Ontario – a Leading Light in Public Sector SSO

Barbara Hodge, SSON, interviews Lois A. Bain, Associate Deputy Minister, Ontario Shared Services – Ministry of Government Services

BH: Ontario is very much a leading light in terms of the public sector and its shared services model – which offers enormous potential to this segment of the market. Could you start by describing the OPS to us, and the role of shared services within it?

LB: Ontario is about the size of Texas and Montana combined and is the second largest province in Canada. The Ontario Public Service (OPS) delivers the policies, programs and services that the government provides to the people of Ontario. There are 25 ministries in the Ontario government, plus Cabinet Office, which supports the work of the Premier and his Cabinet. Ontario Shared Services (OSS) is part of the Ministry of Government Services and has 1,188 staff. We provide back office business support to the OPS and serve some 65,000 employees and 61,000 vendors through our six Centres of Excellence located across Ontario. Our primary clients are the ministries who deliver services directly to the people of Ontario.

What specific services are you offering for these 25 Ministries?

We provide a suite of 51 different business services organized in four divisions:

One that is primarily responsible for financial transactional services, running the government’s enterprise financial system, and non-tax revenue management. This includes purchasing and travel cards.

Another that is responsible for pay and benefits administration for approximately 90,000 individuals, and includes retired public servants as well.

A third is responsible for all supply chain functions within the government, including developing and implementing an integrated procurement strategy to leverage and optimize the government’s C$6.4 billion annual spend on goods and services. This includes policy and controllership services that outline how goods and services are procured within the government.

We also have a division that is responsible for insurance and risk management for claims against the government; French language translation; forms, print, distribution, and mail (about 8.5 million pieces a year); and they also manage the government’s employee portal and enterprise contact center that responds to inquiries for all of our services.

For Ontario, what is it that drives shared services? Cost? Or, given your public sector responsibilities, are there other more pressing outcomes?

We were one of the early public service adopters of the shared services concept, starting in the mid-90s. At the time, Ontario’s shared services organization was born out of a need to meet a fiscal savings target of some C$300 million across the Ontario public service. The government cut a third of its administrative budgets and ministries had to rethink how those services would be provided. The decision was to move to a shared services model, recognizing that this organization could be a "one-window" service provider. OSS’ mandate has always been one of providing really good customer service while driving down costs and increasing efficiencies so shared services was the right fit.

To what extent did you hit that cost savings target?

Well, we’ve achieved that and more. It’s true, there is nothing like a burning platform! In 1996, the C$300 million was taken out of ministry expenditure line for administrative services. To provide some more detail: It was then the Shared Services Bureau that was mandated to bring together the general business and transactional services of Government. It inherited many different delivery systems and often-incompatible business practices and did not have enterprise resource systems in place for HR or finance at the time so there were many challenges in bringing the organization and services together.

The organization struggled initially in its implementation, because people were left in place. So, if they were serving the Ministry of Natural Resources the day before we transitioned to the new organization, they were sitting in exactly the same desk and chair, serving the same clients, the day after we transitioned and for many years after.

It wasn’t until 2004 when Ontario Shared Services was formed that we were able to consolidate our operations into six Centers of Excellence bringing people together, building end-to-end business processes, automating services, creating efficiencies, and increasing productivity levels of staff. As a result, from 2004/05 to 2010/11 we have reduced the administrative costs to government by 26% reducing the OSS budget share to 1.3% from 1.9% (see Figure 1 beow) and increased the number of clients served per employee by 44%.

Lois Bain article Figure1Figure1

At the same time, we delivered cost savings of over C$225 million for the Ontario Public Service. We were asked to help the government save money through transactional and supply chain efficiencies. We instituted consistent policies for certain processes – such as travel claims requiring all staff with access to a computer to file their claim electronically. Fully automating travel claims allowed us to free up 45 staff that could be deployed into higher-value-added work. We also worked on modernizing supply chain processes and leveraging the government’s annual spend on goods and services to drive better pricing for Government.

You mentioned providing more information to Ministers, in order for them to make better decisions. Data analytics is on every shared services organization’s agenda right now. How are you harvesting this data, and analyzing it?

One of the great advantages of a shared services organization is the fact that you collect and manage data on behalf of all Ministries. In OSS we’ve learned to use enterprise data for enterprise solutions. In procurement we did a spend analysis to promote smart consumption to help ministries understand where they spend their money. Then we focused on vendors of record and looked at price and efficiency so clients could make informed decisions and reduce their costs. This helped us save over C$220 million. Today we support ministry oversight requirements by creating "dashboards" to give easy access to data in key areas where they spend their resources (see Figure 2 below).

Lois Bain article Figure2Figure 2

On the other side of the cost debate is "added value." Given everything that you’ve achieved over the past 15 years, how are you helping Ontario’s public sector improve its services to the end client, the citizens?

Shared Services was originally introduced as a cost management strategy, and we were thought of as being a transactional service provider. As we have matured we’re increasingly considered a strategic partner for Ministries and an enabler of business change. We work with Ministries to help them solve problems.

We’ve also done a lot of work to support the Government’s green agenda and reducing cost for government. For example, we’ve consolidated all the print shops across the Ontario Public Service, and re-engineered the work to become the first and largest public sector organization in Canada to attain Forest Stewardship Certification. We’ve also reduced costs through mandatory double-sided printing and we’re eliminating color wherever it’s not necessary. We’re reducing overall printing costs and the environmental footprint for the government as we go, saving C$2.5 million annually and 70 million sheets of paper each year. So, that means that we’re lean and we’re green! We’re also responsible for surplus assets for government and we’re doing a lot of work on e-waste. Last year, we diverted 372,000 kgs of electronic waste from landfills.

Our focus is on how to be a strategic partner for our client Ministries. If we can take on their non-core work such as developing e-forms, stuffing envelopes, or managing their surplus assets, they’re better able to focus their resources on what matters most – and that is serving the people of Ontario.

How innovative are you in terms of new services, or in terms of bringing opportunities to your Ministries?

We created the Central Forms Repository to provide ministries with a single repository for all government forms. For example, we help ServiceOntario (Ontario’s one stop shop for citizen and business services) develop and increase the number of e-forms through its ONe-Source portal. This allows businesses to complete and submit forms electronically. The Central Forms Repository has over 50 million hits and approximately 5 million downloads every year.

We also drive great value for the OPS while supporting ministries. We just implemented a number of innovative enhancements to the tools our collections staff use to recover the non-tax debt owed to the Province of Ontario such as predictive dialler and interactive voice communication technology. This has allowed us to increase substantially the number of calls we place and receive, and our debt recovery rates. A good example is our partnership with the Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities, Loans for Tools program. In our first month, we collected over $400,000 of outstanding loans (new revenue) for our partner ministry.

What does being citizen-centric mean from a shared services point of view?

Our success comes from being able to drive efficiencies and reduce costs, which means taxpayer dollars can be used for services for Ontarians. My colleagues and I regularly discuss how to build a customer-centric organization. Although OSS provides back office (not front facing) services, our underlining values and culture are the same. We are committed to putting the needs of our customers first. That allows us to deliver excellent service and become a trusted and valued partner.

There are different limitations in the public and private sector. Do you find that there are situations where you have to balance the political arena with what a shared services could do?

That’s an interesting question. I would say right now Ontario is in a very similar position to a number of other governments that are challenged by the realities of the economic landscape. Certainly, there is recognition that a shared services model has been successful for the Ontario government. We’ve taken the costs out of back office business administration by 26%, since 2004-05. Given the success that we have achieved, a recent report by the government’s Commission on the Reform of Ontario’s Public Services: Path to Sustainability and Excellence has urged it to explore whether other broader public sector organizations and government agencies could benefit from a shared services model.

Lois, thank you for taking the time to speak with me.

You’re most welcome.

About Lois Bain

Lois Bain has served as the Associate Deputy Minister of Ontario Shared Services (OSS) since 2010. Her long career with the OPS includes senior leadership positions at the Ministry of Community and Social Services where she was leading a large scale business transformation of the Family Responsibility Office as its Assistant Deputy Minister. Prior to this she has held a number of positions in the Ontario Public Service at the ADM level including Ministry of Government Services and Cabinet Office.

Over the past 15 years she has been leading a number of large scale public service transformation initiatives to modernize government programs and processes and promote innovation in Ontario’s Public Service.

Lois Bain retires from public service – after 33 years! – at the end of April. SSON commends her successes to date, and wishes her best of luck in the future.