How Treasury Board and ESDC are strengthening information governance

Successful implementations require a strong focus on business results and user participation. Two smart takeaways from a government interoperability project

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On the surface, the new departmental service bus installed at Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) and the Treasury Board Secretariat of Canada seems to have little to do with network technology. In a presentation at the Government Technology Exhibition and Conference (GTEC) held in Ottawa from Oct. 19 to 21, managers in charge of the project talked primarily about the data and application levels, not the communications infrastructure. Yet the presentation was notable for network specialists, too.

A quick explanation of the service bus: it’s middleware designed to transfer data between ESDC and the Treasury Board, so no matter which department generates information, the other can access and use it instantly—no reformatting required. The goal is to create a single source of data and thereby simplify information access and strengthen information governance. “It allows you to govern your data and know where it goes,” said Mario Tanguay, executive director, IT solutions at ESDC.

Here are the tidbits that network technologists might learn from the government’s service bus case study:

Work well with others

The presenters said data governance was a major concern. No wonder. In early 2013, ESDC (then known as Human Resources and Skills Development Canada or HRSDC) admitted that it had lost a portable hard drive containing social insurance numbers, bank account information and other personal data belonging to more than 500,000 Canadians. Since then, the department has been extremely sensitive to the need for information management, especially with respect to privacy and security. So ESDC and the Treasury Board were keen to create a system to help ensure information is protected and treated with care. Doing so meant collecting input from numerous sources. And some of those sources were far from convinced that the service bus was the best idea. In fact, some people were worried that the new system would actually weaken information governance.

The key was to find out how ESDC’s and Treasury Board’s most governance-conscious managers viewed the situation. Following that crucial research, the departments would build those managers’ strong governance systems into the bus. ESDC is working on that now. It’s establishing a chief data officer position to formalize and embed that work into its culture.

The lesson for network managers: listen to your users. They see what’s needed from a practical perspective. And when you work closely with them, you’re more likely to implement solutions for unified communications, collaboration and other connective requirements that genuinely address the needs of your organization.

Focus on business results

The presenters made a strong case for technology informed by a business point of view. For instance, they explained that to get buy-in from senior executives, they had to stop talking about service-oriented architecture (SOA)—an information-management concept that makes more sense to IT managers than business-line directors. Instead, they discussed the bus as a cost saver (a way to link all sorts of enterprise resource planning systems without having to custom-build interfaces for each individual platform) and as a better way to keep track of information. Those results-focused attributes are easy for many managers to understand.

As stated by Vernon Von Finkenstein, senior director with Treasury Board: “You stop talking about the tools and you start talking about what you’re going to build.”

The upshot for people in charge of networks: highlight the business benefits of the technologies you want to implement to receive stronger support from your bosses.

You’ve likely heard advice along those lines before. But it’s worth repeating. Executive buy-in is essential if you want to launch new solutions, whether in the application area or in the network. As for the idea that you need to collaborate to succeed, that may be even more important in the networking arena than it is for application implementations. Remember, your unified communications users will take to your new UC systems to collaborate if all goes well. So show them what collaboration really means with your own efforts to reach out, listen and incorporate feedback. Solidify the benefits of the technology and of the concept.

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