Enabling IT Capability to Ensure Successful Digital Service Delivery
Spotlight on Government of Canada’s Service and Digital Target Enterprise Architecture based on a presentation by Dan Cooper, Corporate Architecture Governance, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat
Getting the Most out of Government Services
Government services should ideally be designed to make life easier and better for the public. At the same time, they should be not too complex to develop and simple enough to analyze and asses at the back end. Yet often as a result of entrenched bureaucracy and complex systems, the services and the way they have been developed are anything but simple or easy to use. Dan Cooper , part of the Corporate Architecture Governance team which sits in the Office of the Chief Information Officer (CIO) at the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS), says that ultimately their agency was set up to enable policy and regulation behind the scenes so that we can take the roadblocks, or the perceived roadblocks, out from in front of you. This will help agencies to have the ability to innovate so they can actually be successful.
However, despite these lofty goals, just a few years ago the Corporate Architecture Governance team struggled to understand what we were trying to accomplish. After gathering research and information from stakeholders, clients and others and writing it all down, they came up with a coherent definition of why they exist, which is now part of a government whitepaper  . Essentially the purpose of what they are doing is to reduce silos within the government, and to adopt a user and service delivery centric approach. This also means no longer being involved in one-offs and instead finding solutions that are based on re-usable components to reduce unnecessary redundancy by taking a whole-of-government approach. This is necessary because at the time, we were reinventing the wheel every single time in every single department. On top of that, they had a huge challenge with legacy systems.
Service and Digital Target Enterprise Architecture White Paper, available at:
Some of the Challenges were Endemic
The timing for the reinvention was right because after languishing in obscurity for over a decade, enterprise architecture (EA) was also “being reborn within the government of Canada. In fact, in 2016 the practice of EA was renewed across all government agencies and was reimagined as a conceptual blueprint that defines the structure and operation of an organization considering and aligning business, information, data, applications, technology, security and privacy domains to support strategic outcomes. The Office of the CIO is therefore ultimately responsible for the expectations related to EA, and for “defining the current and target architecture standards.
EA alone however was not the solution because there were some endemic challenges facing the entire Canadian government ecosystem, and we didn’t have the fundamental interlinks between all of our systems and information. These challenges ranged from digital service delivery issues – the gap between the expectations of citizens and the government’s ability to meet those expectations – to legacy systems and technical debt – where simply replacing systems became cost and risk prohibitive – and to business process issues, which were IT systems that “became barriers rather than enablers. Business as usual was not effective, nor was incremental change.
Changing the Narrative
Almost two years ago, the ‘Service and Digital Target Enterprise Architecture’ was conceived as a future state of the government’s overall IT ecosystem. In fact, it is currently in the process of being refreshed again. Essentially it is a model for re-developing the whole system and narrative. It is at a high level, but not so high that it means nothing. It is at a level where everyone can kind of see themselves somewhere in the picture. It is a mixture of business programs and services married with the business capabilities. The services include a redesign of things that are being asked of us with new solutions, be they front office programs or internal systems. Every service within government has been looked at and re-invented using new solutions. This includes business capabilities, but the intention is to “reduce some of the repetitions rather than to dilute the services.
The model also looked at the channels of engagement, from stakeholders, citizens and partners to employees and elected officials. Digital identity is of critical importance whether it is internal or external facing. Channels and platforms are also important. The website Canada.ca was the one-stop target for many years, but we still haven’t quite boiled it down across all of government. Ideally there should be one platform or app that people can access everything from the same user experience to renew a driver’s licence, to report a pothole problem, to file their taxes. We are not quite there yet.
Like all workplaces, the government has been dramatically affected by COVID-19. In Canada, the pandemic was a catalyst to rip out the tools that were put in place over a decade ago and to replace them with modern toolsets. This not only brings the government in line with the private sector, but also allows for real-time collaboration, knowledge sharing and greater use of capabilities. On top of that, installing new tools and enabling EA allows our information, application and technology architectures to work together and be interconnected.
The model also makes reference to ‘secret and above secret systems’ because we really want you to ask yourself, why am I not putting this in a public cloud data center? Of course some things need to remain private and it is a very big topic, but there are also a wide variety of solutions to explore. Ultimately, the redeveloped government model and the EA framework are based on industry best practices and models, designed to be flexible, adaptable and scalable as elements are updated. It is in fact designed to be updated every year. The updates generally fall under five categories: business, information, application, technology and security, or BIATS for short. The goal is to become less generic and more specific over time, in order to know what we can do.
Like everything, this is a continuous cycle, and though there have been and continue to be a number of improved outcomes, they will quickly disappear if they are not constantly attended to. Nonetheless, some of these outcomes have included improved digital services to meet client’s expectations; better managed costs and improved agility; and a more engaged and effective workforce. All of this goes towards being more effective so that when we have something that we need to react to, we can do it in 4 or 5 hours, rather than in 4 or 5 years – which used to be the average.
Currently there are over 7,200 applications across all our department and agencies that are being transitioned. It’s not going to happen overnight as each one is part of the long-term roadmap. On top of that, both technology and citizen expectations are constantly changing. But we need to continually position ourselves to respond to the challenge and to be more successful in the future. We need to adopt a progressive mindset so that we are ready to do something we didn’t do yesterday.