Remarks at TechGov Leadership Forum


Thank you for the introduction.

I am a very pleased to be here today and have an opportunity to talk to you about technology and government.

You have a good program. All the right topics and some very distinguished speakers and panellists. You will hear from some of the thought leaders and change agents in the federal Public Service later today and tomorrow, who have a lot of depth on these issues, and I am sure you will have a very good exchange with them.

Today, I can offer a few comments.

The first one relates to my roles; the ones that get quoted the most, which is of course, that I am the Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet. I am also the Deputy Minister to the Prime Minister. In this capacity, I swore in a new minister at Rideau Hall this morning, and I sit in the corner chair of every Cabinet meetings, listening and  watching the men and women who are in these positions wrestle with issues of the day and make decisions. It is fascinating.

I am also the Head of the Public Service.  This role is the one that is actually in statute, but never gets quoted.  I take this role extremely seriously. I see it as a stewardship role of helping to make the Public Service better and making sure that it is there for future governments. That is the perspective that I want to bring to bear here today.

The other perspective I can provide, to use the Star Trek metaphor, is ‘the view from the bridge’. I have been around the Public Service for a very long time, since before Al Gore invented the internet. I have been in an executive role for 27 years, 16 of them in a deputy minister role. I have seen a lot. I have been part of many meetings, and I have seen a lot of issues come and go, and that has given me a unique perspective, which I am happy to share with you.

In my career in the Public Service, we have seen a lot of technological change including the arrival of the first word processors, the first cell phones, the first fax machines, the first internet, as well as cyber-attacks, smart phones, and social networks.

Technological change is not new, but your challenge is to figure out what is different about this particular wave of technological change. Are there lessons learned from how we have experienced previous waves?  Did we adapt successfully or not, both internally and externally, so that we do not have to start from zero every time? How can we learn previous waves of technological change as we take on the next one, whether that is blockchain or artificial intelligence, or learning software.  What we have been through before will inform where we are going next.

Governments come and go, Parliaments come and go, but it is the public servants who anchor the Westminster system of government, and that is one of my favorite topics, which you can read about in many of my speeches on my website.

The Public Service is a complex entity. There are, at last count, more than 250 distinct organizations, everything from the massive Canada Revenue Agency, to small agencies with a dozen employees, and everything in between. We are a big institution, or family of institutions. We have over 600 distinct walk-in points of service in Canada, and over 170 missions abroad. Our payroll is over 50 billion dollars a year for over 400,000 people; 260,000 in core public service, and of course the RCMP and the military; with over 650 distinct classification bands. 84% of our work force is unionized. 54% of our workforce is women, and that share that is climbing in the executive ranks. I am very proud of that.

We use, occupy, rent, or own 32,000 distinct buildings. We spend, and I am sure this is of interest to some of you in the room, at least 20 billion dollars a year on government procurement. We process more than 300,000 procurement transactions and contracts every single year, mostly small contracts with small businesses. We need to make work procurement better. It is one of the great challenges of our time, and I am delighted of the work that Public Services and Procurement Canada is doing.

If you have been in the government for any length of time, or if you have watched it from outside, you have seen a lot of change. Organizations come together or they are taken apart. We see breakups and we see mergers where organizations are put together. That is really the Prime Minister’s prerogative to organize government as he or she sees fit, and my job is to help match those structures to what is required at the time.

My job is to also reduce friction in transactional costs of organizational change so that governments can decide to move resources around and create focus or synergy at far less cost and disruption. I have been through many departmental re-organizations where the first year is spent trying to sort out internal plumbing and internal services, organizational charts and buildings, and that sort of thing. I want to drive those friction costs down as close to zero as possible. That is why we need interoperability and mobility. It is important that people, and data move around as quickly and as seamlessly as possible within organizations and across organizations. That can be a challenge.

There are many reasons why we need to come together more as a single enterprise. One reason is service. Canadians do not care which department or agency or sub-unit that they get service from, they just want the service. They want it seamlessly, they want it 24/7, they want it on their portable devices, they want it in both official languages, and they want it in formats that are state-of-the-art for persons with disabilities.

The second reason is cyber security. Government networks and information are targets for hackers and vandals every day. Private companies worry a lot about cyber breaches and cyber integrity. For government, the standards and expectations are even higher. Canadians, rightly, will not tolerate breaches of sensitive government information or the information that government holds about them like their tax records, census filings, or corporate business information.

You will see in 2018 a very robust cyber security strategy from the Government of Canada. It will affect the private sector, and it will affect government and the way that we interact with each other.

Government innovation is not without constraints. It has to work in two official languages and it has to be state-of-the-art accessible and cyber secure. This year, the Government will be tabling accessibility legislation, which aspires to make Canada and its government the most accessible on the planet. We will get there.

So, pitch all you want and innovate all you want, but it has to work in two official languages; be fully accessible and be secure. These requirements are not negotiable.

You will have taken note I am sure, as keen observers of government, of the targets announced last year as part of Canada’s climate change commitments. We have committed to reduce the GHG and carbon footprint of the operations of the Government of Canada by 80%. Technology can help us get there and can be part of the solution. This is relevant to those of you working on smarter buildings, devices and work practices. If you are going to be dealing with government, think about the carbon footprint, and what the implication is of your services and operations.

Every government is interested in productivity gains and cost savings. Every government wants to be lean and productive. They want to provide services to citizens that are smooth, accurate and frustration-free. Today, people want their services to be fast and accurate and increasingly personalized. This is an area where many sectors are ahead of government. We need greater expertise in queue management, customer satisfaction and how to use the data that is gathered by millions of service interactions, combine it with intelligent software and constantly refine and improve that experience.

We also have to keep privacy and security in balance with customer experience and service -- that is another of the challenges of our time. We must keep the trust of Canadians that their privacy is being protected.

We expect future parliaments and  cabinets to be there, and governments will continue to strive to deliver those quintessential Canadian aspirations for peace, order and good government. They will strive to keep Canadians safe, as threats evolve and change. They will try in different ways to help Canadians prosper, to generate wealth and opportunity and good jobs, and the resources that pay for the kinds of public services that Canadians will be asking for. They will try to exert a positive influence on the world, contributing to global roles and institutions. We need to protect our interests and project our values. Canadian governments will continue to make this country a beacon of diversity, tolerance, rule of law and inclusion.

Canadians are experiencing the benefits of new technologies and services in their daily lives. One of the pressures on us in government is that they will not accept for very long, levels of service that are lower than what they experience in their day to day interactions with their bank, their hotels bookings or their car dealers.

Mercifully, the days of driving across town to government offices to stand in line-ups for hours and hand over pieces of paper and then maybe get something mailed to you weeks later, are quickly fading to be a distant memory. Today, 60% of our service interactions with Canadians are online and 30% are by telephone. More and more what people are looking for, of course, is 24/7 service. To go back to my earlier point, it has to be secure, in both official languages and accessible to all Canadians.

One of the policy challenges is not all Canadians have decent broadband or access to wireless networks. There must be technological innovations and solutions to make sure that every Canadian has access to the opportunities that technology provides.

We also have to do a lot better by our public servants. There was a time in distant memory when you left your home and went to work, and all the cool technology was at work. Well, this is no longer the case. Public servants go home and use the latest apps on their personal devices. They want to come to work and use the same kinds of technology that they use in their daily lives outside of work. This is one of our most pressing recruitment and retention challenges.

I am very proud of the working being done across the Government of Canada by the Impact and Innovation Unit at the Privy Council Office as well as the Canadian Digital Service at Treasury Board. We are working together to make sure that, not only do we see the opportunities and the challenges of new technology and new services, but we know how to measure the impact. It is not good enough just to have novelty and innovation. It is about having an impact and delivering better services.

Service is a really big part of keeping the confidence of Canadians. We have reorganized and continue to work on our presence on the web and on social media, and we have made great strides with the portal. We asked ourselves, what are people are actually coming to Government of Canada web sites for? The number one reason was weather forecasts, followed by information on visitor visas and how to immigrate to Canada.

It is very much about service; it is very personal; and it is customized information that people are looking for. We have to listen to them about what they want and what they need, and give them the chance to manipulate and play with the data, and build their own apps, and help us build the kinds of services that they want.

The biggest IT issue of 2017 was the pay system. We are committed to fix what should be a simple task, ensuring our people are paid accurately and on time. I can assure you that 2018 will be devoted to that. We will learn the lessons from the pay system project. In May of this year, we will once again, hear from the Auditor General. However, our first job from my perspective is to deal with the pay system, stabilize it and move forward.

Last year, we conducted a national census; the highest online participation of any census conducted anywhere in the world, ever. We did that here. That is because of a great partnership between Statistics Canada and Shared Services Canada.

I hope you will all go home this afternoon and download the Canada Border app, which will tell you in a very personal and customized way what you can expect when you cross the border. If you flew in anytime recently, you saw the border kiosks where we are now moving ever increasing volumes of people through airports quickly and efficiently.

You may also want to download the Parks Canada app. Last year, we had free admission, and over 30 million visitors to Canadian Parks. Everything about the park experience, even down to campsite reservations is now online in an app. We are the envy of park services around the world.

That is the easy part to talk about because you can go find the app and it is customer-oriented. What you have not seen, is that over the last few years, we have been working diligently for the less glamorous parts. A lot of work has been going on to replenish, recapitalize and reinvigorate the IT infrastructure.  Because most of that effort works, there is a chance that you have never heard of it.

We also have built a community and that is something that we are very conscious of. About 9,000 people leave the Public Service every year and about 9,000 people come in. It is, over time, a lot of renewal. Half of the current public service joined since the 1990s. For me, the challenge and the opportunity is actually one of generational blending. It is not just about millennials. It is about the leadership that will come from baby boomers in terms of experience, values, culture and sharing it with future generations while learning from them and picking up their energy, commitment and passion, and finding new ways of working.

We are going to spend a lot of time on learning, developing and growing the leadership of the future. This community is going to be an important part of that. Partnerships with private sector, civil society, NGOs and with other governments will be key to our success.

The most striking thing about public service is that it is composed of people from every part of the country, who come in every day, committed to making a difference to their communities and their country. They are mission-driven and passionate about what they do. We have to support them and give them the tools, the buildings, and the decision-making structures to do their jobs. They have to hack away at unproductive rules and structures of bureaucracy and unleash their talent, their creativity and their connection to Canadians.

I think it has always been an exciting and interesting time to be in the Public Service of Canada. You will have noticed the ranking last year. The International Civil Service Effectiveness (InCiSE) Index assessed public services in 35 countries across the world and they concluded that the most effective public service in the world is right here in Canada.

There is a real excitement around Canada about innovation and opportunity. In the year ahead, we will continue to work closely with public services in the provinces and in municipalities. There was a commitment by all cabinet secretaries across the country last year to send that tone from the top that we care about innovation, and we encourage it.

This is a special country. In a troubled world, we still have the ability for governments to take decisions, execute them and implement them. It gives us a competitive advantage and a chance to move quickly as a country and seize opportunities on behalf of Canadians.

I am convinced that we will do that and I believe that people in this room are a big part of that journey.

Thank you very much.

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