opinionThink the $54-million ArriveCan was costly? How about $4.6-billion on outsourced IT?Amanda Clarke, Laura Chang and Sarah NiedobaDecember 21, 2022
Amanda Clarke is an affiliate professor at Carleton College. Laura Chang and Sarah Niedoba are with Code for Canada.
Whereas the latest Home of Commons inquiry into the $54-million ArriveCan is far wanted, the reality is that Canada’s once-mandatory COVID-19 journey app is merely a symptom of the federal authorities’s ailing strategy to procurement and outsourcing.
A latest analysis venture led out of Carleton College helps illustrate a root trigger: an unhealthy dependence on personal IT distributors, with a whopping $4.6-billion spent federally on contracting in 2021-22 alone. That was a rise of just about 8 per cent yr over yr.
To make issues worse, this isn’t a case of “you get what you pay for” – huge spending isn’t yielding the best-in-class digital options Canadians would anticipate (and deserve) primarily based on the worth tag. An absence of public-sector digital expertise and sources, unhelpful inside guidelines and processes, and an outdated procurement mannequin have trapped Ottawa in a system the place high-cost, low-value contracting with personal companies has grow to be customary follow.
It doesn’t must be this fashion. Globally, governments have realized that with a purpose to achieve success and fashionable, they should know when to “purchase” and when to “construct” by having each the abilities to design and deploy digital companies itself, but in addition successfully oversee contracted companies when wanted.
What would it not take for the Canadian authorities to get on board with this world motion?
First, it wants workers in-house, in any respect ranges, that perceive easy methods to design and ship seamless, accessible services and products. This implies elevated funding in attracting, retaining and retraining new and current public servants. This manner, the federal public service has entry to competencies which might be important to any thriving digital-era group, together with these with experience in design, net improvement and consumer analysis.
Second, public servants want the scope to work in fashionable methods. This implies opening up entry to new instruments (lots of that are blocked by authorities firewalls), redesigning counterproductive insurance policies and necessities, and inspiring public servants to work extra brazenly by sharing their code, discussing their work, and collaborating successfully with mission-aligned organizations. This final level is vital: Authorities wants exterior companions which might be equally devoted to delivering high quality companies that put the general public earlier than income.
Third, the federal authorities must replace its procurement mannequin to get in keeping with worldwide finest practices. The important thing rule right here is “smaller is best” – excessive greenback worth, long-term contracts are all however assured to result in venture delay and failure, to not point out vendor lock-in. Tech tasks are inherently unpredictable and one key approach to handle that danger responsibly is to restrict the size and dimension of contracts.
Smaller contracts have added advantages: They create alternative for a range of companies to bid, they make it simpler to dispense with a vendor in the event that they’re not delivering good work and, maybe most notably, they set tasks up for iterative improvement that in the end lead to higher options.
Alongside spending controls, we’d like contracts primarily based on outcomes (not outputs) and much more transparency about who’s awarded contracts, and whether or not these companies really ship worth once they pocket public cash. This may make it simpler to scrutinize the worth for cash of the federal government’s IT procurement spend, and to make wiser decisions for future bids.
Lastly, we have to shift the general public dialog away from spending alone. Efficient public digital options will virtually at all times require important funding, however individuals deserve (and will demand) that the prices make sense. The query isn’t easy methods to spend much less, however easy methods to spend smarter in order that public companies are extra accessible, inclusive and useful.
Profitable service supply is inherent to reliable, democratic governance. That’s why it’s extra essential than ever to zoom out from ArriveCan and different latest digital failures and as an alternative deal with the core downside – antiquated public IT procurement – so we don’t keep on the identical path and anticipate to finish up someplace new.