Citizens EngagementE-governmentTechnologyTransformation
January 24, 2019

Digital government in Canada: Moving from good to great

People already know the world is digital and that the best organizations interact with them on the device and channel of their choice. They expect a personalized and seamless experience, whether from their bank, their telecommunications provider or the government. 

And yet, Canada’s rank on the United Nations E-Government Development Index has gone from third in 2010 to 23rd in 2018. It’s not that Canada’s score has fallen; it’s that we’ve been leapfrogged by countries like Denmark, Australia and Britain that have made significant improvements. We’ve taken an incremental and risk-averse approach, while these countries are disrupting and rethinking their business models from top to bottom.

This is our wakeup call. But there’s reason to be optimistic as there are initiatives underway to advance Canada’s digital government transformation. Consider the following digital government building blocks:

1. Digital-first Mindset

It is imperative that governments think digital-first as the cornerstone of faster, better service delivery. And it’s more than a catchy phrase; it requires a focus on skills, tools and approach.

The creation of Canada’s first minister of digital government sends a good signal. The establishment of the Canadian Digital Service to support federal organizations as they build capacity and develop better digital services is another step in the right direction. And finally, Canada’s participation in the Digital 9 – countries at the forefront of digital government – will pay dividends in helping Canada collaborate and share best practices. And there’s much to share; for example, Digital 9 member Estonia has fully embraced digital, establishing a secure national digital identity and e-services for important government operations.

2. Shifting the Focus to the Citizen Experience

To deliver fundamental change, Canada must take an outside-in perspective, putting the citizen (i.e. their behaviours and their preferences) at the heart of digital transformation.

This is easier said than done, if you consider that the government isn’t really organized to deal with the citizen as a single person: one agency may deal with them as a taxpayer, another department as an individual that requires income security benefits, another as someone who needs a passport, etc. 

Again, there’s a lot underway to make operations more citizen-centric. Blueprint 2020 sets the vision for world class public service and is intended to get rid of silos and take a whole government approach that enhances service delivery to clients.  And internally, it creates a modern workplace and workforce.

As another example, the federal government’s Benefits Finder tool helps citizens get a customized list of federal or provincial/territorial benefits they’re eligible for, without them having to know which department offers the benefit.  Internally, the government launched GC Workplace to create a work environment that supports the way employees want to work regardless of their roles, rank or demographics, with a focus on flexibility and mobility.

Being agile is critical. Rather than waiting for perfection, it’s important to “learn fast and fail faster,” making ideas and potential solutions useable by getting them in front of people quickly to see how they react. The best insights and ideas come from observation; solutions can be optimized and refined with every iteration. This agile framework is the methodology that our global network of firms has used with municipal, provincial and federal public sector organizations in our PwC Experience Centres.

3. Collaborate through Partnerships

Government, like the private sector, should leverage the power of partnerships because it’s not efficient or effective to do otherwise. Today, there are many initiatives in the works to harness expertise, talent and technologies to transform government services.

For instance, the federal government has earmarked up to $950 million for the Innovation Superclusters Initiative that incentivizes large-scale collaboration and focuses on enhancing labour force talent and technology leadership, including digital skills.

Also, PwC Canada is working with Bayview Yards and the Information Technology Association of Canada to establish a Canadian ‘govtech’ innovation hub. This would accelerate the development and adoption of digital solutions and innovative technology across the public service. Start-ups and small businesses, as well as multinational technology firms, will benefit from and develop new ‘govtech’ business. Associated export opportunities and talent development could be significant for the Canadian economy.

4. Protect Citizen Data

Keeping citizens at the centre of digital transformation means consistently delivering secure services that instill a sense of confidence among Canadians. Whether they’re paying their taxes or applying for a license online, Canadians want to know they can trust their government to keep their information private and secure. To deliver on this, governments need to be transparent about how they use and safeguard personal information and help guide the market on cybersecurity measures.  Ensuring trust is also of critical importance as emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning consume citizen data.

Looking Ahead

Digital government done right is within our grasp. While technology is critical, it’s much more than that. Digital transformation is about the experience we create for people – experiences that generate new, enduring and evolving value. It’s about focusing on the citizen experience, building partnerships, embracing more agile practices, and instilling confidence and trust among Canadians.

Lori Watson is PwC Canada’s Federal Government Leader in Ottawa.

Heather Meek is a PwC Director focused on Government Service Transformation.

About this author


Lori Watson and Heather Meek

Lori Watson is PwC Canada’s Federal Government Leader in Ottawa. Heather Meek is a PwC Director focused on Government Service Transformation.


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