Bold, Digital Government

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October 20, 2017
Video Title - Transcript

Unidentified Female: (Off microphone.) Alex, it’s time for your (inaudible).

Alex Benay: All right. So I guess this is where these guys are going to want to start hearing about exponential government versus linear government, what actually that may mean in a Canadian context.

So I guess for us, if you’re going to start hearing us talk about exponential more, it means doing more things with more people. It actually means removing the barriers to access government, whether you’re municipal, provincial or federal, working together with a whole bunch of other industries. If you think about Open Science and how NASA is doing more and more of its science or how the European Union is talking about doing Open Science as a default mechanism, we have a lot of catching up to do in Canada because the world, unfortunately, is changing around us so fast, and it will continue to change around us at a pace that we may never actually be able to catch up.

So it actually means we have to change the leadership culture from one – and not just leadership at the top levels, but at all levels as to how we choose to engage as public sector. We used to live in an environment for the last 150 years in Canada where the information was protected and safeguarded. We may actually have to start considering how the information is released real time more and more, so that we could actually do more open science, more open innovation. That’s a complete culture change.

That means we’re actually challenging the status quo of what it means to be a Westminster style government in the sense that some of those – some of those preconceived notions of governance are changing in a digital environment at a very, very rapid rate, so we have to look at our culture internally in the public service. This isn’t a technology conversation; this is purely a human conversation.

So do we have the right levels of representation of women in tech? Do we have the right diversity of opinion? Do we have enough youth in the environments that we work in right now because I mean if you look at it, most of the new billionaires in the world are under 30. The world has been completely transformed by platform economies, and what’s to say that the public sector is any different?

You know when – when is it going to be the time where government, just like the hotel industry for AirBnB or transportation industry with Uber, actually gets platformed? So we don’t want to get to that stage. So we have to look at our people. We have to ask ourselves if we’ve given them the right opportunity to succeed. We have to look at policies that may or may not be a little bit outdated considering the world we live in and the digital change and the pace of change that we’re living.

Also very much in an interconnected society, we ultimately have to look at how we conduct our business as government. What’s the impact on some of our financial institutions when AI becomes a thing? What if government doesn’t do AI by then because our pace of change may or may not be at the same pace as other sectors? I mean those are fundamental building block questions that we have to start answering. So I mean there’s no better time to be in public sector tech, really.

So yeah, it’s going to be quite a bit of fun. The next couple of years should be great, if I can get through some of these interviews. Unfortunately, I’m not able to be with you guys in Japan. I’m going to be in a small town in Canada called Waterloo because we’ll be releasing our first-ever open-by-default pilot project, which means that some of our government contents actually are going to start being released real time, similar to what we’ve just talked about here.

So yeah, that’s the reason why I’m not in Japan. I heard it’s a great group. I’m sorry I’m not there. You’re going to be in really good hands with Jennifer that’s going to take all the questions. I get the easy job, I talk to the camera, but she’s going to have to ask – answer everybody’s questions on stage, so.

I’ve been blogging periodically here on open.canada.ca, but felt it was time for something a bit different. What I would like to start doing is providing a regular update on what I’m up to, what my team is working on, and the direction of IT for the Government of Canada.

So starting today, you’re going to see regular blogs from me, here on open.canada.ca. I’ve always been a champion of Open by Default, and I hope this space will serve as an expansion of that.

ICA Conference, Tokyo, Japan.

Back in the summer I was asked to attend the annual ICA Conference, which took place in Tokyo, Japan, and focused on Bold Digital Government: Leading through Disruption. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend, as I was participating in our first ever Open by Default procurement pilot project in Waterloo, ON.

In lieu of travelling to Japan, I was asked to do a quick video to provide an update on what the Government of Canada was doing, and how the government was adapting to new technologies. The video that you see here is just a portion of the full video presentation.

I wanted to also share a few key points from the video that I think are extremely important for civil servants and members of a digitally enabled society to keep in mind.

Process never tops leadership

Processes can be helpful, but they shouldn’t top good judgement, and they shouldn’t top true leadership. If there’s something we as the Government of Canada should be doing, or people we should be empowering, process is never a good reason to say no.

Yes, the Government of Canada is a large institution, and with that size comes processes and approvals. But we can also be adaptive, responsive, and agile. Our success, and really our relevance to Canadians, depends on this.

Breaking down barriers

You’re going to start hearing us talk about exponential more; it means doing more things with more people. It actually means removing the barriers to access government, whether you’re municipal, provincial or federal, or working together with a whole bunch of other industries.

Two ways that we’re doing this right now are through the creation of both a Digital Youth Advisory Committee (#DigitalYAC) and a Digital Advisory Board. The Digital Youth Advisory Committee was launched to ensure that the Government of Canada is integrating the youth perspective into digital initiatives across the Government of Canada. The Digital Advisory Board is a new space for government to interact with experts in the public and private sector, where we can seek strategic and informal advice on digital government, and digital transformation.

Women in tech

Does the Government of Canada have the right levels of representation of women in tech? Do we, as an organization, have the right diversity of opinion? Do we have enough youth in the environments that we work in right now? To me, the answer is not yet.

We also need to learn how to better celebrate our own people, and put them on track to lead the public service of tomorrow. This means providing a pathway to IM/IT leadership, and it means showcasing the stories of our top talent so that people contemplating a career in the public sector can see firsthand the many diverse career paths that successful leaders in the government IM/IT community take.

Let’s keep this conversation going

As said, this is the first of many blogs to come. I hope you found this informative and inspiring.

There’s a comment box below, or you can email the Open Government team at open-ouvert@tbs-sct.gc.ca.

Alex Benay currently serves as the Chief Information Officer of the Government of Canada. Prior to this appointment, Alex was the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation since July 2014.

From 2011 to 2014, he was Vice-President of Government Affairs and Business Development at OpenText. He has played a leadership role in Canada’s digital industry, as well as in promoting the global shift to digital in organizations such as the G20, the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Olympics. Before joining OpenText, Alex managed various teams and programs at the Canadian International Development Agency, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, Natural Resources Canada, and Library and Archives Canada.

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Very informative and useful information, thank you.

You are speaking my language. I love it.

I'm pretty impressed by this. It seems like a really exciting way to give senior civil servants a voice, to create a more transparent, tuned-in exchange...maybe even a dialogue (!) with the public. Do more! Let's see where this goes.