Posts Tagged Government of Canada

Business Intelligence in the Age of Austerity

Ottawa on the move
Creative Commons License photo credit: QUOI Media

The Government of Canada has spent the last year on a strategic review of programs, with a stated goal of saving 5 to 10% on current program expenditures. One initiative that has come out of this exercise is Shared Services Canada, a centralization of many IT assets including email services, servers and other IT services. I have watched with interest to see how business intelligence is going to fit. BI is uniquely positioned to shed light on a program’s, department’s, or even entire government’s efficiency and effectiveness. But at the same time, BI is best done as an iterative approach, and therefore doesn’t fit so well into a top-down centralized role as Shared Services Canada appears to be. It is the big picture versus the little picture. While ideally it would be great to have a whole picture view of an enterprise’s operations, in practice these views are usually built from the ground up piece by piece.

So will the Government of Canada pursue the ideal or the practical? It is hard to say. But we will know more when the budget is released next month. I am hoping that Business Intelligence will continue to play a important role as we move forward, and that the Government of Canada can find the efficiency it is looking for without sacrificing key tenents of effective business intelligence strategy.

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Why should I upgrade my computer systems?

We all face the question of when to upgrade our computer systems.  Is it a savvy business investment or a frivolous waste of money?  This is a very real issue currently facing the government of Canada.  The Auditor General of Canada released a report yesterday indicating that the Canadian government needs to spend a sizable amount of money to upgrade its aging information technology infrastructure, perhaps in the billions of dollars, simply to continue delivering key government programs.  Treasury Board president Stockwell Day said that the government would find the money needed for such investment.  Sounding a bit like a customer forced into an expensive and unnecessary upgrade, he added “As you know, with technology, there are always people who are saying you should have newer and better.” 

So what is wrong with aging computer systems anyway?  Auditor General Sheila Fraser makes her case with the following points, with my additional commentary:

  • Aging systems become increasingly expensive to operate – Anyone who owns an aging automobile understands that sometimes it is just cheaper and more reliable to buy a new car.
  • Vendor support may no longer exist – You may be annoyed that Microsoft dropped support for Windows XP, but count yourself lucky you are not Immigration Canada and running a system on a DMSII database, developed by the Burroughs Corporation in 1972.
  • Skilled employees in aging technology may be more and more difficult to find – COBOL programmers are few in number, on the retirement track, and no longer trained.
  • Aging computer systems may have difficulty meeting current regulation requirements – Laws are changing all the time; is your aging computer system flexible enough to keep up?
  • Data access may be difficult – Historic systems are notoriously bad at reporting; this is where the entire business intelligence movement came from.
  • Meeting client expectations may be difficult – In a web-enabled world, clients have exceedingly high expectations from your computer systems.  Can your systems do what they want?
  • Security issues – The arms race between security software and hackers never ends.  If your technology is not keeping up, your data security may be at risk.
  • Disaster recovery issues – Can you recover a system that has any or all of the above problems?  Would you want to?

I know that as a computer consultant, I would be one of those people Mr. Day is speaking of who are arguing in favour of the newer and the better.  But I think the Auditor General lays out a compelling case to keep pace with the technological times.

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