Feds seek to be service providers

The Government of Canada has to radically rethink its business processes — putting citizens at the centre of its services and how they are delivered, said Helen McDonald, Acting CIO, Government of Canada.

Delivering the keynote address at the recent GTEC Week 2004 public sector IT conference in Ottawa, McDonald articulated a vision for the delivery of government services that are personalized, citizen-focused, and integrated across ministries, departments and agencies. To achieve this vision, she said, the Feds would need to adopt a different manner of operating.

“We must manage our services — not as 160 departments and agencies — but as a single enterprise, the Government of Canada enterprise.”

For starters, she said, the Federal Government needs to adopt a common view of business lines and clients. “The client may be the struggling startup or small business; it may be the person with disabilities, the senior citizen, or the foreign student coming here to study. The fact is we share these clients. They are not unique to any one program. So we must take a common view of their needs and then consolidate our service offerings so as to serve them in the best way possible.”

McDonald said the federal government needs to provide personalized service to clients across diverse channels. “To do this we will need to create a technical, business and information exchange infrastructure that allows services to be put together in any way the client wants.”

McDonald described how such an infrastructure could dramatically transform how citizens, clients and taxpayers access government services. “What if Canadians could receive their benefits without the need to apply or use forms?” she asked. “What if we could use information already available with the Canadian Customs and Revenue Agency (CCRA) to deliver your pension to you? What if you could comply with tax requirements, without the need to file tax reports annually? What if we could resolve most issues on the first contact with government instead of bouncing them from place to place? What if all Canadians could receive information from one place irrespective of who owns the information or service?”

These scenarios, she suggested, are not gee-whiz fiction, nor years down the road.

The “first contact” principle and “unified information retrieval” concepts are part of what’s now referred to as Service Canada – a one-stop shop for a range of Canadian government services. She said the CCRA and other federal departments are collaborating on a “My Account” initiative that would give Canadians a single view of their accounts, programs and benefits with government.

Likewise, she said, CCRA is working to set up a single registration site for businesses, while Industry Canada had teamed up with several provinces on a venture, dubbed BizPal, that streamlines and simplifies the business licensing process.

Meanwhile, many such innovative projects were honoured with Distinction Awards during the Gala ceremony held later that evening. Gold Award winning projects included Record of Employment Web (Innovative Service Delivery to Citizens and Businesses category), High Arctic Data Communications System Mark II (Enhancing Government Operations category) and Service Availability Improvement Project (Supporting IM/IT category).

Some of these projects have translated into huge cost savings for beneficiaries – as well as the government departments spearheading them.

For instance, the ROE Web — a secure, Web-based application used by thousands of small and large businesses to submit forms online — saves employers and the government a significant amount of time and money, while enhancing security and accuracy.

McDonald detailed the significant strides made by Canada in e-government, especially over the past five years. “Since 1999, we’ve put commonly used services online and we’re continuing to improve their functionality.”

The Internet, she said, is the second-most-frequently used channel to reach government, and 24 per cent of government transactions are now conducted online. “That’s because Canadians trust their privacy and security will be looked after.”

And security and privacy aren’t the only benefits. McDonald said Secure Channel — the name for the Canadian government’s service infrastructure — isn’t the most suitable term as it emphasizes only the security aspect of the initiative. “The Secure Channel infrastructure enables much more than security. It provides a full range of services…e-payment, client registration, credentials management and much more.”

She said this infrastructure is also a crucial enabler as it allows the integration of services across government. McDonald said a client-focused approach can and has led to measurable improvements in service quality and that in the past five years overall satisfaction has increased seven percent.

The Canadian government, she said, has been recognized as the world leader in e-government for four years in a row by analyst firm Accenture. The Accenture report commended what it called Canada’s “focus on self examination and its relentless pursuit of user feedback (qualities that) have allowed it to continue to build what is clearly one of the world leading customer focused government online programs.”