Home Contact Us
Reference - Articles
Business Process Reengineering

 Renewing Government Services through Information Technology: The Blue Print
This article was published in the Optimum, The Journal of Public Sector Management which is published Quarterly by Consulting and Audit Canada in partnership with the Faculty of Administration of the University of Ottawa.

Prepared By Dr. Mir F. Ali

The federal public sector is faced with the challenge of surviving in an environment where budgets are constantly shrinking while demands for services are consistently increasing. This is creating a gap that could be bridges by using information technology as a strategic tool for improving productivity, performance and quality of service.

The federal government's annual investment in information technology goods and services is over $2 billion. Salary costs for an estimated 20 thousand employee's account for an annual expenditure of approximately $1 billion. Across government, 24 departments account for 92% of the annual government investment in information technology. Of these, 10 departments account for almost 75 percent of the expenditures.

According to Treasury Board: “It is difficult to assess the benefits of the government's investment in a global sense, since information technology is applied across almost 1,200 federal programs and services. It is clear that departments and agencies have endeavored to make the right investment choices on a case-by-case basis, based on criteria such as service improvement, cost reduction, cost avoidance and improved productivity. The federal government's most significant investment trend (in information technology) has been the continuing migration of computing power from centralized systems to the desktop and beyond, to the point of service.

The Blueprint:
A discussion draft entitled Blueprint for Renewing Government Services Using Information Technology, prepared and presented by the Office of Information Management, Systems and Technology (IMST), Treasury Board Secretariat, is an excellent attempt to articulate a clear vision for providing client-focused services that are affordable, accessible and responsive.

The Blueprint recommends creating, managing and prudently sharing information electronically among departments and their different services in a way that protects the security and privacy of the information. In envisages the use of a government-wide electronic information infrastructure to simplify service delivery, reduce duplication, and improve the level and speed of service to clients, transparent and seamless service, value-added service, continuous learning, standardized and interconnected tools, shared solutions, shared information, and a paperless environment.

The Blueprint formulates an integrated strategy to help accomplish this vision and identifies six critical elements for successful implementation - community leadership, commitment to the vision, people management, partnerships, forging ahead for results, and departmental implementation. Tapscott and Caston's framework defines three key thrusts in planning and managing the transition from legacy environment to a new paradigm:
  • Reengineer the business: This must occur at all levels of the organization, from work group and business process to enterprise relationships with external organizations. Organizations must be prepared to adjust and streamline operations drastically to change the cost base, if appropriate, and improve effectiveness. This requires a critical assessment of what is being done and why;
  • Retool the technology environment: It must be determined how best to deploy the enabling effects of the new technology paradigm to provide the organization with an infrastructure that allows for continual improvement of knowledge and productivity of service workers; and
  • Realign the internal IS function: It is not possible to keep all IS specialists under tight central control. As the technology, applications and information become dispersed throughout the organization, approaches to developing the human resources required to plan, design, build and operate the systems must be rethought.

To make the transition from conception to reality, these three thrusts must move through four plateaus: Reimage, reshape, realize and renew.

The focus:
The focus of the Blueprint is on retooling the information technology infrastructure, specifically on five architectural views:

  • Business view: Government services must be transformed to focus on serving clients, sharing solutions for common functions, seeking innovative business partnerships, exploiting information technology and facilitating accountability;
  • Work view: Service Delivery Processes need to be automated, seamless, efficient and convenient, free from constraints such as functional stovepipes, organizational barriers, red tape, time and location;
  • Information view: As a valuable national resource, government information must be accessible, secure, captured and validated close to the source, properly maintained to ensure privacy and integrity, and electronically distributed to authorized users;
  • Applications view: Applications need to interact freely with one another, have a consistent look and feel, and be modular, reusable and broadly shared across government; and
  • Technology view: Information technology must be open and capable of supporting distributed and accessible computing environments.

The Paradigm:
The Blueprint is a wake-up call for federal government departments and agencies. They have no choice but to adopt a new way of doing business, focusing on working faster while maintaining a higher level of quality. This represents a fundamental change in doing business - a paradigm shift - and it is important that federal public servants recognize the opportunity.

Joel Arthur Baker describes how the Swiss missed opportunities by not recognizing the need for a paradigm shift in the watch-making industry. He notes that, in 1968, Switzerland had 65 percent of the unit sales in the world watch market and more than 80 percent of the profits. The Swiss were by far the world leaders in watch making, yet by 1980 their market share had collapsed from 65 percent to less than 10 percent. Their huge profit domination had dropped to less than 20 percent and their watch making future was destroyed. As a result, between 1979 and 1981, fifty thousand of the sixty-two thousand watchmakers lost their jobs - a catastrophe for Switzerland.

This situation was created simply because the Swiss had run into a paradigm shift - a change in the fundamental ways of watch making. The mechanical mechanism was about to give way to electronics. What the Swiss were good at - making gears and bearings and mainsprings - had become irrelevant.

Ironically, the Swiss themselves had invented the electronic quartz movement at their research institute in Neuchatel. Yet, when the researchers presented this revolutionary new idea to Swiss watchmakers in 1967, it was rejected. So sure were the manufacturers of their conclusion that they let the researchers showcase their “useless” invention at the World Watch Congress that year. Seiko took one look and the rest is history. Today, the Japanese have about 33 percent of the world market, with an equivalent share of the profits.

The question is whether the federal community can afford to make the same mistake the Swiss made in not recognizing the need for a paradigm shift. The answer, of course, is NO!

The Critical Step:
The Blueprint does not draw a roadmap to demonstrate how to reach the target vision; it only points out what must be done. The development and maintenance of an enterprise/business model has been a real challenge to the federal community. To take advantage of the Blueprint, perhaps the first and most important activity is to build an enterprise/business model for government departments and agencies. According to Tapscott and Caston, performing the following activities can do this:

  • Achieve vision (reimage);
  • Structure the solution (reshape);
  • Develop and deploy (realize; and
  • Continuously improve (renew).

The enterprise/business must be the basis for identifying information needs and opportunities for utilizing technologies. This is the only way to ensure that business needs, not technology, drive the process. Public Works Canada (PWC) made some serious efforts in the early 1990's. They took a realistic view and, instead of attempting to develop a top-driven model, they developed an enterprise/business model for each functional area (branch). Following this initiative, they formed a consolidated functional model, which represented their enterprise/business model. This was an excellent compromise. However, modeling tools were not used to create and maintain the repository for this model, nor were functional responsibilities assigned for this activity. As a result, this model was not maintained and no other major initiatives took advantage of it.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) recognized that the value of information for the Force is different in so many aspects from any other government department or agency. At the same time, they realized the importance of the availability, accuracy and relevancy of information. Accordingly, they capitalized on the opportunity to develop an enterprise/business model by initiating and successfully completing a project that concentrated primarily on their corporate management function. Currently, they are in the process of deciding how the remaining functions within the Force can take advantage of this initiative. This is consistent with the PWC approach, the only exception being that the RCMP used the business design facility tool and recently established the Corporate Management Information Branch, which is functionally responsible for developing and maintaining the enterprise/business model.

Government Services Canada also attempted to develop and enterprise/business model in 1993. Several government departments and agencies have conducted strategic information systems planning studies, but the majority of these initiatives represent only a partial view of the organizations.

The following observations have been made about the Blueprint:

  • No approach for reengineering business environments is effective without an organizational structure. Since people are the main interface between business functions and technology, and play a critical role in the process, it is imperative not only to determine human resource requirements and to develop a suitable organizational structure as a part of the process, but also to take a skills inventory of existing staff to determine training requirements. This will have a direct impact on the performance of employees. Even though it was mentioned again and again in the Blueprint that people are key to the process, no provision was made in the approach presented. It is critical to realize that an organization structure with the right skills for performing optimized business functions will boost productivity;
  • MST has done an excellent job in making the Blueprint look easy, attractive and affordable. There is a strong possibility that deputy ministers and assistant deputy ministers will be enthusiastic, without realizing the magnitude of the effort required to accomplish the objectives. This could lead to a situation where individual departments will find it difficult to satisfy the expectations of senior management; and
  • IMST could have benefited from the time and energy invested in the concept of the departmental integrator. There is nothing wrong with having senior management champion this initiative, but departmental integrators could have been used to introduce, promote and implement the Blueprint in their respective departments. As Tom Peters noted: Top management should not be in the business of strategy setting at all, except as creators of a general business mission. Strategies must be set from below.

The success of this initiative depends on how well federal departments and agencies understand the need for a paradigm shift. They must start thinking horizontally rather than vertically. But who will steer them in this direction? Are the departmental integrators in a position to provide the leadership needed to promote and implement the Blueprint? How committed are these departmental integrators? Do they really understand their role?

There may be a need for a departmental chief informatics officer (DCIO) in each department and agency to emulate the function and responsibilities of the Chief Informatics Officer. This position could report directly to the chief executive office for the visibility and power needed to take advantage of the Blueprint. Perhaps the DCIOs could influence the strategic directions of the individual departments, maintaining consistency with IMST and acting as a point of contact for the issues related to information management and information technology.

Some employees may expect an explicit roadmap to success and be disappointed with the Blueprint. But IMST has come a long way by developing this excellent document - certainly a step in the right direction. It contains a real message for the federal community: Lead, follow or get of the way.

Return to

Copyright 2003 - Automated Information Management Corporation