Big benefits that could come out of the government’s smaller IT environment

Digital Canada 150 has been discussed for its impact on business, but it could also change the way Ottawa serves citizens

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Digital Canada 150 — the feds’ digital roadmap that’s been four years in the making — has implications for individuals and businesses, but also for government itself.

While the document has been criticized for its lack of strategy and measurable targets, it does, at the very least, acknowledge that government needs to get with the times. And, it’s tackling some of the foundational issues of digital government, which is the back-end infrastructure itself.

During the unveiling of our national digital strategy earlier this month, Industry Minister James Moore talked about modernizing government to “finally catch up to the 21st century.” And that means building government infrastructure for smartphones, not desktops.

The strategy involves building upon the government’s new web presence to provide a one-stop-shop for information and services, which includes multi-platform accessibility.

In other words, it’s working toward an omni-channel approach to government, where citizens can access services more easily through any channel they choose.

But even big-brand retailers with lots of money for IT projects are struggling with this. It’s a massive undertaking, to say the least. So how is government, with its many silos, going to tackle it?

It starts with breaking down those silos. Thankfully, this is being addressed, in part, through Shared Services Canada, which is aimed at consolidating back-end infrastructure to save money and streamline operations.

You don’t need me to tell you about government’s myriad systems, tools, networks and data centres across departments, agencies and levels of government.

But there’s a plan to consolidate 60 different email systems down to one platform, merge 485 data centres into seven, and merge 3,000 networks into a single telecommunications network infrastructure (although there isn’t a lot of detail on when or how this will happen).

And the Open Government Directive for federal departments and agencies will help to create a common set of practices across government.

Of course, when it comes to digital government, we’re lagging behind on the world stage. To truly be a leader, we need to offer citizens the ability to engage with government online, at any time, on any device of their choosing.

This clearly isn’t going to happen overnight. But it’s time to start coming up with goals — ones with measurable targets and results — even if those aren’t outlined in the Digital Canada 150 strategy.

Consolidation is important; it’s going to save money and streamline operations. But if you’re in IT, you need to start thinking about how you can use this consolidated infrastructure to provide better service to citizens. This touches on everything from using cloud services to unified communications.

Because with consolidation — and a focus on “open data,” where the feds will provide access to data in usable formats — comes a foundation for true innovation, such as the omni-channel.

Ultimately, citizens don’t care how many networks or data centres the government has, but they will care about being able to easily access health or tax information on their mobile phone. They will care about the omni-channel, even if they don’t know what the omni-channel is.

We can focus on what’s lacking in the Digital Canada 150 strategy, or we can figure out how to address the gaps to make digital government work — and truly become a leader.

 

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