Minister convinced government's troubled IT agency Shared Services Canada will work, eventually

Canada's Public Services and Procurement Minister says Shared Services Canada 'can work'. Meanwhile StatsCan is reeling from yet another critical computer service failure.

Minister rules out stripping responsibilities from SSC and returning them to individual government departments

Public Services and Procurement Minister Judy Foote says Shared Services Canada can work as it was designed to despite being beset with problems. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The minister responsible for the federal government's troubled tech support agency said she's convinced Shared Services Canada will eventually function as it is supposed to.

Public Services and Procurement Minister Judy Foote added that she has no intention of stripping any of the agency's responsibilities and returning them back to individual government departments.

Foote made the comments in the wake of a CBC News report on how programs and information at Statistics Canada are at risk due to the poor service and questionable governance at Shared Services Canada (SSC). 

SSC was created by the previous government to centralize and standardize information technology services in a bid to save money. 

In documents obtained under access to information laws, managers flagged grave concerns about SSC's refusals to upgrade or replace computer infrastructure. 

"Aging and limited physical infrastructure in our data centre is a major concern," reported Craig Kuntz, director general of the division that oversees the consumer price index. "In the past, we would have updated the server infrastructure, but SSC has frozen procurement for the data centre."

Today, Canada's chief statistician told CBC News that aging infrastructure recently crashed in spectacular fashion. 

"We had a major incident on July 8th, which brought down our entire data centre and our website for the better part of a day," said Wayne Smith "I haven't received the final incident report but this was part of the informatics infrastructure that is now managed by Shared Services Canada that failed."

Smith added that there continues to be a regular flow of incidents affecting his employees.

Role of SSC remains unclear

Earlier this year, Smith took his concerns to the clerk of the Privy Council. While he refused to repeat what he told Michael Wernick, Smith said he relayed his considerable concerns about governance at SSC.

Four years after the creation of SSC, Smith said it remains unclear what services the agency is supposed to provide and at what price. For instance, in the past as the price of informatics infrastructure dropped, Smith said his department used those savings to pay for more computer server capacity. It's a different story today, several years after surrendering its IT servers and $39 million to SSC.

"Now we're being asked to provide additional funds in order to build up the capacity of the data centre to meet our current needs. So that means we are spending actually more money than we ever spent historically, in order to duplicate services," Smith said.

As it stands now, Smith said StatsCan's independence is also under threat.

"It's an undefined relationship where now, an external organization can stop a Statistics Canada program simply by declining to provide the informatics infrastructure," he said.

SSC can be 'tweaked'

Going forward, the chief statistician said his department needs up to date computer infrastructure and dependable tech support. When asked if he'd like to see some responsibilities stripped from SSC and returned to departments, Smith was diplomatic.

"I think it's reasonable to assume the model can be tweaked to make SSC work more effectively," he said.

In the meantime, Foote said SSC is working with StatsCan to resolve problems, adding that shared services is yet another messy file inherited from the previous government and that her department is trying to correct the problems.