When he was deputy attorney general, Allan Seckel was known for working in a paperless office and frequently meeting by videoconference. Now, as B.C.’s Deputy Minister to the Premier and Cabinet Secretary, he packs his iPad as often as his government-issued tablet computer, he has a blog on the corporate intranet, and he is continually challenging his executive colleagues to embrace the same technology that he does.
So it is no surprise that as part of his role, Seckel is leading a drive toward technology-driven transformation in the BC Public Service. While he doesn’t claim to understand all the complexities of the technology at hand, he has a clear sense of the potential it holds to alter how government serves citizens.
It’s a vision that has now taken shape in B.C.’s new technology strategy.
Mirroring the approach behind the highly successful corporate HR plan, Being the Best, last fall Seckel convened a new Deputy Ministers’ Committee on Transformation and Technology (DMCTT) to lead this next stage of transforming the public service.
“One of the reasons we’ve made such progress on the HR front is that it was led by a team of deputies genuinely committed to the idea of taking a creative corporate approach,” Seckel says. “What we are doing with this new committee is really a natural next step to build on that progress. That HR work was driven by a recognition that a variety of forces are driving us to change how we operate. We always knew HR alone wouldn’t address that challenge, but we saw value in starting the transformation there. Now we need to also rethink the rest of what we do.”
For the first several months after it was established, DMCTT met every couple of weeks for content education sessions in which the committee members developed their understanding of technology issues and trends, best practices in other jurisdictions, and the related policy and operational implications and potential. Discussions covered a broad range of topics, from social media to identity security. Then they challenged themselves to think about where that could lead.
It soon led the committee to what was initially labelled an e-government strategy, but there was a sense that descriptor itself was inadequate and outdated.
“This really isn’t a strategy about technology,” Seckel says. “It’s a strategy to drive changes in how we work and how we serve citizens. Technology is a big part of that. But we’re not talking about technology for technology’s sake.”
That citizen-service focus is reflected in the three defining principles of the strategy itself:
1.Empower citizens to create value from open government data.
2.Strive to save citizens’ time in their interaction with government and m ake it easi er to access better quality services.
3.Encourage collaboration in the public service because it is integral to delivering quality service to citizens.
Those principles underline a series of actions and enabling steps set out under three broad themes reflecting the strategic shifts in the operational philosophy of the public service identified through initial discussion with ministries:
- Citizen participation: engage British Columbians more directly with their government, particularly through improved access to government data and sharing of information.
- Service innovation: expand opportunities for citizen self-service by improving and modernizing the government’s online service offerings so they are shaped less by the structure of government and more by citizen needs.
- Business innovation: take a more corporate approach to technology planning and innovation for the benefit of citizens and public service employees.
The first of these shifts will be the most readily apparent to the public in the short-term as B.C. launches a new data-sharing website this fall, publishing the first of what will become a growing collection of data sets in machine readable format. The intent is that citizens and businesses will be able to use and mash-up the data in ways that generate benefit not only for them but for government as well.
“We hold tremendous amounts of non-personal data that we have traditionally been very insular about, and when we do share it we don’t do so in a very useful format,” says Deputy Minister of Citizens’ Services Kim Henderson, whose ministry oversees the B.C. government’s IM/IT infrastructure. “This is really a cultural shift as much as it is an operational one. But we actually believe it creates tremendous potential value.”
The data site is part of a broader overhaul of the government online presence designed to make it more citizen-centric so that people can easily find the services and information they want, regardless of what agency delivers it.
“We need to better reflect citizen expectations in today’s wired and wireless world,” says Henderson. “We want to put more services online, but there’s little point in doing that if they aren’t also accessible in every sense. This presents some real policy and technical challenges for us, but they aren’t insurmountable and overcoming those is a chance to really establish B.C. as a leader in areas like identity management.”
The third major shift described in the strategy, business innovation, speaks the most to transforming how government works. It is focused on driving ministries to rethink their operations and to improve the employee technology experience across the public service.
“It used to be that people had way better technology at work than they did at home,” says Seckel. “That is no longer the case. We need to make sure that public service employees have adequate tools to do their jobs, and that they are trusted to use the tools available to all of us to serve citizens better.”
That viewpoint includes the introduction of new social media guidelines for the BC Public Service, giving employees greater choice in what tools and technology they need, and more flexibility about when, where and how they work to reflect the increasing blurring of lines between work and home.
The business innovation shift is also driving a new corporate approach to how the B.C. government uses, deploys and procures technology. Collaborating in sectors, ministries must now produce annual transformation and technology plans that detail how their planning process will align with the corporate strategy. Those plans will be a fundamental part of the IM/IT capital funding process.
“If you want capital funding for an IT project, it will need to be in the sector plan and its link to the corporate strategy will need to be clear,” Seckel says. “It’s really about thinking like one government. That’s how the public sees us, and I think we need to see ourselves that way as well if we’re going to successfully meet the challenges we all face.”
Seckel points to the first year of this process as a learning year to establish a foundation for the future, emphasizing that B.C.’s approach is to pursue ongoing transformation.
“We are talking about some profound changes to how we operate,” Seckel says. “But just like when you adopt a new piece of technology, it takes a while to get used to, but then eventually it just becomes a part of how we work.”
Rueben Bronee is executive director for the Public Service Initiative with B.C.’s Mi