Why the outsourcing of OPS IT services is a bad idea
The Wynne government is privatizing key aspects of the government’s IT infrastructure despite the fact that government employees provide the same IT services at a lower cost.
The government’s IT budget for 2013-14 was $1.2 billion. Fifty-eight percent, or $703 million, went to private vendors for hardware, software and services. The proportion of the global IT budget going to the private sector has increased by 63 per cent in the past five years.
The government has paid out more than $652 million in the past five years to three vendors, Compugen, CompuCom and Telus, for desktop services, server administration and network services, work that was once done and is still done to varying extents, by government employees.
The government paid out an additional $131 million in 2013-14 to 1,479 Fee for Service Consultants hired on a task or project basis. These consultants are intended to be hired for fixed terms and/or when there is a lack of internal resources to staff a project. However, government employees have observed the same fee for service consultants in the workplace for years.
A 2012 consultant’s report for the Ministry of Government Service (formerly in charge of the government’s I and IT Organization) found private contractors cost two to three times more than government employees for five of six types of IT services. The consultant found that 25 per cent of the staff involved in direct government IT work are contractors.
Reduced service quality
Has the contracting out resulted in better service? No, it has not. Privatization has led to delays and worse service:
- It used to take government IT staff 30 minutes to 2 hours to image a desktop computer. Now that vendors are responsible for the creation of images, the imaging of a desktop computer can take government IT staff between six to eight hours. There are 80,000 PCs, laptops and tablets in operation in the OPS.
- Government IT staff used to be responsible for installing upgrades on hundreds of “client” servers that power computer applications for 28 ministries. Now they are required to provide instructions to the vendor’s hourly contractors. A single upgrade to 800 servers will require 800 identical requests. The government has more than 4,000 servers.
- Upgrades to the government’s servers are often held up because the vendor does not have staff during the available change windows which are evenings and weekends.
- OPS employees who require a network jack activated so they can access the internet now wait up to three days for something that used to happen following a quick phone call to a government IT employee.
- Government IT staff who used to be down the hall ready to help their fellow OPS employees with a computer problem have been moved out of the worksite, adding another delay to the resolution of IT problems. (If the hourly contractor can’t fix your desktop problem, a government IT employee is deployed.)
Security and privacy of data under threat
The Wynne government plans to close 22 government data centres by 2016. To accomplish this, the government will transfer its data and run computer servers and applications through the privately-operated cloud. Cloud computing is the storage and processing of data on servers located anywhere on the planet with the private contractor’s clients accessing the data through the internet. This means the government programs that Ontarians rely on (e.g. social assistance, OSAP, drivers’ license renewals etc) and even the government’s email system could run through the cloud with data being stored outside of Canada. The government refuses to disclose which applications will be stored on servers in the cloud.
Privatization will eliminate good jobs
The Wynne government’s decision to outsource IT services will eliminate good middle-class jobs with decent wages and benefits and replace them with lower-cost labour. Some of this labour will almost certainly come from sub-contractors located in other countries.
For example, a team of about 100 software testers and developers employed by the Ministry of Community and Social Services at 5700 Yonge St. in Toronto worked for two years, from 2012 onwards, in tandem with a similar-sized team of IT workers in India during the development of the government’s new social assistance caseload management system, referred to as SAMS. About 8 OPSEU-represented IT employees, employed as software testers by the Ministry, spent six months training 40 Indian IT workers on how to do their jobs. OPSEU members are concerned they will ultimately be replaced by the Indian staff. Presumably the Indian IT employees worked for a subcontractor of IBM Canada who had the contract to develop SAMS.
The closure of the government data centres will impact up to 300 OPSEU jobs.
Additionally, the government plans to fully privatize desktop services, leaving 64,000 OPS employees at the mercy of hourly contractors. Since virtually all government services rely on computers, this could seriously impede the daily working of government. The outsourcing of desktop and field services, as early as May 2015, will impact up to 265 OPSEU jobs.
Building internal capacity
What concerns OPSEU members the most is that contracting out is totally unnecessary and a complete waste of money. The capacity, knowledge and experience to provide IT services exists within the OPS.
For example, the Guelph Data Centre, built as a P3, at an estimated cost to the Ontario government of $350 million over 30 years, and open since 2011, has more than enough server capacity to meet the government’s needs now and into the future. In addition, it is a highly-secure Tier 4 facility, built to withstand tornadoes and earthquakes.
OPSEU is very concerned about the close relationship between senior I and IT executives at Treasury Board and the vendors who get the government’s business. OPSEU members know of at least three former senior IT staff who left government to take jobs with vendors.
The union has written to Justice Sidney Linden, Ontario’s Conflict of Interest Commissioner,and Steve Orsini, Secretary of the Cabinet, asking them to investigate any possible conflicts of interest in current and upcoming government IT contracts.
OPSEU represents about 2,400 government IT employees in Treasury Board Secretariat (responsible for managing the government’s common IT infrastructure), and in the nine “clusters” that provide IT services to ministries and related agencies. AMAPCEO represents a further 1,200 IT staff in the OPS, making for a total unionized IT staff of about 3,600. At minimum, there are an additional 1,400 non-unionized IT consultants.
OPSEU-represented positions include infrastructure technology support officer, program analyst, systems analyst and system administration analyst.