Indian Affairs - The Promise

Denis Podolsky was a man with a big problem on his hands. He was the civil engineer in charge of a computer project to catalogue all assets for which the Federal Government was responsible on the more than 800 First Nation communities i.e. reserves across Canada and that included everything from roads to fire halls and fire fighting equipment, water treatment plants, schools…

His first attempt which had taken more than a year and which was an abject failure, the software an American Database Management System (DBMS) program by the name of KnowledgeMan had proven inadequate for the task.

KnowledgeMan like much of the software purchased by the government  at the time (while solid Canadian innovation was largely ignored) was destined to be less than a footnote in the history of computer revolution sparked by the introduction of the IBM personal computer.

Indian Affairs would be the first to adopt the Boreal Shell.

There would be no pilot. Government departments are notoriously shy of trying unproven Canadian technology like the Boreal Shell, and to make matters worse, it was based on a Canadian DBMS with the unfortunate name of ZIM which completely obscured the powerhouse that was the ZIM DBMS and the ZIM Fourth Generation Language.

To get my first customer, I made Denis a promise that normally would have been considered foolish and reckless.

I promised him that using ZIM and the Boreal Shell, and starting from scratch, I could have the thing done in four months and it would include a user-friendly interface and another feature which no other database product on the planet offered at that time, the ability to respond to the user in the language of his or her choice, in this case English or French, and produce reports on the fly in English or French.

If I did not deliver what I promised and within the agreed upon timeframe, he did not have to pay me. He was impressed enough that he gave ZIM and the Boreal Shell a chance and he never looked back.

The system which became known as CAIS for Capital Asset Inventory System was built within the time allowed and implemented within all of Indian and Northern Affairs (INAC) regional offices across Canada.

With the CAIS success, I was asked to build the more complicated ACRS (pronounced acres) companion system.

Every year the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs  must estimate and allocate the amount of money it will need to maintain First Nation’s community assets in good working conditions and to track projects related to the maintenance of these assets. This was the role ACRS (Asset Condition Reporting System) was destined to play. ACRS won the Deputy Minister's award for excellence, coming in on time, under budget and exceeding requirements and user expectations.

At about this time the Government of Canada announced a policy whereby First Nation communities were going to be given the resources, training and the technology to manage their communities. As part of this policy there was to be a transfer of computer-based management information technology to First Nations, and part of that transfer included CAIS and ACRS. Both would be further refined to provide what would become known as CAMS for Community Asset Management System.

It was at this juncture that I went to work for Ontario First Nations Technical Services Corporation (OFNTSC) to make it happened and Denis went to work on the billion dollar renovation of the the Parliamentary precinct (buildings and grounds of Parliament).

After about a year of development working with OFNTSC we had the first components ready for deployment.

The politicians may have wanted Canada’s First Nations to look after themselves but the bureaucrats at Indian and Northern Affairs and their business partners had other plans.

Bernard Payeur

Related: Who Killed CAMS