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Innovate on Demand, Episode 21: On a Mission

In this episode, Christiana Cavazzoni, Associate Assistant Deputy Minister and Deputy Chief Information Officer from the Department of National Defence, reflects on her ten year career in the public service, and how innovation has evolved.

Duration: 23:18
Date: April 12, 2021

Transcript

Todd Lyons
I'm Todd Lyons.

Natalie Crandall 
I'm Natalie Crandall.

Christiana Cavazzoni
I'm Christiana Cavazzoni.

Todd Lyons
And this is the Innovate on Demand podcast.

Natalie Crandall
Welcome, Christiana.

Christiana Cavazzoni
Nice pleasure to be here today.

Natalie Crandall
What brings you to our Innovate on Demand podcast today?

Christiana Cavazzoni
Well, I received an email from Neil Bouwer yesterday. He's a very compelling individual, I have a lot of respect for Neil, and he asked me to be on this podcast, I think I have a bit of a presence in the community on innovation, data, former technology CIO. I think it's a space that I've always been very passionate about. I came from an environment of innovation. I worked in private sector for many, many, many years in high tech. So I came into government with expectations to innovate. And I do recall my first few months in government, and I didn't really understand why we didn't have a budget for innovation. We didn't have a budget for R&D, and somebody had to explain to me the machinery of government. 10 years later here I am still struggling to figure out where do we fit innovation in this very complex machinery. I look forward to the conversation today.

Natalie Crandall
Well, first and foremost, thank you for still being here 10 years later trying to help us figure out how we can do this thing. Maybe we can start off, you can tell us a little bit about what that looks like 10 years later, what are some of the obstacles and some of the opportunities that we have today to take advantage of or to work on.

Christiana Cavazzoni
I came in government with a preconceived idea that innovation and R&D is a must, is a must to be able to keep up with market demands in the space of, say, former a high tech company, but also to be able to advance basically government as a whole. And there's a aspect of retention and human resources in keeping up with the expectations of society. What does it look like? It's really departmental specific, which is my level of disappointment. There isn't a program of innovation for the Government of Canada, we have a lot of departments, to be fair, depending a lot on the deputy ministers at the helm as well, that either push it or kind of look at it, and they're curious about it, but they really have a difficult time orchestrating it through the machinery and complexities of the department. I think we've made progress. If I think about 10 years ago, where I was bringing it up and every time I would talk about innovation, and research and development, we get the stare, no, we don't work that way. We have programs, we have projects, and this is how we deliver to Canadians. But I felt that a certain point in time, considering the state, frankly, of technology, and we kind of need to inject a little bit of different thinking. So we were passengers, we were looking at the various community of vendors telling us what we should and what we shouldn't be doing, but we weren't really doing anything about it. I think we've made some progress. I think some leaders in government have moved it. I think a new generation of public servants have come in and kind of rattled the cage a bit. But yes, I see some momentum around data and digital that will require innovation and a different way of thinking. There are many barriers, I think the fabric of government is for a lot of good reasons. You know, we are not wired to support what I would call systematic innovation and what is systematic innovation, we talk a lot about failing fast, failing forward reducing the level of risk aversion, risk tolerance. But at the end of the day especially when we talk about risk, there isn't a high level of risk acceptance primarily because we are government, and we are subject to public scrutiny. So, how do we instrument an innovation ecosystem where we can still behave in a certain way and try to systematically try to derive some outcomes out of innovation. What I think it's a main differentiation between you know, if you think about the high tech sector that tried to get products to market or my former company, Nortel. We had to innovate, it was kind of in the adrenaline, was in the fabric, was in the DNA. But it was also an outcome, right? The outcome of innovation was not just to strike things out, there was a purpose to innovation. And my observation having been in a number of departments is that we kind of losing that purpose. So we go through cycles of, oh, let's try these things out we have a new digital gadget. We have a new AI way of doing things. And we have a micro opportunity that we can test about, but we kind of failed to see the, the onset of the expectations of 'we have to scale up'. And if there is a reflection in the 10 years is that we really have not mastered that yet. You know, I hear arguments about you don't have enough funding for innovation, I actually don't believe that, I think we have an opportunity to innovate, if we were just to inject expectations of innovations and take a certain element of risk as well, in program delivery. I'm not saying busting CPP, his is not what I'm talking about, not breaking stuff. I think Canadians, and I could be wrong, would have an appetite for us to acknowledge that we're trying this out. And there might be an opportunity for us to get feedback from you on this interactive way of doing things differently, I find that we don't open it up enough, right. And that worries me as a Canadian, worries me as a mom, worries me as a stakeholder, I call myself as a shareholder of society. We have to look at how we transform ourselves, not through an inject innovation, not through program or projects, but through really changing fundamentally some of our decision making, or machinery decision making, as I call it, that would reinforce the need for innovation.

Christiana Cavazzoni
You know, I've had an interesting journey. And last 10 years, this is my fifth department. I have one of the former CIOs of the Government of Canada used to call me my little butterfly. And I tried to explain to her that it wasn't a question of getting tired, it was a question of coming in from a phenomenal experience in private sector where, you kind of hand picked to work in that kind of culture. You want to maximize your contribution to government. And I always felt that I was coming in from the outside, and I feel still feel like an outsider because of what I can do to advance government. Almost like, I'm on a mission. I do feel I'm on a mission. And you know, like, I get so many comments, how different are you? Like, are you from government? Yeah, I've been here like 10 years, it's because of how I was developed as a professional and as a as a woman in technology. You know, it wasn't, there wasn't gender equality in private sector.

Natalie Crandall
You had to create your path. There wasn't a clear runway for you.

Christiana Cavazzoni
No, but it was encouraged. It was, I think one of the differentiation in private that I saw was in developing us as female leaders was to actually look at all the dimensions of leadership. And maybe we were not the best software engineers, but they knew very well that we would have the best software engineers be able to follow us through our leadership. And that's what they needed. They didn't want more software engineers, they wanted to have a compliment of leaders that will be able to be other followers. And be fearless about the mission.

Natalie Crandall
Coming back to our courage, commitment and communication, which our previous guests said are some of the three key ingredients to innovation.

Christiana Cavazzoni
I think it's actually ingredients of leadership, as well. Courage as being one of them, how do you park your own ambitions, how do you risk your next performance review by doing the right thing.  There is no reward for that, there isn't a reward for leaders to make those kinds of compromises. My latest involvement has been with the Department of National Defence and I'm really fascinated by the department, I was aware of the mission. I wasn't aware of the impact of the mission and what our armed forces personnel actually go through. My reflection on circling back to digital innovation is, as a government, how we are putting a lot of emphasis on visible services to Canadians when we define digital agencies in the sphere of consumable services, and attached to specific organization, citizen centric.  Then I reflect when we have, snowstorms in Newfoundland, and we have floods in Ontario, or when we have to help victims of air crashes, or when we have to help host Coronavirus individuals, where the armed forces is in the sense of really being core to society. It's not all about weapons, it's about a service to. When I look at data and digital, I think we're missing the inclusiveness. I think we have departments and we have policies that are looking at Digital from one perspective, and their feeling to acknowledge the fact that there are many different perspectives of digital.  What our armed forces are going through is, and you [may have] heard my Associate Deputy Minister, we have a huge need for digital transformation, a necessary need, a need that puts us as a country at risk if we don't pay attention to it.  The conversation around digital I find that it's becoming elitist around certain type of departments but not necessarily converging on the needs of government as a whole for digital.  Digital should not be nor data should be associated with just providing an interface for job searches to a Canadian, it could also be that Canadian is stuck somewhere, and how can I have access to, who can I talk to that can help me understand the situation I am in overseas, and so forth. There's a inclusiveness of digital, that concerns me a little bit, and I felt it in a previous department. Now I have a deeper reflection based on the conversations that I'm privileged enough to have with senior leadership in the CAF.

Natalie Crandall
The thing about digital is so critical is that digital does depend an awful lot on technology, but it's actually not about technology. It's about the people. It's about the people who need to use and benefit from and have the impact from the services, the data and all of that. It's fascinating, how do we articulate that to all the people who are working, and thinking about digital transformation, that it's really about the people.

Christiana Cavazzoni
It's tough, we're actually going through it now we went through it as well, in my former department, when I was a former CIO and a transformation officer, and you know, we would have some good conversations about digital. But the conversation was always on tech, right? Especially when the digital dialog came out of the CIO, Well, okay, but we just need to buy a new tool. Now, it's not about buying a new tool, it's actually not even thinking that you might need technology, right, you can still deliver some level of digital aspirations without technology, potentially, through a data exchange, potentially, through just something as simple as a journey analysis of what you know, what a person is going through, what a citizen is going through, in trying to access specific service, there are many facets of data that, again, can be delivered into a digital outcome. But the many steps to it that in my definition, are as important. We're struggling, we're struggling to, and I think more the senior level to try and differentiate what's digital versus technology. And I think what's necessary, is demonstration, how the two are different. And the demonstration needs to occur through some form of an innovation intervention. But also, we need to educate, right, we need to educate our senior management. And you know, it's not that they're too busy is that I think we're not clear enough about Madam or Mr. Deputy, this is how you need to treat these two different differently, and work through a set of colour use cases or journeys that can help you crystallize a little bit better for the decision makers of this government. What journey are we taking on by a living and digital aspiration era. So, it's not going to be a just a move to something different, it's going to be a journey to something different. And this is where I think innovation is to kind of materialize and show some decisiveness in government, I do worry that we are treating it a little bit as 'because we're mandated' versus because it's actually part of something that we need to do. I would wish that the new generation of managers, senior managers DG's, just think about it that way. It's not a question that you know, you have something that says because of BP 2020 we have there is an expectation we innovate, but actually show some intent and show some outcomes.

Natalie Crandall
Right, I don't want to go back to the to the office and say listen, blockchain is a really amazing solution. Someone tell me a problem we have that I might solve with blockchain. What you want to say is I have a really interesting business problem. What am I what kind of an innovation lens can I apply to, to looking at how we might change this.

Christiana Cavazzoni
And blockchain is a perfect example, perfect example, into hype right now. I mean, I have been in tech my entire career can tell you pretty difficult stuff. And we were looking at artificial intelligence as well. You know, we want AI we want, yes, but do you understand that there's a set of prerequisites that we need to put in place to be able to harvest and instrument artificial intelligence, and you know, we have a lot of blockages, right? We have massive amount of data that it's kind of landing in our lap in real time, and we don't have anywhere to store it. It's as simple as that. And we have policies, and we have a certain level of resistance too. So that is kind of the innovation bubble that we need to start creating. And also to dispel some of the, what I would call the hype around digital technology, such as blockchain innovation, artificial intelligence, and bots. We have to be cautious, right? Because we're setting expectations really high. Why don't we start having one email system? Yeah. And why don't we start having a chat tool where we can actually stop using email as a chat tool. I'm not saying that we just have to pay attention to those problems, I'm just saying that we have to be cautious about not taking on really hairy problems that we really are going to be ill equipped to deliver on because, frankly, our data posture across government needs work. And needs a lot of investment needs a lot of expertise.

Natalie Crandall
And strategic intent and how we're going to gather, observe, understand, visualize our data, all of it, how we're going to share it.

Christiana Cavazzoni
These are interesting times, I mean, I think as a senior executive government is probably the best time to be able to drive changes, I think I will be happy as a public service, when we don't rely on mandate letters, we don't rely on any type of form of government or of colour of government to be able to really think and give ourselves some space to innovate and think differently. I think innovation will be required if we want to maintain momentum in hiring new grads and millenniums. And we don't necessarily need to have labs, to satisfy the requirements, we need to have a mindset of innovation. Because they're curious, right? You know, I, I have daughters in university, and you know, whenever we talk at the table at dinner table, or something we want to find out they'd look at their device, first and foremost, they don't listen to mom, although mom might know better, but they don't listen to mom. And I mean, it's a society that's driven now fake news or not to be able to find their information themselves. That to me is curiosity. That, to me, speaks to curiosity, there's a link from curiosity to innovation. So we're going to have to make sure that we maintain our workforce in a space where they can live to their core values, right. And I think a lot of these new kids coming out of school are anticipating a different experience in government, and we need to make sure that we can inject some of those value propositions if I want to call it in the workplace I think, right there right now. A quick recap. I'm in a journey of data right now, and I'm loving it, I am looking at the policy world through data. I have a phenomenal team. I'm encouraged but discouraged at the same time, just because of the level of work and the amount of work that we have that it's it's messy work, like the data foundational elements of data, how do we get data ready, and I think it's, it's really not sexy it's messy, and we really don't know how to do it. We have like, databases, and we don't know where to start. So I just worried that we're oversimplifying the problem of digital and data and innovation by just you know, aspiring to, as you mentioned earlier, the on the blockchain, I want the blockchain, let me go and buy the blockchain from a community of vendors that at the end of the day, they're having some accountability. But they don't have accountability to Canadians the way we do, right, so we have to be very clear on what we want to be in the space as a government. We want to be a spectator?  I don't think so, we want to be innovator not seeing the urgency just yet, or do we want to be an acquirer of, and those are the three kind of decisions we need to make once and for all. Because we are going to, I think especially in defence, we're going to face some serious consequences on not keeping up with who we need to keep up with our allies, NATO, and there's a lot of an ecosystem out there, that's very much and we feel it, we feel it because other countries are moving faster than we are. If defence sees it, I'm sure that other departments feel it from potential different perspective, maybe they have Canadians who are telling them like, really, like, I can't apply or I can't access my information online. I'm gonna mention his name, because I his is a great deputy. And he used to tell me Christiana, it's about not legitimate how relevant do we want to be as a government, when we used to have a discussion around digital so forth. And those words kind of resonate a lot. And you know, when I think about relevancy, we are at risk, right? On becoming irrelevant in a world where data is basically free flowing, and we can't control it. That's right. So if my kids don't go to mom, who's a public servant, and they go to Google the next generation, their kids are probably not even going to bother with government. In terms of information and a source of truth for a democratic source of truth.

Natalie Crandall  
Yeah, unless, of course, we

Christiana Cavazzoni
turn it all around and get this like major, like digital capes on all of us. And,

Natalie Crandall 
but it's interesting, I do believe that if we slowly and systemically, really approach one problem at a time and each of the, the areas, but it's fascinating what you say you say like, it's so relevant for DND and all of that, but there isn't a guest who comes on this show, from any corner of government who isn't feeling the pressure of saying if we want to stay relevant, if we want to best serve Canadians in Canada, we have to change, we have to learn to pivot, we have to be able to be agile, we have to understand our data situation, what data do we have, what data do we need? How can we use it? What are the impacts of all of this? How are we involving Canada and Canadians in creating that better country?

Christiana Cavazzoni
Absolutely. And let's start the dialogue, right. Let's not survey it out. Let's just start it.

Natalie Crandall
That's right.

Christiana Cavazzoni
But thank you.

Natalie Crandall
Thank you so much, Christiana. This is wonderful.

Credits

Todd Lyons
Producer
Canada School of Public Service

Natalie Crandall
Project Lead, Human Resources Business Intelligence
Canada School of Public Service

Christiana Cavazzoni
Associate Assistant Deputy Minister and Deputy Chief Information Officer
Department of National Defence

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