#PhoenixPay — Plus ça change

Dave Rooney
Jan 20 · 3 min read

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose — The more things change, the more they stay the same.

In my first blog post on the subject of the disastrous Phoenix Pay program in the Canadian federal government, I lamented that the government was about to follow the same path to failure, and needed a different approach if there was to be any chance of success. Specifically, I said:

All of that indicates to me that the same people who already created the Phoenix problem will harbour the same assumptions, using the same processes and expect to have a different outcome. It’s true that doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results each time is not actually a definition of insanity. It is, however, a tremendously effective way to waste enormous amounts of time, money and, dare I say it, the sanity of the people involved.

There had been some encouraging signs that a different tack had been taken, but this morning I read this article from the Ottawa Citizen. Ostensibly the article is about the opinions of David Ossip, the CEO of Ceridian, which is a payroll services company. What caught my eye and raised my blood pressure, though, was why he had been interviewed.

The government, led by CIO Alex Benay, went old school and issued an RFP for which only 5 large companies qualified: Ceridian, CGI Group, Oracle, SAP and Workday. Remember those names, because whoever wins this RFP will be blamed for the failure of the replacement system.

Once again, the approach of using large integrators is being applied, and it will have predictable results. The CGI Group was responsible for massive cost and time overruns for the Global Case Management System as well as the replacement for the original Firearms Registry. Oracle owns Peoplesoft, which was the software product used for Phoenix in the first place. SAP is notorious for emphatically pushing organizations to bend to their processes rather than adapting to the businesses they’re serving. Ceridian and Workday are relatively good at their core payroll business, but adapting the products to accommodate the government’s complicated mix of union and department-specific pay needs.

I suppose I was naïve enough to believe that the support for a new approach I received from as high as the ministerial levels of government meant that actual change was imminent. Clearly that’s not the case. Or, probably more correctly, there was support at the ministerial level but the not with the people in the IT organizations. It appears that they would rather follow the same broken approach that brought them Phoenix in the first place.

It seems to be time, again, to contact your Member of Parliament & journalists and raise the issue of outdated software system delivery processes once more. We know how to do better. We have for 20 years and more! This doesn’t have to happen.


On a side note, in #PhoenixPay — A Plot Twist, I noted that I was open and available to lead the team that replaced Phoenix. I was indeed contacted about being part of the team, but by the time that happened I had taken a full-time contract and wasn’t available. Given what I read in the Citizen article, that’s probably for the better because I would have quit over this approach anyway.

Dave Rooney

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Veteran Agile Coach, Manager & Software Developer. I’ve never met an assumption that I didn’t like to challenge!