Roll out of new federal-government-wide email system halted, again

The project to move government email accounts to a single email has been delayed again. The initiative is more than a year behind schedule and a May 29 rollout has been postponed.

Project to amalgamate all federal government's email is more than a year behind schedule

A federal project to consolidate government department email systems and accounts has been delayed again. (Marcie Casas/Flickr cc)

The federal department in charge of creating a single email-system for the government has delayed the project yet again.

Shared Services Canada (SSC) had initially planned for the Email Transformation Initiative (ETI) to be completed more than a year ago — in March 2015. But the project has been plagued by problems.

After being put on hold last November, the initiative was finally scheduled to resume on May 29 for a number of departments. But once again, the roll out is being postponed.

An email sent last Friday from the chief information officer at Fisheries and Oceans, to employees in the department, and obtained by CBC News, announced the latest delay.

"During testing, SSC determined that improvements must be made to the DFO network before the migration can proceed," the email read. "Migrations planned for May in other departments and agencies have also been postponed."

Those other departments include Transport Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food, Public Works and the Correctional Service of Canada, according to Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) president Debi Daviau.

"Really this goes right back to the start of this project, maybe even the start of the creation of Shared Services Canada. They threw this thing together with no planning," Daviau told CBC News.

Project outsourced

Shared Services was created in 2012 to take over the delivery of email, data centre and network services for 43 government agencies.

The email transformation project aims to consolidate 63 email systems and move nearly 400,000 email accounts to a uniform email address ending with @canada.ca. The goal is better digital security and annual savings to the government of $50 million.

The government outsourced the project to Bell Canada in partnership with CGI Information Systems & Management Consultants, a move that was protested by PIPSC, the union that represents government IT workers. Daviau argued that IT specialists inside the public service have a better understanding of the various systems that need to be consolidated, the needs of departments and the possible challenges involved.

"It was a very ill-conceived decision and if the supplier isn't able to deliver the scope of what is required one would think that they might be able to change that decision," Daviau said.

The delay in November was due to hardware problems. In an email to CBC News, SSC said, "While the vendor has successfully upgraded the hardware in question, there continues to be a number of functional issues that need to be resolved before migrations can resume."

The internal email announcing the latest postponement indicated a new roll out date for the fall will be set once final assessments are completed.

There is a possibility this could fail and I believe that's what we're seeing. We're watching this fail.- Patrick Malcolm, cyber security expert

According to SSC, 12 departments have migrated to the new email service, amounting to 10 percent of the total mailboxes to be switched. The department has paid Bell approximately $3.1 million so far. SSC said the contract could be as much as $398 million over the 8-year period of the project.

Experts agree much of the problem stems from SSC's inexperience as a new department itself, as it was created only four years ago.

"I think of them as a fawn on a frozen lake. They haven't got their strength yet," said Patrick Malcolm, a cyber security expert with Netrunner Inc.

Malcolm said both Ottawa and Bell Canada underestimated the complexity and required resources for the project.

"There is a possibility this could fail and I believe that's what we're seeing. We're watching this fail."

Preparation not completed

Internal emails also show that demands of employees to reduce the size of their email accounts to less than one gigabyte in order to be ready for the email migration are not being heeded, despite threats that not doing so will result in no email access.

"There's some brinkmanship going on there, I feel," Malcolm said, adding that some government departments are not interested in seeing SSC succeed. "There's a lot of foot dragging here."

Malcolm said some municipalities in Australia undertook a similar project, which became beset with problems. He said Canada swore it would not copy their mistakes, but it has, and he questioned whether the government will ever see the savings it expected.