By Pascale Duguay, Federal Client Partner
Kal Patel, Partner, Data Platform, AI, & Blockchain Services
IBM Canada

Public sector organizations have demonstrated tremendous resilience and adaptation. With the shift towards more safe, secure and digital practices, citizens and employees now expect the Canadian Government to provide and continually improve online services. This means fully embracing digital transformation, accelerating citizen experience and removing friction across its integrated services.

The cornerstone of this transformation is anchored in the ability of government to privately consume, access and secure citizen data across services underpinned by investments in digital credentials, identity and authentication methods.

Whether it be credit cards, vaccination records, academic qualifications, driver’s licenses or passports, Canadians are looking for a better way to manage their personal data without it living in a physical wallet, purse or backpack. And digital credentials are providing a more efficient, fraud-resistant and reliable alternative to conventional identification methods and also deliver a better user experience and privacy.

Many governments have made lengthy attempts to establish digital credentialling systems yet are now lagging in the original projections that at least 80% government services that require authentication would support access through digital ID providers by 2023. Bureaucratic and cultural challenges and underpinning policy complexities have often been underestimated and have contributed to underperforming digital services.

Below we explore how user-centric experience design, tightly woven ecosystem partnerships and robust security practices are critical to any digital transformation in government and for digital credentials and identities in particular.

Reimagining government operations and the employee experience

Citizens and employees now expect government to continually improve online services and to match, if not exceed, the present-day digital experience in the private sector. Government leaders need to fully embrace a transformation in citizen and employee engagement and the convergence and automation of workflows and services. This also includes providing meaningful opportunities to the government employees that support these services. A resilient workforce that is able to move with the speed of business and is engaged with appropriate training as their roles evolve is critical to the expedient delivery of public services. Digital credentials can play a pivotal role here as citizens provide consent every time their data is shared across agencies.

Eliminating pervasive inter-departmental and agency silos

There is a continuing need to improve master data and data governance to drive much more robust, flexible and transparent analytics and insights for citizens. Departments and agencies must work together to break down organizational and data silos to deliver real-time decision support across public services. Technology and solutions for data lakehouses, analytics, AI and robust APIs can help significantly accelerate the integration of the ecosystem peripheral services and minimize the cost of operations. Corresponding updates to citizen data, privacy and access policies and guardrails must be implemented and maintained to reflect current and future department and citizen needs.

Maintaining national security and Citizen safety

The imperative to stay ahead of cyber threats has been massively reinforced in recent years. The accelerated response of many governments has led to an increasingly complex attack surface, which in turn increases possible threat vectors for bad actors. The cost of a data breach in Canada is hovering around $7 million and the time to discover a public sector breach exceeds seven months.

Citizens and governments need the tools to control how they own, manage, share and preserve their own identity and information. A standards-based, decentralized identity system gives citizens and governments self-sovereign ownership of their data backed by strong layers of security. IBM is working with leading industry organizations, partners and communities to co-create digital identity and credential systems and processes to ensure a higher level of trust and privacy and enable better ways for the world to securely exchange information.