Q and A: David Tsubouchi

When David Tsubouchi, chair of Ontario’s Management Board of Cabinet, is asked about the forthcoming Showcase Ontario 2003, his enthusiasm quickly becomes evident.

“It’s a positive thing for us,” Tsubouchi said of the province’s annual I&IT conference, exhibition and awards event. “It gives us a chance to do a little bragging and show the things we’re doing in government. It also allows the private sector to understand that we are interested in their ideas [and] we are interested in working with them.”

In addition to sharing his thoughts on Showcase Ontario in a recent conversation with Assistant Editor Blair McQuillan, Tsubouchi also talked about some of the province’s e-government projects, the impact those projects have had on citizens and the challenges Ontario has faced in delivering electronic programs and services.

Excerpts from their conversation follow:

Q. What are some of the e-government projects Ontario is currently involved in which you see most positively affecting the lives of citizens?

A. The ones I like to talk about are the ones I was involved with in other ministries because I know a little bit about them. One of the things I think is really important right now is the justice cluster’s major case management initiative. This is a result of Judge Archie Campbell’s report into the impact of the Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka investigation and trial. As a result of that, we knew we had to connect the various police jurisdictions and share information. The major case management system is really what we needed for recognition of serial predators.

Another thing we did in that area was the sex offender registry. Once again it was the sharing of information. I think right now – especially with the tragic death of Holly Jones – this is where this sort of initiative is becoming more important. And this does have an impact on people’s lives.

Ontario Business Connects came into being when I was the minister of what is now the Ministry of Consumer and Business Services. Obviously, we were looking for better ways of doing things. I used to be a lawyer, and even as a student it never made sense to me to have to line up to register documents for businesses when you can do it electronically. We can now move the transactions along more quickly and business is done. It also makes it more attractive for us to do business here in Ontario.

Q. What sort of impact have you seen with the Ontario Business Connects initiative?

A. It’s had a huge customer satisfaction rating. I said from the very beginning that if you make things more convenient for people, then you’re going to have more registrations and more people accessing us. It’s not rocket science.

Look at a simple thing like registering an unincorporated business. How many people start a business but don’t register it because it’s inconvenient? You used to have to go down to University Avenue to register it or you could mail it, in which case you’d get a response in six to eight weeks. In many cases, we’re dealing with single-person businesses, and during the course of the day, they don’t have time to register because they’re busy running their company. You should make it easy for people to get to your services – especially if they can access them from their home or office. Then they’ll use them and everyone gains out of it, including the consumer and government.

Q. Go e 2003 has been a major initiative this year. How has it been received by Ontario citizens?

A. If you’re going to do something with the intention of making it more accessible, quicker and better for the customer, I think you can expect the customer to be satisfied with what you’re doing. This is really what’s happening here. We had a huge take-up of our electronic government services. More than four out of five Ontarians believe that increased emphasis on technology by the government is a move in the right direction and 75 per cent of businesses are now online.

Q.What are some of the challenges Ontario faces in implementing e-government services?

A. I’m going to get philosophical on you here. People – either in large institutions like government or large corporations – generally don’t like to take chances. There’s always the risk assessment element to things.

Innovation itself requires risk. You can’t advance without having some degree of risk, which means there’s some degree of failure. Management has to be able to understand that, in order to progress, you have to take some degree of risk.

We have to embrace change, but when you do that, everyone has to embrace the change. That means all ministries. And one of the good things I think we’ve done is that Greg Georgeff has been able to work as the CCIO in trying to break down those silos across different ministries. He gets them to buy into the idea of e-government. Unless you do that, you can’t have all of these component parts trying to advance in different directions at the same time. It won’t work. You have to have some degree of leadership as well.

We need to have…cooperation because we all need to buy into the vision of innovation.

Q. So we talked about the challenges Ontario faces in implementing e-government, but what are the challenges your province faces that others don’t?

A. Part of it is because we’re so big, but secondly, we also have a very educated and informed group of citizens in Ontario. Once you have that, they create a huge demand for the services because they know the potential is there to do it and they also know what can be done to make their lives easier. We have citizens who are aware and they’re wired. So of course there’s going to be a greater demand. That’s why we have that kind of demand in Ontario. That’s why it needs to be a priority for us in government.

It also empowers our employees here -especially under Greg Georgeff in the I&IT area. They strongly believe this is the direction we should be taking too, and you need to be sure they can move forward with that enthusiasm. When you have your civil servants who are happy with, and enthusiastic about, the direction we’re taking e-government, that can’t help but translate into good service for our customers.

Q. What sort of evolution have you seen in e-government programs and services in recent years?

A. We have a philosophy here about having four dimensions for moving forward with the evolution of e-government. The first one is direct service delivery. It makes sense. It’s been very successful and I think we’ve all bought into it.

But we also need to look at driving reform for these silos of health, education, justice and transportation, among others. We need to reform that so we all buy into the philosophy of embracing change.

The third thing we want to do is make sure we have better engagement of our citizens in the operation of government and decision making. I think that’s something that’s done in the United States right now. They have a better way for citizens to link in immediately in terms of proposed legislation and things like that. No matter where I’ve been, I’ve always thought that we need to consult with stakeholders and the general public. What better way of doing it is there available than doing it electronically? You’ve got instant response. How much better can you do than that? It’s also cheaper.

The last part is streamlining our internal operations, which is good for me as management board chair to look at because it saves money. But then it allows us to really invest what we save in new directions. We need to have the best of innovation and the best of technology to help us for the benefit of the people in this province.

Blair McQuillan ( bmcquillan@itworldcanada.com) is assistant editor of CIO Governments’ Review.