Navigating the IT planning highway

Public sector IT managers need to have a vision — and a road map — of where they want their organizations to be in five to 10 years. But they also need to be nimble enough to navigate a landscape dotted with new technologies that often seem to spring up from nowhere.That’ s why some discard the idea of long-term planning entirely.
“It’s a nonsense approach to try to plan by 10 years,” says Gord Butler, chief information technology officer of the Canadian Museum of Civilization, based in Gatineau, Que.
According to Butler, government organizations that fail to factor flexibility into their technology planning risk increased IT costs, risk management issues and difficulties finding the necessary infrastructure.
“Your approach will fundamentally change in five years.”
That’s why the museum has a three-year IT budget plan that complements a business plan of the same length, says Butler. As the organization defines its goals for the cycle, the IT plan is developed to ensure that the infrastructure and tools are in place for the business plan to succeed.
Although the Museum of Civilization envisioned rapid changes in technology, “we needed an infrastructure that we didn’t have to throw out every three years and that we could actually build upon,” Butler says.
That way, he explains, technologies can be easily implemented without undertaking an expensive revamp of the whole security infrastructure or network infrastructure.
As it stands, certain technologies such as servers and network storage are becoming disposable, he says. “You can plan long term where you bring in a SAN. But with changes in technology, in three or four years, you may have problems getting parts for that SAN. So you might be replacing it anyways.”
Overall support and security infrastructure tend to be long-term issues, so the Museum of Civilization purchases products and services with staying power, which Butler says does not strain resources.
The museum debuted last May a new extension, the Canadian War Museum, featuring a virtual experience of exhibits to educate the public about the impact of war on Canada.
It entered a strategic partnership with Mitel Networks for IP telephony products at the new war museum, including voice over IP, IP video conferencing and integrated messaging.
It also adopted Dragonwave’s Airpair wireless Ethernet bridge technology to provide voice and data services through a 200 Mbps link between the Canadian War Museum and the main IT facility at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau.
IT ‘misadventures’
The Museum of Civilization says by buying comprehensive operations and security management tools from Computer Aassociates, and by having the related skills of the CA team on site, it has the infrastructure support to quickly deploy new IP solutions while maintaining stability, availability and security of all resources.
Five years ago, it set out criteria for technology providers that it will do business with: Companies must make extensive use of automated technologies that will reduce costs. Service providers also have to take advantage of tools on the market that have the least negative impact on the organization.
Companies such as Computer Associates have also seen their fair share of misadventures in IT planning over the years as public-sector organizations wrestle with conflicting pressures of cost containment, rapid technological evolution and dependency on legacy applications.
In one instance, a major enterprise group renowned for running a lean IT department frequently bought only the cheapest solutions meeting basic requirements of business clients.
“IT was ultimately outsourced — not to save costs, but to improve service levels — since the infrastructure that resulted from the low-cost point-solution approach had resulted in an inability to meet the business needs as they changed over time,” says Ken Williams, area manager for technology services at Computer Associates Canada.
“They gave up flexibility and speed to market for price, and IT eventually lost the ability to control its own destiny.”
In other cases, some organizations have claimed to have standardized on certain back-up and recovery products, but CA often realized they had three to five solutions, Williams notes. “The standard solution is usually in use in roughly 60 per cent of the enterprise.”
Although Canadians accessing public-sector organizations on the Internet in the past had to navigate through pages of information in different online areas, now the public sector generally takes a broader and more horizontal approach to service delivery through the concept of a one-stop shop, says Alden Cuddihey, a partner in the government practice of Ottawa-based consultancy Accenture.
Cuddihey says a one-stop shop, which provides Canadians with a single view of information, will drive increased requirements for versatility in gaining access to online information and services.
“It would be hard to articulate the cost in dollar terms of failing to build in flexibility to long-term IT planning. But if government didn’t do this, they might inadvertently introduce redundancy in service delivery as government departments adopted silo mentalities,” Cuddihey explains.
Recycling is essential
Ontario’s community services Information & Information Technology (I&IT) cluster of ministries has learned several lessons on this issue.
It reuses certain parts of applications across the ministries that it controls, and as a result has created a veritable “library of architecture,” says Jim Hamilton, CIO of the group that includes education, municipal affairs and intergovernmental affairs.
“We try to standardize locally in ministries or we have to be an expert in different technologies.”
Hamilton says adopting open standards that can be better co-ordinated than proprietary ones, and documenting practices so that others may understand and use these tools in the future is also key.
Hamilton adds that each year the cluster, mindful of technology and business trends, spends a great deal of time with its respective ministries to identify their needs.
Such attention to detail prevents worse-case scenarios from plaguing the ministries: “They could end up with a technology solution that will run out of breath or that nobody supports out there.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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