Inside the development of Telefilm Canada’s award-winning digital admin platform

The winner in the Public Sector SME Transformation category at parent ITWC’s 2018 Digital Transformation Awards, Telefilm Canada had a mammoth problem to solve.

The crown corporation, which is dedicated to the cultural, commercial and industrial success of Canada’s audiovisual industry, supports companies and creative talent at home and around the world through funding and promotional activities. But its 185 employees were struggling with systems that hadn’t been updated since the turn of the century, and the challenges associated with managing programs not only for itself, but for the Canadian Media Fund (CMF) as well.

Denis Pion

They were up to the challenge. “As a small organization, we don’t often have the chance to reposition our technology,” says Denis Pion, director of administration and corporate services. “When we do, we do it aggressively. So, in 2000, we were probably one of the first in Montreal to develop a complex application based on Java, and we did it with at least 50 percent of our employees or contractors having less than three years of experience, and we delivered on time and on budget.”

After a 2012 external consultant’s report pointed out the necessity of integrating CMF and Telefilm’s processes onto a single platform, the organization’s award-winning project, Information System Redesign (ISR), was born: a three year, $5 million effort with the goals of improving user experience, reducing costs and delivery delays, and increasing system security, stability, and accessibility. It addressed the report’s key findings that there were too many technologies in use, the existing systems were too complex and difficult to maintain, and that, while they were meeting operational needs, other areas of the business such as promotion and business intelligence were not being served. Work began in 2015.

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This time, though, the strategy was different. Instead of building systems, Telefilm opted to let others deal with the technology while it concentrated on business value.

In other words, it decided to move to the cloud.

Using Appian’s low-code platform, with input from the business team Telefilm’s developers constructed a platform it dubbed Dialogue. Available 24/7, Dialogue both cuts the administrative load and gives clients access to funding applications from any location, any day of the year; two were even submitted over the 2016 Christmas holidays. The tool was designed to grow and adapt as Telefilm’s mandate evolves.

“It’s probably the first time that we had the business team involved from the beginning,” Pion notes. “That was a big shift. Too often you have business thinking that IT knows what it needs, and IT thinking that the business should bring up what it wants. What we really should have is technology, processes, and data at the same level of importance to give the best business value.” Since Telefilm is now a data-driven organization, measuring the value of its portfolio investments using an internal success index, that’s an important distinction.

Data integrity had also become an issue, Pion says, since there were three or four datasets involved, depending on the application, and the location of the entity accessing it. Today, everyone shares the same data, which he calls a huge improvement.

This project, due for completion by the end of 2018, is not the end. “Instead of delivering everything, then waiting for another ten years before refreshing our application, we will do continuous improvement,” he says. “We think that each year we’ll have to improve parts of the process or parts of the tasks that required adjustments. That was very complex and expensive in the past, but now on a platform that will let us concentrate our efforts on the process and the data instead of on the technology, we will have the time.”

Instead of the 30 – 40 technologies involved in the old systems, the team now needs only worry about two stacks: Appian, and Microsoft Office 365. And instead of generating upwards of 500 reports to meet client needs, the team provides dashboards at one-tenth the cost. Pion says that his team can even produce a map showing of all of Telefilm’s investments, to the street level, in minutes.

The delivery time for a new business function has already been slashed by 25 percent; Pion says the goal is to cut it in half. Development costs have been cut by 30 percent.

There’s another sign of success: the Canadian Minister of Heritage is now recommending that Canadian Audio-Visual Certification Office (CAVCO), which administers several federal tax credit programs, also make use of the new platform, since it uses much of the same information collected by Telefilm, and supports much of the same clientele. The groups are currently exploring sharing information, or at least standardising what’s asked.

“There are always opportunities, and you need to seize them” Pion says. “If you don’t have the agility to react soon enough, someone else will take the opportunity. There’s competition in government as well as in the private sector; if you have a good idea, if you are efficient, there’s more chance to get part of the cake.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Lynn Greiner
Lynn Greiner
Lynn Greiner has been interpreting tech for businesses for over 20 years and has worked in the industry as well as writing about it, giving her a unique perspective into the issues companies face. She has both IT credentials and a business degree.

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