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Every level of government must embrace digital transformation to better serve citizens

Across Canada, thousands of people are engaging with different levels of governments right now — accessing everything from federal to municipal services.

They could simply be gathering information or renewing a licence, or attempting to navigate agencies across multiple jurisdictions to solve a more complex problem.

Whatever their interaction might be, many will walk away frustrated by public sector bureaucracy and digital experiences that are outdated, or even non-existent, in some cases.

In fact, a 2022 Angus Reid Institute survey found that “just over half of Canadians (55%) professed some level of satisfaction in dealing with the federal government.”

The news is a little better for other levels of government, with satisfaction levels at 68% for provincial services and 72% for municipal support.

But there’s still plenty of room for improvement — especially when you compare us to other jurisdictions.

In a 2022 Deloitte report, titled ‘Capitalizing on government’s cloud momentum: How to accelerate mission-critical outcomes in the Canadian public sector,’ one cloud leader noted “Canada’s cloud adoption is five years behind that of the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia.”

Here at home, governments agree we’ve got a long way to go still.

“Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadians have increasingly worked, shopped, learned, and engaged with government online. Their expectation and need for easy-to-use, accessible digital options continue to grow, and many public- and private-sector organizations are transforming to use digital technologies to deliver better programs and services.”

This excerpt is from the Government of Canada’s Digital Ambition 2022, a strategic approach to digital transformation of the public sector, meant to change how Canadians interact with and view the federal government. Hopefully, it can also blaze a trail for provincial and municipal governments as well.

Ultimately, governments (and government agencies) that deploy modern, digital tools to better engage with citizens will not only deliver the experiences citizens are craving but make their own organizations more efficient and effective in the long term.

On the flip side, any level of government that fails to modernize and digitize will find itself incurring the wrath of frustrated citizens, as well as failing to improve internal efficiency.

From mayoral offices to provincial government buildings to the legions of public sector departments in Ottawa, it’s time for change.

What can a digitally transformed government achieve?

As we’ve established, Canada’s digital transformation journey has a long path ahead.

To get us moving faster, all levels of government might benefit by taking inspiration from the four guiding themes in the Government of Canada’s Digital Ambition 2022:

  1. Excellence in technology and operations with a de-risked technical landscape and modern, agile, human-centred practices.
  2. Simpler, trusted digitally driven services and programs underpinned by Government of Canada-wide data integration and management.
  3. Governing frameworks and policies designed for a modern, secure, and privacy-centric digital government.
  4. Optimized, upskilled, and empowered digital talent across the Government of Canada, with the knowledge that digital talent across Canada is at a premium.

A 2022 McKinsey study on the transformation of government also notes that successful digitization and digitalization initiatives require both meaningful engagement of public sector employees and the effective use of digital tools.

Public sector employees, especially those on the frontlines, know better than most the frustrations citizens have with government services. They’re working with the same technology limitations as users are.

Arming public sector workers with digital software, applications and cloud processing/storage that enables better, more human-centric user experiences, could go a long way towards transforming how governments interact with people.

It’s also worth noting that many Canadian government bodies have sustainability goals that aren’t compatible with outdated technologies.

Consider, for instance, the United States as a bellwether.

A national survey of 100 state and local government leaders by the Center for Digital Government found that “eighty-four percent of those surveyed noted their organization has some sort of sustainability goal, and 67% said digitization will play a key role in meeting it.

The report notes that digital infrastructure and systems are more resilient during a natural disaster, and when supply chains are disrupted. And about half of respondents cited climate as a primary reason for technological investment, which includes electric fleets and the elimination of paper waste via digitized records systems.

Canadian governments and agencies will also likely find themselves looking to digital transformation to address similar challenges. So what can digital transformation achieve?

Better citizen engagement? Check.

Empowering public sector workers? Check.

Addressing sustainability goals? Check.

How can governments kickstart their digital transformation journey?

Although the Government of Canada’s Digital Ambition 2022 is a federal plan, a lot of the starting points they recommend could also be applied to municipal or provincial governments as well:

  • Prioritizing cloud services or moving to Shared Services Canada’s (SSC) enterprise data centres when it makes sense to do so.
  • Leveraging common enterprise solutions and cloud-based solutions such as software-as-a-service (SaaS).
  • Monitoring and investing to keep the portfolio in good health.
  • Using secure application development practices to help mitigate the risks of vulnerabilities in application software and to provide assurance that digital services are operating as intended.
  • Minimizing cyber risks by implementing the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security’s top 10 security actions.
  • Developing standards, tools, and guidance for a user-centred approach to accessibility and disability that makes it part of the application development process.

Some of these steps are already in progress in Canada.

As every public sector agency knows, many digital transformation initiatives were suddenly launched in March 2020 when a certain novel coronavirus landed here.

But that doesn’t mean transformation is happening fast enough to keep up with demand in our ever more digital landscape. Or that it’s always successful…

The McKinsey report’s survey of public sector leaders found that nearly 80 percent of major change efforts in government fall short of meeting their objectives.

That’s a pretty terrible success rate.

Which is why governments (at all levels) must be strategic about their digital transformation efforts, engaging technology partners who can help them avoid common pitfalls — and even potentially leverage innovations already achieved in the private sector or by other countries who are further ahead than us.

From digitizing records and cloud adoption, to developing custom applications and software that enhance efficiency for public sector works and/or improve user experience, choose experienced development teams (like Vog!) with a proven track record of building custom solutions to meet every client’s unique organizational needs.

Have questions? Looking to get started on your digital product? Get in touch: