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Canadian Digital Government – Platform for a World Leading Digital Nation


The keystone foundation for a digital nation is the online capability of the government – ‘Digital Government’.

With regards to the goal of Canada becoming the world’s leading digital nation, it is especially pertinent to highlight that as they reported in 2004, the nation led as the world’s number one at that time, in the field of E-Government, the precursor to Digital Government.

With a change in administration the focus on technology innovation dropped away and with that so did Canada’s standing, since being surpassed by countries like Estonia, who now boast an entirely end-to-end digital public service.

Digital Government – There’s an App for That

In his TEDx talk Scott Brison described how the government intends to return to this leadership position, a mission as bring the capabilities of the digital native leaders, like Netflix and Amazon, to the principles of Digital Government.

He highlights how these innovators have adapted rapidly to the new digital world and deliver online services that are so simple and intuitive his four year old children can quite happily navigate them via an iPad. But yet online governments still struggle to achieve this same streamlined ease of use.

We can’t be a Blockbuster government serving a Netflix citizenry

How can we create that digital startup mindset in government is the key question he believes will ignite that same transformation, citing the example of the huge failure of Obamacare prompting President Obama created a digital startup in the heart of USA Government IT to tap the Silicon Valley effect for their Digital Government systems.

The principle change is in how government IT is built – Moving from slow, waterfall methods to an agile, work-in-the-open approach, where releases are delivered quickly and iteratively to users to ensure the goal of user-friendly systems is being met in real-time.

With contributions from industry, academic, and government experts ― including Hillary Hartley, chief digital officer for Ontario, and Salim Ismail, founder of Singularity University ― Government Digital lays down a blueprint for this radical change.

Digital Government Action Plan

Alex Benay, recently CIO for Canada and author of Government Digital, shares eight essential points that governments must adopt in the 21st century in this Youtube video :

  1. Digital is everything we do. IT is no longer a back-office function, it’s the entirety of how government needs to work.
  2. From linear to exponential. The snail-like RFP procurement approach that takes years to deliver big bang projects is no longer fit for purpose. Agencies must work within high velocity digital ecosystems.
  3. Policy and legislation needs to keep up. The lawmaking procedures must change the same way. Countries that change their laws to accommodate trends like Blockchain will be the economic winners of the 21st century.
  4. Operate in the Open – New tools are available to work openly and engage citizens and stakeholders and should be used as much as possible.
  5. Embrace the digital community – Accept the fact government is no longer the sole expert and work collaboratively with others in key areas like AI.
  6. Adopt open source software – Especially in front-facing, customer engagement areas where this can encourage collaboration with sectors like academia.
  7. Harness the Gig Economy – HR practices must also transform and adapt to the new world, becoming more agile and able to harness those seeking more of a gig economy portfolio career.
  8. Digital First mindset – An absolute foundation of success is that wherever possible the first option for service delivery should be digital.

Open Sourcing Best Practices

A key technique for accelerating progress is for agencies to openly share the innovations and best practices they develop, so that other agencies can learn from and emulate them. The GC Digital team are pioneering the use of open source practices and technologies to make these resources more accessible and reusable.

For example they offer their Digital Transformation Playbook online via a Google presentation, and it is also published as a Github repo. The Playbook is one of a number of programs within an overall Github presence for the Canadian Government; other key resources include the Open Data Toolkit and the Web Experience Toolkit.

On this page Canadian digital projects are listed as products, categorized by their lifecycle stage of Discovery, Alpha, Beta and Live. For example one product in production is Impact Canada, a scalable, reusable platform that creates new opportunities for innovators and entrepreneurs to help solve Canada’s biggest challenges.

By open sourcing the code and methods it means this capability can be easily reused for other projects and reinventing the wheel avoided. The competition challenge model is a common format for encouraging Open Innovation and could be reused across a multitude of different scenarios, meaning the original investment yields a much larger ROI for taxpayers, and makes sharing of best practices considerably easier.

Cloud-Powered Digital Government : Canadian Case Studies

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