When Saskatchewan began a Cabinet Modernization Project in 2008, members of the Cabinet Secretariat looked around the world to better understand emerging trends and actions being taken by other jurisdictions. Interestingly, Ireland and Slovenia provided concrete examples of how technology not only replaced antiquated systems, but how better decisions were possible in a shorter time period with better information.
Cabinet Modernization, from a Saskatchewan perspective means “the ability to respond to any situation in a timely fashion, from anywhere in the world, using current and accurate information within a document process that is easy to use and that can submit the relevant information and recommendations to key decision-makers in a format that facilitates a determination by government.”
The government is streamlining the process by using technology to enhance the quality of the product. It is developing a paperless system to facilitate the ability to track documents, in real time, to ensure that ministry and government priorities are being achieved. And it is providing the flexibility in the development of these documents to allow for video, pictures, maps and the like to assist public servants in moving away from a text-based environment.
The first step along this road was the decision in September 2010 by the Premier and Cabinet that all ministers were to use iPads. This initial decision, while sending shockwaves throughout government, was a watershed moment. It brought focus and purpose to the groundwork that had been done. In the fall of 2010, ministers and their staffs were able to integrate iPads into their working lives. The ability to receive documents and emails provided a new opportunity to receive timely information.
Concerns about security were raised, and rightly so, as Cabinet moved toward its first paperless meeting in October 2010. There is no question that ongoing security reviews and updates are part of the working life of government now and will continue as we move forward.
Through the initial use of PDF documents, and finally with the arrival of the Cabinet App on January 9, the Cabinet is now able to effectively receive documents and render decisions in a secure environment. The challenge facing the Cabinet Secretariat is to maintain the pace of Cabinet.
With the technology in place for the review of documents, Cabinet Secretariat moved to looking at the “back-end” of how one moves to a paperless system. Working with Zu, a programming company out of Saskatoon, a fully operational Cabinet Document Intranet site will be launched in November 2011. This site will see all Cabinet document templates being accessed by those within the ministry or agency that require access. It will also give the writer the ability to use hyperlinks, pictures, video, etc. This system will permit the tracking of documents and collaboration with other ministries and agencies during their creation. Orders-in-Council will also be developed through this system, as well as the documentation required for all Cabinet committees.
The critical point to all of this is that none of the documents can be printed. As we move toward the digitization of our archives midway through this decade, and deal with the challenges of storage space, we are ensuring that Cabinet documents take the initial lead in this area.
A secondary component in the Cabinet Modernization plan, and one which has been completed, is video conferencing. The Cabinet is now connected to the world. The phrase “are you able to be in Regina (or Saskatoon) on this day” is slowly being removed as part of the lexicon of ministers or officials’ offices.
The ability to videoconference throughout the province and to the world provides a unique opportunity for officials and Cabinet to address issues and to be more efficient with their time. An example of the work in this area was the recent July 2011 videoconference wherein seven secure locations throughout North America were utilized to facilitate a meeting of the Saskatchewan Cabinet.
The pushing of the Cabinet information through the iPads to the Cabinet App, allowed all ministers to review the information required. The videoconferencing provided the Premier with the ability to see and hear his colleagues discuss the issues, and this format was respectful of individual’s time and the taxpayers’ money.
Over the past year, we have moved our Cabinet Modernization agenda forward to meet the ongoing challenges of government in the 21st century. As we look forward to 2012, we see many opportunities for future growth and development in enhancing the cabinet process.
Fredrick D. (Rick) Mantey is Cabinet Secretary and Clerk of the Executive Council for Saskatchewan.