Ont. government discusses salary disparity in IT

TORONTO — IT employees in the Ontario government are not thrilled about sitting beside consultants they know are making twice their salary, said a CIO at a panel on Wednesday.

But the trick is to make the best of it, advised David

Nicholl, CIO of Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation cluster, at Showcase Ontario.

“I came here a year ago and I was extremely surprised at the number of consultants within the Ontario Public Service (OPS),” said Nicholl, who participated in a question and answer session with nine other cluster CIOs at the event. “There is no question if you’re sitting next door to somebody who is making perhaps twice your salary, it’s going to have an impact on you; you can’t help it. I think what you have to do is when you are within an internal organization you have to rise above that and be professional and start looking at areas where you can make an impact a consultant a never will make. It really comes down to whether or not you’re interested in making a career for yourself.””

Nicholl, who was asked if the OPS plans to increase or decrease the number of IT consultants it uses, added he believes the provincial government has to be looking for ways to reduce its reliance on consultants.

“I think it comes down to the fact that there are different ways of doing things,” he said. “One of the things we’re looking at more now is not going so much for the independent contractor consultant to come in and work with us, but outsourcing that work more. I think it’s a fact of life that partnerships are a necessity, I think we will get more intelligent about how we get our work done if we’re not doing it ourselves.”

But, asked one audience member, how do you ensure knowledge transfer to full-time employees given the large amount of outsourcing the government engages in?

One way, said Neil Sentance, CIO of Ontario’s Justice cluster, is by building requirements for knowledge transfer into all outsourcing arrangements.

Sentance noted that knowledge transfer is a key recommendation in the provincial auditor’s 2002 report. As a result, CIOs are looking at mechanisms to achieve that goal, he said.

“At this point we haven’t worked up a common mechanism and a common set of terms and I don’t think there necessarily would be . . . but I’d have to say at this juncture it’s a work in progress.

“It’s something we are committed as an organization to do to build up the capacity inside, It is a direction we are moving in in the very short term.”

But CIOs can’t make any promises, said Central Agencies cluster CIO David Hallett. “A short while back CIOs from across the clusters were talking about this issue. We’ve indicated we have the intent to go more full-time than contract where feasible, but it’s going to take time to work that all out. The question is really hard to answer because you have to deal with the circumstances at the time, you don’t know what the agendas (will be) or what the workloads (will be).”

IT professionals who are interested in building up their own capacity and getting those full-time jobs were advised to get as much experience in different provincial organizations as possible.

“If you have an opportunity to work on the business side as well as on the IT side I think that will help in developing your business orientation and client service skills,” said panel moderator and chief strategist Joan McCalla.

As well, added Hallett, project management skills are critical, as are analytical capabilities, not just on the technology side, but also to help employees understand the complex environments they will be working in.

“You need to be able to think outside the box, look at the big picture and analyse what’s needed. You need the analytical skills, but you also need to be creative and take a chance.”

For more on the CIO panel, please see the October issue of Technology in Government.

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