Ontario’s Associate Minister of Digital Government says the province and municipalities must work together to “build back better” after the pandemic.
“We can’t do it alone,” Kaleed Rasheed said during a town hall address to municipal leaders at ITWC’s Technicity GTA conference. Through collaboration, the public sector can “build more convenient, reliable government, saving time and money for the people of Ontario,” he said.
Rasheed listed several provincial initiatives aimed at helping municipalities to digitally transform their services. Last week, the Ontario government announced a $45 million fund to cut red tape in managing applications for building new homes. The new Streamline Development Approval Fund is intended to help Ontario’s largest municipalities modernize and accelerate the home-building process. He also mentioned the Municipal Modernization Program, which provides funding for municipalities to digitize their programs and services.
As many as 700,000 households in Ontario lack access to high-speed Internet or have no Internet connection at all, and Rasheed reiterated the province’s commitment to invest $4 billion to provide high-speed Internet access for all by 2025. “As we move forward, we will ensure that no one is left behind,” he said. “Our government will continue to work with municipalities to make services faster and more accessible.”
Closing the digital divide
Conference attendees participated in a town hall discussion following Rasheed’s comments. Canada still has a long way to go to close the gap on the digital divide, said Timothy Schnare, regional sales manager at CradlePoint. “The digital divide is an absolute shame in a country like Canada,” he said. “We have the ability to solve it tomorrow, if we have the will.”
Municipalities can make an impact, noted Peter Near, national director of technology with VMware. “Broadband services are expensive in Canada, but municipalities have infrastructure that can be leveraged to connect everyone,” he said. “Toronto is already leveraging its dark fibre. It’s not that much of a stretch for municipalities to provide this as a public service.”
Data is the new oil
Participants agreed with the idea that data can be extremely valuable, however they said there is still a lot of work to do on how to make the best use of it. “Municipalities are creating enormous amounts of data, which is fantastic,” said David Stoehr, field sales representative, public sector with Google. “We need to be able to make evidence-based decisions. Governance and transparency are very important to make that happen.”
There was also recognition that more value could be derived from open data. “We need to make the data more accessible,” said Cyrus Tehrani, chief digital officer with the City of Hamilton. “We also need to increase the maturity within the organization to use open data and develop apps.”
“We’re trying to get there,” added Mike Melinyshyn, CFO & director of corporate services for the Town of Innisfil. “We understand the value of data analytics, but it’s a fine balance with privacy.”
Can the progress on digital transformation be sustained?
Several speakers during the conference commented on the rapid acceleration to digital because of the pandemic. Town hall moderator and ITWC CIO Jim Love asked whether it will be possible to maintain such a fast pace.
“It’s a matter of reengineering business processes,” said Frank Di Palma, CIO at the City of Vaughan. “The good thing is that this has forced people to think differently.” There is a willingness to do new things, agreed Stoehr. “People were forced to innovate and developed the ability to fail fast,” he said. “That mindset didn’t exist in the public sector before. It’s good to see it happen and I hope it can be sustained.”