Provincial governments push ahead with Oracle upgrades

SAN FRANCISCO – Ministries from two of Canada’s largest provincial governments are using Oracle‘s OpenWorld conference this week to share strategies and learn more about technologies that will assist them with major IT migration projects.

As part of a series of presentations on change management, for example, an assistant deputy minister from Ontario’s Ministry of Finance, David Fulford, provided attendees with an update on the province’s Integrated Financial Information System (IFIS), a three-tier solution based on Oracle Financials 11i running on Sun Microsystems hardware. First launched in 2002, Fulford described IFIS as the largest Oracle application project in North America, replacing 17 general ledger and sub-ledgers in all central agencies and 23 ministries, with approximately 9,000 core users. The province is in the process of migrating from Oracle 11.5.8 to 11.5.10, Fulford said.

Fulford said IFIS, which won a Canadian Information Productivity Association Award late last year, faced considerable resistance when it was first being rolled out. One of the ways Fulford’s team tried to gain support was through the publication of a series of brochures, titled “What IFIS means to me,” which explained the impact on budgets, GL, accounts payable and receivable.

“It brought things down to the level that they needed,” Fulford said. “You have to recognize the differences across the organization. Your IT community is very different from your business community.”

IFIS involved participation from more than 500 subject matter experts, Fulford said, as well as a Business Solution Council made up of controllers and other finance employees. The creation of Ontario’s Shared Services Initiative may present an opportunity to achieve further cost savings and efficiencies around IFIS, he said.

“There’s still a challenge around managing business processes,” he said. Ontario uses PeopleSoft for HR, for instance, and the province wants to bring HR and finance closer together. “So that’s going to require us to look at a new governance framework.”

In his keynote address on Tuesday, Oracle senior vice-president of applications John Wookey said the company’s hostile takeover of PeopleSoft earlier this year caused some nervousness around organizations that had picked PeopleSoft products over Oracle’s during the bidding process for various projects.

“We were getting all these e-mails that said things like, ‘It was really close,’” he said, adding that Oracle was sticking to application roadmaps that would see PeopleSoft 9, J.D. Edwards Enterprise One 8.12 and World A9, along with version 12 of its own E-Business Suite, released next year.

For Patrick Czyz, technical architect at British Columbia’s Ministries of Education and Advanced Education, OpenWorld was an opportunity to find out more about the company’s identity management products. B.C. uses Oracle Forms, Reports, Portal and many other technologies for a variety of applications, including its online student loan process and a system that high school students in Grade 10, 11 and 12 can use to check their mandatory provincial exam marks, which they need for entrance to college and university.

Czyz said the ministries are also in the process of upgrading from Oracle’s 9i database to 10g, which the company specifically designed to set up grid computing environments. Czyz said his operation didn’t require the kind of load-balancing associated with grid computing, but the upgrade will involve moving from aging Alpha Tru64 servers to Intel-based HP Proliant machines running Red Hat Linux.

Making the move to 10g will be a complex job, Czyz said. That’s why his team is building a two-node “sandbox” where it will sort out its needs and gradually move copies of the applications over.

“We’re hosting so many things in there,” he said. “Before we start spending the taxpayers’ money we’ll need to answer a lot of questions.”

Czyz said the ministries will likely continue to keep the sandbox running as a sort of test bed even after the move to 10g is completed sometime next spring.

Oracle OpenWorld runs through Thursday.

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