Canada appoints partners to replace Phoenix pay system

By on 19/06/2019 | Updated on 24/09/2020
New blooms: Phoenix’s replacement is rising from its predecessor’s ashes (Image courtesy: Jack78/Pixabay).

The Canadian government has appointed three tech vendors to test the options for replacing its doomed Phoenix pay system.

Last year, the Ottawa administration announced that it would scrap Phoenix and start again, after more than half of the federal government’s 290,000 public servants experienced pay problems. Now, following an agile procurement process, suppliers Ceridian, SAP, and Workday have been chosen as the qualified vendors to work on the project.

Announcing the appointments, Joyce Murray, president of the Treasury Board and minister of digital government, said: “We have learned the lessons of the past and have radically changed the way we are pursuing a modern, user-friendly and mobile HR and pay solution.

“We are investing the time and resources to make sure the solution fits the needs of our employees. Our world-class public service deserves no less.”

Test pilots

According to the government, partnerships will now be established with one or more of the vendors for the co-design and delivery of pilot projects. The solutions will then be tested “against the real complexity of federal government HR and pay needs”, a statement said.

Quoted by Canadian broadcaster CBC, Murray said that at the outset one or more pilots could run in parallel to the Phoenix system. “From my perspective, that’s the right way forward, because we will be figuring out the challenges before we’re going live with a new system,” she said.

Welcoming the appointment of the three firms, Debi Daviau, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, said: “This is another encouraging step on the long road to a new, reliable pay system.

“The consultation process has been productive and our members will continue to participate in ongoing piloting and testing.”

Exit costs

The news comes in the same week that 15 unions finalised a compensation agreement for staff who worked within the government during the period Phoenix has been in operation. However, the deal was rejected by the Public Service Alliance of Canada, which represents 180,000 government employees.

Last month, a report from Canada’s independent watchdog the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimated the cost of implementing a replacement payroll system for Phoenix at C$57m (US$42m) up to 2025.

It said that the new system would cost C$340-352 (US$252-261) to run per year per member of staff, compared to C$1,073 (US$797) under Phoenix.

From the ashes

In a February interview with Global Government Forum, Alex Benay, Canada’s chief information officer, said that the collapse of the Phoenix project presented an opportunity to take a different approach to large IT projects. “People are realising that we self-impose these massive, $500m transformations and they never transform anything – or they do, and it’s for the worse!”, he said. Benay explained that his team, which is managing the Phoenix replacement project, was doing “the opposite of what was done in 2008: breaking the process into smaller deliverables; engaging vendors right from the beginning; putting users at the centre of everything, and letting them test what we’re doing”.

About Colin Marrs

Colin is a journalist and editor with long experience in the government and built environment sectors. He cut his teeth in local newspaper journalism before moving to Inside Housing in 1999. He has worked in a variety of roles for built environment titles including Planning, Regeneration & Renewal and Property Week. After a spell at advertising industry bible Campaign magazine, he became a freelancer in 2010. Since then he has edited, local government finance publication and contributed news and features to Civil Service World, Architects’ Journal, Social Housing, management titles and written white papers for major corporate and public sector clients.


  1. Paule Bélec says:

    I would like to know if out of the 3 appointed tech vendors to test the options for replacing Phoenix pay system, have any of them provided other countries or other large scale industries with pay systems? If so, which ones? And how are these holding up through the recent years?

  2. Mark E. Geres says:

    I believe that TBS’ project governance and oversight was deficient the first time around—this time they’ll need to up their game. Canadians cannot afford another boondoggle.

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