Speaking notes for the Honourable Scott Brison President of the Treasury Board to the CIO Summit Canadian Museum of Nature


Canadian Museum of Nature 
June 26, 2017

Good morning. I am delighted to be here with you. I’ve got to tell you though, I know David Usher will be here later this morning. I kind of feel like Cheap Trick opening for the Rolling Stones.

And you know that a few months ago, Alex Benay joined our team as Chief Information Officer.

This is an opportunity for all of us to talk about the future and to set the tone for digital government for the Government of Canada. We have a world-class public service, and I know that you and representatives of that public service whom I work very closely with on an ongoing basis, are doing some great things.

I see the exciting agenda for this summit and I’m also encouraged. I know that many of you CIOs have brought with you some of the up-and-comers from your departments who will be and in fact are becoming the next digital and IT leaders.

It’s our job as government leaders to empower and to incent government employees to disrupt the status quo, to innovate, to try new things, and to look at each problem with fresh eyes.

I believe we need to replace a culture of risk aversion with a culture of experimentation in government. These are exciting times for our CIO community. As we embrace the opportunities and tackle the challenges of everything from machine learning to Blockchain, from Dark Analytics to Cloud, I’m excited about what you’re doing here today and the potential of what we can and what we must do together to provide excellent digital services to Canadians.

And in doing so, I want to emphasize this community’s fundamental importance to our ability to meet Canadians’ needs for digital services.

Sometimes when I’m meeting with colleagues and talking about digital IT and services, they’re skeptical, perhaps they’re fearful. They ask me questions like ‘do you really think we can do this digital stuff?’ My response to them is that’s like asking ‘do you really think we can do this breathing stuff?’ Because whether you’re in business or government, you’re either digital or you’re dead. We can’t have a Blockbuster government serving a Netflix citizenry. If a company fails to get digital right, it’s out of business. If a government fails to get digital right, it’s out of touch with its citizens. Our relevance to citizens is in jeopardy if we can’t deliver world-class government digital services.

Canadians wonder why they can’t get the same quality of service from their government that they’ve come to expect from Amazon when they buy a product.

When seniors are using technology that government can’t keep up with, we’ve got a problem. And seniors are embracing it. It’s incredible: over the last 5 years, from online banking to Facebook to FaceTime with grandchildren. In fact, one of the things I’m reminded of is the importance of legacy interaction with citizens through bricks and mortar offices, face to face, and also phone interaction. They’re important. Of course we need to maintain solid phone and face to face interaction with our citizens, but let’s remember that a significant volume of our demand for phone service is driven by citizens who are frustrated with inadequate digital. They can’t find or can’t navigate a clunky, old website.

So it’s absolutely essential we raise our game in terms of digital services. And there are two parts to that: one is building up the existing IT community, which includes many of you in this room. And the other is that we provide support to you to create the momentum to really accelerate our progress on digital services and digital government as a whole.

The importance of this initiative is why Budget 2017 included funding for a new CDS (Canadian Digital Service) to modernize the way the Government of Canada designs and delivers digital services.

CDS is not about IT, it’s about services, user-centric government services, and it’s about recognizing that service needs to be at the centre of government priorities.

We believe CDS can become a magnet and hub for digital talent across the government, and also for external talent.

That’s the promising model that is currently working today in the UK, the US, Australia, and here in Canada, in Ontario.

A few weeks ago, I joined some of our digital team in London. We met with some of the leaders, the pioneers of the UK government’s digital services. I even took a course actually at the UK government Digital Academy. I took the course “Hands-on Digital for Leaders,” where they teach you just enough to be dangerous. I was in fact the only minister to take the course; none of the UK ministers had taken it. But I came out of it having a better understanding and I want to do more. I want to get more ministers to actually do this. We want to establish our own digital academy here in Canada. The reason I’m doing that is because I recognize that I need to up my game. We won’t be the first government digital service in the world, but we need to be the best!

And CDS will be a partner to departments in this endeavour. We’re going to amplify and replicate pockets of innovation, solve common problems across government, and support service priorities with surge capacity.

The time is ripe.

In response to high profile IT project failures, other governments rallied to action. In the UK in 2010, when Francis Maude and Mike Bracken started the UK GDS, it was in response to project failure.

In the US in 2013, the US government launched healthcare.gov. On that day, 4.7 million Americans tried to register for health care and only 6 Americans successfully registered. Healthcare.gov turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to US government IT. It caused the Obama administration to reprioritize digital delivery and it led to the creation of the US government digital services, 18F.

Recently, I spent some time with Tobi Lütke of Shopify, and we discussed some of the big challenges we’re looking to fix right now in terms of government IT. Some of the lessons learned and some of the ideas for the future. We talked about Phoenix. He told me we should see the Phoenix crisis as an opportunity, a turning point for Government of Canada IT. He said to me ‘never waste a good crisis,’ and we won’t.

Among lessons learned, we know now that we ought to have always known that government shouldn’t look at IT transformation as a cost-cutting opportunity, that legacy systems must be maintained while you’re investing in getting transformation right. More fundamentally, it means baking user-centric digital thinking into everything we do, from policy development to implementation.

Let me be very clear. CDS is not some sort of silver bullet that’s going to fix everything. It’s a small lean group as we built it that’s there to help, but we need to identify some early wins, some demonstrations of what we’re capable of doing. We’re talking now with IRCC about passport renewal.

Also, the potential to develop an immigration app. This is one that Toby Lutke is interested in personally since he came to Canada and built a significant IT operation here. By the way, 50% of the ATIP requests here in the Canadian government are people checking their immigration application. That’s unacceptable, and developing an immigration app would not only reflect our values as a country in terms of immigration but would make the immigration process, becoming a Canadian, more user-friendly, and would also reflect the dynamism of our country. CDS isn’t going to fix everything, but it is a clear signal of our government’s reprioritization of its digital services.

Another clear signal is our recognition of the importance of a strong and empowered CIO community. I’ll tell you the same thing I told Alex Benay: I want you to disrupt, to make a difference. When Alex disrupts, I’ll have his back. When you disrupt, we’ll have your backs. We want you to change things. We want you to take risks. We should use the term intelligent risk taking. That’s when you take risks that work out. I want to learn not just of the successes that you’ve had when you take a risk, but also when things don’t work out, because we can learn collectively from that. We want to incent people to try new things and to genuinely embrace risk, as part of the Government of Canada.

But it’s the people in this room who have the capacity to affect how we do this, how we become the best.

That’s why we’re going to focus on you, as all of us work together to up our game to be the best we can be in integrating agile digital thinking in everything we do as government.

We’re going to change how we do business.

Take IT procurement, for example.

Traditional waterfall procurement processes took so long that by the time you got what you asked for, it was already out of date.

It’s high time for modern, agile digital procurement. And I know there’s work being done at PSPC and throughout our government, and at SSC as well, to embrace agile digital procurement.

In the past, we did old-style waterfall procurement. We wrote 200-page RFPs where we would tell vendors what we thought we needed. Vendors would respond with massive proposals wherein they would tell us what they thought they could do.

Then we would enter into a blind marriage and 2 years into it, it was like a bad marriage, nobody’s happy, both parties misrepresented their capabilities. But we stay together for the sake of the IT infrastructure, or for the sake of a bad contract.

Agile digital means fewer blind marriages and more constant dating. Less tell and more show. Fewer 200-page RFPs and proposals and more working prototypes, more hackathons, bake-offs, contests, more open source. We need to be agile and focused relentlessly on users as the customer.

Agile digital means engaging citizens as customers, as users, every step of the way. They will help us shape better services for Canadians. Agile digital will help us grow our Gov-Tech sector, creating good, innovative jobs both inside and outside of government.

I’d like to talk to you about cybersecurity. This is absolutely essential as recent events continue to demonstrate. Cybersecurity can help us enable rather than hinder digital services. And it is absolutely essential that we in Canada go to the excellent work that is already being done both in the public and private sectors and that we strengthen cybersecurity. Canadian citizens and businesses need to have confidence that the information they entrust to us is protected.

Cybersecurity and privacy protection are absolute priorities of any government digital services. But we cannot see these as barriers to progress, but as an important part of progress.

It’s important that we embrace Cloud, while addressing cybersecurity concerns. As we embrace Cloud, we can address security issues and we can do so by balancing the importance of security with excellent digital services. That’s one of the challenges of our time but it’s one I know that we’re up to.

With respect to mobile, Canadians live on their phones today. Mobile devices have transformed how we communicate, collaborate, socialize and share information. Canadians want services on apps, not from clunky old-style websites.

So Canadians, wherever they may be, must have access to our on-line services.

Another factor that is critical to success is partnering. Partners, with their different perspectives, are key to the cross-pollination of ideas that drives creativity. It’s the same principle that motivates this government’s drive for diversity in the public service.

Diversity is important to enable this cross-pollination, we need to work more in the open, to be more exposed to other insights and perspectives.

The hackathons we have on the agenda, with their integrated teams, are a great example of this. The teams will include leaders from business and academia, and we’ll have an opportunity to learn from each other’s experiences. We’ll be bringing the best ideas forward, and I’ll be very interested in seeing what you have come up with.

The challenge for us as a government, for me as a minister, and for you at this summit, is to help make government services more innovative, responsive and effective.

In every area we look at, we need to challenge assumptions, think experimentally, and constantly measure ourselves against that end goal: better service to Canadians.

We need to attract people like you to our government digital mission.

We can’t give you stock options like Shopify or Amazon, of course, but we can offer something much bigger: the opportunity to paint on a bigger canvas, to build a better Canada.

Let’s work together to do that, to build the most digital, dynamic and diverse public service ever to better serve Canadians.

Thank you very much, and I hope you have a wonderful summit.

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