A significant challenge for Canada in the digital government era is federalism. Difficult as it is to achieve service integration and seamless governance within any single jurisdiction, doing so for the public sector as a whole has proved even more daunting. Progress in working across boundaries has not come easy.
One early success story, as many readers know, is BizPaL (www.bizpal.ca), an integrated information portal that provides entrepreneurs with “simplified access to information” about most all licensing and regulatory requirements across all layers of government. This uniquely cross-jurisdictional initiative now includes communities large and small from all provinces, improving efficiency and transparency.
Such modest yet important achievements notwithstanding, BizPaL now languishes as a poster child for static notions of e-government that have been subsumed by the inter-related worlds of social media, mobility, and Gov 2.0. The time for a refresh is long overdue, with significant opportunities to enhance Canada’s business environment, especially for new ventures struggling to form and succeed.
In short, rather than merely informing entrepreneurs about requirements across each government level, BizPaL should become a new model of business engagement. It could become an interactive and dynamic platform to spur online channel usage for service inquiries and transactions, and to foster shared learning and collective innovation.
Regarding service delivery, like many citizens, a significant proportion of small businesses continue to interact with governments via paper, in-person, and especially over the telephone. By contrast, BizPaL could instead be deployed as a means to aggressively inform and incentivize business users as to the benefits of transacting online (benefits for not only individual companies but for a jurisdiction as a whole).
Moreover, in the spirit of its creation in the first place – namely to work across jurisdictional boundaries – BizPaL could provide a foundation for a truly integrated and federated identity management system to enable seamless compliance with the public sector as a whole. The convergence of new mobile banking solutions and the government of Canada’s new and more modular identity management framework presents key enablers in this regard.
Beyond transacting, however, there is a tremendous opportunity for learning and collaborating not only among government levels but also across sectors. Recent studies have shown that small businesses in Canada are increasingly tech-savvy and thus ready for new forms of engagement: a 2013 survey conducted by the Bank of Montreal (BMO), for instance, found 57 percent of small businesses actively using social media.
Yet social media on BizPaL is nowhere to be found. Instead, many governments have individually sought to improve the dialogue with their own business communities leading to various regulation and red tape reduction initiatives across the country. The province of Ontario and the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses, for example, jointly published a strategic action plan in 2012 based on a joint consultation exercise.
This otherwise worthwhile Ontario example is nonetheless notable for its reliance on a single association as the primary voice for the plethora of small businesses across the province. Social media is once again absent, and even today companies are asked to provide regulatory comments online via a traditional feedback form (that almost any business owner is sure to ignore). Contrast these contours with some additional findings from the aforementioned BMO study: 38 percent of small business are crowdsourcing ideas online and just over one-third actively monitoring social media for feedback and insights.
It is precisely this eco-system of dynamic participation that BizPaL must harness in order to infuse the public sector with the knowledge to become a more agile and adaptive partner across the intertwined realms of regulation and innovation.
Unlike apps competitions and open government agendas that remain largely disjointed across government levels, BizPaL provides a unique and pre-existing basis for cooperation. The keys to its success going forward will be to invite users into an open and meaningful conversation, much of it online, and to enable the co-creation of public value across all sectors.
Canada’s political federalism has largely stymied genuinely client-centric governance for businesses and entrepreneurs. A revived and enhanced platform service and engagement – BizPaL 2.0 – could help lessen this costly chasm.