Walking into the Office And Using Nothing But Microsoft Office

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So what does the typical day for the bureaucrat look like? The new bureaucrat logs into their computer which takes about 10-20 minutes to start up because it has one processor with 1GB of RAM and was built about 5 years ago. After login, they pop open Microsoft Outlook 2003, check their e-mail and calendar for the day. They notice that they have to review a briefing note received via e-mail. They open up the briefing note in Microsoft Word, make some changes, re-attach it to a reply e-mail and send it back out. Does anyone else notice something wrong with this scenario?

Adoption of cloud-based solutions is not small nor is it new. Nearly every user interacts with the cloud in one way or other. This is an amazing infographic that shows the stats on cloud computing and provides an excellent overview of how just large cloud computing has become.

The scenario of walking into the office and simply having a workstation with Microsoft Office is not an outdated analogy from 2003. In 2012, there are many public servants whose computers simply run Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Office. In many cases we are still running the 2003 version of each piece of software. A majority of the work of the public service is still done by traditional desktop or local server based software and e-mail clients. For much of the public service, the reality faced is one where work is conducted on 5-6 year old desktop tower computers in localized applications using outdated desktop software that stifle collaboration, create version control problems and ultimately cost the government more money to run and administer. The world of the bureaucrat exists within an IT environment considered average in 2005. While the government of Canada did announce the creation of Shared Services Canada, the jury is still awaiting judgement on the new concept as it begins to be implemented and true evaluation metrics are collected and analyzed.

So why are public servants being asked to do work using outdated technology? Is it because of senior management who are happy with technology and fearful of change? Is it because of budgetary constraints as IT costs continue to raise? Is it because of perceived security or privacy risks? I argue that it’s a little bit of everything I mentioned. Even more than those factors, it’s the double edged sword that the public service often faces when it comes to program spending. As a public servant, you have to get “value for money” or show that every cent spent achieved results. It is often difficult to quantify an “IT” dollar spent and its effect on your mandated goal/objective vs. “direct service delivery or programming” dollar spent and its effect on your mandated goal/objective. To illustrate that point even further, if I told you that you had $2 and after spending the money I wanted you to show me how many candies you had (value for money), how would you spend the money? Would you invest in IT maintenance and infrastructure or just spend it all on candy? While one offers “possibilities” of getting more candy (IT), just buying the candy directly gets the more immediate and apparent positive result.

So where does this leave us? Well, it leaves us in a place where we don’t have the tools to do the best job possible for Canadian citizens. We don’t have the technology to connect with Canadians in the spheres and spaces they use. We don’t have the technology we need to be mobile public servants who are able to dock into a station when we need to sit down and think then step up and become mobile when we need to be on the go. We don’t have wifi, docking stations, tablets, cloud based apps that let us take our work with us and don’t restrict us to a cubicle. Our work continues to be planted physically within the government firewall restricting our ability to be a more agile and responsive worker regardless of where we are. And don’t tell me it’s a security issue because if Finance and Treasury Board Secretariat have taught us anything, the government can be hacked even when behind the government firewall.

Scott McNaughton, thenewbureauacracy.ca

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Corey McCarren

Is that a floppy drive I see?! I could only imagine the frustration of dealing with such outdated technology. I think the other problem is that technology is advancing so rapidly that realistically it is difficult for large bureaucracies to keep up and have to keep spending the money. Having to replace obsolete technology every few years is quite a process.

Julie Chase

Wow, and I thought our installation was dealing with turn of the century IT. Our OS is WindowsXP and our Office is the 2007 edition. We have had it for about 3 yrs now. Our towers have a CD/DVD/writer, no floppy. We have flat screen monitors now (bought with our own budget). We still have NMCI, the absolute worst outsourcing of IT in the world of gov IT solutions. Only a few people are allowed Adobe Pro. Websites blocked are the norm. GovLoop is blocked. Scott, I hear your swan song. Same here. We can’t get wireless anything, security reasons, even though are organization has unclassified machines. Go figure. It takes an act of Congress and a paper trail twice around the world to procure software or non-networked IT. Most folks on GovLoop, say, “Well, what is your innovative solution?” Really? Solutions are not mine to give, as those with bars/stars and GS’s up in the “big house” make those decisions for me. Our IT is heavily regulated, heavily controlled by directives/orders/bulletins that are difficult for the average end user to understand and implement. A lowly GS05 clerk doesn’t get credence in such matters. The cloud?? Surely you jest. Not any time soon. Scott you have a dilemma that is not going to be solved until the powers that be who have no clue “what it is you need from IT” ask you.

Scott McNaughton

Hi Julie and Corey,

Thanks for the comments. I agree with both of you. Technology represents such an opportunity for government to innovate and be more efficient. I can’t speak for all organizations but I know in Canada’s public service, saving money (or not using it) is punished with reduced budgets.

I think the problem goes beyond the limited scope of IT and its related issues (budget, security etc.) and more to the very culture of the public service itself which does not reward organizations who realize productivity gains or efficiencies that save money. Often, there is no recognition between a dollar saved through efficiency and a dollar saved through bad financial management.

Julie, I’d like to challenge you to push for technology in your group. As public servants, we sometimes define ourselves by our rank and job descriptions. Live on the fringes and work beyond what you are hired to do. Push and push as much as you can. Be prepared for the wrist slaps but become the catalyst in your organization to change things. Even a “lowly GS05 clerk” can change an organization.

I’d also invite you to get in touch with me because I’d like to show you just what you can do. I don’t have all the answers but I know the journey can be tough and I’d love to help.