GTEC at 20: An appreciation and a challenge

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I wish I were at GTEC 2012 in Ottawa this week. It’s the 20th anniversary of an event that has come to define how the public sector articulates its IT priorities and sets the tone for many of the discussions around how citizens will be served via technology. It’s also a classic example of an event that focuses as much about what hasn’t been done as what has.

Take, for example, the coverage of the keynote speech by Corrine Charette, CIO for Treasury Board Secretariat, who struck what sounded like a very humble note in describing the federal government’s failure to meet expectations around the use of IT.

“We haven’t kept up as much as we need to,” she said, according to a story posted by the Ottawa Citizen, adding that the government needs to transcend its aging network infrastructure to “be efficient, cost-effective, and have sustainable solutions.”

The timeline for getting there, she reportedly said, was sometime within this decade. I would suspect that, looking back, other federal CIOs have told GTEC much the same thing over the years. It’s not that different from what many CIOs used to tell their senior management in private sector enterprises: they knew the IT they were offering employees and customers wasn’t that great, in part because it was obsolete, and that eventually it would get better.

After a while, of course, CFOs didn’t buy it, which is one of the reasons CIOs were encouraged over the last 10 years to stop talking about technology and start talking more about the business. Some of them did, but when you look at the agenda for GTEC, the tech talk is what stands out. Sessions about the cloud, big data and network generation networks are all there (in contrast, and somewhat scarily, a session called “Becoming a Digital Nation” was cancelled).

I think the government has actually done a pretty decent job of delivering more of its services electronically, protecting our data from the worst cyber-attacks and even experimenting with open data and social media. Perhaps, though, this would be an opportune moment to think about what the next 20 years of GTEC, and by extension public sector IT, should look like. What are the business issues that are most important to citizens, and how can government better address them? Like last year, I suspect much of the talk at GTEC 2012 will be around the Shared Service initiative, but that’s really a means to an end. It’s about reducing costs and creating efficiencies. The emphasis at GTEC – and at Treasury Board, should be on value.

You can provide online access to government information, but are citizens better informed about the things they need to know than they were 20 years ago? Have we creating new channels and pushing citizens to them while closing off others over the last two decades, and if so what have been the tradeoffs? What are the best metrics to calculate the specific ROI of government IT spending – the number of citizens served, the money saved, or is a calculation around quality of life possible? These are the questions I hope attendees will be wrestling with at GTEC 2013 and beyond. Until then, congratulations to everyone involved in getting us this far.

ShaneSchick ShaneSchick (22 Posts)

Shane Schick is a writer, editor and speaker who helps people create value with information technology. As Editor-at-Large with IT World Canada, Shane recently oversaw the launch of, a new brand that empowers senior IT decision-makers through articles, videos, events, social media and a cloud-based sourcing platform. Shane was previously IT World Canada’s Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief), leading a digital-first strategy that included a transition from print publications to online portals and magazines. Shane regularly speaks to CIOs and IT managers at events across Canada about how they can contribute to organizational success, and comments on technology trends as a guest on CBC, BNN, CTV and other programs. A former columnist with the Globe and Mail, Shane has been recognized for journalistic excellence by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.

  • DonSheppard

    Now if only public sectors around the globe could avoid each “re-inventing the wheels” through mass collaboration, perhaps we could move forward even faster.

    • Bruce Stewart

      Alas, the culture of the civil service works against that sort of collaboration, at least in any reasonable timeframe.

      Australia, for instance, implemented its SIGB (cross-federal government IT Governing Board) structure in 2008, to provide clustering of initiatives, sharing of information, faster idea>implementation. The mechanism could have been copied here (there are actually decent ties between Canada and Australia in IT matters going back to the early 1990s) but it hasn’t gotten far enough yet to even be discussed, much less implemented.

      And no, that’s not a failure of the PMO or the government of the day. As far as I can find out, it hasn’t even come close to making the Minister’s box for the Treasury Board yet, which would be step one in going from internal consideration to political approval.

  • Bruce Stewart

    One thing you may have missed (it can be hard to see) is that our federal government for one is busy defining standards the market can’t meet.

    Take the information management/archiving space. A very comprehensive standard has been worked up. But no vendor comes close to meeting it with their products.

    What’s more important is that the market being what it is, the real author of the standard products will be built to is the Pentagon, as they’re the buyer with the most clout. We’d be far better off saying “works for us” in this case, add only the necessary bilingual requirements (which the vendors can meet) and get on with things.

    Instead, years pass in futile meetings both to create a “Made Here” standard (they’re not even joined to the provinces on defining it!) and meeting with vendors to try and get them to modify their products in a way that would cut off their existing business with the US Department of Defense. Dumb!