Federal government to downsize failing Canada.ca project

Another failing IT project.

As someone who regularly accesses government information, never found Canada.ca terribly user friendly or easy to find the info I was looking for. The old departmental websites were more efficient from my user perspective (although that may reflect my comfort and familiarity with them or the more policy information that I was looking for).

And a bit disappointed the IRCC is one of the sites that will remain as it is one of the sites I consult with the most.

As with the other major IT failures – Shared Services Canada, Phoenix – one has to question the competence of the senior officials who made and prepared the case along with the Ministers who provided oversight and approval:

The federal government is substantially curtailing the multimillion-dollar Canada.ca project, acknowledging that its plan to merge 1,500 departmental and agency websites into a single website is sputtering.

Instead of migrating all departments and agencies to a single platform, the $11.8 million earmarked for the project will be used government wide, with a focus on four of the largest departments offering services most used by Canadians: health, environment, Canada Revenue Agency, and immigration.

Those departments will have until the end of this year to migrate their content to the new platform.

“The 2012 plan to migrate all government web content to the Canada.ca platform under delivered from the beginning in part due to poor project management, planning and underfunding from the outset by the previous Conservative government,” said Jean-Luc Ferland, press secretary to Scott Brison, president of the Treasury Board.

“We are refocusing project funds where they can make the biggest impact to improve Canadians’ online experiences.”

Most telling about the government’s flagging support for the initiative is that remaining departments and agencies will not be compelled to continue.

“Other departments will continue to have the option of migrating content to Canada.ca as resources and technology advances allow,” said Ferland.

Over budget and behind schedule

The Canada.ca initiative was launched with the goal of making it easier for people to find and use government information online. A $1.54-million contract for a new content management system, where all government websites would be moved, was awarded to Adobe in 2015.

But as CBC reported at the end of last year, the project is more than 10 times over budget and more than a year behind schedule, making it yet another failing government IT project, not unlike the Phoenix pay system or the email transformation initiative. It’s also another project the Liberal government is blaming on its predecessor.

A government source not authorized to speak on the record said the decision to pare down the Canada.ca initiative, yet allow it to limp along, was making the best of a bad situation.

“It’s like we walked into the kitchen where the meal is poorly planned and off to a rough start. Some dishes were forgotten, grill is overstuffed … your herbs are wilting on the counter. You don’t freak out and throw everything out. The responsible thing to do is to focus on your guests and make the most of everything you have.”

Tens of millions spent so far

In response to inquiries from CBC, the Treasury Board conceded that as of June, only 230,542 pages were hosted on Canada.ca, up from the 10,000 tabulated six months ago, but still an incredibly slow rate of movement over to the new portal.

There are more than 17 million government of Canada web pages in total.

As well, the Adobe contract has ballooned to more than $14.9 million, according to government figures. That does not include the tens of millions spent by departments and agencies that are responsible themselves for the actual migration of the websites, using existing budgets and staffing.

Since 2015, eight of the largest departments have spent or budgeted nearly $32 million on the project. Those departments include:

  • Employment and Social Development Canada.
  • Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship.
  • Health.
  • Environment.
  • Canada Revenue Agency.
  • National Defence.
  • Fisheries and Oceans.
  • Global Affairs.

A slow migration

“This is great news from a taxpayer’s perspective,” said Joel Brockbank, chief technology officer at OpenPlus, a content archictecture company that had submitted a bid to create the new content management system for Canada.ca

“These large IT renewals have a lot of momentum and it’s difficult to change course if it’s not going as planned. It’s amazing they are not doubling down and putting a lot more money into something that will ultimately fail.”

Experts who have warned against unmanageable, large, one-size-fits-all government IT projects agree.

“To focus the money on key sites which Canadians use most is the right decision,” said Timothy Lethbridge who teaches software engineering and computer science at the University of Ottawa.

The December deadline for the four big departments is probably still unrealistic, according to Lethbridge, but the idea of letting other departments off the hook is smart.

“To slowly migrate, as time permits, is more cost effective than a forced death march to get to an artificial deadline,” he said.

A time to cut losses

A government source with first-hand knowledge of the Canada.ca project, and who was speaking on condition of anonymity, said IT government workers have been told that none of the government’s arm’s-length agencies have been moving their material over to the new site for some time.

“In fact we are not even talking about Canada.ca anymore,” said the source, adding “the vast majority of the content on government sites is not being migrated at all.

“It probably just won’t happen.”

Source: Federal government to downsize failing Canada.ca project – Politics – CBC News

Federal government’s Canada.ca one-website project proving costly — and confusing

While I agree with the logic of consolidation and having one integrated government portal for Canadians (I worked on citizen service strategies in the early days of Service Canada), my experience with Canada.ca is mixed, as I find the information I am looking for, more as a researcher, harder to find than before.

And while the concerns raised by this article are valid, I would be curious to know if there are any public studies on the usability of the site for citizens.

A briefing note provided to former Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat president Tony Clement on Dec. 2, 2013, contains a document called Public Opinion Research plan, ongoing user feedback on new Canada.ca website. When obtained by the Citizen, the entire document had been redacted. Government redacts, or blanks out, portions of documents that may breach a person’s privacy rights or are considered to be too sensitive for public consumption.

Source: Federal government’s Canada.ca one-website project proving costly — and confusing | Ottawa Citizen