Ontario revises IT shopping list

TORONTO — IT vendors should pitch projects with short-term financial benefits if they want to get a piece of the Ontario government‘s business next year, according to the province’s corporate CIO.

The Information Technology Asociation of Canada‘s Ontario chapter Friday hosted a roundtable discussion featuring each of the province’s “cluster” CIOs from finance, infrastructure development, transport and justice, among other areas. The audience was comprised of representatives from IBM, Telus, Bell Canada and many other firms interested in obtaining government IT contracts in 2002. This was a follow-up session to one the province held in May. The goal is to improve communications between the government and the vendor community about the status of current projects and potential request for proposals (RFPs) that could be published in the next six months.

Greg Georgeff, Ontario’s corporate CIO, said the province is sticking to its agenda of improved online services by 2003, but now finds itself in the midst of considerable financial challenges.

“This is a serious period of constraint in the Ontario Public Service,” he said. “When it comes to unsolicited proposals, projects with a five-year return-on-investment will not make the cut. Those that can prove tangible benefits in a year, on the other hand, will be met very favourably.”

Over the last few years the province has been trying to change its procurement process to introduce more competition (and potentially get better pricing) while aggressively moving forward on its IT strategy. It broke the myriad goals into a stepladder-style chart with essential areas called “Keeping the Lights On” and moved up to more ambitious e-procurement initiatives.

In the IT services area, for example, the government usually sticks with a set of service providers, known as the vendors of record (VOR). Last month, however, the province began an IT services “refresh” where it allowed vendors who had not taken the chance to bid for the VOR slot to do so, and allowed the existing VORs to offer a lower price. That refresh is almost complete, but officials did not disclose the name of service providers on the VOR list.

“We want to open up to new vendors, but not new services,” explained Neil Sentance, procurement policy director at the Treasury Board Secretariat. “We don’t want to be tendering all the time or in a continuous procurement process. It’s been an interesting challenge.”

Dozens of projects were discussed at the meeting, many of which have been assigned new dates for tendering or which have been put off indefinitely. An RFP for electronic service delivery, for example, opened up on the government’s online tendering service, Merx, on Nov. 20 and will close on Dec. 21. In the Chief Strategist’s department, however, an upgrade on mainframe printers has been indefinitely delayed, while a facilities upgrade for the iServ area has been pushed back to May of next year. Other timelines (subject to change) are as follows:

    • Land Resources Cluster: A VOR for Intel services is to be chosen in march, while a storage area network VOR is to be selected in May.
    • Economics and Business Cluster: The Business Ontario Online portal RFP is still up in the air. The Ontario Export Inc. portal has been temporarily shelved.
    • Justice Cluster: A contract for voice telephony is to be awarded in March. A project to convert 600 NT 4.0 file and print servers over to Windows 2000 is to be tendered in April.
    • Central Agencies Cluster: A refresh of 20 servers has been already completed, and a project for interactive voice response and faxing will be tendered in January.
    • Transportation Cluster: the projected RFP date for driver and vehicle renewal has been pushed back to May, as has a project involving road user safety.
    • Community services: an RFP for the OnSIS project is expected by February. The Ontario Knowledge Network for Living project is underway.
    • Human Services: The lease asset administration project has been deferred, as has the Public Health Information System.

“Looking at it as a report card, I’d say we are certainly at a B+,” said Sentance. “I expect next year there will be some things we did not even talk about which will be on the check-off and done category.”

Georgeff said the province is also working in consultation with ITAC and the CATAAlliance to explore new policies that will determine limitations on liability and intellectual property protection in government-related IT projects. “We’ve measuring this in gov. years, not Internet years,” he said. “Gov. years are at least three years longer than a normal year, and Internet years about half of a regular year.”

Joan McCalla, corporate chief strategist with the government’s Office of the Corporate Chief Information Officer, said final budgets for IT spending would not be completed until April 2002 at the earliest.

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