leasing-gate

The scariest thing about the City of Toronto and MFP computer leasing scandal is that we still have to hear about it at the end of the year. As of November, former City CFO Wanda Liczyk had admitted the ever-ballooning leases were her responsibility.

Here are some of TIG’s

favourite parts of the initial story we reported in January:

Mel Lastman was wary of pursuing a public inquiry into computer and software leasing deals until he heard the city had acquired considerably more Oracle database licences than it actually needed, a commission heard.

During his third day on the stand at the Toronto Computer Leasing Inquiry, the City of Toronto’s mayor continued to answer questions about the state of the city at the time of Y2K and concerns around conflict of interest. The inquiry’s goal is to determine how the city’s computer hardware and software leasing deal — originally thought to be worth $43 million — escalated to more than $80 million.

The inquiry also heard that while the complexity and uncertainty of Y2K loomed, senior IT staffers at City Hall could often be found on the golf course, including the city’s executive director of IT, Jim Andrew, CFO Wanda Liczyk and Lana Viinamae, the director of the Year 2000 project.

Through the summer and early fall of 1999, inquiry documents show vendors including Bell Mobility, Cisco Systems, Compugen, Oracle, Dell, Sun Microsystems, Novell, Toshiba, Lexmark, IBM, Compaq and others entertained Andrew and other staffers on golf courses such as Glen Abbey and Lionhead, located near Toronto.

During his third day appearing as a witness for the inquiry, Lastman was questioned by MFP counsel David Moore about the practice of city officials being entertained by vendors.

“”Would it be a surprise to you that city officials were being entertained?”” Moore asked.

“”When I saw this, I was shocked. The first thing that came to mind is, when are they working? And I can tell you, this will come to an end. A golf game is at least four or five hours and they’re not back at work from morning to night,”” said Lastman, adding he would “”maybe stop this free golf thing once and for all.””

provincial revolt

Following the old adage that if you want something done right, do it yourself, several provinces decided to plan their own electronic tendering services after the feds extended their contract with Merx.

According to the March 2003 story, Merx has had a stronghold on the government’s tendering business since its initial contract was signed in 1997. That three-year agreement allowed for a two-year extension which ended last year. The federal government said in 2000 it would examine options for a replacement to Merx, but its failure to do so led it to renegotiate with the Bank of Montreal, which owned Merx. As a result, the Merx contract was extended for another two years, until June 2004.

That created a few unhappy campers: the Quebec government’s Secrétariat du Conseil du Trésor signed an agreement with Montreal-based CGI worth $18.9 million to develop a system that will be available to all its departments and agencies, as well as education, health, social services and municipal networks.

Alberta, meanwhile, released a tender to create a similar site while a Saskatchewan e-tendering system is already in the works. And in the meantime, the Bank of Montreal sold Merx to Montreal-based Mediagrif Interactive Technologies.

Denis Gadbois, the firm’s president, said the Quebec government’s decision will put local suppliers at a disadvantage.

“”We are going from a one-window, see-all system and we’re going to a point where we’re going to have segmented information,”” he said. “”There will surely be an increase in costs for Quebec-based companies. Today they’re paying a one-time fee to Merx and they have access to federal and all provincial government RFPs.””

Jacques LaFrance, assistant deputy minister at the Secrétariat du Conseil du Trésor, disagreed, insisting the province has made clear in its contract with CGI that its tendering system will have to be interoperable with other systems. “”If we look at our price, I would say the supplier who uses the CGI system will pay less money,”” he said.

security nightmares

If there’s one lesson we should all learn from the events of 2003, it’s this: lock the door behind you. Oh, and check out that encryption stuff. It’s amazing.

Remember this?

May 2003: A plan to centralize the management of IT infrastructure in the government of B.C. is under serious review after a server theft from a Ministry of Human Resources office building. The server, along with eight laptops, was stolen the night of Feb. 5 from a two-storey Coquitlam, B.C., office. According to Ministry spokesman Richard Chambers, the server contained names, addresses, social insurance numbers, and financial information. That information belongs to 568 income assistance clients who receive welfare cheques and a number of ministry staff.

According to Corp. Pierre Lamaitre of the RCMP’s Coquitlam office, eight office doors were kicked down and the alarm and phone lines had been cut. This followed a similar break-in the previous evening, but nothing had been stolen. Lamaitre said the criminals were likely testing the building’s security.

“”The good news from our clients’ point of view is that we did have backups of their files, which we were able to get up and running. No services to our clients were affected by the break-in,”” said Chambers.

According to the story, the government of B.C. has a set of guidelines in place for security called GMOP (General Management Operating Policy), and the Ministry of Human Resources is conducting its own review of security practices. So far, the locks have been changed on the doors in the Coquitlam office and security passcodes have been updated.

Apparently, server theft is becoming a popular pastime.

In a story that ran in November 2003, TIG reported that Canada Customs and Revenue Agency’s Quebec Tax Service office was broken into on Sept. 4. One of the four stolen laptops, which acted as a server, contained a database with unencrypted information including names, dates of birth, social insurance numbers and home addresses but not personal income tax information, on 120,000 individuals, according to the CCRA. CCRA spokesman Dominque McNeely said the servers were not contained in their usual locked room at the time of the theft.

(And this has to be our favourite quote of the year) :

“”It was in our office, which is protected by an alarm system, but most police agencies will concur that it is practically impossible to stop a determined thief,”” he said. “”We could talk about human error, but it’s not like we left them on the front lawn.””

But we also liked this:

“”Our servers aren’t encrypted,”” he said. “”They’re only password-protected because if our servers were encrypted it would slow down our operations to a point where it just wouldn’t be workable. That’s why we keep them locked in a more secure room.””

big brother

Several stories we ran reveal our nation’s slow but steady march towards the use of technology that helps the feds keep track of our every movement.

For example:

From May 2003: A pilot project announced earlier this year by Canada’s Immigration Minister Denis Coderre is in its very preliminary stages, according to a cautious spokesperson for the department.

The proposed pilot project is to add biometrics to permanent residents cards on a voluntary basis, but has raised the hackles of the likes of the federal Privacy Commissioner, George Radwanski.

(He’s gone now, having raised a few hackles of his own.)

“”The project still hasn’t been endorsed; it’s under public discussion,”” the department’s spokesperson, who wished to remain anonymous, said noting that while the possibilities of the card are still in the research phase, nothing specific has been looked at in terms of technology.

And in other news:

In the July/August 2003 issue, TIG reported that Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) announced it, too, will be keeping closer tabs on visitors and residents coming in and out of the country through a comprehensive database that will be a single point of reference for the ministry.

The project, dubbed Global Case Management System (GCMS), was first announced in April. Management consulting firm Accenture was hired on by the CIC in a two-part contract to help define and carry out the project worth an estimated $54 million over three years. Services company Ajilon Consulting is also participating.

There are more than 110 million people entering the country every year, according to CIC spokesman René Mercier. Some are citizens returning from overseas, some are visitors to the country, others are new immigrants or refugees. “”We’ve got to process these people in an efficient manner,”” said Mercier. “”The technology has evolved

. . . Instead of having to go through several systems, you’ll have to type the name once and you’ll get everything we have at the CIC on that person.””

be afraid, be very afraid

TIG really loves these stories. You know, the ones that add more to the list of things that should keep you awake at night. For example:

From October 2003: The widespread blackout that struck the East Coast in August was a wake-up call highlighting the vulnerability of North America’s power grid to cyber attack, according to a Canadian researcher.

Given the information he’s seen so far, Eric Byres admitted it is unlikely the blackout was cyber-related. But Byres, research team leader at the British Columbia Institute of Technology’s Internet Engineering Lab, said the way a small problem at one power plant seems to have cascaded across the East Coast shows possible hackers and terrorists the potential of a cyber attack.

“”People watching with less than warm and fuzzy thoughts about Western society will be saying, ‘Wow, here’s a way we can get a lot of bang for our buck,'”” Byres said. “”Whether they’re sophisticated enough to do anything about it remains to be seen.””

counter-terorrism

If only real life were like ALIAS and 24. Alas, it’s far more mundane. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have our own version of high-tech cops and robbers:

From April 2003: The Combined Forces Special Enforcement (CSFU) and the Integrated Security Enforcement (INSET) teams announced the opening of a Toronto-based operational centre. The 50,000 sq. ft. facility was created using a $22 million fund made available by the Federal Public Security and Anti Terrorism initiative, officials said. Both CSFU and INSET are funded and administered by the RCMP. The centre is for investigators from 11 municipal, provincial and federal agencies to co-ordinate efforts in fighting and preventing organized crime and terrorist activity.

The information and communications technology will enable officers from such distant jurisdictions as Vancouver and Toronto to share information and co-ordinate investigative efforts, said CFSEU/INSET chief superintendent Ben Soave. Information sharing on this scale has not been possible before but is crucial, he said, in order to fight the increasingly sophisticated modes of operation among organized criminals.

“”Our opponent is a . . . criminal increasingly familiar with most of our investigative techniques and who knows no borders,”” he said.

The centre will be home to some 165 investigators and numerous support staff from various agencies. Investigators from one agency will be able to access the databases of the other 10 member agencies in search of information that may aid their work, explained RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli.

The centre will also rely on IT to allow for speedy alerts in case of emergency, said INSET member Reg King. So if a crime has been committed or a terrorist attack carried out, critical information can be sent out to law enforcement officers across Canada and even to the U.S. almost instantaneously.

“”Say I have a picture of a box cutter and I need to explain it quickly. I can just broadcast the picture across the country,”” he said.

health care

There were tons of very cool news stories this year about advances in health care technology and research. Here’s one of our favourites:

Surgeons at Hamilton, Ont.’s St. Joseph Healthcare Centre have assisted the surgical team at North Bay General Hospital in performing the world’s first hospital to hospital telerobotics assisted surgery. Using Bell Canada’s VPNe commercial networking service, Hamilton-based Dr. Mehran Anvari assisted Dr. Craig McKinley, a North Bay-based surgeon, in performing a laparoscopic Nissen fundoplication (acid-reflux) surgery over a distance of nearly 400 km. The hospitals discussed the results of the collaboration at a conference in Hamilton. At one end of the network, Anvari used the Zeus Surgical System, developed by Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Computer Motion. Bell’s VPNe network then carried his hand, wrist and finger movements to the system’s robotic arms residing in North Bay General Hospital’s operating room. The network delivered information over 10 to 12 Mbps of bandwidth, Bell said. It ensured the delay between Anvari’s movements and the robotic arm’s movements controlling the endoscopic camera in the patient’s abdomen was no longer than 150 milliseconds. The VPNe is ideally suited for use in a surgical environment, Bell executives said, since the network is protected against both fibre cuts and laser failures. It has the ability to self heal against failure within 50 milliseconds.

— With thanks to our freelancers and ITBusiness staff for the contributions

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