View From The TopAn Interview with the CIO of the Government of Canada

What was your background prior to coming to the job of CIO for the federal government of Canada?

I would describe my background as eclectic. I am not a technologist, but having led the task force on electronic commerce, I have a sense of the potential for the transformation that is brought about by using information technology – for it to bring government closer to citizens and to make government more citizen-focussed. I have a good team that is very technology-savvy and that counterbalances my lack of specific technical knowledge. I also have a very strong policy background that enables me to look at what the cross-cutting issues are, and I’ve spent a fair amount of time in other departments and agencies so that the cross-government approach to issues is something I’m very familiar with. And as we are trying to get Government On-Line* across departments and agencies – looking at the benefits, the requirements and the need for cooperation across government – having that experience is very useful.

What was the federal government’s biggest IT-related challenge of the past year?

At the beginning of 2000 we spent a lot of time dealing with the closing of activities surrounding Y2K, but an even greater amount of time was spent planning and putting together the foundations for the Government On-Line initiative. It was announced in February 2000 that funding for that initiative would start April 1.

Can you explain what the plan is for the electronic delivery of government services?

We had a specific commitment to establish at least a presence on the Internet for all government programs and services, as well as to revamp the Canada web site [] – the main gate-way to federal government information services – by December 2000, and that was accomplished. That was the first stage of what we called Tier One of the planning.

As citizens use our information services more actively we get a better understanding of how they would like the in-formation organized, which is why, as part of the web-site revamp, we organized information around three major clusters: information services for citizens, for business, and for non-Canadians or non-residents [people visiting or settling in Canada, doing business with Canada, etc.] Currently, a lot of thinking is going on as to how best to start integrating information services provided under those three clusters so that citizens, business and international clients can access government information services more intuitively.

The departments and agencies also put together their plans for Tier Two, which looked at key electronic services to be put on-line, or key services to be transformed into electronic service delivery. A number of those were planned and put forward, and we selected ‘pathfinder’ projects, which will help us move into the next stages of on-line service delivery, enabling us to look at what the key elements are for end-to-end transaction.

What is the status of those pathfinder projects? Are any of them now under way?

The funding was allocated in late November and we have just finished signing agreements for the transfer of funds for most of them. So the planning is now very actively under way and some of the departments will be rolling out their pre-liminary contracting activities shortly. The bulk of the work, though, will be undertaken in this current year. The projects have about a fourteen to fifteen month timeframe.

Can you briefly describe examples of those projects?

We looked at having at least one key pathfinder project under each of the clusters. For international clients, one very high-usage activity involves people applying for immigration and citizenship status. Putting applications and files on-line in a secure environment and allowing individuals – after proper authentication and verification – to access their file would go a long way towards providing instant access and reducing the time spent on the phone, and the frustration that many callers might feel if they don’t get through to an official. This project is basically to scope what kind of secure environment would be required, and to pilot that in the next 15 months.

For businesses we looked at all of the key filings that would have to be undertaken for taxes of all nature – for GST filings, for business tax filings, etc. We’re looking at [piloting an on-line process] that would make business filing more effective, more efficient, and definitely a lot less time-consuming.

And for individuals we will be piloting application for employment insurance on-line. Again, there is an issue of authentication, of establishing a secure envir-onment so that people feel comfortable sending information to the government in an electronic format. There’s also the issue of making the Internet more accessible to a population that may not always be Internet literate.

In the past year there has been quite a bit of discussion around the pri-vacy issue, and around various departments sharing information on individuals. How is that affecting the kinds of things you’re trying to do with electronic service delivery, and how do you view this issue?

I have an interesting background for this. I worked quite extensively on Bill C-6 [the Personal Information Protection And Electronic Documents Act], which brought to Canada the first privacy legislation for the private sector. And I’m firmly convinced that the goal of electronic service delivery, which is to make government access to the citizen a lot more effective and efficient, can none the less be achieved by providing very strong privacy protection for individuals and their information.

The federal legislation under which all government departments and agencies operate allows us the strength to protect information, but at the same time gives us a good handle on what would be required to obtain, for example, consent on the part of individuals if they were able or interested in letting us share information across departments and agencies. Otherwise, technology can provide a number of technical solutions for information to be provided only to those who should legally have access to it, while at the same time assuring the citizen that information is not being shared without their consent. So there is no contradiction in having good privacy protection as well as effective electronic service delivery. I think the two can be quite easily accommodated.

When Andy MacDonald became the first federal government CIO in the early 1990s, one of the biggest issues he had to grapple with was trying to streamline IT operations and reduce redundancies across departments. Can you give us an update as to how those activities are progressing?

I think we have gone some way, at least on the level of operating systems. The government had a number of systems for financial and human-resource operations – the internal administrative systems of government. There’s been a significant reduction in the number of those operating systems, and in fact a fair amount of clustering has taken place. For example, we used to have about 140 to 150 systems, and we’re now down to 14. So there’s been a significant attempt – and a successful one – at reducing the number of conflicting and competing systems; and there is a growing number of shared practices and information, as well as shared systems.

If done right, electronic service delivery is not simply a transposition of existing processes and programs on-line. In terms of redundancies of operations, [it encourages us] to consider how many activities can be joined up or shared. So the electronic service delivery impetus, as well as the costs of operating IT infrastructure, will drive us to consolidate some of those redundancies.With the competition for good high-tech people being quite intense it has long been a problem for government to attract and retain high-level IT personnel.

What are you doing to attract and keep good people?

The attrition rate for the CS [computer systems administration] community has significantly decreased over the last year or so. And the initiatives undertaken to accelerate the identification of potential CIO-type managers, as well as community development activities, have gone a long way towards identifying potential managers and helping the public service attract [qualified people]. And the Government On-Line initiative is attracting a good number of very interesting recruits.

We are trying to be a bit more sophisticated in our assessment of our requirements. For example, we may have a fairly high number of project managers, but a gap in architecture specialists. So we’re now starting to scope out where the gaps are and where the needs are across the government, rather than just looking at a blanket assessment of what the CS community is like, and what the attrition and retention rates are.

What kind of cooperation is there between the federal government CIO office and the Public Sector CIO Council, which comprises the CIOs of the provinces and territories?

The Public Sector CIO Council is a very effective organization in helping us share information and activity so that we can benefit from each other’s knowledge.

We all have different administrative structures, and we’ve all more or less set similar targets for getting services on-line. Our approaches may be slightly different but our issues are the same: acceptance of citizens to undertake on-line activities with us, privacy issues, security issues, issues surrounding intellectual property on-line. Therefore having a forum that allows us to exchange information, share ideas, and even brainstorm is extremely useful.

For example, a number of government departments and agencies at the federal and provincial level are getting together to share information on what the best standards are for public key infrastructure, so that as different administrations roll versions of PKI out, citizens will be dealing with a coherent framework across the country.

How often are you meeting with the Public Sector CIO Council and where do those meetings take place?

They take place in different parts of the country. We generally tend to meet at least three if not four times a year.

One meeting is always attached to the Technology in Government conference in Ottawa in the fall. Another takes place surrounding the Lac Carling Conference. And there are two in between – sometimes they will just be conference-call meetings and occasionally they will be face to face, and they happen in different parts of the country.

What about linkages with the municipal level of government – are there some connections going on there or is that all filtered down through the provinces?

There is a representative [Debbie Barrett, Director of IT for the City of Mississauga] who is a member of the Public Sector CIO Council representing the municipalities, and she is the conduit that we have with municipal administrations. Not only does the sharing of information happen as a result of provincial representatives talking to their own municipal jurisdictions, but there is also a direct linkage to the municipalities at the Council table. I’ve also met with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and a number of the CIOs across the country have also met with the FCM.

Are you doing anything internationally or with other governments in terms of initiatives and cooperation on IT matters?

There is a fair amount of informal exchange among the CIOs of a number of countries. There are also several organizations in which Canada is an active participant or member, which have almost shifted their entire focus onto ‘government on-line’ type initiatives. Governments around the world face similar challenges – our structures and administrations are not the same, but we are all organized around departments or subjects or specific program activities, and an electronic service delivery environment encourages us to transform and integrate those things more effectively. So yes, there is a fair amount of information exchange and [a sharing of knowledge about] the progress that we and others have achieved.

What will be some of your biggest management challenges in the coming year?

One of them is the result of putting programs and services on-line, and the challenge of making sure that across government there is what I would call interoperability. But it’s more than that; it’s that the lessons learned and the applications put forward are of benefit across departments and agencies so that there is a breaking down of silos, and citizens can access information intuitively and in ways in which they would prefer, without having to find their way through government. This has already started, as you can see by the clustering approach we’ve taken on the new Canada web site. The challenge will be to make that a reality from an electronic service delivery perspective.

The second challenge is the impact that this kind of change has on the government’s human resources. The expression ‘knowledge worker’ has been used many times, but I think we are now moving into a time and an activity phase where knowledge is key. How you can organize information, how you provide information to citizens, how information comes to government and is treated or used and put out again so that businesses can make decisions, and citizens can make decisions about their lives – the people that you need to make that knowledge transformation effective and useful will be very key to our being able to succeed in putting government on-line. As I said earlier, it’s not just a question of transposing existing activities on-line, but it is a culture shift and a change within the government.

Is the governance structure that you’re working with and under quite suitable for what you need to be doing?

The structure that we currently have – a very high-level deputy minister committee overseeing and in some ways pushing the service-transformation goals – allows us to reach across a wide range of key departments and agencies and at the same time keep it high-level and maintain a significant amount of momentum. So I think that yes, we do have the right structures in place. As we evolve and put our services on-line, there’s a natural assessment of what works and what doesn’t, and we’ll take it in stride and see what the evolutionary changes are that would make it smoother. But for the time being, I think the structure is pretty effective.

What would be at the top of your wish list for 2001 to help you accomplish some of your goals?

One would be our ability to get a sense of the degree to which citizens are comfortable interacting with us on-line. The progress and the pace at which we undertake change will quite legitimately be linked to the comfort that citizens have in dealing with us on-line. So having a sense of being driven by citizens would be a wish-list priority because it’s always useful to have an external driver. At this point I would say we probably get [this kind of engagement] more effectively from business; but its very hard to get a sense as to the degree to which citizens are actively interested in engaging with us in an on-line environment.

The other item on my wish list would be to see significant progress on our pilot projects by the end of the year so that some of them can be brought if not to complete fruition at least to partial fruition. Then we can actually start seeing the benefits, rather than talking about them. Then it becomes real.

Are you doing anything to try to gauge what citizen interest is or what their involvement would be in interacting with the government on-line?

There’s a fair amount of work that’s being undertaken not just within the government but through a number of other organizations as well, so we keep close tabs on that. But I think a greater understanding will come as a result of putting services and activities on-line. And that’s why the second part of my wish list would be to have a number of activities on-line completed end to end.

On the revamped Canada web site, information is more intuitively organized than it was previously. The search engine’s capacity is a lot greater and the search engine is a lot more interactive in the sense that you can query us a little more effectively than before. So it’s a beginning. It’s not a complete service transaction, obviously, but it’s the beginning of the organization of information and services in such a way that we hope will hit the mark in terms of business and citizen needs.

About Michelle d’Auray

Before being named CIO for the Government of Canada, a position she assumed in September 2000, Michelle d’Auray spent 14 months as Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic Management, Department of Canadian Heritage, where she was responsible for planning, policy coordination and research, international and intergovernmental affairs, public affairs and the integration of vertical and horizontal issues across the Department and Portfolio.

Prior to that, she was the Executive Director of the Government of Canada’s Task Force on Electronic Commerce, situated in the Department of Industry. As head of the E-commerce Task Force, Ms. d’Auray oversaw the launch of a comprehensive strategy designed to make Canada a world leader in electronic commerce. She was also responsible for Canada’s hosting of the October 1998 OECD ministerial milestone conference on electronic commerce.

She also held a number of significant communications positions in the Government of Canada heading Industry Canada’s Communications Division (1996-1997), setting up and heading the Privy Council of Canada’s Intergovernmental Communications Secretariat (1994-1996), and directing the National Film Board of Canada’s Corporate Affairs, Distribution and Communications Division (1990-1994).