Meet SSC’s new Chief Technology Officer: Luc Gagnon

Shared Services Canada (SSC) has a new Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and he’s ready for a challenge!

Luc Gagnon will be leading the newly created Chief Technology Officer Branch at SSC. We had the opportunity to talk to the new CTO and learn a few things about him on a personal level.

Part 1: The person behind the title

Luc, is there something about yourself that would surprise those who only know you professionally?

I’m a long distance runner and run half and full marathons. If you see me running along the canal, by all means, say hi. It really gives me wings.

I also volunteered quite a bit in my last job as part of the TELUS leadership team. The two causes that I actively supported were juvenile diabetes and LGBTQ2 rights. I am looking forward to getting involved in some great causes here at SSC as well.

In the geek category, I am still interested by Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms research, oddly I find that topic relaxing. In the last two years, it has been about the AI of computer games like chess. I recently wrote a computer program using AI techniques to play Othello/Reversi, and it beats me every time (which is probably not difficult to do…). These are the kind of hobbies that keep me close to technology.

I also read novels, but what’s quirky is that I usually pick one author and read all their works in one stretch. It takes a while. I promise you I am always using my paperless e-reader.

Did you always envision yourself in tech?

My parents would certainly say so. I was building electronic circuits when I was 12 years old. My first computer was a Sinclair ZX81 that I programmed in assembler code.

How do you find balance?

Running helps. If I feel overwhelmed by the amount of information ingested throughout the day, I run and it all becomes clear.

I also spend time with my family and my wife. We like to travel a lot.

What is your spirit animal?

I don’t really have a spirit animal, but if I had to choose, I’d like to be the immortal jellyfish (Turritopsis). It’s the only animal that only ever dies by accident.

What is your ultimate indulgence?

I’d like to stay healthy and continue to travel the world with my wife. I also like to learn new things. If I had more time, I’d learn more languages. I recently learned a bit of the piano. It’s relaxing for me to learn new things.

The most exciting place you’ve travelled to?

All places are exciting when you avoid tourist traps. I love to walk and run the cities I travel. I like to visit museums, especially while on vacation. Two top destinations I’ve been to would have to be Costa Rica and Scotland.

I used to have an office in Paris, France. Paris is a really beautiful city where technology meets history. I have been there so many times, but I always discover something new when I go back.

Some of Luc’s achievements

  • Technically: The TELUS Health Exchange digital platform, building speech and biometric speaker recognizers, building a Cloud Ops function to replace aging data centres, building a net payroll system now sold in the United States and building a secured streaming movie service for Orange.
  • Business: Key contributor in building and then selling two high tech businesses.
  • Management: Built a team of 600 team members at TELUS and increased their engagement score from 65% to 85% while delivering the 75 product roadmaps.
  • Volunteering: Co-led five Montréal JDRF campaigns.

Part 2: What’s in store for SSC

Lucky for us, we also heard a little about what the CTO has in store for his new role at SSC!

You are SSC’s first CTO. Could you tell us what you will be doing at SSC?

It’s difficult to sum up such a role, but first and foremost information technology is a team sport. So I see myself as a team member of SSC, leading the CTO branch. Simply put, the CTO branch will help SSC leap into the digital landscape, while collaborating with experts across the field, within the government and externally.

You have worked for the public and private sectors, including start-ups. Tell us about your decision to join the SSC family.

Early in my career, I worked for Communications Security Establishment Canada for 13 years before leaving to join a start-up in speech recognition. I’ve previously sat in the CTO chair at jobs that brought me to the United States, France and Canada, so my experience is varied between public and private. What motivated me to join SSC is that the Department helps people through tech. This is my true passion—technology serving people.

Can you tell us what attracted you about becoming SCC’s first CTO?

As a government, we spend $6 billion in technology every year. There is a digital revolution out there, and we are building the digital fabric that all Canadians will use for years to come. Having the chance to become the first CTO in the organization that is leading these changes is great. It’s almost like being an entrepreneur within the government. My team and I will get to create the branch on the basis of the requirements of the digital transformation strategy. All that to say, I felt like I had accomplished what I had set out to do at TELUS Health, and I’m looking forward to the new challenges and opportunities to continue to contribute and learn here at SSC.

What are your first impressions of SSC?

We do a lot.

I’m amazed by the number of projects we do and how many services we provide. What’s great is that I always see people smiling and everyone seems very dedicated. I think I’m going to have a lot of fun here being part of the SSC family.

I do feel that we need to focus more on our victories and less on our struggles.

Another observation is that we print too much paper for an organization that is pushing Canada to become digital!

How have previous experiences in the public and private sectors prepared you for this new role?

I recently delivered the cloud program as well as the digital platform for healthcare at TELUS. These projects are relevant to what I’ll be doing here at SSC.

With my past experience, I’m confident that I will bring a new perspective to the table.

Could you tell us about what you will tackle first on the job?

What I like to do when I start a new position is to meet as many people as possible. I want to spend time learning from stakeholders, team members, colleagues, partners and customers.

I also want to benchmark SSC against other world‑class organizations, both in the private and public sectors. I want to define the key performance indicators, create the plans and then get into the details of developing the digital vision we want to achieve. And then, I want to finalize what I like to call the target architecture, which is really the future mode of operations.

There is a lot of change currently at SSC. How do you best deal with change?

Focus on the mission. The WHY we are here.

When there’s a lot of changes, it’s good to remind ourselves that we’re here to make a difference for Canadians and to remind ourselves that our work matters to our customers.

What can you tell us about your long-term vision for SSC?

We need to lead the digital transformation of the Government of Canada. Our strategy has to provide world-class programs and information technology services to Canadians, leveraging the fast‑paced global digital transformation revolution, but you all know that! Right now I am focused on understanding what we do and what the gaps are that we need to fill to deliver that important objective.

What do you think your biggest challenges and opportunities will be in your new role?

It’s a little early to tell, but at first glance, I see many opportunities in our digital mandate.

We will need to find a balance between serving our customers successfully, and bridging this with the future vision of a digital government.

What resources do you use to learn about technological trends? How do you stay plugged in?

I use resources such as conferences, free university online courses on technical topics, books and my network.

Prior to joining SSC, I was the board President of Le Centre de Recherche Informatique de Montréal, which kept me close to tech.

I also enjoy TechCrunch, a website which provides news about investments in technology. Sitting on boards of Silicon Valley companies helped me stay connected as well.

Which technological innovation do you think will drastically change businesses in the next 5–10 years?

There are many, but to name a few: deep neural networks, cloud computing, digital platforms, 5G, blockchain, pharmacogenomics and reinforcement learning, which is essentially AI learning on its own without being taught first.

Luc will be spending his time between 99 Metcalfe in Ottawa and the Peel St. offices in Montréal. We are excited to see what great things this new organization brings to SSC and its customers.

Expect more from Luc and his team soon!

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