When Government On-Line went into business in 1999, the long-term challenge was to seamlessly link the maze of federal, provincial and municipal online information and service programs. But while virtually all government information at all three levels, and a growing range of services are available online, GOL is really still in the early days of a journey.
Think of GOL as a huge ocean liner that has been under construction for five years. A fleet of tug boats is preparing to tow her out to sea in anticipation of a long-lived career carrying millions of passengers across the ocean and back again. Refits will come along the way. As federal officials at this year’s Lac Carling Congress explained, the crew and officers seem ready-aye-ready for the voyage.
They’ll be helped, according to Donna Wood, Director-General of the Public Access Program at PWGSC, by a Sustainability Road Map for GOL. Wood said in an interview that the Road Map will guide the way online services and programs evolve.
Created to move GOL to the next level, and currently awaiting a blessing from the newly formed Service Transformation Advisory Committee (STAC) of Deputy Ministers, the Road Map began with consultations across a broad range of services at the federal level in mid-January. It was designed with three paths, or steps, which are to lead to:
? Consolidation of a department’s multiple sites to create one departmental web presence with managed integrated service sites across the federal government.
? Transfer of assets to effectively deliver Government of Canada services through a third party. That third party could be represented by a different government department, a different level of government, or an outside institution in the private or non-profit sectors.
“We’ve done a really good job over the last few years in putting information on the Canada Site . . . either by topic or by client segment,” Wood said. “The next step is to do the same thing with services. So we’re taking the lessons learned, that we have gained through GOL to date, and spreading them to a wider group of managers within government who are actually managing programs and services.
“We’re hoping the Road Map will be a tool to help them understand those concepts and the direction they need to be moving. It’s a learning tool. It’s a point of reference for everyone.”
At least two departments have already done work that illustrates the first path of the Road Map: Social Development Canada (SDC) has consolidated 170 web sites into a single integrated site, and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada is doing the same with its 80 sites.
The Road Map was developed by the federal Gateways and Clusters community after lengthy consultations with program managers, addressing Directors, Directors-General, ADMs and one Associate deputy. The governance structure, comprised of the committees overseeing GOL for the last five years, sought a sustainability strategy.
“They didn’t want to lose the investments made to date,” said Elena Mantagaris, Acting Director, Gateways and Clusters at PWGSC. “We had realized a number of achievements through this (GOL) initiative and we wanted to leverage those going forward and make sure the momentum was continued even when the funding ended in March 2006.”
The goal, beyond more broadly steering the future of service delivery and service transformation, is to build a more client-centred service delivery system and create horizontal service delivery across government. The concept goes to the root of a keynote address at Lac Carling by Treasury Board President Reg Alcock, who said that “there’s only one taxpayer, and there’s no reason a service infrastructure can’t deliver services on behalf of all three levels of government.”
“The heavy lifting we have to do now is to organize ourselves internally,” Alcock said. “We’ve got to build the tools that allow us to manage our own lives.” The Road Map attempts just that. “This comes back to the heart of the original premise of being citizen-centric,” says Wood. “You design things so it makes sense for the client – the citizen. If there’s been any common thread through the whole process, it’s been that citizen focus, but keeping our eyes and options open to the opportunities.”You have departmental sites, cluster sites, regional sites, policy sites, program sites, and they’re not all connected. They don’t necessarily all convey consistent messages or services, And people don’t have time to navigate through hundreds of web sites.Elena Mantagaris>
The Road Map is intended to spur the evolution of online service delivery beyond the so-called clusters and encourage departments to rethink their approach to service delivery more broadly. In addition, identifying and then linking services beyond individual clusters and even departments further broadens the notion of delivery to create a more integrated setup across the federal government and even across other levels of government.
“One of the ways we are suggesting that can happen,” Mantagaris adds, “is (that) in our Road Map, we provide three key paths that we think the Government of Canada and its departments need to take in its service delivery.”
? Path One: Streamlining or consolidating web sites at the federal level. “Many hundreds of web sites carry the Government of Canada brand,” says Mantagaris. “You have departmental sites, cluster sites, regional sites, policy sites, program sites, and they’re not all connected. They don’t necessarily all convey consistent messages or services, And people don’t have time to navigate through hundreds of web sites. They just want to know where to go and they want the right information.”
Streamlined web sites by both SDC and Agriculture Canada address the issue.. But there are also, for example, six separate climate change web sites.
? Path Two: Managed and integrated service delivery. Take the Seniors Cluster, for example: There is no department of seniors, but numerous services across several departments have links to seniors. A war veteran who is collecting CPP benefits and possibly disability benefits has to fish through Veterans Affairs, then SDC and other departments for various program services. Ensuring that all links related to senior services are consolidated in a single place would drive full end-to-end integration and service transactions online.
“Part of what we are looking at doing here with departments is to make those relationships more obvious,” says Mantagaris. “Right now if you walk into any program office, when you ask what are the services you offer, they only know within that program area. What we want to do is make sure that all those relationships and links are made and that all those services are offered in one place.”
? Path Three: Transfer of services to third party institutions. After an assessment of services offered, how effectively clients are being reached and the capacity of a particular department to deliver those services, that department may conclude that an entirely new point of contact with the public is required. “Some departments may decide to transfer those services or those assets to another institution to actually deliver on their behalf,” says Mantagaris. This other institution could be another department, another level of government, a charitable organization or a financial institution.
As an example, small business entrepreneurs generally seek out a financial institution when looking for loans and don’t always think about the government as an option for financial support. “It might be in our interests to ensure the set of services we offer around starting a business is also easily available and accessible through some financial institutions,” says Mantagaris. “If the client’s first point of contact is to be the bank for something like that, then why not make it easier for them to be aware of services we offer?”
However both Wood and Mantagaris note that Path Three is not for every program or service. “Path Three is an option we’ve put on the table as a consideration,” adds Mantagaris.
“It is a huge departure from the way most government has evolved,” adds Wood. “We have over 3,600 programs and services that we have to make sense of here. . . What we’re trying to achieve and we’re trying to change at the end of the day is the client experience.”
Marlene Orton is an Ottawa-based freelance journalist specializing in high technology issues.