Language selection


Strategy for Government in the Digital Age: Lessons Learned and Shaping our Ambitions (DDN2-V18)


This event recording features insights from Paul N. Wagner, Assistant Deputy Minister, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, into how the government has adapted to delivering better services in the modern era and how to chart a course to a happier, healthier, more resilient and more sustainable Canada.

Duration: 00:55:14
Published: December 21, 2022
Type: Video

Now playing

Strategy for Government in the Digital Age: Lessons Learned and Shaping our Ambitions

Transcript | Watch on YouTube


Transcript: Strategy for Government in the Digital Age: Lessons Learned and Shaping our Ambitions

[The CSPS logo appears on screen]

[Text screen reads: This presentation on Strategy for Government in the Digital Age: Lessons learned and shaping our ambitions is an excerpt of an in-person presentation on May 25, 2022, of Module 1 of CSPS's Executive Education Program in Digital Transformation, delivered in collaboration with Amazon Web Services]

[Split screen: Phil Gratton appears in video chat window; Canada School title page: Strategy for Government in the Digital Age: Lessons learned and shaping our ambitions]

Phil Gratton: Now we'll move on to our, welcome our second keynote speaker of the day, Paul Wagner.

[Paul Wagner appears in a video chat window with Phil gratton]

Phil Gratton: Paul is the Assistant Deputy Minister responsible for strategy, planning and transformation enablement within the office of the Chief Information Officer of Canada Branch of Treasury Board of Canada's Secretariat. That's quite a mouthful. What that really means is that he's responsible for leading a number of key strategic files that are focused on supporting the Government of Canada's digital journey. Previously, Paul was the interim Chief Technology Officer for the Government of Canada, where he led an evolutionary leap into new digital landscapes by working in collaboration with experts, business, and digital leaders to harness innovative management approaches, and integrate trusted and emerging technology into solutions. He's also served as CIO for Justice Canada, Library and Archives Canada, and the National Research Council. Paul brings over three decades of private and public sector experience in information and digital technologies to the executive table. Paul Wagner, thanks for joining us today.

Paul Wagner: Thanks great for being here, and we'll have to do something with that bio, it's far too long and maybe too overly ambitious in terms of what was achieved, and what we're getting done but hey, listen, that's the topic of the discussion today.

[Phil Gratton' video chat window dissappears]

Paul Wagner: So, what I propose, folks, is we spend the next 30 or 40, probably 30 minutes, walking through a bit of lessons learned on the Government of Canada digital agenda and digital journey.

[Slide changes to: "Strategy for Government in the Digital Age"]

Paul Wagner: And what that means is we move forward, and how we're actually pivoting to do things a little bit differently. And I really want to leave a lot of time for questions. I think in the last session, there was a lot of great questions there, and I think that's one of the big values out of these sessions.

So, I'm really honoured to be here today. I really want to thank the organizers for inviting me. And yeah, so if you think about strategy for government in the digital age, and you'll see I'm going to riff off a couple of things that Liam was talking about, but it's really about how we deliver government services in a modern era, in our current landscape. And certainly the last two years have done a lot to amplify the expectations, I think, of Canadians and Canadian businesses, and people coming to Canada. And you know, we've had a chance to deliver on some of those areas, but it'd be remiss to say that we're not sitting down and looking and saying, "well, we got it all right, so now we just need to keep going".

I think we did a lot of learning, and we delivered some programs and some services in a way that was absolutely, it demonstrated the value of digital, but there's an awful lot of work yet left to do. And we'll cover some of these points in the deck here, and in the questions that follow. So, if you look here, the idea around charting a course to a happier, healthier, more resilient sustainable Canada, one of the big things around thinking about where we go next, and what our next foot forward is from a digital perspective, is it's not about the technology. I think, Liam, great point at the end. When we talk about cloud first, that doesn't mean cloud for everything. And, cloud is an operating model, not a technology. It's a way to think about how you deliver services in a way that is composable and actually can shift with your business model. But it doesn't mean that everything has to go in the cloud. And certainly from a government perspective, there are some things that it doesn't make sense to put it into a cloud for a variety of reasons. Security, in some cases, being one of those. And so that's kind of the underpinning for our strategy. So, if you can go to the next slide, please?

[Slide changes to quote from Governor General Mary Simon]

Paul Wagner: We're looking for, as I mentioned, this is about digital government, not about a technology plan, or we used to have IT plans in the government and so forth, but we're really pivoting to service in this one.

And this quote from our Governor General: "The decade is still young. With compassion, courage, and determination, we have the power to make it better than how it started. That can only happen by standing together." Never before, and this is sort of the call to public servants, "Never before has so much depended on our ability to deliver results for Canadians". And I think that we're taking that to heart as we think about what an ambition would look like from a digital government perspective. Next slide please.

[Slide changes, text on slide includes: « Une transformation numérique pourrait faire bien plus que fournir un service numérique et rendre les clients heureux. Elle pourrait réduire les inégalités, créer un équilibre et renforcer notre ambition pour le Canada. » DSI d'une province]

Paul Wagner: So, in thinking about doing government in a digital age, we started to think about what are the conditions for success and what are the expectations that citizens have? And it's really around creating the conditions for trust for our citizens.

So, even just seeing this, probably 10 years ago, five years ago, we would never see a digital ambition, digital strategy, a digital plan, starting with something as profound as that. But thinking about designing systems, designing services that serve Canadians, that serve Canadian businesses, and people that are coming to Canada, it's about trust. And that trust is the foundation for our democracy and our economy. And it's really how Canada has grown through the decades. And so, the goal here is that we think about implementing technology, implementing programs that don't divide us, but actually bring us together. And so thinking of, Liam was talking about some of the barriers around data and things like that. I mean, this is sort of at the 30,000 foot level, but if you roll it back and think about, if we're talking about creating trust for citizens, we're talking about creating a foundation for democracy, what are some of the enabling activities that we need to look at, as a government, to think about accessibility, to think about data portability, to think about privacy and security and the delivery of services, giving tech briefings to a number of MPs around digital ID, as an example. And we can talk about that. That's one where that whole concept of trust, privacy and security really kind of converged when we talk about an individual's digital credentials, and what that can unlock for them from a service perspective. And so, in the next few slides, this one included, you're going to see some quotes there on the right, and I'm not going to read them for you, I know you can read them as I'm talking to you, but you there's some really, really cool quotes that we got from people that are outside of our sphere, provincial CIOs, and some experts in some areas. You know, the one from Luigi, thinking about: Government has a unique opportunity to engender trust in people. And I think that's our role, and it comes out a lot when we think about digital ID in that, as we work with provinces and territories, and build out a Pan-Canadian ecosystem for digital ID, that it was going to be: if the banks are there now, some governments are there. BC, Alberta have digital ID platforms, and ecosystems in place. But, imagine a Canada that has an all of Canada digital ID ecosystem that a small and medium enterprise that's starting up, a 3, 5, 10 person organization, can become a verifier of digital IDs and all of a sudden, create a digital platform that they can ensure the trust and the authenticity of the people that they're transacting with. Incredibly powerful. And so, you go across all the different domains, and you start to unlock some of those areas. But it really starts with thinking about the problem, and the service from a citizen perspective. Next slide, please.

[Slide changes, includes two quotes:

"I came to this role not as a tech service provider, but as a human service provider... Being in the business of human services requires thinking about how and where and when to interact with government, and the tools that will support citizens to do that." - GC Leader.

"Technological progress is not just about developing better human-machine interfaces. In fact, what matters is not the technology at all, it is first and foremost the human that matters. The objective is to act to improve the human aspect and to help humans." - Rana El Khaloubi, a pioneer of emotional AI]

Paul Wagner: I would say in the past, in terms of lessons learned, as you go into the next slide, the lesson learned there is really around a lot of, in the past, we focused an awful lot on technology. And, like as Phil was saying at the beginning, I was CIO for Department of Justice, and NRC, and Library and Archives Canada, and largely, until recently the CIOs had to be CTOs in the departments. They were primarily focused on making sure the systems were running, and I would say, as much we talk about Shared Services Canada, and the challenges at the time of the creation of Shared Services Canada had, what it did do is it freed up the CIOs to actually focus on service, to focus on data, because the technology element, the technology stack was being taken care of by Shared Services Canada.

And so it was a really, and I think it's actually helped propel some of the CIOs in the government space, to look at problems differently. To actually be at the strategic table, as we talked about for a long time, because you didn't come in and have to worry about the technology. Of course, you're still accountable to make sure that the systems were running, but you have an organization that is built to make sure that that's happening. So I think that's a really unique proposition, and value proposition that we have within the federal government, and one that CIOs really need to take advantage, and digital leaders need to take advantage of, in that it helps you start to have the conversations around the service side, as opposed to the technology side.

This slide here is really kind of cool. We started thinking about, again, services, thinking about the different platforms and what we have. Today, one of the challenges that we have, we live in a Westminster system, which means a lot of vertical accountabilities. So every department thinking about the programs and services that they have to deliver. And I think as we move forward and from a digital perspective, not that I think that digital is going to end up changing the Westminster system, but I do think we have opportunities to change the mechanisms that we have underneath the Westminster system in terms of developing out some horizontal accountability to think about human services. And so if you think about that instead of technology services, which in the past every department had their own data centers, Shared Services Canada is starting to fix that, cloud certainly allows us to move and become much more horizontal. But if you think about human services, and technology is amplifying those human services, but in the end, it's humans providing services to humans. And so, I think it really shifts the focus from being about a technology service, or a digital service, to actually being human service. And what is the human looking for on the other side of the service? What is the citizen looking for? What is the business looking for? And so we're not only thinking about the technology ecosystem, but the human ecosystem, and how the services affect change in communities. And when you think about those human services, you necessarily start to bundle some of the programs that we have in government together. And I think the idea of the quote from a GC leader here: Being the business of human services requires thinking about how, and where, and when to interact with the government.

And so that's always from the citizen lens and that's one of our digital standards. It speaks to designing with users and this amplifies that in a really big way. And it becomes less about the technology. The reality, I think everybody on this call will say, the technology is the easy part. AWS is an example of all kinds of great, great technology that they can provide us to solve the problems, but we really do need to think about what is the problem we're trying to solve, and are there linkages to other problems, or other services that only make sense to connect together, regardless if it's another department, regardless if it's another mandate, that's the sort of leadership and the courage that we need to have, as public servants. To stand up and to start to tie those services together for the benefit of humans, the benefit of our citizens. So, really a bit of a mind shift. As I said at the beginning, this is a little bit different than you see in the past where we'll talk about some technical debt, and I'll get to that for sure. But this is really at the basis of how we're starting to think about how we design services. Next slide, please.

[Slide changes, includes quote: « Ce travail ne se réduit pas à l'activation des données et à la numérisation des services. Je pense que les enjeux, en termes de possibilités, sont bien plus vastes : la capacité d'accroître la prospérité, les bienfaits, et de réduire les inégalités. » DSI d'une province]

Paul Wagner: This is a really sort of cool one. And if you look, I'll start with a quote from Chris Hadfield, at the bottom: "Almost everybody up until now, has only known the little tiny bits of where our feet have touched the Earth," and coming from Chris Hadfield, that's a pretty powerful statement. "We need to start seeing the world globally and behaving globally." And, when you think about global solutions, or if you even go a little bit further afield than just the Federal Government national solutions, we can really leverage our reputation from a trust perspective. Again, I think everybody here, if you walk around with Canadian passport and you travel with a Canadian passport, there's a level of trust, a level of expectation around what that means. Do we simply want to keep up with the pace of change, which I'll show you in a little bit where we've fallen way behind, or as those unafraid of challenges as we are in Canada? I mean, Hey, we have winters! I started to think about when we talked about this slide, and what it meant. What do we have that makes us truly Canadian? Winters, weather events like we've never seen. If you're in Ottawa, you know exactly what I'm talking about. And as public servants, our role is to be flexible and have that muscle of agility and it being iterative. And I think we have an opportunity to take our place back as a leader, in terms of doing government in a digital age. We used to be, way back when, we were at the top of the heap.

Now granted, the denominator, the number of countries and organizations that are working at doing government in a digital age, has gone up. And so, the denominator goes up, it has an effect here, but I think we can do better. And I think we need to think about how, as a North Star, if we want to be that top of the heap again, where people look to Canada in terms of how we're delivering services digitally, that gives you the license to have the courage, and gumption to actually change and challenge the status quo. There's an awful lot of underlying, and you'll see in one of the priorities here and in a few slides, there's an awful lot of structural barriers that are in the way. And, I know there's a lot of people in the audience there that are interested in seeing some of that changed to be able to actually do their jobs.

And I think we need to have that courage and that openness, and digital does that. It allows you to have a dialogue around, I usually refer to digital as a bit of a Trojan horse, where you can start talking about technology, you can talk about policies and process. You can talk about the legislation that's in place, and challenge all those things. Challenge some of the service opportunities; challenge some of the service expectations that are out there, and all under the guise of digital. And I think it's a really cool way that we have in Canada, aligned service delivery and digital. And if you'll just look in the Federal Government, we've got a policy on service and digital. Those aren't two separate things because we recognize that doing digital is about delivering services. And I was on a talk a little while back with someone from the US, and talking about their executive order around service, digital services. And in the pre- <INAUDIBLE> and so forth, they're envious of the policies that we have, because they have an executive order, but we've ensconced it in our policy, and we continue to evolve those policies as we learn more about doing government in a digital age. Next slide please.

[Slide changes, text on slide reads: "We've always embraced adventure. Home to brave explorers and meeting place for global friendships, we are known to see possibility where others cannot. This spirit had Canada as a leader in delivering government in a digital way in the early days. We have lost our way—but we know how to do this.

Our next adventure will build a stronger bridge between people and technology. By putting key services and engagement opportunities within reach of all Canadians, we'll create the accessibility, reliability, and transparency a thriving economy and society depends on.

This effort will let us deliver in a Digital Age so that we can better deliver democracy to the modern world. But it will take more than tech to see us through. It will take attracting top talent, expanding capabilities, and increasing collaboration. It will also take leaders who can look beyond today's challenges to the future we can create together.

This change won't happen overnight. Creating a lasting impact will take patience and persistence, visionary thinking and a grounded mindset. With each step we can chart the course to a happier, healthier, more resilient and sustainable Canada.  It's time to embark on the path that will build a legacy we can all be proud of. It's time to take back our place and deliver the possibilities of government in the digital age."]

Paul Wagner: So, we know how to do this. As I mentioned before, we used to be we used to be top of the heap. And, as Canadians, I think we know how to work hard and actually create a difference. And I think if we do think about this in the sense of a much broader experience than simply what are the government services that we're offering, and how do we take what we're doing today in a PDF and make it a digital platform or, at worst, paper process and turn it into a digital platform. But if we actually think further, we're going to have to look at the talent we've got, continue to expand our talent pool, which is really difficult in today's world, right? I think again, everybody around this call recognizes that the talent pool that we're all pulling from, whether that's private sector, or public sector is very, very tight. And, we've got about a 30% vacancy rate in the IT world within Government of Canada. And that's 30% based on operations. So that's not even thinking about how do we evolve, and move some of these things forward. So we're going to have to think about doing these things differently. And I'll talk about some of those, some of the ways that we're looking at. And, as I mentioned before, it's going to take leaders, it's going to take all of you on this on this talk, who can look beyond today's challenges and think about, okay, so what does the future actually look like? And I think that the time is now for us to do that.

We're coming somewhat out of a period where we demonstrated the value of digital, the opportunity to snap back is, although we talk about it, it's not there. And I think there's an awful lot of time that we're spending, as executives, to make sure that we don't snap back, because it would be way too easy. And it would be shame on us if we did, to actually snap back to analog ways. So, we have a burning platform right now to actually be able to accelerate some of these things. And I would say, without speaking for Ministers, which I would never propose to do, our Minister, Minister Fortier who is also the Minister responsible for digital government, is hugely engaged in this file along with a lot of her colleagues around, how do we accelerate the pace of adopting digital government? What do we prioritize? Which necessarily means what do we stop doing so that we can actually focus time and resources and energy on moving forward from a digital government perspective. Next slide please.

[Slide changes,  text includes: "It's bigger than digital. It's about transformation, change, enabling government to deliver better... We must move away from digital government—it's just government. That's the vision—it's just good government, and eventually it's invisible. We are there as the safety net when you need us." GC Leader]

Paul Wagner: So, an ambition to enable a government in the digital age for all Canadians and businesses, it's accessible, and that allows us to express the best of Canada in the digital space. And I think it's bigger than digital. It's about transforming and enabling the way that we do government. And, that's a big ask, and I think it's going to come down to prioritization, because we can't do it all week. You know, rolling a hundred snowballs forward is interesting, but rolling a big one forward and actually achieving it, and getting over the goal line, that's something that makes an awful lot of sense. And I think it's something that we haven't been good at in terms of prioritization. We come up with a list of priorities, but we don't draw a line and say everything here needs to wait, while we actually succeed in some of these places. And I think as we start to think about being more of an enterprise, so digital ID is a great example, instead of having multiple departments figure out how to do a verification platform, how do we do that once for government, and then everybody plugs into that. So those types of models around thinking much more about enterprise is absolutely critical for us to be able to move forward in a digital age. Next slide, please.

[Slide changes, title: Digital is about service, for all Canadians—our employees and for those we serve.]

Paul Wagner: I think there's only a couple slides left, then we can get some questions here. So, if you think about that ambition that I was talking about in terms of creating a government in a digital age, the first one is, interestingly as I said, it wasn't about a technology place, it's not about a technology plan, but you do need to be excellent in technology and operations. So that's something that has to run as we put systems into place, service standards, service expectations, citizen's standards and citizen's expectations, more specifically, we have to be able to measure those, and we have to be excellent in those spaces. Data enabled digital services and programs. So I think you're seeing a much stronger push around data. We've actually have a Chief Data Officer for the federal government now, Stephen Burt. And so from an OCIO perspective, or an Office of the Chief Information Officer, we're putting an incredible amount of focus on data. And this, to me, is a little bit back to what I was talking about around CIOs not being CTOs anymore, but actually moving into different domains and having dialogues about service dialogues about data.

And as we think about what Liam was saying around some of the silos that we've created from data perspective, we need to start thinking about how we can leverage data across portfolios and across programs. So, a really, really strong focus on that now. Action ready digital strategy and policy. What I'm talking about here is, we're working through a lot of details behind what I'm showing you here today at a high level, but the policy piece is a really important one. So how do we define policies and establish performance against those policies and iterate them through? So, we recently updated a standard that we had that was previously updated, and well, created, in 2012. And it stood that whole time without any changes. I think you can all agree since 2012 to 2022, we've had enormous amounts of changes in the ERP space.

And so, a lot of change happened in the ERP space, but this policy, it stagnated from my perspective, and it ended up getting refreshed. And, we wanted to use that as a model of saying, look, we can spend a year and consult, and do all kinds of information sharing with the policy as we move it forward, or we can get it 80%, right, put it out there and test it out, as opposed to doing something that's more academic and thinking about, what about this? What about that? So again, following a bit of the digital principles of being iterative, get it out there, test it out, see if it works, see if it doesn't work and then adjust as required. And then the last piece I was talking about before in terms of, there needs to be a bit of an evolution in the way that we fund, we hire, and retain talent, and the kind of culture, again to one of Liam's points.

But if you think about just even that first one around funding, the Government of Canada is used to funding projects. And so in the past, you'd have a project that would set up a program, you'd have money to buy servers, or set up a data centre. And then the money would kind of go away, because you'd be finished the project. But there would be ongoing costs with that. And evergreening costs of infrastructure, which has led us to an incredible amount of technical debt that we have in the system and ecosystem today. So, as we think about cloud, just a simple example, but if a program running on cloud is wildly successful, the usage of the cloud will go up, therefore cost will go up. That's not a model that our financial structure within government today is set for, the appropriations are quite different. And, I don't see a model where a department gets an appropriation of money and they're using, let's say, a hundred percent cloud, and all of a sudden they max out. And the programs are so successful, but they say, "Well, no, we've hit our financial caps, so we're going to stop delivering the service". That's clearly not going to happen, but I think we need to get ahead of that in terms of how we think about how funding is allocated to departments, and how we start to think about sustainability of funding for both on-premise, and in the cloud.

Talent, I mentioned before, I think there's some really, really innovative ways that we can approach some of the talent issues. Some of the areas, I know Catherine Luelo, our CIO, has been talking, as one example in the FinTech area where she's working with FINTRAC and a few other organizations to see, are there opportunities for IT professionals in the FinTech space within Canada to actually work on some government programs for a period of time, come in, bring their experience, we benefit obviously as a government, they benefit as a sector, and they end up going back into their sector. So, I think we have to think about the talent pool that we have as a country, and how we best serve the country together in delivering those services. Next slide, please. I think it's my last one.

[Slide changes, title: We are embarking on the first high impact delivery stage of a longer journey.]

Paul Wagner: So, just in terms of overall timelines here, once we actually launch a digital ambition, the idea being investing in the core and, it was interesting, someone challenged me on this in a previous talk. They said, "Well, deliver it and build trust by changing. You can do that in six to 12 months." Absolutely not. We're not going to change the mentality or change the culture in six to 12 months, but we start to talk about things in a very different way, as you've heard in the last few slides, in the way I'm even talking about digital. We've learned, I think, the idea of "Big Bang" is long gone. The concept of being iterative as we move through programs, and service delivery is where we're at now. And, I think as requests come through the system within the federal system, treasury board submissions and so forth, we're starting to see that more iterative approach - milestones, as opposed to, give us the money for three years, and in three years you're going to have this great thing. The problem is in three years, maybe a government changes. Maybe legislation changes, and technology's definitely going to evolve.

So, really, really critical sort of elements to think about how we do this iteratively. And that's about proving the value of digital, and thinking about those digital standards that we have and how we sort of live by that, and really make some hard decisions based on that. I think we need to get to a point, and I think Catherine spoke about this recently in an interview, we have the GCE enterprise Architecture Review Board that I co-chair with Matt Davies from Shared Services Canada. But how do we get to the point where we do have a digital idea as an enterprise system? And that's the only system that you can use, unless there's some wild reason why that wouldn't work for a program, but the idea that we reduce the number of unicorns that we have, and snowflakes, because everybody's coming forward with their own individual systems to deliver, we need to be able to get to enterprise systems, and that does require us to prioritize, and say no to some things. And I think we need to have the courage to be able to start doing that. And then scaling the impact. As we said, those enterprise possibilities, looking at commitments and partnerships with other sectors, and then, ultimately down the road, we start to make sure that we have a system in place that allows us to, you know government in a digital age is not a flag on a hill. It's a culture. And so that culture needs to be able to continue to evolve and to improve over time. And so, to me, that would be the goal here in terms of a digital ambition. And I think that's my last slide, Phil, and we can maybe open it up for questions with that.

[Phil Gratton appears in a video chat window with Paul Wagner, slide changes to  "Q & A, Paul Wagner"]

Phil Gratton: Absolutely. Paul, thanks for a great session. There's some big challenges and opportunities ahead from the School's perspective. It's been great working with your office on helping the federal public service grow in the realm of digital transformation. And I particularly appreciate your comments about the changing nature of the CIO from Chief Technology Officer to, maybe more commonly now, the Chief Transformation Officer, whether they have that title or not. I think that the C-suite of any department has to make room for transformation and the CIO or CTO, or even the CDO, is in many ways providing direction to the entire organization, not just to the IT people, which is a job that was traditionally the exclusive purview of the CEO or the COO, right?

Paul Wagner: Yeah, 100 percent. And I think what's interesting is not that we need, I was going to say, not that we need another C-suite executive, but if you think about like a Chief Service Officer, so if you go back to the fact that we've got digital and service together, we're calling them Chief Digital Officers, but for me, the value of a Chief Information Officer, Digital Officer, is they need to be absolutely conversant in the services of the organization that they work in. And that's the real, you know, in the past, it used to be, like I said, about being a CTO, if you knew how to run networks and data centers, and you knew how to make sure people's blackberries back then worked, and laptops worked, you were a great CIO.

You were the guy or the gal that everybody wanted, because you knew how to take care of the plumbing. And I remember many sessions where they always referred to CIOs as plumbers. And that was a bit, well, we're a little more than that, but I think it is really an evolution. I think it's predicated on knowing the services that your business offers or your organization delivers, as well as any of the service or business line leads.

Phil Gratton: So, let's go to the questions here. Actually, this one is not a question, but someone wrote, I love this. Magic happens when technology amplifies human potential. So I thought that was a great comment. I thought I'd put it out there. Here's a question: What type of governance changes are you seeing that can help enable success of large transformation? And I know you talked about policy, but maybe some quick insight on governance overall.

Paul Wagner: Yeah, it's a great question. And one near and dear to my heart, because I'm still, I'm actually still wearing two hats. So, I'm still the Chief Technology Officer of the federal government for the next six days or eight days. Shirley Ivan, who's currently the CIO at the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, will be joining our team on June 6th, and will be taking over the reins as the Chief Technology Officer. And then my role around strategy and transformation is really in line with that question. And I think some of what we're seeing works, and I'll talk a little bit about what happened in COVID, but also what we're seeing in some of the large transformations in government. So in COVID, when it hit, everybody had to go and work from home, and then we had to think about how we do this, delivering services remotely, delivering services digitally, because nobody was going to Service Canada sites and so forth. Or very few people were. The governance that worked was often rapid and with key decision makers. So, there wasn't, like in government we love having, well if you have a DM committee, you absolutely have to have an ADM committee supporting that DM committee. You probably need a DG committee supporting the ADM committee. We drown ourself in governance. When it came to making decisions for, how do we roll out 300,000 people to work from home? How do we engage the vendor community to help support network service provisioning? How do we set up CERB? The Prime Minister gets up on a Monday and says: In two weeks, you'll be able to apply for CERB. We had clarity of focus, and we had the allocation of resources to those areas of focus. And the key leaders, so the CTO for the Government of Canada; the head of the of CCCs; the Canadian Center for Cyber security; the executive VP over at Shared Services Canada, they got together daily to make decisions. And that kind of iterative governance, as you know, well documented, it made all the difference. And so, not that I'm suggesting that we need to do that on transformation projects, but what we are seeing on some of the key transformation projects that we have in government. So the benefits delivery modernization over at ESDC, or the digital platform modernization at IRCC is, we call it nimble assurance, and sort of iterative governance. And, you don't have these massive governance tables anymore that have all subsections. You get the key decision makers together, and you make sure that you're not pushing every decision up to them, which we often do, again, we kind of push a lot of decisions up. Empowering the teams to make the decisions they need to, have them understand the guardrails that they need to play in, but if those are the experts, and those are the people that are accountable at the director, DG, let them be accountable. But, create an environment where if they're going to make decisions that something's going to fail, learn and move on. And if you're doing that quickly, you can do that without a lot of negative impact, maybe a lot of positive impact. But if your governance committees are once every quarter, and something falls apart, you're three months out. So having that sort of rapid and iterative governance I think is really what we're seeing. And we're testing out some different models with different programs to see what actually works.

Phil Gratton: Great. Thanks. Another question: How do we balance digital everything, and service for all Canadians, including people who can't navigate the simplest of self-serve windows. So yeah. How do we keep serving those Canadians? And let's say the public service workforce as well, for those who may not be inclined to, or able to use the digital technologies?

Paul Wagner: Yeah. So, a couple of angles there. I mean, accessibility, absolutely. By design. It's not, Well okay, we'll build it, and then we'll make it accessible. Accessibility from the beginning, otherwise it's a non-starter. And I've had some great conversations with Yasmine Laroche and Alfred from OPSO, which is the Office of the Public Service Accessibility. And, it's one of those areas where, as I was mentioning in terms of the timeline, we need to have the intestinal fortitude, the courage to say, Yeah, if it's not accessible by design, it's not happening, period. And so I think those are kind of things that we need to have, we need to think about, as we start to evolve and develop services. No Canadian left behind. Absolutely. I mean, as you evolve digital services and you think about digital ID and ultimately eventually having a portal where you can access government services, one hundred percent, but we still need to have the in-person service for people that are going to be going in-person. There are many communities you're not going to get digitally literate people, and people that have the tools and technology to be able to access that. So, is it places where they can go in and somebody, as a proxy, can actually work through those digital services? I think that, to me, how it will benefit people who actually don't use digital is, as we evolve these services, those that are providing service in an in-person, human services in an in-person way, are going to be able to leverage technology that is going to still help the person standing in front of them. It's just being done through an agent, or through a proxy in that point. But I think the work that we have to do to think about how we digitalize services, and how we create services that are meaningful to Canadians, is going to benefit all Canadians, regardless of whether you're using an iPhone or not.

Phil Gratton: Boy, the questions are coming in at a feverish pace. I like it. Unfortunately, we won't be able to get through all of them, but we still have some while to go, so let's move ahead on some questions here. I think here's a good key question for executives: How do you avoid falling back into the old habits instead of transforming forward?

Paul Wagner: <Laugh> Yeah, that's a good one. We're starting to have a lot of these discussions as, obviously, we're looking at return to the workplace or really, truly implementing... Actually, let me strike that.

Not return to the workplace, truly implementing hybrid. I think we've all, I mean, I haven't signed a piece of paper in whatever 20, whatever months, 28 months it is? Even my letter of offer for that ADM job, I was waiting to sign in with, you know I'm a bit old school, I still use a fountain pen. I'm a tech guy by day, but a fountain pen user by night. And I was looking forward to signing my letter of offers, we all do, and it was digital, right? So I go and I get my PTI key and I sign it, and, Oh, there we go. That's done. But I do think, you know, thinking about we've gotten by. And every department has done a lot of different things to kind of get by. Now is our opportunity, like I said, we're kind of on this precipice of saying, "So how do we actually create sustained change in this"? And I think that's every leader's challenge in this is to say, No, we're not going to go back, and we're not going to start passing around dockets that go from desk to desk. We're not going to go back to thinking about delivering services in a vertical way. And we've got to put in, back a little bit to the other question around governance, we've got to put in the right governance with the right challenge. We have to have the professional humility to make sure that the people that are around the table that are helping to make decisions, and decisions are taken by individuals, not committees, but if I'm the chair of a governance table, I want to have a lot of diverse voices at that table that are going to make sure that when I do make a decision, and I'm going to be held accountable for that decision, I've got all the voices about why this will work, why this won't work, how this is going to affect productivity, how this is going to affect privacy. You have to think about all that. And I think we need to broaden our governance when we think about some of these things, as we move forward, as we continue to transform and kind of break down the silos between our organizations.

Phil Gratton: Excellent. Here's a fresh question, actually. I like this one because it's about the north, and I like the north. So the internet is incredibly expensive in the north. Nunavut, for example. How can the Government of Canada treat all citizens fairly if access is compromised, or maybe not available, or not as easily available?

Paul Wagner: So there are, it's a great question, right? And we talk about, I talk an awful lot about Canada and Canadians and not thinking just from a Government of Canada or federal perspective. I know some projects that are being funded through ISED and a number of other departments, I think Shared Services Canada is involved as well, to improve connectivity. And that was, certainly this government's, one of their mandates is to improve connectivity Coast to Coast to Coast. So, while not necessarily in the federal government's remit to provide that connectivity, it is important that as we think about digital service delivery, exactly as one of the questions was what about people that can't access the technology, those are some of the questions that we need to look at in terms of access.

So, I'd say that there's two parts of that answer. One is getting connectivity to Canadians, and there are some projects underway. And if you think about some of the technology we have around lower earth orbit technologies now, and 5g coming down the pipe, we're going to see an ever increasing sprawl of connectivity. But that doesn't mean that we can simply say, "Oh, hang on. If I look at a map of Canada and if a city is covered in a green, then they've got connectivity, so I'm not going to worry about that". We do need to think about how we deliver services to citizens digitally that may not have the same kind of bandwidth that we do sitting in downtown Ottawa or downtown Toronto.

Phil Gratton: Yeah, absolutely. A question on gaps: What are the top one or two things that we need to do for the federal public service to be a leader in government? In other words, what are the key gaps that we need to close and surpass?

Paul Wagner: Any easier questions Phil, that you got?

Phil Gratton: <Laugh>I have a large volume of questions, but I don't know if they're any easier.

Paul Wagner: What are the key gaps? You know, I think I would say courage would be one of those areas. The courage to challenge the status quo and the courage to... I was reading a Twitter post before, and we always talk about the public servant credo being: Providing fearless advice and loyal implementation. And I think we loyally implement, and I think we do that well, I think we implement too many things, and we don't know how to un-implement things. We don't know how to turn things off. We've got technical debt that is surmountable, but not in this current government, for sure. It's extremely daunting as we look at how we can move forward with a service modernization agenda, but you're still taking all this technical debt with us. I mean, the joke that's out there is: Our Old Age Security Service and application, the code is actually old enough to apply for Old Age Security. <Laugh> Not the platforms, we've renewed the platforms, but the actual application code is old enough to apply for Old Age Security. That's not prime time, right? So we're working at modernizing that. And so there's a technical debt aspect to that, and there's a service modernization, but I do think, back to the question, courage, I think is one of those areas from being able to stand up and challenge the status quo, being able to push something forward all the way up through to the Minister's level, to evoke change and to evoke sustainable change.

We've seen a lot of "flash in the pan" kind of interesting things that get invested in, and tried out. And if they fail, that's fine, as long as you learn from it and continue to evolve. But a lot of things, there's a lot of bodies along the road here that, we've tried stuff, and we just, we stop. Or we continue to keep it on life support. I think we need to have the courage to say, we're not going to do that anymore. And we're actually going to focus resources and effort over here. The other place, and this is one I personally believe and I think it kind of leads to a little bit what we're talking about before, around the Westminster system, and thinking about how we deliver services is a bit of professional humility in terms of saying: How could we deliver this, and who do I need around the table? Because I don't have all the answers, and my team doesn't have all the answers. So, who do we need to bring in around the table. And that could be other service partners, it could be private sector, it could be other governments. I just think it's really important to have that humility, to think about: How do you make the problem whole, by ensuring that you have the right lenses around the table.

Phil Gratton: Yep. Excellent. Thank you. So here's one that maybe a little bit up your alley here: Enterprise business architecture helps us understand our parts and their relationships. How are we building architecture capacity for the whole of government?

Paul Wagner: Ask Shirley Ivan in eight days. No, it's a great question. And it is one, so whoever asked that question is right on, poking at a bit of a space where we need to do better. So, maybe another gap. As we start to think about systems from an enterprise perspective, we do need to start to create an enterprise architecture. Because right now, we've got some standards, we've got expectations around cloud. Cloud first, cloud smart. But we need to think about, and this is back to professional humility, we need to have a service lens on that enterprise architecture that says, "if we're going to deliver services in this way, what is the technology architecture that we actually need to enable that service delivery"? And I think that's a place that we haven't been as vocal and as strong as we need to be, and here's one of the areas where, if you look across the spectrum of the federal government, and we want to create a digital ID platform, or we want to create the enterprise architecture for the next 12 to 24 months, not all the right people that we need to do that are, let's say, within Treasury Board Secretariat. There are a ton of smart people in other departments that we need to pull together and work on a project or a program or a, in this case, an architecture. I think that's how we're going to get to ground on this, because again, and that's breaking down the silos, one of the digital ID, we're going to use that one as the example, because as we start to think about how we build that out, if I look at the team that we have within the Treasury Board Secretariat, it's tiny! They could fit in this office. But if you think about CRA, ESDC, IRCC, maybe CBSA who would benefit from a common digital ID platform. Well, instead of them working on individual tools to kind of get by, let's bring them all together, and deliver a digital ID platform probably faster, probably better, and very well suited to those departments. It's not a muscle that we're used to doing. And I think from an enterprise architecture perspective as well, we got to bring service leaders from those departments, and some of the technology leaders to establish that, as opposed to thinking about, they used to talk about and probably still do talk about TBS being the ivory tower that doesn't work. It's got to be the tent on the ground with all the troops, to use a military analogy, it can't be in the ivory tower. It's got to have people from every platoon in this, I won't take it any further than that, working on the solutions. And I think that's something that we would like to do. I think there's pockets of it that happen within government, but I think we need to find a way to systematize where we say, this is a priority. Phil, you're a leader in that space. You need to come and work on this for the next six to nine months and help us get it over the goal line.

Phil Gratton: Absolutely. We've got four or five minutes to go, so here's maybe a palate cleanser comment here. Someone wrote about your presentation, Paul: This presentation is incredible! Love the anchor on trust in government. And I think your references to trust in government, I think is a key to engagement from not only people who live in Canada, but also our colleagues in the various levels of public service.

Paul Wagner: I'm happy to get questions, and I'm even happier to get compliments. So keep it coming.

Phil Gratton: Maybe this is someone who works in your shop. <laugh>

Paul Wagner: <laugh> We'll keep everything anonymous, it's PMA time in the government, eh?

Phil Gratton: <laugh> Let's see here. Here's something that's near and dear to my heart: A digital transformation must be coupled with digital literacy for Canadians and employees in the public service. How are we doing in this area?

Paul Wagner: That's an awesome question. So, I gave some technical briefings recently on digital ID to Members of Parliament, and that exact topic came up where we were talking about digital ID. We were talking about disinformation, misinformation about digital ID. Is it a massive database? Is it big brother watching? And it really brought to light, and the comments from some of the MPs was around raising the level of digital literacy, writ large in the country. And so, we're going to think about doing that, and I keep harping on digital ID and my apologies as many, many examples. It's just one that's very topical for me these days. But we're going to put some information on the TBS website about what a digital ID is, what are digital credentials, what is it not? And I think it's important for us to get out, as a government, and I'll depoliticize this, but as a bureaucracy, and put those educational pieces out there, I think the Canada School of Public Service has got some great tools that we use inside that, if you took out some of the lingo, the government lingo, could probably be great products that would serve Canadians well. Where somebody could watch a video, and I know we've done this in many cases: watch the 30 second, or minute and a half video on digital ID; watch the minute and a half video on accessing your taxes online, and so forth, and just start to really dispel some of the myths out there, and some of the disinformation that exists. I think that's going to be absolutely critical because that's what's going to help elevate or, in some cases, maintain the level of trust that Canadians have in the way that we provide services. They have that trust when they come in and they see a human on the other side of the shield now, or of the plexiglass now, and we need to think about how do we create that digital literacy, certainly in all ages, but a lot in some of the younger ages. And that was some of the interesting information that we were getting in these sessions with the MPs. And we're actually going to be going out on the digital ID front and doing public consultations to see: So what do people think about that? And what is the connotation that they get when they hear about digital ID? What is their level of understanding? And I think through those public consultations, which we need to do more of, we talk about open government. So, I think we need to be open in that space, and find out what is concerning for Canadians and then put out products that help to inform, and as I said, dispel some of the disinformation out there.

Phil Gratton: Okay. Thanks, Paul. You know what, one more question. Let's do one more question here. This one's a little bit more in the IT realm, but from an IT team's perspective, how do we balance being digital evangelists with the realistic workload expectations, or the capacity issues that this causes?

Paul Wagner: You know, I think a little bit of leadership from every seat, and this is culture change across government, for sure. But I do think we've all become stuck in front of a screen, certainly over the last two years, and I think probably all of us have the sandwiched schedule of meetings that start at eight and end at six. And it's just one after the other, because you don't have to get up and walk to another building, and so I do think we need to create boundaries and say,"Yeah, I'm taking lunch from here to here, consider me in a meeting". If I was in a meeting, unless it's, you know, the Minister, whatever, you've got to create those spaces for yourself. That's just, obviously, from a personal scheduling perspective. But I do think, as we were talking about before, in terms of doing things differently, doing things digitally, you do need to stand up and challenge and say, "Why are we doing this, like this"? You know, if you see something, say something. If there's processes, and I find this is, as you move up in the hierarchy, and I never wanted to become that ADM that said, Hey, I was wondering about this? And then all of a sudden, a team mobilizes and they're working for 12 hours and trying to produce. And I was like, no, I was just thinking. So I do think a lot of times, again, professional humility. Find out how, when if you're senior executive, when you're asking for something, what's the machine under you doing?

And I think a lot of times we don't recognize, we don't realize how much work goes into the development of products, the development of artifacts. And so, as executives take the time to open the hood, sit down with your employees and find out, so how does this actually work? Because a lot of times we don't see that. And I think that's an area that we could do it in. But then you also need to have, on the other side of that, as I said, leadership from every seat, and I know there are people from my team, and many of them have done this. They've said, "Paul, it doesn't make sense that we're doing this and let's change it". Great. That's perfect. If I don't know about it, I'm not going to have the opportunity, and especially dealing with the fires of the day, people that raise those things to me, we're going to change. And I think you have to have that courage, leaders have to have the professional humility to accept that. And employees need to have the courage to stand up and say, "This is not making sense. And we need to change it".

[The video chat fades to CSPS logo.]

[The screen changes to:]

[The Government of Canada logo appears and fades to black.]

Related links

Date modified: