructure has been an excellent example of that commitment. IT may initially seem more about the machinery of government to Canadians – but it takes a few real examples for them to get it, when it becomes real in their everyday lives.

They get it when new technologies allow them to video chat with family around the world. They also get it when they learn that shortly after making a purchase, someone has hacked their credit card information.

So, our Government is doing more than just creating an organization to manage the federal government IT infrastructure, we are creating an organization that can help Canada and Canadians succeed – safely and securely – in the 21st century and beyond.

We are still in the early stages of this work. We are still running the operations we inherited from 43 separate organizations. At the same time, SSC is taking on the challenges of an IT transformation that is well worth the effort and the risk. If we want a strong, innovative, high-performing economy that works for Canadians, Canada needs efficient, effective government operations.

Canadians deserve it and our Government is determined to deliver.

After all, as the old proverb states wisely: "unless we change direction, we are likely to end up where we are headed."

Thank you.