After 5 years, still not clear when Shared Services Canada will save Ottawa money
'The exact path towards savings is not nailed down yet,' says head of federal IT agency
Five years after the Conservative government launched its new centralized information technology service in a bid to save taxpayers money, the president of the agency says he still does not know when any savings will be realized.
"The exact path towards savings is not nailed down yet," Ron Parker, president of Shared Services Canada, told reporters in Ottawa Monday.
Parker said the plan to centralize and standardize information technology across government has "many moving parts," and he will not have an idea of the cost savings until all major decisions associated with Shared Service's plans are made.
"I would expect that, that would be in the profile of what we report to Parliament in the winter of 2017, or the early spring," Parker said.
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When Shared Services was announced in 2011, it was billed as an effort to streamline IT across government. The plan, as announced, entailed combining more than 100 different email systems into one, reducing the number of data centres from 600 to about 20 and streamlining systems to ensure IT was more secure and reliable.
Flash forward to 2016, and only 80 data centres have been closed, and the centralized email system is currently on hold with no scheduled date for completion.
We're about to run out of capacity just for our ongoing operations.– Former StatsCan chief statistician Wayne Smith
"We are working with the vendor to make sure that all the required functionality for public service employees [is] available before migrations recommence," Parker said of the company working to supply the centralized email system.
"I have no date, these are discussions that are going on very regularly and there is a lot of work that is entailed in them."
When asked whether Shared Services had considered firing the vendor, Parker said it is his desire to "make sure the contract works" and that he would not "speculate" on the option of going with a different supplier.
Chief statistician quits
Last week, Statistics Canada's chief statistician Wayne Smith walked away from his job, saying the decision to create Shared Services has compromised Statistics Canada's ability to fulfil its mandate.
"I do not wish to preside over the decline of what is still, but cannot remain in these circumstances, a world-leading statistical office," he said in a note to the National Statistical Council, which advises him.
On Monday, Parker appeared to dismiss those complaints:
"The services we provide are very solid and state of the art and much improved overall," he said. "There was never the same visibility into the network that we have now, there was not the same perimeter protection that we have now, there was not a security operations centre where the detection and remediation of any incidents that occur take place."
Parker said that when his agency met with Wayne in April it was not made aware of any technical or operational issues and that Shared Services has been working very closely with Statistics Canada to meet its business requirements.
Smith described Parker's analysis as misleading.
"The day before I left, my assistant statisticians were gathering around the table and saying that there are a whole series of projects that are about to go red because we cannot get the support that we need. We're about to run out of capacity just for our ongoing operations," Smith said.
Cutting non-essential tasks
Patrice Rondeau, Shared Service's assistant deputy minister of data centre services, said his agency has delivered information technology infrastructure tied to making census data available on the Statistics Canada website — but because both agencies could never agree on the cost of the servers, or where they should be housed, issues persisted.
According to Shared Service's quarterly financial reports the agency is on track to run a deficit this year, but Parker said the agency is "not going to be in deficit by the end of the year, we are not in deficit now."
He also made assurances that any programs that would be cut to stay within budget would be to "non-critical services" and that Shared Services was not "looking at any adjustments to any mission critical services."
With files from Alison Crawford