TORONTO — The final event at Showcase Ontario every year is the CIO panel, where a group of CIOs and department heads field Ontario IT workers’ most burning questions.

The panel comprised Dave Wallace, corporate chief technology officer; Joan McCalla, corporate chief strategist, Management

Board; Des McKee, land and resources cluster CIO; John DiMarco, Justice cluster CIO; Neil Sentance, director of the procurement policy and IT procurement branch; Jim Hamilton, head of IMS for Northern Development and Mines in the land and resources cluster; and Lorelle Taylor, human services cluster CIO.

Here’s a sample of the topics that were top of mind for those who attended this year’s show:

Q: Will there be a PDA standard across the province and therefore proper support?

Neil Sentance: We are looking at the development of a procurement strategy which would identify the kinds of products we would want to acquire competitively in the system and we have an opportunity to link the device strategy with the renewal of two additional agreements, one on wireless data services and one on wireless voice services. I think there is an opportunity to create a converged procurement strategy around devices and wireless services, be it data or wiretime, so that is underway. As we refine that strategy we want to come out in conjunction with Dave Wallace’s group in terms of standards and user needs.

Q: What progress has been made on getting broadband infrastructure to remote parts of Northern Ontario?

Joan McCalla: The Ontario government has had a series of programs for the last 10-plus years in terms of pushing out underlying network infrastructure across the province through various grant programs and initiatives. Earlier this year the decision was taken to put a hold on any new applications in the Connect Ontario broadband regional access program. What we’re doing now in the context of the eOntario strategy, but also in consultation with Infrastructure Renewal, is looking at whether or not the province needs to take a role in facilitating the push of broadband out to even the most remote areas of the province. We think there will be a good opportunity with the eOntario strategy in terms of identifying what services we need in what locations to provide some leverage to help push the broadband out there, but that’s something we need to consider in the context of the strategy work we have underway.

Q: What are the applications that require broadband communications to remote and rural Ontario?

Jim Hamilton: One example would be our efforts around e-learning and the need within the Ministry of Education to develop a policy on how to deliver courses in classrooms or in individuals’ homes … over the Web.

David Nicholl: In Transportation we’ve got NNIS, which is our unit’s information system, and if you’re trying to get on that system via dial-up from a remote region it’s not very appealing, so we’ve got great interest in getting services further out than we have today.

Lorelle Taylor: Certainly in the-health care domain we’re seeing huge benefits from some of the telemedicine services we’ve been presenting here (at Showcase Ontario). People make decisions on their own health care based on whether or not they want to travel to a site. We see huge benefits to our remote areas once they have broadband capabilities and once they and get clinical applications that will allow people in the north to get specialty consultations from physicians and specialists, for example, sitting in downtown Toronto.

Q: What is our policy or direction on the use of biometrics, for example, on driver’s licences or health cards? How many years away is this for use, in your personal opinion?

David Nicholl: We have no intention of introducing biometrics on Ontario driver’s licences for the foreseeable future.

Lorelle Taylor: That would be the same for health cards.

Q: Could we build or establish an IT talent pool across the IT clusters to satisfy different project needs?

David Nicholl: I think as a group of managers we do look to the whole IT community as a potential source of resources depending on what they are. I’ve seen a great degree of movement between clusters, and I see more connected projects between clusters where we’re working together on projects, so whether or not we have a specific pool concept I don’t think that’s what we have today or where we’re heading. I think we have very good collaboration across all the clusters that we can draw on the right people at the right time.

Joan McCalla: Every year we go through a formal planning process so at least once a year we have the opportunity to talk as a group in terms of what skills we have and what skills we need, and look at the opportunities to develop individuals in the organization and to apply the skills where they’re most needed.

Q: Can you forecast the effects on the Ontario public service five years from now of interjurisdictional collaboration in terms of the memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the federal government and Ontario?

Joan McCalla: The question refers to the MOU signed between the federal government and Ontario earlier this year in terms of working together on joint service delivery. The Ministry of Consumer and Business Services (MCBS) is in the lead in Ontario, and in the federal government it’s Human Resources and Development, and there are 10 areas that have been identified to work together. Within those areas, as well as the work we’re doing on eOntario, we hope to move forward in terms of the actual working together on joint service delivery and identifying those areas where there’s a really good opportunity. In five years we should have the frameworks in place, metadata standards and interoperability standards. We should have services up and running and other priorities on the list for services to be developed; we should have municipalities involved, but if you’re asking me to identify what specific services I can’t do that at this time.

Lorelle Taylor: Many of the people in this room recognize the challenges in health care through the SARS experience, but what you may not realize is over the last year a number of provinces have worked collaboratively with assistance from Health Canada on taking the integrated public health information system and enhancing it with quarantine and contact management functionality to support infectious disease control. Ontario along with B.C. and some other provinces are currently implementing that application. Canada Health Infoway is a federal organization with $1.2 billion to contribute towards e-health and we’re starting to see a much more collaborative environment around leveraging applications to support an electronic health record nationally.

Jim Hamilton: We have an MOU with B.C., we’re in the process of signing one with Quebec, and we have a number with the federal government. Where we see it in the next five years is it’s going to go beyond just information sharing to shared applications to be able to provide common applications across jurisdictions that minimize the cost … and that provide seamless access to geographic information, whether you access it through Ontario or the federal government or the provincial governments. We also have a number of agreements with the federal government in terms of our natural forest information system, national land and waters information system and the Canadian system for the environment to integrate and consolidate thematic information to provide seamless cost-effective access to that information.

Q: Do we have any examples of collaboration with our agencies with all three levels of government?

John DiMarco: In the justice sector this has been going on for the last little while at the federal, provincial and municipal levels. It’s really in the collaboration around standards, integration and information sharing where we can leverage each other’s applications to do that and it’s really in the policing realm, so there is tremendous collaboration and even more so after 9/11.

David Nicholl: A current project we’re working on is our GTA transit project, which is a joint project with GO Transit ,as well as working with many of our local municipalities. In five years I hope to be running with a fare card.

Joan McCalla: One example is in the services to business area across Industry Canada and MCBS in terms of looking at all the different permits and licences businesses require from a perspective of are they all still necessary and can the whole process be made more user-friendly, and that’s evolving.

Q: What is the strategic direction regarding horizontal IT services, mainly an OPS standard for servers, data standards, help desk and desktop support?

Joan McCalla: Within the scope IM/IT horizontal review we are looking at developing a consolidated infrastructure plan, and the five areas within that are e-mail, desktop, service desk and the directory, so the investigation is under way now … and they’re looking at moving the OPS forward towards further consolidation in those five areas.

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