The Importance of Municipal Services

Public Works. Public Health. Transit. Emergency Services. Parks and Recreation. Housing. Economic Development. The list goes on. For many citizens, municipalities are where the rubber meets the road – figuratively and literally – more frequently than with any other level of government. Municipal services matter, and not just the ones that people see. The ones that keep things humming behind the scenes matter too. And never has that been more apparent than during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the pre-COVID era, municipalities had to balance the delivery of basic services with fiscal constraints arising from a limited range of revenue tools. And they had to do this while keeping an eye towards the future to support the needs, growth, and prosperity of their local communities. The right mix, level, and organization of services is different for every municipality, and striking that balance means stepping back and taking a strategic view. In the province of Ontario, for example, the Government has announced the Audit and Accountability Fund (AAF) and the Municipal Modernization Program which provide funding for Ontario municipalities to do just that. Many municipalities have already taken advantage of this funding and finished their review, some are ongoing, while others are just beginning the process. However, this exercise can be valuable for any municipality across Canada that is looking to modernize, reduce costs, or improve efficiency and effectiveness.

The Impacts of COVID-19

No matter where a municipality is in this review process, COVID-19 has changed the game. Municipalities are now grappling with emergency management, increasing demand for evolving essential services, rapid transitioning to digital service models, and supporting staff, communities, and businesses to stay safe and prepare for the recovery. Meanwhile, revenue is deferred and declining. In the process, many municipalities have demonstrated tremendous innovation and leadership. We have seen municipalities across Canada connect, engage, and support their citizens and communities in new ways as the pandemic impacts almost every facet of public life.

It will be important to both take stock of and make stick these positive changes in a post-COVID world. The pandemic has also put a spotlight on weaknesses that may have come as a surprise to many municipalities. It will be important to improve the things that did not work well during the pandemic to prepare for the new reality and long road to recovery in the “pandemic economy”. The country will be travelling a bumpy road down the other side of the curve as it readies itself for potential subsequent spikes and waves of pandemic activity. Going forward it will be critical for all municipalities to reevaluate their priorities and reimagine what they do. Municipalities must be prepared to pivot their organizations while providing leadership during a period of great uncertainty.

Service delivery reviews must also benefit from the lessons municipalities have learned through months of responding to COVID-19. At Optimus SBR, we have been fortunate to work with a range of small and large municipalities on service delivery reviews before and during the COVID-19 pandemic and we have learned some important lessons along the way. Below we outline some considerations for municipalities as they proceed with a review, whether they are just entering the process or implementing changes coming out of one.

Rethinking Reviews to Reimagine Service Delivery Post-COVID

For municipalities about to embark on a service delivery review, there are a few important things to keep in mind:

1. Be Clear and Ambitious
What are you trying to achieve? The Government of Ontario has said municipalities can undertake different types of reviews, including “line-by-line” (read: cost reduction) and “effectiveness and efficiency” (read: doing things better) reviews, among others. Given this, you will want to be clear with the province, your Council, stakeholders, and the public on just what exactly this service delivery review is about. Objectives need to be clear, expectations need to be set, and tradeoffs will need to be made.

When setting these objectives, take stock of what has been possible during the pandemic and don’t be afraid to be ambitious. We have seen rapid change in several aspects of municipal operations and things that might have seemed impossible or out of reach before the pandemic may be more achievable in our post-COVID reality.

2. Prioritize Areas of Focus
Focus your efforts. Municipalities will likely find that they get more value out of a deeper and more focused review – concentrating on areas with the biggest impact, performance issues, resource intensity, and scope for improvement – than one that is broad but shallow. This will allow for a more thorough analysis and a clearer path forward where a broader review may only result in superficial change. When picking priorities, it will be important to consider how perceptions and expectations of essential services have changed during COVID-19, as well as whether some service models cracked under the pressure of the pandemic.

3. Communicate and Engage
COVID-19 has resulted in heightened anxiety levels for staff, stakeholders, and citizens who are looking for leadership, information, and reassurance. We have seen increased visibility of our municipal leaders during the pandemic as well as the rapid adoption of virtual tools and platforms for communication and engagement. These developments can and should be used to support Service Delivery Reviews to ensure that interested groups have a voice in making changes even in an era of physical distancing.

So principles of good engagement apply more strongly than ever. Get people’s input before ideas are fully (or even half) baked. Buy-in is stronger when people see their input shape changes, and as ever, the front-line and service recipients will typically know things that management does not. Taking advantage of this knowledge will be even more critical given that so much has happened in such as a short time.

4. Capitalize on Broader Organizational Benefits
While these reviews are a great way to identify improvements and prioritize opportunities, they also bring other benefits. Some municipal organizations have struggled to maintain employee engagement during the pandemic and Service Delivery Reviews provide an opportunity to engage teams and make workplace cultures more resilient to change and focused on continuous improvement. They can also help build internal capacity to improve services and act as a window for high performers and future leaders to shine.

Pivoting Implementation of Service Delivery Reviews Post-COVID

For the municipal reviews that started and finished before the pandemic or were interrupted mid-stream, the state of the world and thus priorities have changed. While you likely have several opportunities to move forward with and want to benefit from all the work done for the review, you may be unsure how to move forward in this new environment. Here are a few ways to think about pivoting on implementation given the new realities of COVID:

1. Pause to Reassess Priorities and Incorporate Lessons Learned
It is important to pause and reassess whether the transformation priorities you set pre-COVID are still relevant, consider how your organization and operating models have changed, and how the needs of your citizens and communities have evolved. This does not mean starting from scratch, but it does mean making sure you are prioritizing things that will help respond to COVID pressure and make innovations and improvements from the last few months stick.

2. Making Progress on Implementation During COVID
Getting moving on quick wins, especially ones that respond to pressures and challenges related to COVID, will help build trust and credibility with stakeholders and build positive momentum that will be invaluable as you tackle the larger, more complex strategic initiatives.
At the same time, it is easy to underestimate how much effort it will take to get things done – transformation cannot be done off the side of someone’s desk. We have seen massive redeployment of resources to respond to COVID and it will be critical that, as “business as usual” activities resume, transformation efforts are supported with the right resources – people, tools, and technology – along with the project management capacity to ensure things keep moving on time and budget.

Finally – we can’t say it enough – communication and engagement will continue to be essential during COVID to build understanding and support as well as ensure ongoing connectedness as transformation activities move forward.

3. Investing Scarce Resources to Achieve Clear Outcomes
COVID-19 is having large financial impacts on municipalities and more pressure is expected as we move into recovery mode. In an environment of fiscal uncertainty, it is critical to be clear about investment requirements and ensure they are tied to meaningful outcomes, whether they are service improvements, savings or both. To enable investment, needs must be clearly communicated and tied to tangible and measurable impacts to demonstrate return on those hard-earned taxpayer dollars.

Conclusion

As municipalities continue to respond to the pandemic and prepare for our new post-COVID reality it will be essential to pause, reassess, and pivot. The province’s funding for service delivery reviews is a unique opportunity to do just that and can be helpful no matter where a municipality is on its modernization journey.

Optimus SBR’s Municipal Practice

Optimus SBR is an implementation-focused firm that specializes in turning policy into action. Our Municipal Practice, part of our broader Industries and Government Practice, has conducted a range of engagements for municipalities covering frontline and back-office services, transportation and transit, social services, public works, emergency services, public health, long-term care, community and economic development, and numerous others.

If you found this helpful, give us a call, or send us a note.

Terri Lohnes, Senior Vice President and Practice Lead
Terri.Lohnes@optimusssbr.com
416.649.6017

David Lynch, Principal
David.Lynch@optimussbr.com

Michelle Lenarduzzi, Senior Manager
Michelle.Lenarduzzi@optimussbr.com

At Optimus SBR, putting people first is part of our DNA. We are committed to the health and well-being of our clients, employees, and community. Following the guidelines set out by all levels of the Canadian government, last week we transitioned our Toronto office to virtual.  As a dynamic and nimble organization, we’ve made a swift transition, and are dedicated to working with our clients to see them through these uncertain times. While there’s no doubt that challenges lie ahead, by continuing to prioritize people, we are confident in our ability to keep delivering game-changing results for our clients… even if it’s from the kitchen table! Our business was built working with organizations through tough challenges, and now is no exception.

In a time like this, we’d like to take a moment to thank the first responders and healthcare professionals looking after the health and well-being of our communities. Thank you to the doctors, nurses, administrative and cleaning personnel, researchers, and all others in the healthcare field for your hard work and commitment. We’d also like to express deep appreciation for all the individuals working to ensure there is little disruption in our food supply, infrastructure, security, and other essential services. We salute your efforts!

If there’s one thing for sure, it’s that we’re all in this together. We encourage everyone to practice social distancing, and do their part to flatten the curve.

Celebrating Another Achievement

We are excited to announce we placed No. 168 on the inaugural Report on Business ranking of Canada’s Top Growing Companies for 2019. This marks our second growth award in 2019, having been ranked to the Growth 500 earlier this month for the seventh consecutive year.  The list of Canada’s Top Growing Companies aims to celebrate entrepreneurial achievement by identifying and amplifying the success of growth-minded, independent businesses in Canada.

Canada’s Top Growing Companies ranked Canadian companies based on three-years of revenue growth. Optimus SBR earned its spot on the list of Top Growing Companies with three-year growth of 212%! “This is such an honour for everyone at Optimus SBR and we are very proud of this achievement,” says Kevin Gauci, CEO Optimus SBR.

“We created Canada’s Top Growing Companies program because we believe there is much Report on Business readers can learn from the successes of the country’s best entrepreneurs,” says Derek DeCloet, Editor of Report on Business and Executive Editor at The Globe and Mail. “We’re excited to be telling their stories.”

“The 400 companies on the inaugural Report on Business ranking of Canada’s Top Growing Companies ranking demonstrate ambition, innovation and tremendous business acumen,” says Phillip Crawley, Publisher and CEO of The Globe and Mail. “Their contributions to the economy help to make Canada a better place, and warrant commendation.”

The full list of 2019 winners, and accompanying editorial coverage, is published in the October issue of Report on Business magazine—out now—and online at tgam.ca/TopGrowing.

 

About The Globe and Mail

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s foremost news media company, leading the national discussion and causing policy change through brave and independent journalism since 1844. With the award-winning coverage of business, politics and national affairs, The Globe and Mail newspaper reaches 6.6 million readers every week. The Report on Business magazine reaches 1.8 million readers in print and digital every issue. Their investment in innovative data science means that as the world continues to change, so does The Globe. The Globe and Mail is owned by Woodbridge, the investment arm of the Thomson family.

 

For more information, you can contact us anytime through our contact form or by emailing us at info@optimussbr.com.

Intelligent Growth. Culture Obsessed.

On September 12th, 2019, Canadian Business and Maclean’s magazine released the list of Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies and ranked Optimus SBR No. 273  on the Growth 500. Produced by Canada’s premier business and current affairs media brands, the Growth 500 ranks Canadian businesses on five-year revenue growth. This is the seventh year that Optimus SBR has ranked on the Growth 500, exemplifying our mantra of Intelligent Growth, Culture Obsessed.

“Optimus SBR is honoured to be named as one of Canada’s fastest-growing companies again this year,” says CEO Kevin Gauci. “We have an incredible dynamic team of entrepreneurial thinkers with a passion for growing both our business as well as our clients’, and this achievement reflects the talent and hard work of our firm. Thank you to everyone at Optimus SBR for once again helping us achieve this honour.”

“The companies on the 2019 Growth 500 are truly remarkable. Demonstrating foresight, innovation and smart management, their stories serve as a primer for how to build a successful entrepreneurial business today,” says Beth Fraser, Growth 500 program manager. “As we celebrate over 30 years of the Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies program, it’s encouraging to see that entrepreneurship is healthier than ever in this country.”

For over 30 years, the Growth 500 has been Canada’s most respectable and influential ranking of entrepreneurial achievement. Ranking Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies by five-year revenue growth, the Growth 500 profiles the country’s most successful growing businesses. The Growth 500 is produced by Canadian Business. Winners are profiled in a special Growth 500 print issue of Canadian Business (packaged with the October issue of Maclean’s magazine) and online at Growth500.ca and CanadianBusiness.com. Founded in 1928, Canadian Business is the longest-serving and most-trusted business publication in the country. It is the country’s premier media brand for executives and senior business leaders.

For more information, you can contact us anytime through our contact form or by emailing us at info@optimussbr.com.

Context

At Optimus SBR, we regularly keep an eye on public sector developments. In March, we discussed Ontario’s changing health care landscape, Ontario Health Teams (OHTs), and how organizations can respond. Since then, there have been several new developments which matter a lot for health and social system organizations.

First, the Premier’s Council on Improving Healthcare and Ending Hallway Medicine issued its second and final report, “A Healthy Ontario: Building a Sustainable Health Care System.”[1] While it comprises a set of recommendations and is not yet a policy, it gives some hints on the government’s direction, including potential changes to privacy and home care legislation, a focus on virtual care, and continued strong emphasis on the role of primary care in a more integrated health system. OHTs are clearly central to the thinking of the Council as well.

Second, following a flurry of activity leading up to the May 15th deadline to undertake the OHT Self-Assessment, the Ministry of Health (MOH) found over 150 Self-Assessment Forms (SAFs) on its proverbial front step, an overwhelming response. Finally, on July 18th, Minister Elliott and Deputy Angus announced via webinar the results of the process, through which 31 groups have been invited to proceed to the Full Application stage of the OHT process. Since then, a series of webinars have been made available to prospective groups on a wide variety of topics related to OHTs and the Full Application.

Why does all this matter? Because organizations need to figure out what a single fiscal and clinical accountability structure looks like for their patients and themselves in an OHT world, and how to work with others to get there. The MOH has made some significant decisions. As a result, for many organizations now, it’s decision time.

 

Ontario Health Teams and the Designation Process

As mentioned, the OHT process started with the SAFs. For reference, we have reproduced the MOH’s diagram from the OHT guidance document below:[2]

Figure 1: The Ontario Health Team Designation Process

                                 

Source: Ministry of Health

Now that the MOH has completed its validation process for the 150-plus SAFs received, it has sorted the groups into ones that will:

Following our recent achievement of being ranked 27th in our category of the top 50 Best Workplaces in Canada in 2019 by Great Place to Work®, we are proud to announce that our organization has been named on two additional 2019 lists of Best Workplaces™ – Professional Services and Mental Wellness. At Optimus SBR, our success is directly correlated to the happiness and engagement of our people. Each of us embody the entrepreneurial spirit and have something unique to contribute to the fabric of our organization.

The 2019 Best Workplaces™ for Professional Services and Mental Wellness lists are compiled by the Great Place to Work® Institute. To be eligible for the Professional Services list, organizations must be Great Place to Work Certified™ in the past year, work primarily in the Professional Services Industry, and offer customized, knowledge-based services to clients. To be eligible for the Mental Wellness list, organizations must also be Great Place to Work Certified™ and at least 80% of employees must agree their workplace is psychologically and emotionally healthy. Great Place to Work® determines the best based on the overall Mental Wellness Index score from employees, as well as the range and quality of programs which encourage mental wellness.

About Optimus SBR

Optimus SBR was built on a simple but powerful premise; Let’s build a consulting organization where we would want to work. An organization where our employees come first, culture is key, and our clients would love to work with usSince inception in 2010, Optimus SBR has understood that success was dependent on creating a positive and engaging workplace. We have a number of employee-led committees: Corporate Social Responsibility, Ministry of Fun, Optimus Women’s Network, People & Culture, Health & Wellness, Geek Lab, and Pro Bono. Each of these committees takes great pride in defining and executing on our amazing culture, both internally and externally. We are Canada’s largest independent consulting firm and in less than a decade, we have increased our employee headcount nearly tenfold. We have also been consistently named one of the fastest growing companies in North America, and recognized several times as a top employer.

About Great Place to Work®

Great Place to Work® is the global authority on high-trust, high-performance workplace cultures. Over 8,000 organizations are surveyed by GPTW, representing more than 10 million employees in over 50 countries. The results provide tremendous understanding of effective business cultures and the increasingly complex marketplace. Through proprietary assessment tools and services, GPTW recognizes the world’s Best Workplaces™ in a series of national lists including those published by The Globe & Mail (Canada) and Fortune magazine (USA). GPTW provides the benchmarks and expertise needed to create, sustain, and recognize outstanding workplaces.

Getting Ahead of Regulatory Changes:
Yes, It Can Be Done.

In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, governments and regulators around the world have imposed a seemingly unending series of new regulations on financial institutions (FIs) – think Basel, Anti-Money Laundering (AML), International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), and proposals to amend capital market legislation in Ontario to regulate benchmarks like the Canadian Dollar Offered Rate (CDOR) and the Canadian Overnight Repo Rate Average (CORRA), to name a few.[1] The focus on financial safety for consumers, markets and the world economy continues to generate new regulations that are hard to predict – who would have thought FI sales practices would be a focus across North America two years ago?

They keep coming, and they matter. All of them cost money. “Small” changes can cost $20 million for an FI to comply, while larger ones are upward of $100 million, and even more if the program goes off the rails. Regulators often require such programs to meet tight deadlines, after which the work does not stop, but rather continues in a different form as the organization learns to work under the new regulatory regime. Some regulatory changes in reporting (e.g., IFRS) affect bottom-line reporting directly. Rarely does an executive get excited by compliance – or at least, before they learn their organization might not be able to comply, at which point everyone gets excited and agitated. Until then, everybody wants to go to the party – that is, be compliant with regulatory changes – but nobody wants to stay and clean up – that is, put in the time and effort required to implement these changes.

At Optimus SBR, we run very large programs for financial services companies; we’ve completed 25 such implementations in the last year alone.  We know that every organization responds to these challenges and implements solutions differently.

Based on this experience, we offer below an overview of four challenges, and four solutions for FIs working to stay on top of regulatory changes today and tomorrow.

Four Challenges 

FIs do many things well – they operate at a great scale, pool capital for investment, and price and allocate risk, supporting robust financial markets and economic growth. They do all this repeatedly and, for the most part, without much drama. So why should they struggle with regulatory change? There are several reasons.

It’s always more work than you think.

Regulatory change programs typically require the cooperation of multiple divisions or departments – often Risk, Finance, IT, Business Intelligence, not to mention HR or product lines. To further complicate matters, these change programs are often misidentified as simple regulatory or accounting projects. In reality, these are actually large, complex, multi-function projects or programs.

At first, FIs often suppose they need to coordinate with others who already have what is needed to proceed. Then, slowly, they’ll realize they don’t have the critical components, such as analytics and modelling tools, or data in a form that’s usable to genuinely impact the critical path to delivery.

In the meantime, the regulator’s deadline hasn’t changed. You will find that no one person knows everything the organization needs to know, precisely because this is highly complex and new terrain. But the organization will need to draw on its collective wisdom to get all this knowledge in one place and will need to do so well before the deadline. Often this means an enormous amount of work, and many organizations do not realize this until it is too late.

Your current organizational design and infrastructure was not built for this.

Regulatory compliance creates new responsibilities and accountabilities that can cut across organizations. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act, for example, meant many FIs’ Enterprise Risk divisions found themselves responsible for calculations that directly affected financial statements, which had previously been regarded as the sole preserve of Finance departments, to increase accountability and ensure that financial disclosures are accurate and controlled. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act also affected contributors to disclosures, requiring them to design, run, and evidence controls for auditors.

Regulatory programs often drive changes in accountabilities, working relationships, and much else besides the initial requirements. Infrastructure – be it physical, organizational or electronic – that has sufficed for years or decades is often deemed inadequate for new activities and tasks, and there’s no time to replace it before the regulator’s deadline.

And just to complicate things further, many of the new requirements are now calling for augmented historical information. Data that was never previously collected or subject to quality control is now required. Teams are left scrambling to complete a puzzle with pieces that don’t fit or don’t exist at all.

A lot of energy is spent trying to keep your eye on the right prize.

When organizations do get Risk, Finance, IT, Business Intelligence and product people in a room together, they often find it difficult to focus on the regulatory concerns, compliance requirements, and parameters that are important. Finance cares about the details balancing correctly. Risk is focused on the biggest enterprise risks, monetary or otherwise. Business Intelligence is worried about the accuracy of the data and flexibility of analytical tools.

Depending on the change in question, the regulatory division might be concerned about things that are immaterial. Controls and auditors may follow frameworks that require new focuses, some of which may not be the critical path for the project.

In other words, everyone is having a hard time getting on the same page when it comes to what actually matters, which in this instance, is what the regulator requires.

To further complicate things, divisional or department concerns, and localized focus may obscure the real work at hand or mistake it for the core need rather than knock-on implications that will need to be dealt with later on. And between corralling the disparate information in an environment that wasn’t designed to handle this, you’ve got enough work to do without getting distracted by secondary concerns.

It’s a marathon and a sprint.

Deadlines to implement regulatory changes are beginnings, not the end. While cobbling together the infrastructure, data, reporting, and organizational know-how to comply is no small feat, it typically takes many months, or years, for these capabilities to become business as usual. Just as you let out a big exhale crossing the regulator’s finish line, you can see you still have a much longer road ahead of you – better take a deep breath.

Depending on the scale of change and impact on workflows, organizational designs and target operating models may need to be adjusted. Integration with other standard reporting and governance controls may be required.

In short, organizations need to find a way to make living with the new regulatory change sustainable. This requires knowledge transfer, transitioning people and knowledge from programs and projects to operations, and ensuring everything can be executed repeatedly.

Four Solutions

Take another deep breath. Despite the number of big challenges and a looming deadline, you can come out on top if you execute on the following.

Get with the Program.

To make sure everyone appreciates how much work regulatory change can be, take it seriously and lay the foundations early. Set up a large program with many separate but interrelated projects or workstreams. Many organizations can run projects – few can run programs effectively.

By doing this, you and your organization will begin to understand the end-to-end change requirements and their severity, the impact on the business, and the challenge of meeting the regulator’s timelines.

If you have been through an experience like this, you already get it. If your colleagues have not, or have not had to live with the consequences, they will not. They will need to change how they work and who they work with. You need to set up a program to help them do this.

Figure out what is going to happen once you hit the gas.

Part of the reason people don’t realize how much work a new regulation can create is because it may not affect aspects of the business that are typically gauged to determine whether something is “big” – e.g., dollars, employees, branches, transformations, number of products affected, and so on.

New data and reporting requirements can still require a massive effort, even if the book of business in question is small. The same goes for the number of products affected – major changes to a few products or new data collection requirements can drive enormous amounts of work. Sometimes, it is simply a higher order skillset or level of execution that is needed. When a VP asks, “So, how big is this?” there’s often no immediate answer.

One way to find an answer is to conduct careful discovery grounded in fact. As we said, no one person in the organization knows everything needed to gauge the extent of the work required. Domain expertise matters. Data expertise matters. In general, depth matters, so it is worth diving in early to get a handle on things.

You can’t boil the ocean, so don’t.

You can’t make wholesale changes to your organization in response to every new regulatory directive. However, you can figure out where change can happen, and where it is unlikely to be successful in the short term.

Once you have set up a program and completed your discovery sessions, you need to assess the organizational and resource constraints you will have, and what changes to ask of key stakeholders.

On the bright side, this can help create a burning platform – large change in the face of constraints creates more concern than an ambiguous amount of change and loose talk of how to address it.

Find your Switzerland.

You need someone in charge who understands the amount of work required and its complexity, and who is also seen as a neutral third party. You also need a consistent gauge of where the organization is in the implementation life cycle.

Internal parties are technically capable, but a department or division may be seen as biased and have blind spots. Third parties can offer better transparency and reporting of problems, because their careers and reputations don’t suffer the same way from reporting bad news as internal resources might. Also, neutral third parties can more easily ensure equal voices across divisional lines.

Call the Program Management Experts

Must-do projects like regulatory changes can seem overwhelming and daunting, but it doesn’t need to be. With some careful forethought and the right expertise, regulatory programs can extend beyond just staying onside with the regulator, and set your organization up for long-term success.

In the meantime, if you need help preparing for this hard work, give us a call, or send us a note.

Carolyn Kingaby, Senior Vice President, Financial Services
Carolyn.Kingaby@optimusssbr.com
416.649.9219

Peter Snelling, Senior Vice President
Peter.Snelling@optimussbr.com
416.649.9128

[1] See Government of Ontario (2018). A Plan for the People: Ontario Economic Outlook and Fiscal Review, Toronto: Queen’s Printer, p. 57.

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