Shrinking budgets especially in the IT world are putting pressure on public organizations to do the same work (if not more work) on aging technology and infrastructure. The government is not the standard setter when it comes to advancing to the latest and greatest technology. The perfect example: I’m using a Pentium 4 single processor computer with 1GB of ram running Windows XP and Microsoft Office 2003. It’s a fair assumption that we don’t expect tablets or the latest greatest technology in a public sector office. There will always be a technology gap. Much of the work we do in the public sector does not need top of the line technology and we public servants do have an obligation to spend public funds in a responsible manner which means managing our IT costs.
So as long as the technology does the job, it should be good enough right? Well, the problem is the technology is not doing the job. In my cases, the technology is impairing our ability to do our jobs effectively. On an average day, I lose an hour to lock-ups, boot-up and other technological issues. There is a cost to using outdated technology ranging from downtime, support costs, client frustration, system downtime, lost productivity etc. In my cases, the technology can’t handle the tasks we’re trying to accomplish.
Recently, I wanted to share a rather large file to people both inside the GOC and outside. File sharing is relatively easy for smaller attachments as you can use e-mail. In this case, the file was too large to send via e-mail. In my private life, I would upload the document to Google Docs or Dropbox and share the link with those who need the file. While I can share the file internally through GCPedia or GCConnex, this option would mean people outside the GOC are unable to access the file. Further research shows that I can’t use Google Docs, Dropbox or any other file sharing service as my documents are not compliant with the accessibility policy of the Government of Canada. Instead I’m left with limited options of how to share the file including an option where users must make a request for the file and a central distribution service sends a copy to the user.
Frustration took over that in 2012, no central file sharing service whether a wiki, hosting service, distribution hosting or file sharing exists for the purpose of sharing and collaborating with those outside the government firewall. It was mind boggling to consider that the only way to meet thITe obligations under the accessibility policy was to e-mail the document or put a “Request PDF” button. I understand the restrictions but also recognize that an additional barrier is being raised through this process. External audiences want ease of access and the solutions available put a barrier in place to reaching these audiences. There can be a compromise between accessibility and access to external audiences. A platform for file sharing that is accessible can be developed. Unfortunately, the technology is not implemented and the cost both in time and money during austerity times makes it hard to justify implementation.
IT budgets are being squeezed. Technology is out of date. A simple “I want to share a large file” transforms into a daunting hours long research and inquiry project. More than anything else, this example illustrates the cost of outdated technology. Sharing large files should be a simple and easy process whereby I post the file to a sharing service is in line with accessibility policy. Instead, I am left with imperfect solutions after spending hours attempting to work out a solution. While an initial upfront investment is needed to bring IT up to date, the long term cost savings (productivity, support, service etc.) more than make up for it.
It’s a tough sell during austerity times. No body of government is in a spending mood. As an individual public servant, you can document the barriers, the effect on personal productivity and the opportunities lost due to bad technology. Individually, you might not be able to get the technology replaced but by having the right conversations with the right people you might draw attention to the issue and begin the journey to find the solution.
Scott McNaughton, thenewbureaucracy.ca