As the showcase province at this year’s Government Technology (GTEC) conference in Ottawa, Manitoba highlighted how it is leveraging enterprise solutions to create best practices and improve citizen services. Just as interesting is its organizational structure, which has been transformed so that emerging information technology is linked into the province’s economic development. Deputy Minister John Clarkson and Assistant Deputy Minister Gisela Rempel of the Department of Innovation, Energy and Mines, spoke with associate editor Chris Thatcher about a holistic approach that ties innovation and economic development with the integration of IT.
What is your vision for the role of technology in government?
Clarkson: I think one has to look at the role of technology in the broader context of the services that governments provide. The role of technology is a support for government being more effective and efficient in terms of dealing with its main clients, which for us are the residents of Manitoba.
Rempel: We have a governance body called the Business Transformation Executive Committee which is responsible for coming up with an annual online services priority list. So there are a number of things that we have been looking at putting online. We’re getting more into the area of online service delivery. We have set up our website to be the portal for potentially all personal services for the residents of Manitoba in the future. And we are going to set up a portal this fall for businesses to access all of things you might need to do, for example, to name your company, pay your provincial taxes, apply for permits or licenses. It’s our vision that all services will be handled through the resident or business portals.
How do you define “connected government”?
Clarkson: Connected government means a strong link between citizens and the services that government provides, and that people can access those services and information in a way that is appropriate for them. The GTEC theme of “Connect, Collaborate and Create” relates to the way in which we have approached the whole process of transformation of government to provide services in a more effective and efficient fashion, supported with technology.
Rempel: There is also the economic development connection. Our collaboration within the province involves many vendors and systems integrators – this is not something we are doing on our own. For example, we have a common desktop throughout the province and our services provider is HP Enterprise Services. We’ve consolidated our data centre with IBM. There are many partners that we work with on application development as well.
Clarkson: Partnerships are a critical way for us to deliver services. Also, without those partnership arrangements it would be difficult for us to acquire the skills and knowledge internally in a short timeframe to install the projects we are looking at. Through partnership arrangements we have exceptional opportunities for knowledge transfer to allow us to reuse technology. Collaboration is one of the key factors we emphasize in our activities to be successful at gaining access to new processes, best practices, and being able to use technology to its fullest.
The Information and Communication Technology Council recently reported that a number of provinces, including Manitoba, will have a challenge generating experienced ICT skills. Are partnerships how you overcome that?
Clarkson: They are, and it’s not just a challenge for us. One of the unique things about our department is that not only am I responsible for internal IT business transformation and support activities related to creating more innovation in government, I have the economic development responsibilities from an innovation perspective as well, which includes the innovation policy side, the research policy side, and business development in the areas of technology or new industries. So IT business development is a critical part of the department. And the number one issue that IT companies identified to us is access to skilled resources – Canada is not producing a sufficient number of skilled resources to support the growing IT industry.
Has there been an increase in “collaborate and create” with citizens?
Clarkson: I think we are seeing a lot more of that with citizens and other governments as we have looked at ways that we can share the practices we have learned with others and others have started to share with us. We also work hard to understand the feedback we get from the public to see how we can fit that into the plans that we have going forward. As an example, citizens still tell us that the number one way they want to get information from government is by phone – having a person answer that phone. So we have stayed away from using automatic phone systems. We’ve used that to look at ways in which we can improve our service delivery so that it is seamless – if you come to an office, go on a website, or call, you get exactly the same information.
Rempel: As another example, a former employee of ours is seconded as executive director of the Institute for Citizen-Centred Service. That allows us good access to the information they glean on what citizens and business are saying. We are also working closely in collaboration with other provinces. We have staff on the public sector service delivery council and public sector CIO council. We were the first jurisdiction to roll out a province-wide online childcare registry, which makes it easier for families to find and apply for licensed childcare, but we actually got that technology from the government of Ontario. We have a BizPal program in cooperation with the federal government, and a Premises ID program that helps to plan and manage food safety, which is an IBM piece of technology.
Are you starting to see more collaboration and creation across and within departments? Is there a “de-layering” and “de-siloing” effect occurring?
Clarkson: One of the major focuses that we brought into transforming government three years ago was to centralize our IT function into one department and combine it with a business transformation responsibility. That has meant that we approach every single activity from a perspective of understanding first, what is the best practice in terms of methods and processes, and second, what is the tool that is required to support that and how do we ensure the tool is put in place for the specific issue that we are dealing with but also allows us to reuse it in a number of different places. We have done that with our asset management system. A few years ago we used SAP to bring in a major asset management system, and now use it locally within individual areas that require their own asset management systems. The first install, of course, is expensive but, because it is generic, we can reuse it very quickly. We are looking at that kind of approach with common systems for access-to-information, registration activities, e-commerce activities and claims management. In addition, we also have a common infrastructure across government that supports all of our activities.
Rempel: From a program perspective, for example, our general practitioners throughout the province now have the first online tool in Canada to help doctors find the right specialist for their patients, which saves time for both doctors and patients. We have an immigration portal for our provincial nomin