Welcome to ISED's Digital Lounge—stay a while, or at least until your IT issues are resolved

They say that on average, a public servant will spend 250+ hours of their lifetime on hold with IT over the phone due to consistent demand. I’m just kidding, that stat is entirely fabricated, but what isn’t a lie is that nobody enjoys listening to hold music for extended periods of time. Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) has taken the traditional concept of IT service desk to new heights. They have brought to life what they call the ‘Digital Lounge,’ which provides face-to-face IT support, inspired by the workings of the Apple store.

Colonel Mustard in the lounge with the candlestick

My colleague and I get a firsthand tour of this Digital Lounge, located in the library within the ISED building. A space has been cleared out in the centre, and where there was once outdated furniture, has now been replaced with a long counter, several TV screens, high top tables, and Microsoft Surface Hubs. It’s a spot equipped with dedicated IT professionals, where employees can go for quick assistance on a first come first serve basis.

The lounge is a one-stop shop, it resolves everyday IT issues employees may encounter, holds just-in-time training sessions for software, and helps to ease onboarding by equipping and setting up new employees with the devices that they need on the spot. When I reference the digital lounge to anyone I know who works at ISED, they vouch for it, without question.

Make your own Digital Lounge

Chahine El Chaar, Director of Modernization, Innovation, and Delivery Directorate, spearheaded this initiative. Following our tour, he sat down with us to share the recipe of making this vision a reality. He made it sound about as easy as baking a cake, but we all know fondant can be tricky. Through our chat, I gather the five essential steps—as crucial as sugar and butter—when it comes to pushing the boundaries with new technology in the government:

  1. Have a solid business case in your arsenal—the return on investment must be tangible and evident to those you are trying to get on your side.
  2. Go after your early-adopters—identify the group who is welcoming towards new technology and those who will be most open to trying it out. Make sure the planning is well thought out, e.g. Wi-Fi first, then tablets. That way, people don’t just try the tablet and default to ‘oh it doesn’t work.’ You have to be able to provide a product that can attract and retain these early-adopters or it will just be left to collect dust. From there, enable a group to be the adoption team, to be a guiding force for others who want to hop on the train.
  3. Re-prioritize consistently—it’s no surprise that technology is always changing. It’s crucial to constantly welcome and test out the new. Otherwise, you run the risk of having things become outdated by the time you get to it. Identify what three new things you are going to do this year and continuously motivate your team with a new vision. Modernization is a continuous evolution. It’s not something you do one time and then stop.
  4. Continuously track your successes—ensure people are actually using the technology and that they are aware of what they have access to. Aim to consistently up the amount of people using it or the change will never carry through.  Outreach is key here.
  5. Engage continuously—listen, and enable feedback and interactions with your employees so that you know your product is solving their problems, addressing pain points, and is evidently useful to them.

“Being able to equip our employees with digital tools, enables us to better support Canadians with digital products.”

Change is inevitable, but there are ways of easing adoption, and ISED has pretty much nailed that on the head—not without lessons learned. They have been doing their part to share their findings and best practices with other departments as they continue to grow and evolve. To finish off, Chahine ties it together quite simply, “being able to equip our employees with digital tools, enables us to better support Canadians with digital products.” In other words, improving our digital services to public servants will improve our services to Canadians. It’s a symbiotic relationship, and the best place to start is within.


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