INAC sets up office in cyberspace

Indian and Northern Affairs Canada is letting those interested in working with First Nations communities get information on treaty negotiations through an Internet-based collaboration tool.

INAC, which is also responsible

for constitutional, treaty, social, economic, political, and legal treaty negotiations for Inuit and Northern communities, is piloting Sitescape Inc.’s Enterprise Forum, primarily in British Columbia. The Federal Treaty Negotiation Office (FTNO) in B.C., for example, is using the product as a sort of central clearinghouse to support the activities of the B.C. Federal Caucus.

Ross McNaughton, senior business analyst for INAC’s Economic Development and Special Initiatives Sector in Ottawa, said the Forum helps groups organize meetings and materials, send background material and records of decisions.

“”We don’t do any synchronous, live events using the software,”” he said. “”It is more a place to schedule. It’s like an office in cyberspace for a particular group.””

Approximately 100 people have access to Forum so far through a 200-seat licence INAC purchased earlier this year. These users include both departmental employees and external stakeholders — NGOs, special interest groups — who have a stake in how negotiations go with First Nations, McNaughton said.

“”The major advantage in this particular applciation is that it allows us to include external people,”” he said. “”Our departmental systems are not generally accessible to people outside government.””

Sitescape vice-president of marketing Heidi Gabrielson in Maynard, Va. said the company already has a track record of government customers. Outside Canada, Sitescape works with all four branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, the Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Justice.

Gabrielson said Sitescape customers typically use Forum to create what she called “”communities of practice”” — individuals with like-minded goals and interest sharing information. Others focus on the team collaboration features for project management, while some use the technology for document management or publishing.

“”We’ve had customers who’ve been able to measure hard return on investment,”” she said, citing a Shell Corp. project involving some of its 15,000 engineers around the world. “”Because they’re so disparately located in remote corners of the world, there might be only one mechanical engineer in Oman. If he runs into a problem, rather than brainstorming for a few days on his own, he’ll post that problem in the Forum.”” Shell estimated it saved close to US$1 billion in 2001, Gabrielson added.

McNaughton said INAC will evaluate the pilot in the early months of next year. Based on the results, it will build a business case for the establishment of a departmental standard for this type of software and a wider enterprise deployment.

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