Why Shared Services Canada will succeed

OBJ Contributor
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

Unlike its predecessor, the IT Shared Services Branch, Shared Services Canada has a much better chance of success in helping government departments reduce IT waste and increase efficiency in both productivity and resource management.

(Stock image)

By Christopher Smith

This is because the program is far more aware of the importance of developing excellent communication between all people involved in the process, from administrators to employees to IT technicians.

Instead of attempting to make arbitrary decisions based on spreadsheets or academic studies, Shared Services Canada is attempting to make recommendations based on people's actual experiences. Communication, surprisingly enough, can be an incredible cost savings.

The overriding goal of Shared Services Canada is to reduce overall IT expenses. However, the program is also tasked with a far more thorough communications policy, including eliminating cost overruns by making sure that duplication, in both equipment and processes, is avoided.

Although the IT Shared Services Branch had a similar goal, problems occurred when government departments were not told specifically how to manage their systems.

In many cases, the department would use systems or equipment provided by the Shared Services Branch that were not actually the most cost-effective choice. This usage would also be accounted for in a way that did not accurately reflect the budget for that department, which correspondingly did not help with cost reduction.

Communication is an art that must be learned through years of patient practice. Although many people may share the same goal, it is not always easy for them to express this goal in a way that is clear and actionable.

By purposefully dedicating resources to learning how to work with a variety of different people across different departments, Shared Services Canada will likely be able to reduce expenses simply because the program's understanding of what those expenses are will be much clearer.

To put it another way: instead of trying to interpret mysterious figures on a project proposal, Shared Services Canada will hopefully reach out to government workers to understand specifically what equipment they need for the tasks they carry out each day.

This kind of human approach will likely entail more coordination from program members, but will ultimately result in a far more fluid and effective policy than an inflexible or automated plan.

Christopher Smith is the chief executive of local software company OPIN. He writes about open governance, technology, and the public sector on Twitter @csedev.

Organizations: Shared Services Canada, IT Shared Services Branch, OPIN

Geographic location: Canada

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page



Recent comments

  • Enrique Thomaso
    January 17, 2015 - 21:54

    Shared Services Canada will be a complete failure and don't buy this propaganda, because behind the smoke screen created by the PMO is a department full of stressed out civil servants working next to overpaid contractors, who's can't keep up with maintaining existing infrastructure while transitioning to what SSC calls the "end state," a humourously ironic term for what real IT departments know doesn't actually exist. Information Technology is always in a state of transition from testing (bronze) to pre-production (silver) and finally to production (gold). There is no end state, as modernization occurs throughout the life cycle, from the bottom tier to the top. Neglecting the life cycle management of existing systems in favour of investing in the elusive "end state" results in failures which costs countless millions. That's why SSC is now poor and can't even afford to pay for transportation for its staff. Some departments have had to pay for SSC's travel in order for backup tapes to get changed and other routine on-site maintenance to be done. SSC is currently involved in escalation talks with many of its "partners"--a term used to avoid client service expectations from other departments--due to a growing list of issues and requirements that SSC is essentially ignoring, and is openly admitting that it can't deliver on. SSC is being audited for contracting out regular positions with employee-employer relationships, and I anticipate an audit in 2015 that will reveal cost overruns in the hundreds of millions. Shortly thereafter departments will begin reporting on programs that are shutting down due to insufficient IT infrastructure, and failures resulting in significant losses of critical data. The IT groups, or CIOs, in the departments, who were not feeling the pain two years ago and were assuring the business units they support that SSC would come through on its promises, are now feeling that pain as they begin the all too familiar fight they've engaged in to get the simplest of requests fulfilled for their clients, to draw SSC's attention to the modernization of their core systems and services that are too big and too critical to fail. Good luck!

  • Borg
    December 05, 2014 - 17:05

    I don't see how SSC is more efficient. Purely political move in my opinion. Things that used to take a few hours now can take days/weeks

  • George
    May 02, 2014 - 12:52

    SSC bit off way more than they can chew. THey should have left the DND, CSC, RCMP and similar entities out of it. Start with the smaller deparments in a staged approach, bringing lessons learned forth. Right now its so screwed up we can't even buy pens. Projects that were already going are being stalled because shared services doesn't know how to purchase or cost recover for items purchased. The departments are getting stuff they normally pay with their own budgets and when they want to pay they can't because know one knows how to take their money. HR is a disaster, overtime, leave everything goes to a centralized mailbox where no one responds. The executives are hring their buddies for jobs where they do nothing and make $110,000 a year, while everyone up top is pating themselves on the back saying job well done. On the ground we can't provide services that are expected of us. Complete and utter crap run by morons,

  • Jeff
    April 28, 2014 - 15:20

    Can't wait to see SSC crash and burn!

  • Joe
    November 14, 2012 - 09:15

    What a glowing article about SSC, Christopher. I like the statement of how this time it will all work because "..the program is far more aware of the importance of developing excellent communication...". The program is not a living and breathing being so it is aware of nothing. Individuals within that beast are aware of plenty, but then they are stuck in a large bureaucratic beast with the usual model of ideas having to "bubble up" from the bottom. SSC is another mega government department and unless it is completely transformed into a private sector model (for profit only, no union, firings on poor performance, etc..) then it cannot escape that which makes every other mega department function like the public service does. Unless one individual is given dictatorial powers to breeze through there an order all other ministries to do what is required withing SSC's plan then it will continue to operate slowly via consensus - and with so many different points of view and personalities that will continue to operate so slowly that it will grind to a halt *again*.

  • Jason
    November 14, 2012 - 06:33

    Halfway into fiscal year.... $30,000,000 over-committed so now my department gets only break fix and I am not getting new equipment that meets our needs but a $400,000 SAN that has been sitting in a warehouse for over a year and will be end-of-life in two. I am with Joe and Pete this was not thought out. If done properly with all federal parties in agreement so that it can be implemented over multiple elected governments a 10-15 year plan could make this work. What I have seen this last year is disgraceful and is preventing my department from doing the work we need to do.

  • Pierre Laframboise
    November 13, 2012 - 12:38

    I have been actively working in Shared Services in government for more than 10 years. It has more top down management at the moment than I have seen in the past, but I can see the pendulum slowly swinging back to input and action from operational staff who actually provide services in all departments. It takes time to make SHared Serices work in such a large, complex and bureacratic environment like government, but we will evetualkly strike the right balance and learn to be more efficient by having more common services, systems, and support mechanisms.

  • Bob
    November 09, 2012 - 16:41

    With respect, this is quite a naive perspective. "Problems occurred when government departments were not told specifically how to manage their systems." From my experience in government, because of this sort of thinking, we are forced to use something like Oracle Enterprise when Microsoft Access will do! It's not a communication issue; it's a system issue (not in the IT sense!). Address the thinking behind the system that sustains shared services as a solution! Return the IT budget to the department responsible for program delivery and they can choose how to manage their system to match the needs of the program area - not force fit into some bureaucratic corporate standard.

    • Christopher Smith
      November 12, 2012 - 00:20

      Thanks for your comment, Bob. In my opinion, a decentralized approach to systems management is not efficient. I have the ability to work with several departments or agencies simultaneously, which have given me a unique perspective from most. A common inefficiency my clients face is caused by unstandardized infrastructure. Infrastructure varies greatly from department to department; driving up software implementation costs and hindering collaboration. For this reason and many others, I believe that this consolidation project is the best choice for our government.

    • SSC Rank & File
      September 16, 2016 - 16:58

      I stumbled across this article today and found it interesting to read nearly 4 years after its publication. I'm curious if Mr. Smith would still defend his position on SSC. And I'm also curious how Mr. Smith "knows" the following about SSC: "Instead of attempting to make arbitrary decisions based on spreadsheets or academic studies, Shared Services Canada is attempting to make recommendations based on people's actual experiences. Communication, surprisingly enough, can be an incredible cost savings." I agree with the last line. But that has not been my experience to date. Decisions do feel like they have been made based on spreadsheets, private consultants, and industry trends. Basically anybody but the employees actually executing the work. We are 5 years in and I can assure you that communication is not a priority. It is not true now, and it wasn't true then. What is the point of all this efficiency, if we lose our effectiveness?

  • Joe
    November 09, 2012 - 14:21

    While all departments will more than likely agree that there are many ways to make the Government as a whole more efficient, you can not implement a new department with the scope of SSC without significant planning being completed in advance. Not only did SSC stand up without that planning, they are still scrambling furiously to develop processes just to administer their staff which were transferred without any real meaninful consultation. To further exasperate the issue, they did and still are making arbitrary decisions based on spreadsheets without proper consulation. Without a serious "second sober look", this endeavour will fail just like it has in every other country.

  • zack
    November 08, 2012 - 22:15

    You have no idea what the inside is like. Ssc is nothing but a job gut process. Services are worst than before. You need to find better hands on point of views

  • pete
    November 08, 2012 - 13:14

    I can tell you from the inside that it has already been a colossal waste of treasure and time. The service or lack thereof is appalling and I defy you to find one department that is happy with this loss of service and skills or what it is costing them, never-mind the burden on tax payers. The push to centralize or rationalize is always followed by sober second thought and back to the way things were. Don't get me wrong, there is always room for efficiencies both in process and expenditures but this was a top down process - to save money - only - and as a result it will and is failing.