Our FWDThinking conversations so far have tackled a particular topic—analytics, product management, and so on. For this episode, we decided to change things up a little and dig into regional government.
Part of the reason for this is that in 2019, we launched the first Regional Digital Government Summit (RDGS) to bring together Digital Officers from provinces and states. From that point on, many of those CDOs held regular group calls to continue sharing conversations—which helped coordinate Canada’s national COVID response.
In 2020, we’re reprising RDGS, with a twist: We’re making a pair of passes available to any municipal, state, provincial, or territorial government in the world (details here.) To better understand the unique challenges and different perspectives of regional digital transformation, we invited several of Canada’s regional officers—as well as the Honourable Joyce Murray, Canada’s Minister for Digital Government. We had another conversation with the Minister as well, which we’ll share as a separate episode.
Joining me for this session were Rick Wind, the CIO of the Northwest Territories; Dave Heffernan, the CIO of Newfoundland and Labrador; Dominique Bohn, the CDO for Alberta; Hillary Hartley, CDO of Ontario; and Jamie Boyd, Chief Digital Officer at Government of British Columbia. We also welcomed Aaron Snow, head of the Canadian Digital Service; and the Honourable Joyce Murray, Canada’s Minister for Digital Government.
We talked about the role elected leaders can play in providing “air cover” for public servants—particularly around critical, time-sensitive deliverables like COVID response. Minister Murray underscored the need to frame digital challenges in “language that [the public] can hear and respond to,” because if the public understands the importance of an initiative, that beats needing air cover. Dominique took that even further, saying she “just wants people to have better experiences and not even notice that we’re here.”
Much of that is rethinking service delivery—taking, for example, child benefits from a PDF to an actual service that works seamlessly.
Rick says much of the current digital effort is simply retooling IT. “I use the analogy of a plant a lot when I’m talking to my own team about how, if we’re going to become more efficient [and] effective, we need to optimize the plant so that we can deliver better widgets, faster, stronger, and more capable for the government.” This sentiment echoes what Kathy Pham and Ayushi Roy said in an earlier episode—there’s so much low-hanging fruit and engine-room work to be done within government that the fancy, next-generation technologies are still far off, but that’s okay, because government can act more deliberately, with greater confidence, than the private sector simply by learning what works.
Aaron pointed out that “saying that we want to make better experiences is not enough to help the folks at the very top, ‘sell it’ and ‘fund it.’” It’s not fun to talk about shrinking budgets—IT needs to do a better job of describing the potential for reducing service costs while improving services. Or as he puts it, “plumbing that pays for itself.”
Hillary and Dave both think we’re at a tipping point for digital services. “Governments, businesses all sent folks home and helped them figure out how to work from home,” said Hillary, ”which brought kind of into focus how people have to interact with the government day to day.” Forcing people to work digitally “opened eyes to everything that does need to be improved.” Dave says we haven’t needed to dive into pan-Canadian identity until now, but “COVID has driven us there and we’re seeing a much greater demand.”
Governing a remote part of the country, Rick is concerned about widening the digital divide. He observed that while much of today’s digital government discussion is external, focused on service delivery to citizens, we tend to understate how much improvement can be “just by kind of optimizing the machinery of government as well. That can’t be ignored, but I think that it just really reinforces the fact that there is a significant digital divide, still within the country. And we certainly feel that in the North.”
Jamie said that much of her collaboration with other governments happens largely within the province. “We’ve got our own challenges, but the cities are absolutely really, really important and strong collaborators. Often—especially in the data space—if people are consuming data, they don’t care really, which order of government that data is coming from. They just want to get their hands on the data.”
BC has integrated the BC Services card with the federal government, allowing people from that province to log in to the Canada Revenue Agency using those credentials, and are now rolling this out for other Federal services such as employment insurance. “People shouldn’t have to navigate the orders of government. They should just be able to have a seamless service experience regardless of who it is that they’re dealing with.”
We also touched on standardization, resilient democracy, public-private co-operation, and becoming product- and service-driven, rather than forcing citizens to navigate the structure of government ministries. To listen to the conversation, check out this recording!
All opinions expressed in in these episodes are personal and do not reflect the opinions of the organizations for which our guests work.
Click to read the full transcript of this episode.
Alistair Croll: [00:00:00] Hi, and welcome to another episode of FWDThinking. Bonjour à tous, et bienvenue à un autre émission de FWDThinking. FWDThinking, c’est un programme réalisé conjointement par la conférence sur le gouvernement numérique FWD50 et l’académie numérique de l’école de la fonction publique du Canada. In this episode, we’re going to talk to some of Canada’s regional digital government officers.
Regional government has its own challenges, whether they’re at the municipal or the provincial or territorial level. And 2020 has been no exception. In this episode, I’ll be joined by a number of digital government ministers, some of whom could only join for a few minutes, and also Canada’s minister of digital government, the honorable Joyce Murray. Minister Murray and I had many other things to discuss and we actually spent another half hour on the phone following the recording of this episode. So we’re going to publish that as another episode on this channel. So let’s get started as we dig into the unique [00:01:00] challenges and promise of digital government.
Why don’t each of you very briefly, in like 10 seconds, starting with Rick, say who you are and where you are and everybody else mute your microphones. Hi, Rick.
Rick Wind: [00:01:13] Hi Alistair. Thank you very much for the opportunity. I’m Rick Wind. I’m the chief information officer for the government of the Northwest territories in Yellowknife.
Alistair Croll: [00:01:20] And those are actual Northwest territors Northern lights, but there are a recording of them, correct?
Rick Wind: [00:01:27] That’s correct. I’m not, it’s not that dark here.
Alistair Croll: [00:01:30] All right, Dave, you’re out on the rock.
Dave Heffernan: [00:01:33] Hi Alistair, thanks for the opportunity as well. My name’s Dave Heffernan and I’m the chief information officer for the government of Newfoundland Labrador here in St. John’s, Newfoundland.
Alistair Croll: [00:01:43] And Dominique. Where are you?
Dominique Bohn: [00:01:45] Dominique Bohn. I’m the chief digital officer for the government of Alberta. And I’m here in Edmonton.
Alistair Croll: [00:01:51] Awesome. And let’s go around the circle. Aaron, how about you? Where are you right now?
Aaron Snow: [00:01:56] Hi, I’m in the basement of my undisclosed location, [00:02:00] South of the border. I’m Aaron Snow. I had the Canadian Digital Service, which is the branch of the federal government responsible for this stuff.
Alistair Croll: [00:02:13] Hillary, how about you?
Hillary Hartley: [00:02:15] Hello. I’m in Toronto, in Leslieville. And I am the deputy minister responsible for the Ontario digital service and the chief digital and data officer for Ontario.
Alistair Croll: [00:02:27] Fantastic. And Minister Murray.
The Honourable Joyce Murray: [00:02:30] Hi, I’m in beautiful Vancouver. I’m a member of parliament for Vancouver Quadra and the Minister of digital government for Canada.
Alistair Croll: [00:02:42] So Minister Murray, let’s start there. Dominique had a question as we were getting ready for this about air cover, and I’ve heard a somewhat apocryphal story that when we realized that Canada was going to launch the Canada Emergency Relief Benefits, we didn’t have the capacity needed. And then prime [00:03:00] minister Trudeau just said, “Okay, people with birth dates in these three months, come in on one day and these on the next day, and these on the next day to spread the load.” And people said, “okay”. And it just worked, as opposed to trying to spin up four times the capacity that feels like air cover from the federal level on behalf of people trying to solve hard, technical problems. So maybe you can talk a little about your background at the provincial level and how you got this job of digital government minister and what that means.
The Honourable Joyce Murray: [00:03:30] Well, I think it would be the Prime Minister who would be able to answer that question becaus,e of course, appointments are the, at the privilege of the prime minister. I was the Minister of management services for British Columbia in 2004, and we dealt with many of similar types of issues as I’m dealing with digital government. [00:04:00] When you talk about the CERB, I would say that that is very much a signature program for how we can work together across jurisdictions quickly and, well, I will say that, one of the digital governments, I’ll give credit to Aaron and the other deputies in digital government, that we brought forward the concept that we cannot do things complicated and fast without it being risky. So the CERB, if you’ll remember, was actually an amalgamation of an intended or separate programs. And so there was a bit of a- yeah, we recognize that we have to simplify to be able to deliver and take the credit of the public servants and Shared Services Canada that enabled literally a hundreds of thousands of public servants to work remotely with secure, [00:05:00] sharing types of tools almost overnight. It was that it was, quite a historic time period and that it was on behalf of, of the. It’s a sense that we needed to deliver for, but I just, well, Alistair, the question that I have for the group is this, the government, the politicians, can provide air cover, but only when citizens see that what we’re doing is important.
And so I had a colleague say who had been in the IT world for 35 years. He said, “This whole arena is eye glazing for the public”. So, the question that I have for the group is what kinds of things do you offer in your province that the public can really understand why that’s important? So how do we frame this in a way that the public is- it’s the language that they can hear and [00:06:00] respond to, and it’s tangible, and it’s something we can offer in, say, a year; we’ll do that because it’s important to you. If the public sees us as important, then that belts air cover.
Alistair Croll: [00:06:19] That’s a good question. I’m going to point to people and get them to answer. So Dominique, why don’t you feel that one first, Hillary, welcome back. We’re talking about what do your constituents and the public get excited enough about that they’re willing to engage in the kinds of transformations we know are necessary and the things that are possible with digital? You want to feel that, Dominique?
Dominique Bohn: [00:06:40] I love that question, thank you so much. But I’m going to say like, actually, it’s more that I just want people to have better experiences and not even really notice that we’re here, right? So, I mean, when I look around and, you know, provincial government just does a lot of heavy lifting on really citizen facing services. So I just try to, you know, cut through as much of the administrative work [00:07:00] and look at the things- look at what is highest transaction, highest volume. What are most people trying to do with government, and get that working well. So, I mean, we did things like fixing the childcare subsidy application, which was, you know, a PDF online, but not actually an online service. So people had- they would send this complex application into the void, you know, knowing they have to get, you know, they’re going back to work, they need childcare and not have anything come back to them. So to just, things work seamlessly and well, when we’re doing a lot of things for- it’s a lot of things with social services. And I mean, the opportunities now, when, frankly, the barriers that we might’ve felt, sort of psychological barriers, things that have to be in person, those are really leveled out, I think, so we can do even better now. So to me, it’s not. I just want things to work well for my mom and for average citizens who are trying to get their stuff done. So I think the engagement just comes from that better, better set of experiences. So we can do all that heavy lifting behind the scenes to make that happen. But you know, the better [00:08:00] people are experienced in government, you know, the more credible I think we are as government, so maybe that’s kind of a non-answer, but it’s the unglamorous stuff that I think gets-
Alistair Croll: [00:08:07] Well, this is- but you’re echoing something that Kathy Pham and Ayushi Roy were talking about on an earlier episode. There’s so much low hanging fruit. I asked the question about AI and they were like, “Come on, AI? How about we just take PDFs and make them interactive?” And her problem was like, “It’s great. When y’all have figured out AI in 10 years, then maybe we’ll use it. But right now we have so much low hanging fruit that we can fix.”
Dominique Bohn: [00:08:30] I mean, I’ll stop, I promise we got to get our data sorted, right? I mean, to make things like AI work well, we just have to admit that in government, we have a whole lot of paper, data lakes. Like we have to actually start, you know, getting the right data and then we can have real fun, and then we can, you know- but yeah, we can’t have nice things, we can make services work better, but we have to do some of that big work behind the scenes so the cool things can work for us. I’m going to stop.
Alistair Croll: [00:08:55] That’s great. Don’t feel like you need to stop. So I do want to try something though. [00:09:00] I’ve set up a thing called Mentimeter, and I’ve asked people to go and type in. “What’s the thing that’s keeping you busiest right now?” Because I know you’re all busy and I’m incredibly grateful that you had the time to spend here on a call. What is the thing that keeps you up at the moment? Like, what’s the thing that is consuming much more of your time than you thought it would. And obviously, COVID and pandemic response is huge, but, it seems like there are so many burning problems right now. So, if any of you want to chime in, you know, modernize it, service delivery is a really good example of something that- we have all these things we want to do with digital government, but just making sure that we have a reliable, underlying cloud infrastructure, for example, is a challenge. So I’m not sure who typed this one in. Who typed in “Modernizing IT service delivery”?
Rick Wind: [00:09:51] That would be me.
Alistair Croll: [00:09:52] That would be you. So Rick, while other people are typing in theirs, why don’t you tell us what you mean by that?
Rick Wind: [00:09:57] Well, I think it’s about retooling. [00:10:00] I use the analogy of a plant a lot when I’m talking to my own team about how, if we’re going to become more efficient, more effective, we need to optimize the plant so that we can deliver better widgets, faster, stronger, and more capable for the government. So really, it’s a vote. You know, adapting or addressing skills gap, modernizing our approaches, looking to implement and transform into more agile approaches, being willing to take a risk, and to move initiatives along vote faster, the whole, you know, “fail fast, learn fast” kind of model. But it’s really about transitioning from a legacy approach to solution management and solution implementation and into a more modern, more agile one that takes advantage of things like cloud and that.
Alistair Croll: [00:10:49] Yeah. And I think, this is an interesting- I hadn’t really thought about the two, ITs. There’s the IT of digital government making things better for service delivery, and then there’s the IT of [00:11:00] giving people underlying platforms that allow them to do things like dev ops and continuous deployment and agile methodologies, which sits astride a whole lot of other technologies.
Minister Murray, what do you think are the biggest challenges in getting, like, a reliable national infrastructure? And are there any plans? Obviously, cloud computing works when there are more people, right? The whole idea of a cloud is that you build to the spikes, and amortize across a large number of constituents. Are there any plans to create a national cloud that’s available to the municipal, federal and provincial because it becomes economically feasible, or are there obstacles to that?
The Honourable Joyce Murray: [00:11:41] Well, there’s always obstacles in accelerating the digital transformation. I mean, and in a country as large as Canada and also with our federal structure and a lot of authorities in the hands [00:12:00] of- collaboration of course is super important. We also have a bit of a culture Westminster parliamentary system that marks needs. So I would say that working together across departments, figuring out how we can share data information, applications, freight the building blocks so that we’re not duplicating things department by department or some of the challenges. And then underneath that, we have Shared Services Canada, which is an amazing organization of dedicated IT professionals. It sums 7,500 of them, who are wrestling with lots of legacy issues. because even though we began to really invest in that fundamental, [00:13:00] unseen, basis of all of IT in about 2016, there is certainly a lot more to do.
So, I mean, I’d love to hear Aaron’s answer on this because he’s been charged with being the magician and doing some of this transformation. And he is very aware of the super tanker that the Canadian governement is. So we have a- we have a huge commitment to this, that I did want to mention to- where, in terms of Dominique’s comment about- that you just want to fix things and make it work better. When I was talking about air cover and the politicians being able to say, “Hey, this is a priority, for our governement”. It’s not good enough, really, to say to the public, “You don’t need to know what we’re doing. We’re just under the covers trying to fix things.” We actually have to show them what it is that will be better for them, how it’ll be easier to interact with government [00:14:00] in specific ways. And that’s the kinds of examples I’m looking forward to hearing from you about, because I’m consulting on this right across the country right now. How can we talk to the public in a way that they get it, that transforming and accelerating this transformation should be a top of mind priority for the federal government.
Alistair Croll: [00:14:26] Yeah, we had the digital minister for Argentina. I think her last name was Baqué- a lot of names on our list- and she talked about implementing national digital identity in four years. And there were a lot of people in the audience going, “Wait, what?” And I think, doing those case studies of what’s possible elsewhere has been really good.
So I’m going to ask Aaron and Hillary, because both of you have unique perspectives in that you came here from the States, and you’ve worked at the regional level, and you’ve seen, you know, 18F and the presidential innovation fellows and so on. [00:15:00] Where do you think, to Minister Murray’s question, where do you think the magic is going to happen that sort of unlocks this potential, Aaron, and what have you done for us lately? I mean, come on.
Aaron Snow: [00:15:12] What have you done for us lately? That’s okay. From the macro to the micro. So. I mean-
The Honourable Joyce Murray: [00:15:21] Sorry, I have to jump in there. What’s he done for us lately? Think about COVID alerts are exposure notification app.
Alistair Croll: [00:15:28] Which is fantastic. Yeah. I’m being absolutely sarcastic. I meant what has he done today.
Aaron Snow: [00:15:36] And also a collaboration with Hillary, by the way. Yeah, so just Minister Murray, I think, hit the nail on the head about the fact that saying that we want to make better experiences is not enough to help the folks at the very top, you [00:16:00] know, sell it, right, and fund it. What are the points? I think, especially given the danger of a potentially, you know, shrinking revenue base across the board for the provinces, for cities, for the federal government. I think this isn’t always that much fun to talk about, and it’s not, you know, it’s sometimes one of the ugly answers and it’s full of danger and it’s fraught, but understanding the efficiency prize, and what it means to be able to reduce the cost of service delivery and the cost of operating government, recognizing actual reduction in costs, you know, thanks to digital, is super important, I think, as part of the case, I fundamentally, you know, I think one of the ways we sell this is that, this [00:17:00] is, you know, plumbing that pays for itself. That’s not a terribly sexy answer, I don’t think.
Alistair Croll: [00:17:07] No, I talked to the CIO of MetLife a few years ago and he said he instituted a policy where if you had a pet project, you could do something that cut costs and he would give you $66 out of a hundred dollars for that project. So you have a pet project you think is wonderful, go cut costs somewhere else and come back to us. And he said it led to the fastest reduction in costs and expansion of services because it forced people to go “What dead wood can I get rid of that we’re not actually using?” You know, there may have been a very complex physical policy that could be implemented with a dropdown list box or a couple of if-statements, and all of a sudden the cost was gone, but he put that forcing factors. Like, “I’m not going to give you money. You got to cut and then I’ll let you have two thirds of it.”
Hillary, what are your thoughts? You are also instrumental in the COVID response and have seen things on both sides of the border here.
[00:18:00] Hillary Hartley: [00:18:01] Yeah. I think we’re at a bit of a tipping point, just to be honest. You know, governments, businesses all sent folks home and helped them figure out how to work from home, which brought kind of into focus how people have to interact with the government day to day. You know, when folks were sort of forced to be digital in the way that we’re working. I think it just opened eyes to everything that does need to be improved, and especially because this, you know, so much of this work is focused on people, which is our mantra in general, but we’re trying to keep people safe. We’re trying to keep people alive. We’re trying to keep people healthy. And, it’s really created very interesting opportunity to, [00:19:00] kind of, quote-unquote, sell the importance of true service design of end to end service design and delivery, you know. So even just anecdotally, the stories that we’re hearing about, folks using our self assessment tool, deciding they need to go get a test and then, using the assessment center search that we built right into that, and then able to go to the assessment center, and then we’re not really in control of the process anymore. You know, they have to jump out, they have to go, you know, they have to make a separate phone call or find out if there’s an appointment or go get in line. And so, you know, we’re walking through kind of the happy path, what we’d love to see, and you look around the table, you think “It’s not like that? How could it not be like that?” So, you know, I think it’s kind of- it’s been an interesting moment of bringing really what we talk about as service design into [00:20:00] focus.
Alistair Croll: [00:20:00] Well, that’s something that Jen was saying as well is it’s not enough, you know, one of the criticisms that was leveled at the COVID response was that the apps existed, but they didn’t dovetail with legislation.
So like, Bianca Wiley has been pretty vocal in saying, “Hey, the app’s great. Everybody looks at it, they can see the code. They can. You know? Yes, that’s great. But it’s not clear what happens on the government policy side when someone tests positive.” Like, at that part was not as well articulated, but Jen’s point was we have to look at that both ways. Legislators need to start crafting legislation that is implementable. Just as much as app developers need to start building apps that are transparent in how they interact with legislation. Is that the tipping point you think we’re at, Hillary?
Hillary Hartley: [00:20:46] That’s certainly one of them. I mean, one of the things that, if you listen to the folks who started GDS and all of us who followed in their wake, you talk about multidisciplinary teams and it can’t just have a designer and a [00:21:00] developer doing what they think is best to bring something to fruition. You have to have that full kind of suite of capability and capacity on a product team and in government. Absolutely. That means policy. We have to be joined at the hip with policy, and the COVID alert app actually, the sort of creation that- how it came to life, partnering with private sector, et cetera, was I think just incredible. Beause it is a collaboration story at the end of the day across government, but also just in terms of, you know, we had policy people baked in making sure that they were questioning and did we get it 100% right? At the end of the day, no. There’s lots of things that could be improved on, but. From the privacy perspective and from, you know, trying to understand the inner heads wrapped around what this thing was really going to do. It was, I think, a really unique opportunity to show that, you know, we’ve got developers at the table, but we’ve got policy people sitting right there with them [00:22:00] helping, you know, helping folks understand the decisions we’re making.
Alistair Croll: [00:22:04] And Minister Murray, I know you have to leave in a couple of minutes. I think that we touched a little bit on this in some of these answers, but I would love to hear your thoughts on identity, because my soap box for digital identity is you can’t provide service delivery until you know who someone is and what they’re entitled to. But with driver’s licenses and healthcare at the provincial level, and the federal government having a different set of stuff with the CRA and so on, figuring out unified identity and finding the right trade-off between giving up some of our privacy in return for the utility that comes from a service. I remember being surprised with CERB. One of the advantages that nobody really talked about was that Canada has relatively few banks and they’re heavily regulated. And in times of economic growth, we get criticized for that. But then, you know, when the 2008 bubble burst, Canada, wasn’t crippled by that. And it does seem like the fact that we had a relatively smaller bank- so you can just click a button and log in with your bank and get [00:23:00] some money- that we had these digital identity systems in place and that the, you know, the fabric of our society happens to dovetail well with some of these services.
What do you think is gonna happen in the next five years for digital identity? And I’d love to hear all your thoughts on this, but it does seem to me like it’s the cornerstone of all the things you’re talking about, but we still haven’t moved things forward as much as we should. And Minister Murray, since you have to go, maybe you can take the first stab at that.
The Honourable Joyce Murray: [00:23:32] Well, yes, for sure, digital identity is one of those foundational pieces. A lot of work is being done on that by a lot of smart people. And so this is another example of the complexity of Canada. I mean, when you think about what Estonia did, they don’t have the federal, provincial system. I mean, in a way, it forces us to talk and to cooperate and work together, but it also makes it [00:24:00] more time-consuming. So, we are utterly dedicated to moving that project forward. And I’m not going to pose a plan by which time we’ll have it done.
Alistair Croll: [00:24:16] Yeah, it is. I think people underestimate just how complicated it is. But as you say, if there was a thing that the citizens got really excited about and desperately wanted, and it was clear that identity was tied to that, you know, it’s almost like we need to find a national killer app for identity. And then when we’ve done that, it’ll be much better. And maybe to some extent, things like COVID was the killer app for digital identity.
The Honourable Joyce Murray: [00:24:39] Okay. Well, it’s a couple of other things I wanted to say in your comments and introducing this topic, you’ve talked about what would people be willing to give up in terms of privacy? I don’t want to see it that way, and I don’t think we need to. So I think that we can create [00:25:00] this digital identity in a way that increases people’s privacy protection and security. And, I think there was a number of examples of how we can do that. And COVID alert, for example, is something that is very strongly protective of privacy, such that even the general privacy commissioner said he would be using it. So I don’t want to make those kinds of assumptions.
The other thing that I wanted to also make sure is on the table is, my current mantra is that digital is at the heart of everything we offer. So I want people to think about- policies are important and they- and people understand that having a universal childcare or having a policy or a service that is offered by government is important. But [00:26:00] underneath that is digital. And they go so hand in hand, so that’s the message that I think that is so important for the public to understand. Digital is part of everything we do. And so if our policies are important, we need to think about it with the same importance. We saw- COVID taught us that delivery is key, and that is fundamentally about digital these days.
So, thanks for the opportunity, Alistair, to be in this chat and in this conversation. And it’s great to see everybody else on the panel. And so enjoy the rest of your discussion.
Alistair Croll: [00:26:47] See you soon.
The Honourable Joyce Murray: [00:26:49] Bye.
Hillary Hartley: [00:26:51] Alistair, could I just jump in on that?
Alistair Croll: [00:26:53] Please do. If you want to talk to other people instead of me, they’re much more interesting than I am, so yell at other people.
Hillary Hartley: [00:26:58] Well, I, you know, I’d love to have [00:27:00] other folks jumping in, but just going back to my point about that kind of end-to-end digital delivery. We can’t do that without digital identity, full stop. You know, we, in Ontario, we’ve been, mapping the service journeys for hundreds of services, trying to just basically understand every service we provide and then sort of prioritizing which ones are not digital- that should be, which ones are digital, but don’t work very well, et cetera. And we found that, you know, a good three-quarters of them, you know, 70-75% of all of our services require some level of identity verification. Obviously, most of which currently happens in person, whether you walk into a service Ontario or anywhere else. So we absolutely cannot do that end to end delivery. We cannot do a service design. So the crack, this nut.
Alistair Croll: [00:27:53] Yeah. I think one of the things that I keep coming back to is most citizens are very comfortable [00:28:00] signing in with Google or Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn. That protocol called OAuth is a pretty simple protocol that says, “Hey, I trust that organization, they trust you. Therefore you are who you claim to be.” But there is no OAuth from the federal government or the provincial governments, and there could be, and you would have recourse. Like, I can’t go to Facebook and say, “Hey, I don’t trust that you let me log into this site that’s now got malware on it because I got no recourse.” Whereas the federal government could use that to protect our most vulnerable citizens by providing some kind of trusted, single sign-on rather than letting them use their passwords, the same password everywhere and get hacked. We have opportunities to take our digital infrastructure and make it available to other people.
But I I’m completely with you that so much of this stuff is- it builds on digital. And I think what we don’t talk about enough is the second-order benefits. So, when the cell phone first came out, the benefit was a rich guy like Gordon Gekko, standing on a beach [00:29:00] on the Jersey Shore, calling his assistant. That was the stereotypical first cell phone use, right? It was for the very rich who were so important, they needed to be able to reach someone anytime. Fast forward 30 years. And the cell phone is now how we do two-factor authentication, it’s how we babysit. Like, there’s all these other things we didn’t know cell phones were for until everybody got them. And it feels to me, I mean, I think we’re seeing this with video now, that we’re seeing people go and talk to their GP and their specialist at the same time and reduce the number of meetings everyone has, where they never would have done that before out of necessity. So it seems to me like we need to sell the second-order benefits that happen when everybody has the thing, because that’s where the real utility comes from. The initial use cases tend to be either extremely marginalized or extremely privileged. And it’s the second-order of benefits that just those changes.
So when you look at those services, do you get a sense of which of those things- it’s not just that we can make it better by making it digital, but we will [00:30:00] now have new capabilities? Like, well, there’s going to be some additional benefit that we didn’t think was even possible by going digital?
Aaron Snow: [00:30:10] So, I mean, I would love to hear from the folks in the provinces about this, about specific-use cases. I just want to- like, there’s a slightly fine point on this, which is, it’s not just that there has to be that benefit, but that benefit has to be something that somebody can say, “Okay, this is worth investing this many millions of taxpayer dollars in over this many years to get ready”. Because the problem right now isn’t that we’d have no sign-in or no authentication, right? It’s that we have, you know, a cornucopia of them and they’re all different, and few of them are very, very good, if any, right? And so you log in in a bunch of different places, you know, but you can, right? It’s just that the experience is so-so, and you know, you can’t cross-pollinate, you can’t integrate it, right? Like you’re [00:31:00] missing all the things you’d get if you had one really good system.
Alistair Croll: [00:31:06] Dominique, Dave, Rick, what are your thoughts on digital identity at the provincial level?
Dave Heffernan: [00:31:10] So, I agree with Hillary, we’re at a tipping point, I think, where we’ve all been playing around the edges and not really needing to dive in on having this, you know, pan-Canadian digital identity, if you will. And we’ve been able to do our own individual services with, you know, a level-zero, level-one on authentication type identity. But I think we’re at this tipping point now where COVID has driven us there and we’re getting- we’re seeing a much greater demand.
So back to what Minister Murray was saying earlier, how do you get the people to want to come? I think COVID has driven a lot of that, at least in our province it has. I’m sure in everybody else’s- we’ve seen such an increase in a want for more digital services, we can now not keep up with the demand. So- and a lot of those services are going to, as Hillary said- [00:32:00] it’s the foundational piece. So we need to get that digital identity figured out. So, you know, what is that single-use case that we can all sort of, you know, show the public the benefit in it for them. I don’t know if there is one or not. I think it’s, you know, maybe it’s the driver’s license and having that in a digital form, or I’m not sure what the actual single-use case is, but I am sure that it’s foundational, as Hillary said, to everything that we’re going to do from a digital perspective.
Alistair Croll: [00:32:28] How about you, Dominique? What services are the citizens now demanding, now that they’ve got a taste?
Dominique Bohn: [00:32:34] Well, I mean, I think Hillary is going to vote, you know- actually have been doing that real service inventory and looking at where the real pressure is, what we need to do. Because I think it’s not one killer off. I think it’s a bunch of things, right? And the more of them there are, the more you’re going to get over that tipping point. And I mean, I think for identity, I mean not to be too contentious, but we all really do have to do it right. If you talk about a lot- I mean, you need to have that seamless, that really good user experience, but you also have to be [00:33:00] it- those services have to be very readily available to developers and development teams, right? And I mean, I think for a lot of us, we built our identity in an older technology that is not necessarily that easy to access for developers.
So we have some- again, we’ve got some important work to do there to make that really convert, I think. Not to get too nerdy about it, but that’s going to be work that we have to do right. Because we can’t spend- I mean, you know, you can spend six months building the great digital service and then here’s another six months integrating into your digital ID. Like, wow, that does not speak to the efficiency that Hillary was talking about, right?
Alistair Croll: [00:33:37] And then I see people who stand up an app on product hunt in three days and they just go grab some, some react frameworks and they’re done and it just works, right? But if you’re having to integrate with COBOL on the back end, that causes some issues. Please don’t apologize for being nerdy, Dominique. We need more nerdy in the world.
Dominique Bohn: [00:33:54] My people.
Alistair Croll: [00:33:58] So Rick, you’re up North and I [00:34:00] think you’re talking of an even more foundational level about what citizens want, which is, like “All this stuff’s great, but if you can’t get broadband, it doesn’t help anybody, right?”
Rick Wind: [00:34:09] I think you’re right, Alistair. I mean, I think as important and as passionate- I mean, I share the passion with everybody on the panel about how important digital is to modernizing service delivery for government. But both- and I also mentioned both internal service delivery and external service delivery. In government, we tend to emphasize the external delivery in a lot of forums, but there’s a lot of efficiency, to build on Aaron’s comment, to be had just by kind of optimizing the machinery of government as well. That can’t be ignored, but I think that it just really reinforces the fact that there is a significant digital divide, still within the country. And we certainly feel that in the North, and we can’t- as public sector agencies, we have to recognize that and we have to continue to build and develop service delivery models that support the whole spectrum of society, recognizing that [00:35:00] that divide is transitioning rapidly over time.
But it does go back to, you know, digital identity is key. I agree. It’s a foundation piece. I think we’re doing an awful lot of work across the jurisdictions on digital identity. It’s very positive, and I think that five year window- we will be able to see some significant advances in that space, you know, but we also have to figure out now how to continue to bridge that divide and how to make sure we’re developing our choice in options, you know. You mentioned there are a lot of people that like to use Facebook or Twitter, you know, use their social media accounts for credentials, that may not be good enough for government services. We need something possibly more robust and there are also still a lot of people that don’t want to do that. So, it’s not necessarily one exact solution. It’s, it’s a couple of different solutions that will meet some different use cases, but give people the assurance and confidence they need in the solution.
[00:36:00] Alistair Croll: [00:36:00] Yes. I just want to say quickly: hi Jamie, how are you? We now have BC on the phone too. I love this sort of call-in model we have. Jamie, we’ve been talking a little bit about digital identity. Minister Murray had to leave earlier. Service delivery, a little bit about COVID, and we’re going to get to some questions on regulation and security and where the line is between public and private sector, service delivery. But before we go back to Dominique- actually Dominique, why don’t you finish what you’re going to say? And then we’ll let Jamie introduce herself.
Hillary Hartley: [00:36:33] Oh, that was me. Sorry.
Alistair Croll: [00:36:35] Sorry. Why don’t we let Hillary- I’m having trouble keeping track of all the rectangles, as I’m sure we all are.
Hillary Hartley: [00:36:40] Yeah, no, that’s fine. I just, I wanted to throw a little bit of a wrench into the conversation because a lot of the talk has been about single sign-on, about logging in and count lot, et cetera, but honestly, talking about digital identity, for me, it’s just data. It’s just [00:37:00] attributes. And how can the government do a better job of managing that and authenticating someone, but not meaning an account.
So like, think of walking into Service Canada or Service Ontario. I don’t need an account to go in and do my business. I just have to prove who I am. And a lot of people only interact with the government, I don’t know, every few years, maybe even. So do I need an account? Probably not. I need to be able to walk in, prove who I am, pay for my transaction and leave and not think about it until I get my next notification. And for me, that’s the really interesting piece of digital identity because it’s totally separate from single sign-on. And it could really allow us to- I think it was Dominique’s point- to have many, many, many killer apps.
Alistair Croll: [00:37:47] And we’ve seen that in Quebec with the weed stores. You can buy your stuff without signing in, but you still need to prove to Canada Post that you’re actually 18 when they show up. So it’s a very interesting- or 21, whatever it is. There’s a very [00:38:00] interesting, like transactional- there’s several times where different authentications are happening for different purposes.
Like one is: are you a person who’s paying legitimately? And another is: are you a person who’s allowed to consume marijuana? And it turns out Canada Post is very good at verifying your identity and your age. So I thought that was a fascinating example of building a new service on top of some of these things that we have in place.
Hi, Jamie, how are you?
Jaimie Boyd: [00:38:25] I’m great. Thank you so much for, including me in this conversation. And I’m sorry to pull the somewhat diva-like move of calling in from a garage and joining you for about five minutes. But I couldn’t help myself with such a great crowd and one important conversation.
Alistair Croll: [00:38:41] Yeah, Jen Pahlka said, I think, in one of the talks earlier: “Necessity is the mother of acceptance, and we’re all very, very tolerant right now”. I think that’s a great way to look at the upside of COVID. I think I need to make a tee shirt of that. Before we get further along here, I want to- I’m gonna do a little plug, but I want to talk to you about something and Jaimie, you won’t have seen this, but we [00:39:00] were using an app called Menti. We were anticipating if lots of people showed up, we would pull people for questions. But I did want to show you one thing. Three of you have been at FWD50 in the past, and Jaimie and Hillary, you were instrumental in setting up this thing called the Regional Digital Government Summit, which is kind of weird because all the other groups you work with- there’s a “their” there- there’s like APEX or the CIOSC. There’s no “Their” there for this Regional Digital Government Summit”. It’s just a bunch of people got together and talked about stuff.
But we made a decision that we actually are announcing today that we are going to make two FWD50 virtual tickets free to any public servant, per municipality, territory, state, or province in the world. So all of the digital nations- if Estonia comes in and they can go, “Hey, Tallinn, you get two passes”, “Hey Victoria, you get two passes”, “Hey, Edmonton, you get two passes”, because we figured this is a great way to roll out the red carpet for Canada. So we just launched this today. I know it’s a bit of a plug, but I think that one of the reasons that we wanted to get the Regional Digital Government Summit [00:40:00] happening at FWD50 was because these problems are not going to get solved by any one jurisdiction. You know, if you’re in charge of Quebec, well, there’s this other thing- there’s Montreal. And then there’s the rest of Quebec and sure, there’s Quebec City and a few others, but you know, you have these- Canada’s a unique country and we have these very, very large anchor municipalities. So we talked about how the provinces and territories work with the federal government when the industry was on. Maybe we can talk about how that works at the municipal level. How do you find yourselves interacting with municipal leaders? So Jaimie, how much of your time is Vancouver and Victoria versus British Columbia?
Jaimie Boyd: [00:40:40] Yeah, for me, it’s almost entirely in the province. We’ve got our own challenges, but the cities are absolutely really, really important and strong collaborators. You know, so often, especially in the data space, if people are consuming data, they don’t care really, which order of government that data is coming from. [00:41:00] They just want to get their hands on the data, same thing for service provision, right? And I think that there’s huge opportunity for that collaboration between orders of government.
One of the really exciting things that we did out of the BC government over the last few months was using the BC services card to enable accreditation with the federal government. So if you’re a British Colombian, and you’re going to go file your taxes, everybody else in Canada can use their, MyCRA login or their financial institution login. If you’re from British Columbia, you can now use your BC services card, and we’re rolling out the same thing for access to employment insurance and that sort of thing. So really, just understanding that, you know, the public sector- people shouldn’t have to navigate the orders of government. They should just be able to have a seamless service experience regardless of who it is that they’re dealing with. So often, we focused on what that looks like for interaction between our ministries within our governments. I would argue that there are just massive opportunities. We see not in the open data space, aligning data standards across Canada, [00:42:00] regardless of which government is contributing the data. I would argue that digital services is the next frontier for that kind of integration. Just huge opportunities.
Alistair Croll: [00:42:10] Some of the other stuff that we struck on when we were getting started with this conversation was the line between public and private sector. We all think it’s fine that the government builds highways, but we don’t have a federal broadband program for example. And you know, the Canadian government has a unique history in that we created Petro Canada, in part, in response to spiraling oil prices during the oil crisis, as a way for the government to sort of regulate things by being a provider of gasoline that could therefore force other providers not to charge exorbitant amounts because otherwise, you just go sit in line at Petro Canada. Is it time to build a crown corporation for broadband and technology?
Jaimie Boyd: [00:42:53] I think that there are really good things that we can be doing better on a cross-sector basis. The CIO [00:43:00] Strategy Council is huge. You know, just yesterday coming out with a digital identity standard. We’ve seen data standards, we’ve seen standards around ethical AI coming out of that cross-sector body. Increasingly, I think, some of the challenges that we grapple with in the private and public sector are going to be similar and we can collaborate better, right? You know, here in British Columbia on the topic of broadband, we have really close collaboration with private sector entities. Telus in particular and it’s- you know, they’re a critical partner in providing the services we do, but I’d actually take it out- you know, make it not domain specific, going beyond broadband. We can collaborate more effectively across sectors. We can make our procurement systems easier than BC. We’ve invested heavily in Sprint With Us and Code With Us, which are two procurement programs for getting money out the door faster so that we can get tech talent in the door faster. And those things, yes, they’re challenging to set up. Yeah, you spend a lot of time with, you know, your friendly lawyers. But in the end, it [00:44:00] means it’s the difference between shipping great services quickly to the people we’re trying to serve. And that’s the point of what we’re doing here.
Alistair Croll: [00:44:08] Have the rest of you in the provinces had success coordinating with the private sector to produce outcomes? Or, how much of this is happening at the provincial level as Jamie says, and how much of it is “Well, BC did it, so now we’re going to piggyback on their work”?
Dave Heffernan: [00:44:27] I think here it’s mainly happening at the public sector level. We don’t have a lot of collaboration with the private sector here. It’s more federal and provincial/territorial.
Aaron Snow: [00:44:35] And there are definitely developments, right? In cooperation at the federal provisions of- and Jaimie’s smiling because one of the things that’s happening is that, you know, I think there’s absolutely joint recognition that Jaimie has been one of the people responsible for driving a digital platform for government, right? Not just the federal [00:45:00] government or just a provincial government, but for governments in Canada, is a useful and efficiency-yielding and consistency-yielding and user experience-yielding investment, right? And so, we’re getting little creeping bits of it, you know, the COVID alert app is certainly one example. The notify service is another, and we think there’s absolutely a lot of runway left to invest in there.
Alistair Croll: [00:45:31] Aaron, I think it was you that brought up earlier this idea that we need to- it’s not enough to make sure the country, that the government, is sort of secure and resilient. I mentioned at the outset that when we used to go to war, there was a frontline and people fought on the frontline. And today, because our surface is social media and our online personas and the accounts on which we ally, [00:46:00] you know, we’re at a place where a foreign government could, if they wanted to interfere with a citizen effectively deplatform that system through identity theft, through phishing, through, you know, saying things that were attributed to them, which got other people to reject them or ignore them. You can marginalize or deplatform a citizen from a foreign soil and everybody’s on the front line. And that’s- I don’t think we’ve seen that yet, but you know, in the next couple of years, when you start to see foreign nation states deplatforming citizens and making them effectively enemy combatants on their own land, that’s a weird situation.
You mentioned that, one of the roles of government is to prepare businesses for that. And I think it was you, Aaron, but what are you collectively doing to work with the private sector to ensure that the society we have is reasonably resilient?
Aaron Snow: [00:46:51] Oh gosh, I think it was Hillary.
Alistair Croll: [00:46:53] Was it Hillary? I’m sorry, I’m having a hard time here. I keep calling Hillary- obviously you’re smart because I keep crediting [00:47:00] everybody else and the things you’re saying.
Aaron Snow: [00:47:05] Gosh. I mean, I actually think that the things we’re talking about are the very things that will make us more resilient in that respect. The fact that there are lots of different identity and authentication solutions, all floating separately out there, it means that there are more vulnerabilities out there, right? Each one is getting invested in less- you know, they’re in various stages of decay and legacy and so on. So, you know, investing in a common digital platform that we all consider first tier- a priority infrastructure- the same way that we would with our electric systems, our gas systems, et cetera, right up at the top of the list of how to make our digital identity more resilient.
Alistair Croll: [00:47:54] And Dominique, Dave, and Rick, can you talk a little bit about what you’re doing with the private sector [00:48:00] to sort of make them more resilient? If we, as a society, are going to start depending on this technology for digital government?
Rick Wind: [00:48:07] Well, I’ll start maybe from a perspective of a smaller jurisdiction that doesn’t have a particularly robust IT sector in the Northwest Territories. But we’re starting to look- and this is somewhat driven by COVID actually, and the reality that we saw such a strong anchoring of cybersecurity attacks to the COVID messaging, exploiting that vulnerability in society. And so, we are- for the first time, actually, my security team is starting to look at what is our obligation to educating public and small private sector business, and cottage industry and things like that about cyber risk and working with the Canadian Center for Cyber Security and other institutions to get information out and to take a little bit more of a leadership role.
Historically, we have been pretty much focused within our territorial government boundaries, with [00:49:00] some collaboration, with other layers of government, but we’ve really had to rethink that now. And we’ll be looking at strategies for messaging and communication and education and extending our own internal- potentially extending our own internal education platforms, to the private sector or to the public in general, because there’s such a need for it.
Alistair Croll: [00:49:23] It does seem like they used to have those things on PBS, the “I’m just a bill on Capitol Hill”. I’m sure the Americans on the call understand those, but it seems like we could be doing the same kind of Schoolhouse Rock for digital awareness and sort of citizen education, right? Where’s the Schoolhouse Rock for this stuff?
Rick Wind: [00:49:41] Well, exactly. I actually think it’s probably a tenant that needs to be built into our public safety frameworks, to be honest with you, across the country, and just be one of the pillars of public safety, going forward. But you know, we’re early days still, but I think we recognize an obligation there.
Alistair Croll: [00:49:59] How about you, [00:50:00] Dominique? What are you doing in Alberta around public, private preparation for cyber resiliency?
Dominique Bohn: [00:50:06] I can’t really add much to what’s been said. Very similar, you know, for sure.
Alistair Croll: [00:50:10] Alright, and Dave, anything going on in Newfoundland different from that?
Dave Heffernan: [00:50:15] No, I think I already mentioned that as well, but, you know, we work with some local organizations like our Newfoundland Labrador Association of Technology Industries and groups like that to try and help. But I would say more and more along the lines that Rick said, we’re more internally focused on, you know, what our limited resource on just trying to make sure we are resilient.
Alistair Croll: [00:50:36] Okay.
Dominique Bohn: [00:50:38] I mean, this is a little bit adjacent to what you’re actually talking about, but I think it’s interesting. I mean, what we’re looking at a lot is where can we actually work with- especially with small, local, you know, startups with private sector to actually deliver services together. And what does that really look like? You know, we do a lot of work in the courts and justice and legal space, and, you know, there’s really interesting [00:51:00] startup companies in Canada who are providing legal software that actually enables, say, the profession, say, firms, to submit documents. This sounds so boring. Again, sorry, but it’s really huge. And actually, it is better for them to build that. It is better for us to think about the API and security and to actually have those companies do that development. I mean, of course I want to own all of it, but it really doesn’t make sense, you know, given our demands for efficiency. If we can do that central, data regulation, API bill, that kind of thing. There’s a real opportunity, you know what I mean? Like for us, I think we need to do that as government, to actually be encouraging that kind of thing and make it feasible for those companies to be able to build that way, right? So I think- and the supports, I mean, we have a great local talent, great schools, great universities that are turning out [00:52:00] amazing digital professionals. Of course, we want to bring a lot of them into government, but we also want to give them an opportunity more on the enterprise side, to being enterprising, you know? To help us deliver those services, right?
Alistair Croll: [00:52:14] So Hillary, since I keep attributing your great ideas to other people, we are almost out of time, but I thought I’d give you the last word here. You have been involved in governments in lots of parts of the world. What’s the biggest- what change do you wish in your heart of hearts? You can wave a magic wand and it would fix things. If you had- you get one wish, just one, and you get to fix a thing, and it can’t be “Hillary is in charge of everything and everything”, you know? It’s got to be a reasonable- it can’t be “I get as many wishes as I want”. There’s no cheating. But what would the thing be that would most accelerate fair, equal, inclusive, [00:53:00] digital accessibility to citizens everywhere in your mind? Not to put you on the spot, but what do you wish you could sort of wave a wand and it would fix stuff?
Hillary Hartley: [00:53:15] It actually has very little to do with product. You know, I’ve said a couple of times publicly, so hopefully this won’t get me in trouble, but that I could wave a magic wand and make the Ontario public service a product-driven organization today, that that would get us 50% of the way there. You know, we have the skills, we have the capacity, we have the product mentality with product managers and we’re agile and we’re doing things the way that we would love to do them. That would get us a good portion of the way there. But the other piece of it, honestly, is- and this isn’t specific to the Ontario government- this is about government. And our, you know, I hate to use the B word, but the bureaucracy that we put [00:54:00] around funding, and planning, and funding and planning. It will not allow us to operate that way. You know, our machinery right now does not allow us to start small and fail, and start small and scale. We got to go in big, we got to go all in. We have to, you know, plan for the out years and I understand that we have to do that. We have to learn new ways of thinking around that, but we also need to have some machinery that allows us to take small bets that allows us to invest in people, invest in ideas and go with them. So for me, the magic wand is really a bit more about the machinery around budgeting and planning.
Alistair Croll: [00:54:51] That’s a pretty good answer for an off the cuff answer, well done. So, we’re at the end of the hour here. If you’re just listening in, people are [00:55:00] clapping with their emojis. But, this is a fascinating conversation. We have not entirely defined what we’re going to talk about for the Regional Digital Government Summit, which is happening on November 6th, as part of FWD50. All of you are obviously there and I’m going to ask unabashedly for you to invite all of the people that you know, like that person in the basement of a city who’s convinced they can save the world by building some Google forms or putting things in a spreadsheet and nobody listens to them and they know they can make the world a better place. We want those people to come and realize they’re not alone. And I think that’s something that many of you can show them. I think it’s the lemonade of COVID is the realization that we can build things that are quickly and important and useful, and I think maybe demonstrations of necessity.
So I think if I had to pick a theme for the RDGS this year, how do we become [00:56:00] product-driven is a really good one because you’re right. That is, as a product manager myself, that feels like familiar territory, but the ability to iterate, and do MVPs and release things in order and do tests and so on. What Taiwan is doing with their gov zero, where you can just change one word in the URL and see the prototype and then switch back to the real world. It’s a very product centric mentality. So I think that is a fascinating topic for us to pick up at the Regional Digital Government Summit in November.
So, thank you all very much for spending time today. I know you all have provinces to go save, important things to do, and it’s, candidly, great to see familiar faces and meet some new ones. So I really appreciate you all joining here and, hopefully, we’ll see you all online and in person sometime soon, and online sooner than that. So, again, this is something we try to do every couple of weeks to keep in touch with people who are changing the world, both in Canada and elsewhere. And, I really appreciate you all joining us for this FWDThinking [00:57:00] conversation. This will be published on the FWD50 YouTube channel, but also on busrides.ca, which is an initiative of the Canada School of Public Service Digital Academy so that people can listen to this stuff as sort of snackable content as the commute or go to work. And if we can be of any assistance or if you have any other questions, we can handle this offline. I’m sure when this goes live, people will want to tweet at you and ask questions about it. But thank you all very much for your candor and for being here today, it’s been great to catch up with all of you.
Dave Heffernan: [00:57:32] Thanks for the opportunity, Alistair.
Rick Wind: [00:57:35] Thank you very much.
Dominique Bohn: [00:57:37] Thank you.