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Aug 2017 | Technology Issue


Last year, the Government of Canada (GC) published its first quinquennial 2016-2020 IT Strategic Plan. It was a good first step towards modernizing the GC technology landscape. The Plan was an attempt to harness the impacts of technology in the federal ecosystem by focusing on how the government manages its technological assets, how it grows its people and how it governs the enterprise—all solid principles to grow from. 


“To date, the Government of Canada has operated in an environment where information was not released by default, where partnerships were not easily cultivated and where linear approaches to engagement fundamentally hindered the ability of government to serve citizens in an interconnected era.”


Expanding on the work performed last year, we will broaden the Plan to include strategies on Information Management. Our goal is to increase the focus on the information and not strictly technology held within the Government of Canada. These strategies will pave the way for something much larger to come in 2018.

Too often, Government of Canada senior executives and employees of all levels think of technology as a hindrance to proper policy development and service delivery. As the CIO of the Government of Canada, I frequently hear, “can we do this digital thing properly?” Or, when speaking of the upcoming fourth industrial revolution, “well that is something we can worry about once we get the basics right and deploy email properly.” These are cultural reactions resulting from years of hit-and-miss technology experiences within the federal system.

Simply put, the Government of Canada requires a foundational change in its approach to digital, across all levels of its operations. As we continue to invest federal funding in areas such as superclusters, artificial intelligence and other revolutionary technologies, the Government of Canada must be able to actualize the benefits of these investments much sooner. At the current rate, GC operations would not benefit from investments in such areas for years, if not decades. We need to change and adjust to current developments around us, as the very existence of government as we know it is at stake. The world is changing at an increasingly rapid rate and we are not keeping up.

In a world dominated by platforms – think Uber, Alibaba, Airbnb, which are currently revolutionizing entire industries –  how long will it be before governments worldwide are ‘platformed’? This is where the foundational shift must occur. We must look at government as the ultimate possible platform. Imagine government as a place where public sector content is available for others to leverage as it is developed; a place where third parties can actually develop and deliver services to citizens on behalf of the Government of Canada; a place where services and policies are designed out in the open, not from within.  Nothing short of a complete rethink of the operating model of government is required to transition to the digital, interconnected era in which we live. This is a very different world in which the GC currently operates. To date, the Government of Canada has operated in an environment where information was not released by default, where partnerships were not easily cultivated and where linear approaches to engagement fundamentally hindered the ability of government to serve citizens in an interconnected era. All in all, we need exponential public services, not linear government.

As a result, one should expect foundational changes in our IM/IT Strategic Plan structure in the coming cycles. For example, we should expect to completely remove the terms IT and IM from the documentation itself. We must progress to a place where open government and service agendas are at the forefront of the thinking, in an effort to create the true conditions for government to operate as a platform. One should also expect a strategy that permits the Government of Canada to engage in a modern way, supported by tools that permit this type of engagement. This should be a strategy that is supported by proper technology architecture, in response to a radically different business need of the civil service, but more importantly, in order to meet the expectations of the clients the Government of Canada serves. Essentially, one should expect the 2018-2022 Plan to represent a shift in thinking in an effort to create the conditions for exponential government, rather than linear civil service.

In the meantime, we will lay the groundwork for this foundational change in the 2017-2021 Government of Canada IM/IT Strategic Plan. A sharper focus on new procurement needs, more open government focus in an effort to collaborate with more partners, as well as technology that actually supports the business, will all be new components of the Plan. Lastly, the focus on people will be drastically increased over these next few years; the pace of change surrounding governments worldwide is simply too great for any civil service to apply linear management thinking to the new reality. We must empower our people to engage, think digital and not technological, and grow a civil service of the future that is much more inclusive of new approaches and ways of doing things.

The upcoming series of strategic planning cycles for the Government of Canada are no simple tasks.  There is a fundamentally different public service required in this new world, and we must adjust to meet both traditional needs and new realities. What happens to our federal institutions when banks deploy Artificial Intelligence and our institutions have not maintained the pace of change? What happens to the operations of our core departments when crypto-currencies eventually overtake existing financial infrastructure?

These are not linear problems. Nor can the Government of Canada operate in a linear fashion. Government must focus on achieving exponential existence while managing its legacy, not only in terms of technology, but more importantly in terms of culture. 


ALEX BENAY is the Chief Information Officer for the Government of Canada.