Shared Services Canada to begin talks on allowing federal departments to ‘opt out’ from centralized IT service

Recognition of reality. Will be interesting to see how departments respond over time:

Shared Services Canada is exploring transferring some responsibilities for federal information technology systems back to individual departments and agencies, in the wake of legislative changes weakening the agency’s monopoly on digital services.

Pat Breton, director general of procurement and vendor relations with SSC, said the agency has started reaching out to the 43 federal departments and agencies it counts as clients to discuss potential service improvements, including bringing certain IT operations back in-house, and plans to hold formal talks with departmental chief information officers in the coming weeks.

“We’ve been proactive in telling them that this is a new tool that we’ve got and we’ll be working with them to put it in place, where appropriate,” he told The Hill Times.

“We’re starting from the holistic needs assessment, gap analysis: What is the specific problem and what’s the best way to address it, and reach solutions together?”

The 2017 budget implementation bill, passed in June, made significant changes to the mandate of SSC, which was launched by the former Conservative government in 2011 with the responsibility of delivering email, data centre, and network services in a “consolidated and standardized manner,” and to offer optional technology-related services to government organizations on a cost-recovery basis.

First, it watered down SSC’s authority to consolidate IT systems across the public services by permitting organizations to opt out of using the agency in “exceptional circumstances.” It also restored the ability of individual departments to purchase software and digital hardware themselves, instead of conducting all business through the agency.

The bill, though, doesn’t allow for blanket exemptions from using SSC, with departments only permitted to opt out of using some services, according to Mr. Breton. Parts of departments can be granted complete exemptions from all SSC services.

The decision to grant the authorization is left to the minister responsible for SSC, Procurement and Public Services Minister Judy Foote (Bonavista–Burin–Trinity, N.L.).

When asked, Mr. Breton didn’t disclose if any departments had asked to opt out since the bill passed, noting that the SSC was only at the “starting point” of defining the exceptional circumstances process. However, departments like Global Affairs that work in remote and international locations would be “obvious areas for consideration,” he said, citing stringent restrictions on who can provide SSC services.

Under its mandate, only SSC employees can deliver its services, meaning the agency has to dispatch an SSC employee in every “point of [reference] around the globe,” according to Mr. Breton, who described it as “not efficient” and “not effective.”

He singled out departments providing services in other countries and working in remote and overseas locations as “consistent themes” where operating from a central location “may not be the most beneficial.”

The Hill Times reached out to several departments and agencies that would appear to fit the criteria or have been identified in media reports as encountering challenges with SSC to ask if they planned to seek an exemption from using its services, though none publicly confirmed they would.

Global Affairs Canada will “continue to work together and maintain our existing partnership,” according to a statement from spokesperson Jocelyn Sweet.

Annie Delisle, a spokesperson for the RCMP, said the national police force is “working closely” with SSC to try and find solutions to “fully meet the RCMP’s policing IT requirements, without compromising operations.”

A spokesperson for the Canada Border Services Agency simply said it “supports” the government’s goals and priorities, and will continue to contribute to areas related to its mandate of defending the country’s borders.

Statistics Canada said it values SSC as a “reliable service provider,” but clarified that while the budget implementation bill provides “more flexibility,” it doesn’t allow departments or agencies to opt out.

Source: Shared Services Canada to begin talks on allowing federal departments to ‘opt out’ from centralized IT service – The Hill Times – The Hill Times

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About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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