Sheila Fraser made an announcement last week which brought an extremely important issue onto the national stage: the Government of Canada’s IT infrastructure is about to implode. In fact, it’s so bad that key government services may shut down because the systems behind them are in such bad shape.
Apparently the National Immigration Program runs on COBOL and a database system which has been dead for over twenty years. Also the Department of Public Works’ pay and pension system is about to collapse. And the Auditor-General says it’ll take billions of dollars to fix.
The problem here is that the government never implemented any sort of continuous maintenance and update strategy for its technical infrastructure. And there apparently isn’t any sort of reasonably competent department to run such a program. The fact is, if your organization (or, government) is going to rely on an IT infrastructure for all its day-to-day operations, you can’t let it rot. You need technically competent people to maintain the system. You need to keep up-to-date with changes in the industry. And you need to investigate how newer and better tools will make the continual growth and expansion of your IT services manageable. Otherwise it’ll crumble. The situation out in Ottawa is exemplified by Stockwell Day’s brilliant statement:
“As you know, with technology, there are always people who are saying you should have newer and better.”
Apparently the problem with software is that it needs to be updated every forty years or so. Other government tools such as cars, pencils and coffee makers don’t suffer from the same issue.
My biggest concern isn’t the cost to fix the issue, it’s potentially more serious. If the Government of Canada can’t keep its legacy systems up-to-date (we’re talking almost half a century old technology here), then how is it supposed to protect sensitive information about itself and the citizens of the country from malicious hackers and other threats?