Ontario wants to be a smart province

TORONTO – It’s no surprise that if you can order from a Sears catalogue without ever leaving the comfort of your living room, Canadians would want the same degree of accessibility to government services, said the Ontario minister of economic development and trade.

Sandra Pupatello said when it comes to government registration forms, birth certificates or the like, the ability to interact with a variety of basic services online is the expectation of today’s citizens.

“People don’t care that they’ve entered into a new ministry, they just expect us to get it right,” she said.

Getting the back-end right is of little concern to end users who just want that broad accessibility, she added.

Pupatello spoke at the Toronto Forum for Global Cities on Tuesday where various thought leaders assembled to discuss smart economic development.

The province of Ontario, said Pupatello, launched the Service Ontario Web site, which will align with Service Canada site, to allow Ontarians to interact online for basic services.

“It’s allowing us to interact with citizenry in a different way that automatically is faster because of technology,” she said.

The move towards better information access through integration is an expensive and complex challenge given siloed systems but Ontario has no choice but to catch up with the rest of the world, said Pupatello.

But the adoption of technology isn’t just mandatory for citizens’ access to basic government services. The province of Ontario is applying that approach to the business sector by making it easier for potential investors around the world to find and access information about Ontario’s business landscape.

To that end, the provincial government has built a Web site to make available the type of information that potential investors would want to know. Pull-down screens show information by areas like sector and geography, as well as details on post-secondary education and industry-specific training programs within particular regions.

“Our goal is to have as much information for the answer to continually be ‘yes’ so that we’ll constantly be whittled down to that short list for potential investors,” said Pupatello.

Recent research from IBM Corp. that surveyed 250 organizations around the world involved in economic development identified current trends impacting businesses and investors.

Besides globalization, changing labour force (age, location) and corporate responsibility, the pervasiveness of technology progress and the increasing power of the consumer through blogs and social networking were listed as “mega trends.”

Among examples of this pervasive technology progress were smart grids to manage utilities, smart buildings that redirected heat generated from data centres to warm warehouses, and Web sites for basic citizen services.

Chris Gibbon, vice-president of global social services and social security with IBM global services, said these mega trends are shaping how business leaders view the business of the future.

For instance, he said, the emerging tack is to understand clients not from the traditional perspective of a large multi-national enterprise, but of a smaller collaborative community “and how value propositions can be built.”