Shared Services Canada spread 'too thin,' consultations hear

The federal government's tech support agency is being urged to improve customer service, improve staff morale, award more contracts to smaller businesses and to scale back its to-do list.

Government staff and stakeholders say Shared Services Canada must scale back, boost service and staff morale

Shared Services Canada is the department responsible for the federal government's IT services, including its data centres. Since its creation in 2011, it has struggled to meet deadlines and provide adequate service. (Shared Services Canada)

The federal government's tech support agency is being urged to improve customer service and staff morale, award more contracts to smaller businesses and scale back its to-do list.

The suggestions are contained in a report summarizing nine weeks of consultations conducted last summer and fall on Shared Services Canada's information technology transformation plan.

Shared Services contracted Ipsos Public Affairs to gather input from federal government employees, industry stakeholders and the general public with the aim of updating the next phase of the troubled IT agency's work. The consultations were carried out online, via email and in person.

The document, dated Feb. 7, 2017 was made public today.

SSC was created in 2011 to centralize and standardize federal information technology services in a bid to save money and make them more secure.

Since its creation though, the department has struggled to meet deadlines and provide adequate service to clients. Senior managers at the RCMP, Canada Border Services, Statistics Canada and Department of National Defence have all complained about service outages, a lack of responsiveness and shoddy equipment.

Among its biggest misses though is the $245-million project to modernize the federal government's email system. The contract, which was awarded to Bell Canada in 2013, is overdue by more than two years with no word on when it will make good on its commitment. 

Low morale

In its analysis of the consultations, which included more than 2,500 contributions, Ipsos found outsourcing, high turnover and a lack of training at SSC are contributing to low staff morale. 

"Greater mentorship is deemed essential given the vastness of the organization and the departure (e.g. retirement) of talented and savvy individuals," reads the report.

SSC staff suggest limiting the number of contracts for IT services because they're confident they can do much of the work in-house.

Industry representatives also had thoughts on how SSC awards contracts. 

"Procurement tends to neglect the specializations of SMEs [small and medium enterprises] in favour of larger conglomerates. SMEs are the seeds of innovation and have more at stake in providing good services than larger corporations," the report summarizes.

Other common themes across all of those consulted include that SCC should be more transparent about how much its work costs and how long it will take, as well as the feeling that the agency should reduce the scope of its IT infrastructure transformation plan.

Scale back

In consultations with partner and client organizations, Ipsos heard that SSC had "spread itself too thin" and should focus on delivering on the email project and consolidation of data centres before promising anything else.

"There was a sense to strive for smaller victories rather than revamp the entire IT ecosystem. This would feed into better branding for SSC and [...] better meet its objectives," reads the report in a section on common themes across all stakeholder groups. 

Public Services and Procurement Canada is the ministry that oversees SSC. A spokesperson told CBC News the analysis is guiding SSC as it refreshes its IT infrastructure plan.

"We expect to see progress on addressing these challenges by the fall," Annie Trépanier wrote in an email. She added the government has already moved to help departments by including measures in this year's budget to give them the option of purchasing some IT goods and services directly from vendors that have contracts with SSC, rather than having to go through SSC.

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