12 Years. TIG looks back on the stories and people that have graced its pages in the past

Cover styles have come and gone, and size and format have varied. Section headings have had to adapt to changing times, but its editorial focus has remained the same. In the following pages, we bring you a sampling of the stories that made the headlines over the past 12 years


E-government born, wireless and videoconferencing look promising

In 1994, Canada was an optimistic country, despite the fiscal belt-tightening that was underway. Victoria hosted the Commonwealth Games, and Jean Chretien had been prime minister for four years already. An Ontario farmer was allowed to grow 10 acres of marijuana for “research purposes.” The Vancouver Canucks lost the Stanley Cup to the New York Rangers, and Lucien Bouchard lost his leg to necrotizing faciitis.

More importantly, at least to TIG’s readership, Treasury Board had announced the launch of Canada’s “Information Network,” as it was called then, a one-stop-shopping electronic service providing access to government databases.

Twelve years later, although much of the legwork has been done, e-government is still a work in progress, and probably will be for some time to come.

Also making the news was a wireless device that could transmit data at the breath-taking speed of 20 Mbps, and videoconferencing systems that transmitted images at 20 frames per second.

According to one vendor interviewed for a videoconferencing story, videoconferencing was “going to be the fax of the next three years. Every provincial government will have it, and every federal agency will likely have it. We just see in order to be productive and get things done in a timely fashion, they’re going to have a form of this technology.”

Nova Scotia, which has gone on to become a provincial leader in e-government, opened five online databases to provide citizens with information from all three levels of government.

Human Resources Development Canada was excited about its new notebooks: Canon’s NoteJet 486c, featuring a 33 MHz processor. Sadly, the built-in bubble-jet printer was an idea that did not catch on, as users were more interested in laptops they could actually lift without undertaking weight training.


Spend a little, save a lot – or so the theory goes

An anti-government group in the U.S. is convicted of manufacturing ricin. Meanwhile, the Japanese have home-grown problems of their own – members of the Aum Shinrikyo religious cult release sarin gas on five separate railway trains in Tokyo, killing 12 and injuring hundreds. Canadians get their first glimpse of the hazing rituals of the Canadian Airborne Regiment, which is then disbanded, and the trial against Paul Bernardo begins.

The federal government spends some money to save some money: $5.1 million, to be exact, on a PeopleSoft human resources management system. The deal is expected to save $100 million over the next four years.

And the Auditor General continues what seems to be a long, time-honoured tradition of rapping the knuckles of federal IT executives for one failing or another. This time it’s for the lack of strategic management. Why can’t you be more like Singapore, asked the AG?

Internet via cable began to emerge as another connectivity solution, with pilot projects springing up across the country.

The federal government unveiled its Canadian Parliamentary Channel Online project, enabling Canadians to virtually attend any event the House of Commons broadcasted. Supporting documents could also be downloaded online, and visiting world leaders could answer questions submitted via e-mail.

And if you thought the daily barrage of news stories trumpeting the potential catastrophic loss posed by security breaches was a recent phenomenon, think again: Security experts as early as 1995 were beginning to sound the alarm.


RCMP arrests pirates

In 1996, a year in which a Hamas operative was killed by an Israeli-booby-trapped cell phone and Deep Blue beat Gary Kasparov for the first time, IT managers were once again handed their heads on a platter for failing to properly manage large-scale IT projects.

Interestingly, Denis Desautels, the AG who made that declaration, is the same person who headed the feds’ task force on large-scale IT projects a couple of years ago.

In the same year, hydro companies were talking about edging into the high-speed Internet service market.

Toronto Hydro Telecom’s much-touted free, GTA-wide wireless network recently launched after months of delay.

CAAST, the anti-piracy organization famous for encouraging employees to rat on their employers, kicked into high gear, sniffing out illegal software users and other dangerous criminals everywhere. In 1996 TIG quoted an RCMP officer who, along with 24 other armed officers, raided a Manitoba office on a tip from an employee that about 30 copies of a CAD program were being used in an office with only one licence. The horror. If only we’d still had capital punishment.

Customs and immigration systems were as troublesome then as they are today. Disparate databases were blamed for the death of a Toronto police officer killed by an illegal immigrant who theoretically would have been deported had immigration officers across the country had access to the same database of information.


Terrorist threat? In Canada? Are you out of your mind?

Four years before 9/11, two Ontario companies were developing explosives and chemical detection technology they hoped would be of interest to the Ontario government.

The systems, which came with a hefty price tag, were not met with the enthusiasm the vendors had hoped for.

“We’ve been told it’s too expensive,” said one vendor. “They also told us there was no significant terrorist threat facing Canada.”

Human Resources Development Canada, long a favoured target of criticism, was criticized for its plans to roll out thousands of interactive touch-screen kiosks. It wasn’t that clients would object to faster, more efficient processing of their claims – it was just that labour types objected to the faster, more efficient processing of clients’ claims because it meant less work for union members.

According to Wikipedia (which of course is true because we all agree it’s true) 1997 was the year HRDC tightened up the rules to make it harder to get employment insurance benefits, which in retrospect might have been a more logical source of discontent than the debut of self-serve kiosks, which everybody knows are indispensable today.

It was also the year the public sector began to whip itself into a paranoid fury over the possibility that taxpayer-funded employees could be using their workplace Internet access to view unsavoury images, such as kiddie porn, as in the example of a former DND employee.

Also this year: the ADM of Defence Information Systems was still not sold on the merits of the Internet. In an interview, he called Internet technology “beautiful.” But, he added, “We will use it internally; it works, it does all kinds of things the way we want. But we are not ready to connect our departmental systems out to the Internet yet.”


IT projects ‘better managed than ever’: CIO

It was the year of the ice storm in southern Ontario and Quebec. Cosmologists announced the expansion of the universe was increasing, and terrorist Ramzi Yousef was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the first World Trade Center bombings. Compaq bought Digital Equipment Corp., and the whole Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal got into full swing.

Hackers were on the agenda this year, but at this point, they were much more benign than today’s identity thieves, phishers and pharmers. For the most part, they were content to deface sites mostly to let people know they could.

Governments were busy botching IT projects, or at least that’s what made the news. Canada’s top CIO, Paul Rummell, bravely disagreed with a KPMG report about blown budgets, long-missed deadlines and delivery disasters, saying government IT projects had never been better managed. Other experts weighed in, saying it’s all in how you define disaster. If only Wikipedia had been around then.

Y2K started filling the pages of most IT publications, and TIG was no exception. This year, the feds started handing out up to $1 billion in contracts, using a benefits-driven procurement process.

Ontario takes from the poor, gives to rich ‘rip-off artists,’ says NDP

A plague that haunts the world still was unleashed this year. I’m not talking about the threat of Y2K meltdown or some terrorist act. No, it’s far worse: Britney Spears debuted her first album. Pity the Japanese, who today have to endure the sight of her naked, pregnant body plastered all over their subway system.

Nunavut became the newest territory, and Mike Harris’s PCs won a second term in the Ontario government.

The Ontario Auditor General took the province to task for its bloated contract with then Andersen Consulting in a project to more efficiently disenfranchise Ontario’s poor and disadvantaged.

It started off as a $50 million deal that slowly grew to $180 million.

“You have signed a contract that pays rip-off artists $575 an hour,” said then NDP leader Howard Hampton to Social Services Minister Janet Ecker. Her defence? “In the real world we pay people for the work they do.”

The rest of the news of the day pretty much centred around the Y2K bug – how much it would cost and whose heads would roll if the problem wasn’t fixed in time.

But wait – there’s more. As if the Y2K problem wasn’t enough to worry about, one Toronto-based developer said the 2038 problem was right around the corner.

“I get the feeling that it’s something of an illegitimate child that relatives would like to ignore, perhaps because it seems so far away,” he said.


Information good, databases bad

We survived!!! But if there had been a threat, it would have come from Canadian IT systems, whose failure posed the greatest risk, at least according to the U.S.

That’s because our economy, the U.S. said, was so IT-intensive.

This – the threat posed to the elephant by the mouse – was to become a recurring theme in American-Canadian discourse over the next few years.

Now that the threat of the end of the world as we knew it had passed, at least for another year, we could go on to predicting the future of technology. Here’s what the pundits had to say: wireless, managed services, device proliferation, including Internet refrigerators and interactive TV, innovations in displays, speech recognition and data analysis to better invade the lives of your customers were all part of the coming wave of technology.

Another expert predicted the traditional work experience would be rendered obsolete by 2025, thanks to developments in miniaturization and wireless technology.

The Qbe tablet PC came on the market. It looked cool enough, if you didn’t mind the fact that it must have weighed half a tonne.

And HRDC was back in the hotseat again, this time over its multi-agency database that compiled information on citizens from Canada Customs and Revenue and provincial governments. The privacy commissioner objected to the Big Brother nature of the databank. The moral of the story? Databases shouldn’t be linked unless something bad happens that could have been prevented by linking databases.

On a happier note, the Toronto Parking Authority announced the beginning of its rollout of wireless parking meters, meaning Torontonians lucky enough to find a parking spot could now use credit cards to pay for them, which was necessary because the amount of money required to park in this city was starting to require financing options.


The year of Bin Laden

Wikipedia is launched. George Bush becomes president of the U.S., and MafiaBoy pleads guilty to dozens of charges in a Montreal court. Then Sept.11 changes the world forever.

Security technology and initiatives are thrust into the limelight. PR firms everywhere rush to take advantage of the new opportunities to simultaneously scare the pants off everyone and reassure them all is safe thanks to their clients’ technology. Industry experts cluck-cluck about the general lack of disaster preparedness they see, while others lament the fact that the terrorists used our IT infrastructure to commit atrocities. “Let’s not let our organizations be used as launching pads,” said the president of the High-Tech Crime Network.

Unfortunately, that goal has proved unattainable, as terrorists seize upon the endless opportunities the Internet affords.

The federal government also had non-terrorist-related security initiatives underway, such as the $57 million Secure Channel project, designed to enable access to about 1,000 applications and services through a single window.

Voice over IP was also starting to emerge as a viable technology option. For example, the B.C. Cancer Agency announced the deployment of a voice, video and data network along with more than 270 IP phones.

And in other news that would become a recurring theme in the federal government, the Treasury Board Secretariat announced it was “preparing a strategic plan that could completely change the way all levels of government establish technology contracts.” Apparently, it didn’t completely change it quite as effectively as it might have, because ITBusiness.ca online editor Shane Schick wrote about it then and he’s still writing about it today. Not continuously without a break, of course, but it must seem like that at times.


Canada dubbed Soviet Canuckistan by American nutbar Pat Buchanan

2002 was Autism Awareness Year in the U.K. In Canada, it was the year Stephen Harper became head of the Canadian Alliance Party.

Pat Buchanan called Canada “Soviet Canuckistan,” and the Prime Minister’s communications director retaliated by calling George Bush a moron.

George Bush promptly responded with, “I know you are, but what am I?” OK, that part I made up for fun.

In other news, Canada’s senior project director for the development of smart card policy development seems to talk himself out of a job when he says at a GTEC round table that Canadians don’t want smart cards – or at least a single card.

“They do not want a single number that can be cross-referenced. You’ve got to allow for that segmentation of data.”

On top of that, a pair of Queen’s University profs advised, smart cards would not serve as deterrents to today’s high-tech terrorists, who could even undertake face lifts.

They must have been watching too many episodes of ALIAS and not enough nightly news: Turns out the terrorists aren’t all that smart, just more willing than most to blow themselves up.

This is also the year a consortium of public sector agencies announces its strategy to use smart cards to encourage Canadians to use public transportation by luring them with shiny, easy-to-use smart cards.

In theory, the story said, the project would allow transit users to travel anywhere within the GTA using a single smart card to pay transit fares, parking costs and admission fees to any city-operated pools.

In reality, four years later, most transit users are still using tokens and monthly passes and the TTC is dealing with a huge fraudulent monthly pass scheme. And those city-operated pools? They’re in danger of being drained forever due to budget shortfalls.

In other news, OCIPEP, then the civilian emergency planning department in the federal government, received a third more funding – $15 million – than usual in order to protect us from the threat of cyber-terrorists. So far, as noted above, terrorists seem to be getting far more credit than they deserve in the smarts department.


SARS, space shuttles and CRM suites make the news headlines

The Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrates upon re-entry, killing all seven astronauts on board. Saddam Hussein is told to step down to avoid the apocalypse that is about to be visited upon Iraq. He refuses. Bombs light up the desert sky. SARS hits Canada.

The feds have GPHIN, our homegrown global public health intelligence network. The provinces, well, they have Smart Systems for Health, and apparently, ne’er the twain shall meet. Later in the year, Hurricane Juan reorganizes the Halifax landscape. A CRM suite comes to the rescue.

Canadian public sector agencies, from municipalities up to the feds, have lost their innocence, it seems. Now EVERYTHING is about anti-terrorism. The City of Ottawa, for example, simulates a bio-terorrism attack. The feds pour an additional $50 million into the Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Research Technology Initiative. The intent is to protect the Canadian public from all those nasty nerve agents and nuclear dirty bombs, but the effect is largely to scare us silly.

The federal government’s gun registry system – which, more than $1 billion of our hard-earned tax dollars later, is now about to be dismantled, thanks to the Harper government – is shut down temporarily, the victim of sabotage and sheer volume.

IDC hails New Brunswick as an e-government leader.

In other memorable news, Canada Customs and Revenue Agency’s Quebec Tax Service office was broken into and four laptops were stolen, one of which acted as a server. This event, apparently, kicked off a chain of similar thefts from public sector agencies across both Canada and the U.S., leading readers to wonder if too much emphasis was being placed on cyber security while the barn door was being left wide open.

Adscam, AG scoldings and fraud charges: Business as usual

Whoops! Just kidding about the weapons of mass destruction, guys. Really. We’re sorry, said the CIA about its faulty intel. The Canadian dollar begins a slow but steady ascent, and the Auditor General releases a scathing study on the federal government’s Quebec advertising scandal.

TIG gets its own infrastructure overhaul and moves to magazine size.

The federal government demands that HP repay $160 million it says was fraudulently invoiced, and GO Transit pilots a smart card. The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police made a case for the right to spy on people. At least George Bush agreed with them.

Government Online also got thoroughly spanked in the Auditor General’s yearly tally of who was being naughty and nice. According to Sheila Fraser, GOL was missing deadlines, short on specifics and lacking in fixed cost projections. In short, it was behaving like any other huge government project.


Floods, floor-crossing and fury over hockey cancellations

Speaking of George Bush, 2005 was the year he was sworn into office for a second term. The National Hockey League cancels the season over a labour dispute, and Canadians take up collecting for the Red Cross’s Boxing Day Asian tsunami fund to while away those hours instead.

Belinda Stronach crosses the floor to the Liberal Party, and the good citizens of her riding who put her in office are outraged. CARE Canada experiments with solar power for its communication equipment, and CATSA starts testing iris scanning to improve security in restricted areas. Microsoft and the feds cozy up to protect critical infrastructure.

This is the year it has become crystal clear that Canada is a long way away from having a single e-health record that can be used and accessed by any health care system across the country.

Mad cow has become a major issue, and Canadian cattle get RFID tags to improve their tracking through the system. RFID was an improvement over the traditional bar coding system, experts said, because RFID readers can read through meat, bone, flesh, hair and hide. Mmmm. Steak, anyone?


Is it getting hot in here or is that just our global imagination?

Stephen Harper becomes Prime Minister. Hamas wins seats in the Palestinian elections. Both are democracy in action. So far, the year has been characterized by failed terrorism plots, labour disputes and growing concerns over global warming. Municipalities have jumped on the 311 bandwagon hoping to simplify life for their residents.

Fears of an impending pandemic are growing, with many consulting companies, WHO reports in hand, anxious to prosper from the opportunity to show the public and private sector the extent of the disaster that could – no, make that WILL – occur. Transportation security once again takes centre stage following the Madrid, London and Mumbai train bombings and recently announced failed airline terrorist plots. Governments everywhere wrestle with the challenge of balancing privacy with protection and of ensuring people and business can continue to cross borders efficiently.

Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont., makes headlines after its president declares wireless networks verboten due to potential health risks. If it’s students you want to protect, forbidding the sale of alcohol might make more sense, but whatever.

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