Shared Services Canada COVID-19 Questions and Answers

Shared Services Canada (SSC) plays a vital role in supporting the federal departments and agencies that are providing critical government services to Canadians.

Amid the current COVID-19 Pandemic, SSC is working with government organizations to ensure that IT infrastructure and telecommunications needs across the Government of Canada continue to be met.

The questions and answers that follow are general, and provide insight into how SSC is supporting the work of federal public servants across Canada as they deliver services to Canadians when they need them most.

What is our role in helping Canadians through this pandemic?

We are responsible for providing reliable, secure IT infrastructure and telecommunications (including email / workplace technologies, telecommunications, data center services, and cyber and IT security) to the Government of Canada organizations delivering critical services directly to Canadians.

In times of emergency, SSC’s services are critical to ensuring continuous services to Canadians. Given the unprecedented threats posed by COVID-19, SSC is taking action to support the critical services of other departments in addition to general preparedness activities.

How are we working with other departments during this pandemic?

We are working in close collaboration with the Government of Canada lead—Public Safety under the Federal Emergency Response Plan (FERP) — and other federal partners.

SSC plays an important role in ensuring critical services for Canadians remain operational during emergency events.

In addition, several of SSC’s customer departments are first responders or lead agencies with a primary role during a disruptive event. SSC’s support of their efforts is imperative.

What  have we done so far?

We have activated a departmental Emergency Operations Team to coordinate SSC’s Pandemic Emergency Response Plan.

Key actions to date include:

  • work is ongoing to greatly increase government’s secure network capabilities so that more public servants than ever before are equipped to access networks and systems while teleworking
  • over 60,000 #GC employees have now been on-boarded to a new unclassified collaborative tool allowing for remote work via Microsoft O365
  • provisioning thousands of devices (laptops, tablets, phones) to address emergency requirements and support of critical Government of Canada services
  • supporting critical services by prioritizing requests for critical services, especially ones that have links to COVID-19
  • working closely with the federal Chief Information Officers (CIO) community and implementing measures to reschedule non-essential IT infrastructure changes to ensure continuous service delivery to Canadians
  • ensuring that critical services and tools continue to be provided for front line staff at all government departments during this time
  • working with Employment and Social Development Canada and the Canada Revenue Agency to provide infrastructure to support critical new and enhanced federal benefits for Canadians
What is considered a critical service or application?

We have worked with departments to identify their critical business applications and services. These critical services and mission-critical applications are prioritized for support from SSC. They include applications and technology that many Canadians are relying on during this difficult time including; Canada Revenue Agency systems, Employment Insurance, and Old Age Security.

How many public servants can work remotely over VPN?

We have made significant progress on increasing the capacity of its secure virtual private networks and continues to work with private sector vendors on expanding its ability to support teleworking.

While network capacity is increased, departments are taking action to limit non-critical network usage and reducing non-critical activities. SSC is monitoring the situation in real time and will make adjustments as required on an ongoing basis. Departments are responsible for determining what activities must be deemed critical in order to meet their business objectives. For example, if requested by the departments, SSC will enforce auto timeout on idle VPN connections and will also enforce controls to limit video streaming.

What is our plan to deliver extra network capacity?

We are delivering on its plan to deal with this unprecedented demand. The department is:

  • delivering increased IT infrastructure to accommodate a large number of remote workers
  • prioritizing essential network traffic by SSC and working with partners departments CIOs so they can prioritize users
  • developing of a series of best practices for management and employees to improve the experience of Government of Canada employees connecting remotely
  • using Microsoft M365 to establish a temporary cloud-based system to enable Government of Canada employees to collaborate on unclassified work and reduce demand on the existing Government of Canada network
  • ongoing collaboration with private sector vendors to:
    • seek alternative communications options, such as M365 and BBM
    • increase capacity to meet growing needs, and
    • expedite procurement and equipment delivery
  • the deployment of LTE devices, including tablets, for some users (executives, communications teams, etc.) requiring email access and various Internet tools
Will delivery of online services to Canadians be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?

We are working with departments to make sure all critical services to the public are maintained.

What have we put in place to prevent mission-critical systems from failing?

We have an Emergency Management program to mitigate and respond to emergency events in support of Government of Canada departments, and to protect SSC assets. Some services provided by Government of Canada organizations may require enhanced support from SSC during the pandemic.

A Heightened Awareness Window has been implemented to ensure that technical teams will respond quickly in the event of any incident effecting critical services.

Are we still making changes to its infrastructure?

Working with Treasury Board Secretariat’s Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) and departments, the GC has imposed limits on IT changes. By limiting changes, Shared Services Canada (SSC) is able to focus on supporting critical services and various preparedness activities across the GC. These include:

  • increased scrutiny (called a heightened awareness window) for critical applications and services impacting SSC’s core response to the pandemic
  • a restriction on changes for enterprise network services (such as Internet, SRA/VPN, Email, EMDM, WAN Backbone, Conferencing Services) and Datacentre Facilities
  • with support of the OCIO, all client department non-essential changes are to be deferred, both on the supporting infrastructure and for applications
  • increased scrutiny for changes for all departments. The criteria for departmental approval include government priorities (such as Tax Filing, Employment Insurance, Budget Release, Census, Border Security), COVID-19 preparedness efforts and operational responses, critical security patching, and essential application releases or upgrades for Government of Canada mission critical services
What are some best practices for bandwidth usage by employees?

We shared best practices to ensure the continuity of all critical services. This included:

  • only using applications that you need to do your job
  • keeping Internet usage to what’s essential and only use social media if needed
  • working offline if and when possible
  • avoiding large data transfers and using devices on mobile networks to reduce the load on the VPN
  • considering alternate work hours to distribute the infrastructure demand
How are we supporting public service employees with disabilities, injuries and ergonomic requirements in their workplace during the pandemic?

The Accessibility, Accommodations and Adaptive Technology (AAACT) program continues to serve Government of Canada employees during emergencies, including COVID-19.

AAACT’s mandate is to support federal public service employees with disabilities, injuries and ergonomic requirements in their workplace by providing access to systems, programs, computers, and computer resources. AAACT also loans adaptive equipment and software for employees to borrow or try out, and provides quick access to specialized adaptive solutions for to short-term employees. Specialized equipment can be shipped directly to the employee’s workplace.

During this challenging period due to COVID-19 where many federal public servants are working remotely, the AAACT program team continues to offer assistance with job accommodations and adaptive solutions and technology via audio and video conference. The AAACT program can be reached at aaact-aatia@ssc-spc.gc.ca or by telephone at 819-994-4835, TTY 819-994-3692.

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