This is the best of times for the CIO community. Our traditional role is evolving from technical specialist to digital leader and business partner. In fact, the opportunity is in the transition from Chief Information Officer to “Chief Innovation Officer,” driving an organization’s business efficiency and effectiveness, using innovation as a key enterprise enabler.
In the government of Canada today, executives are facing challenges and opportunities that are not only reshaping how we operate, but also, as in the case of government Chief Information Officers, significantly redefining our roles.
The environment we operate in is changing across all fronts. The impressive legacy of information technology (IT) systems implemented over the last decades is ripe for renewal. The rapid pace of technological change continues unabated, with opportunities for innovation surfacing daily. Demands for efficient, client-focused program and service delivery continue to grow from both external and internal clients, just as our economic reality demands greater fiscal restraint. As leaders, CIOs must find new strategies to rapidly address these trends, renewing and innovating quickly on tighter budgets. They need to work with their organizations to get the most value out of their operational and investment budgets.
On the human resources side, CIOs must prepare for a looming information and information communications technology (ICT) skills shortage without delay. The Information and Communications Technology Council’s quarterly update, Strengthening Canada’s Digital Advantage, cites that many ICT occupations are suffering from an acute worker and skills shortage. Canada’s digital economy and the federal public service will continue to require skilled ICT talent. Retaining, retraining, and engaging our current staff and attracting tomorrow’s workers in this economy is another core challenge for CIOs.
The classic distributed IT service delivery model that government has been relying on for the last 40-plus years is simply no longer optimal to meet today’s realities. With all of this change happening, what can the CIO community expect of its future leaders? They should expect leadership through innovation.
The traditional role for the CIO in the federal public service changed with the creation of Shared Services Canada (SSC) in August 2011. With the establishment of this new organization came the centralization of departments’ core IT infrastructure, specifically email, data centres and networks. This government-wide, enterprise approach has resulted in fewer IT resources in departments, allowing the CIO to focus less on being the departmental technical leader and more on becoming a strategic and innovative business enabler and partner.
This new reality requires a paradigm shift. CIOs can now focus on the future, proactively improving service design and delivery with their business partners throughout government and changing their role from service provider to innovation agent and catalyst for enterprise transformation.
This is a substantive shift which will take time and the support of executive committees and deputy heads. Those CIOs who quickly and effectively leverage the full potential of today’s technology to respond to citizens’ needs will enable transformation across the public service, and become recognized as strategic business enablers and equal partners in the executive suite.
Emerging skill set for CIOs
There is no doubt this paradigm shift will bring with it challenges of its own, including a change in the skills required by CIOs as well as a change in the kind of leaders we need in our CIO organizations, those now in the succession planning pipeline.
It used to be that most chief information officers in government were promoted on the basis of their technological expertise in implementing large complex IT solutions from start to finish, often through a reliance on large IT teams with a very broad set of skills. While technological aptitude was often the key determinant of career progression in the past, the current and emerging environments require a very different skill set.
For CIOs, the ability to create partnerships, to challenge peers, to fully understand the business of the organization and to align IT strategy with organizational business objectives are the critical skills required today. The ability to source and quickly deliver new IT solutions in smaller, usable and affordable increments will require a much stronger focus on IT investment planning and applications portfolio management going forward.
Finally, the ability to effectively partner with the private sector on solutions implementation and to create and nurture collaborative partnerships across governmental jurisdictions to leverage systems solutions which may already exist, will also be important.
CIO organization of the future
Going forward, it will no longer make sense to develop unique in-house solutions to common business systems challenges. CIOs will need to enhance the capacity of their organizations to plan for and implement off-the-shelf solutions to today’s business challenges wherever possible. The integration of new technology, available solutions components and new implementation approaches that rely more on the private sector will need to be done in a highly dynamic environment. Moreover, the successful CIO organization of the future will focus less on application development skills, and more on strong analysis, architecture, systems integration, testing and project management skills. It will leverage private-sector services that are cost-effective and can adapt to an ever-changing environment in an agile manner.
As such, there will be smaller CIO organizations, with more senior-level personnel, as governments move toward the strategic sourcing of off-the-shelf applications and services to drive business performance. The focus of these smaller CIO organizations will shift from application development to business analytics and relationship management, and their skill sets will also need to change to effectively support chief information officers in their new roles.
Retaining those professionals with the skill sets required will remain a priority. As well, retraining those with the desire to evolve and retool for the new normal for CIO organizations will be essential as we embark on a decade where these ICT skills will continue to grow in demand while the supply remains limited.
The power of innovation
In government, innovation often changes how we interact and collaborate with citizens and businesses and sometimes with other jurisdictions. With the launch of the government of Canada’s Open Data portal (www.data.gc.ca), for example, the government is signalling its commitment to collaborative innovation by the creative reuse of open data. This initiative represents a huge economic opportunity for Canada.
As the CIO for the government of Canada, I am committed to taking this even further by promoting open data across all levels of government. I am pleased that already British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario and the City of Nanaimo have agreed to use our common Open Government Licence, the first step in a broader pan-Canadian collaboration on open data.
I am proud of our many successful projects in recent years that sought to do things differently, such as the Biometric Visa and Secure Key initiatives, and I am committed to continuing on the road to innovative service delivery.
Ensuring CIO bench strength
Finally, a strong, well thought-out and executed approach to chief information officer talent management, including succession planning, is fundamental to ensuring our CIO bench strength. Current CIOs and their potential successors need to have a clear understanding of the skills, knowledge and competencies required for career advancement. In addition, deputy heads need to embrace the new role of the CIO to ensure potential successors are getting opportunities to develop the necessary skills to be a full member of the executive team.
So whether you are a chief information officer, deputy head or other senior executive, I challenge you to embrace this paradigm shift from technology specialist to strategic business enabler in the context of your responsibilities. It offers a wonderful opportunity to improve the public service, to grow personally and professionally, and to advance our careers. The world is changing and we must change with it!
CIC’s Temporary Resident Biometrics Project
Starting in the fall of 2013, the federal government will begin using biometric technology to screen visitors from certain countries who require a visa. The use of biometrics (fingerprints and a digital photograph) as a screening tool will benefit Canadians by helping to prevent known criminals and other individuals from using a false identity to unlawfully obtain a Canadian visa. Reducing the risk of unlawful entry into Canada will help to facilitate the flow of legitimate travellers and trade across our borders.
Over 130 Canadian visa application centres (VAC) are being established in up to 96 countries with commercial service providers to facilitate the submission of visa applications and offer greater access to biometric collection services. Through a partnership with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, affected applicants for Canadian visas will also have access to biometric collection service at 135 Application Support Centres within the United States.
The success of this innovative initiative is due in large part to the strong, collaborative partnership established by the federal departments involved. This biometrics technology can be leveraged to support other government initiatives, delivering government results more quickly and cost-effectively.
Since it started offering services online in 2004, the federal government has worked toward improving online service delivery to Canadians. Today, Canadians use the Internet on a daily basis to find information and access services such as online banking and, increasingly, they expect choice and convenience in how they interact with government online.
In December 2012, the government completed the implementation of a truly innovative cyber authentication solution which leverages investments made by the private sector in secure online infrastructure. The use of a Credential Broker Service and private sector credential service providers gives Canadians the option to use credentials (user name and password) they already have with their financial institutions to access government of Canada online services.
The service is non-proprietary, more cost-effective and adaptable to new security threats. It allows the government to evolve with advances in technology while continuing to provide secure access to government online services for individuals and businesses, while respecting privacy.