But he brings a wealth of experience to the position both from the private sector in the insurance industry, and the public sector. Most recently Cochrane was CEO of the IT branch of Public Works, but prior to that he also held the post of CIO of Canada’s customs and taxation department for a number of years. Cochrane spoke to TIG about his plans for the job and where he sees public sector IT headed. Hint: don’t expect business as usual.
TIG: What are your top three priorities as CIO? Do you plan to take a different approach from that taken in the past?
KC: The first thing I’m doing on this assignment is focusing on a 100-day plan. I’m in the process with my team and the community (to see if) we are doing the right things and if we are focusing on the right priorities. The list of responsibilities is very broad because we have policy initiatives, but there are also initiatives under each of those, and I want to make sure we’re putting the right priority on each. No. 2 is we’re going back to the community we are responsible for and asking if we are engaging them properly. Do we have the right mechanisms to get you involved and make sure you’re helping us? The third element of the 100-day plan focuses on whether, as a result of all this policy development, we are producing the right products to enable the community to be successful. As a result of policy we develop standards and tools and guidelines and all kinds of mechanisms. Are they working for the community? We had an executive summit and we used it to get feedback on that. It was interesting – we used electronic voting. I think what they were really reinforcing is that some of these areas, such as information management, probably need a bit more focus because it’s not as well understood or communicated, so that was good feedback. They also indicated we need to strengthen our outreach activities through committee structure and so on. My second priority is policy suite renewal. Treasury Board has a mandate now to look at the entire policy suite and make sure all the policies are well aligned and simplified to ensure they can be easily implemented by departments. That’s a high priority for us. The third deals with the transformations underway (related to) the ITS shared services that I have responsibility for. The corporate admin services is another focus, as is our service agenda, along with Service Canada and other service providers.
TIG: What are the most important IT issues in the federal government?
KC: The first is consolidation of the IT infrastructure and corporate admin services. What’s really important is that we are trying to align government departments to do things in a similar way and have similar standards, ultimately moving to the shared model, like a shared service provider for IT and a shared service provider for corporate admin and finance and HR. The second key IT piece is the development of the workplace and the workforce. We have a team of people that focuses on attracting, retaining and developing talent in the enterprise. Our third most important IT issue is making sure we get the best value, with a very strong focus on improving our management of complex IT undertakings and helping departments do that.
TIG: Is e-government just government by now? Do you still distinguish between the two?
KC: I’ve certainly had a lot of debates within the community but also outside it. I would say we don’t talk so much about e-government. One of the surveys we’ve conducted for many years with Accenture seems to have shifted away from that and focuses more on service delivery. What I think has happened is we have evolved to a level where most departments and service delivery agents think about how they can reach their communities or clientele most effectively and doing it via the Internet is just one of our channels. We continue to do work in this area but it’s probably not as strongly labelled e-government – it’s more labelled service transformation. We’ve done a lot of things in the last year, such as the online census. CRA has done some very interesting work on the Internet to allow third parties, say the parents of a tax filer or children who assist their parents, to access records over the Internet. We have about 19 other programs that are going to be implemented this year so we still do a tremendous amount of work here, but it’s part of service delivery.
TIG: Shared services is one of the big issues government is dealing with. What is that going to mean for IT departments?
KC: This is not a new subject – it’s one I spent the last two and a half years focusing on, building a shared service capability in Public Works and Government Services Canada. When I look at shared services it’s not just IT. We are looking at the IT infrastructure but it’s also true with the corporate admin services, HR and finance.
We’ve already done shared services for things like procurement and we have compensation centralized, so what we’re looking at is the natural course of events.
The Government of Canada is a very big enterprise with 100-plus departments, agencies and others, and they all do things that are very common, so we’re saying if you’re in the business of implementing networks or data centres, why wouldn’t we do it holistically as one enterprise? The focus is acting as one.
When I look at the role of a CIO in a department, it really has to be to ensure that their programs and unique business environments are receiving the appropriate attention.
Usually what that means is getting the right information, building the right solutions, requiring the right software and doing the right analytic work. They tend not to need to focus as much on the IT infrastructure, and this allows them to say, “thanks service provider, take care of the networks and the data centres, I don’t really want to be in that business.”
The focus for them is shifting to the business value IT brings to the table. We take all this common and shared stuff and say that’s a utility.
TIG: You referred to this earlier but it seems that working in the government is different from what it used to be, from what I hear. There’s a lot more pressure and it doesn’t perhaps provide the same security it once did. How do you see that?
KC: Government is a very big enterprise and it offers tremendous opportunities and challenges. Because of our breadth we work across the country and we’re in hundreds of business lines, so it’s an interesting place.
The other thing is we work across jurisdictions so it’s a very interesting set of circumstances for the workforce. When I look at where we are versus where we might have been 10 years ago, there is an increasing demand for information, so with more accountability and better management being the theme of the day for government, that requires a tremendous amount of business information.
That’s heavy lifting for IT people, to be able to make that information available in a consistent fashion.
Because of the transformation work we’re into a huge amount of re-engineering across processes and systems.
In some cases we’re interfacing with these systems and in other cases we’re putting in brand new systems.
Public security is also a big factor in government in terms of the kind of work people have to do today.
Something that was very familiar to me in industry was time to market, where you have to get a product out in three months. It’s the same here, too. We’re not competing with the company across the street, but we are competing in many ways with other jurisdictions to make sure Canada leads, so that tone is here. It may not have been if you went back 10 to 15 years.
It’s a very challenging environment and it’s one where people really have to be on their toes.
TIG: You mentioned the teams formed to attract and recruit people. Is that how you’re approaching the predicted skills shortage or are you looking more at outsourcing?
KC: I think in fairness it’s difficult for me to answer all aspects of that. We do talk about the skills shortage. One of the things about IT is we have a very rich IT workforce here and we also have a very rich workforce in the Ottawa area. We continue to see a fair amount of interest from people in the private sector wanting to play a role in government.
We’ve been very fortunate not just in the 2000-2001 window when there were some challenges in industry, but also today. I’m not saying there won’t be shortages in the future, but we’ve had some very good success in the last few years. Where there are shortages we use other vehicles, such as contracting to try to close the gap, but we tend not to have tremendous difficulty with that either.
In fairness we have to get ready for the future, so in the CIO organization we have a group called the organizational readiness office. It has been in place for a number of years and they’re doing a lot of things for us as a community to make sure we are ready for the future, such as standardizing job descriptions. That sounds simple, but when you have 100 organizations with IT workers, it’s hard to mobilize and move them around unless people have similar job expectations and duties, so they’re going through that to give us greater mobility to relocate our workforce throughout the enterprise.
They focus a lot as well on building career development tools.