Category: Roy Wiseman

Text Messages and Government Records

Today’s newspapers are once again reading that bureaucrats, this time in CRA, possibly deleted text messages that may be “government records.” A spokesperson for Treasury Board President, Tony Clement, is quoted as saying: “If the (messages) were of business value and deleted, then the rules were broken. If the CRA can prove that they were transitory in nature I – if it was ‘meet you at the coffee shop in fifteen minutes’ – …but that is up to the CRA to prove”.

While I am an ardent proponent of government transparency, I am concerned that we have lost sight of what is and is not included in “the public’s right to know.”

At my former municipal government, we decided that text messages would not be logged, considering that such messages (like voice mails) were transitory. Where a text (or voice) message did contain something that could be classified as a corporate record, it was the responsibility of those involved to document the decision/record separately – e.g. a follow-up “as we discussed” memo or email – just as would be required if the exchange had taken place in a hallway conversation.

It seems that today’s prevailing political and media approach to text messages is to put the shoe on the other foot – assuming that they are corporate records (of business value) unless we can prove otherwise. This may simply result in bureaucrats reverting back to hallway or phone conversations on sensitive issues, since these are not (yet) being logged for posterity.

While this may seem cynical, I believe it is important to allow a certain amount of bureaucratic discretion and privacy. In the Toronto Computer Leasing Inquiry of a few years ago, much time was spent reviewing different versions of Council reports to determine who had made certain changes or deletions, as the reports went through various drafts. It was my, perhaps old fashioned, view that only the final report was a corporate record; all previous drafts could (and should) have been deleted. Similarly, an inquiry into a contract award for Toronto’s Union Station renovations sought disclosure of how individuals on an evaluation team had voted. Again, my view was that the record was the recommendation made by the team collectively. The discussion/individual votes leading up to that recommendation should remain private.

In general, the public is entitled to know what has been decided or recommended – but not “who said what” in the process of arriving at a decision. Pushing government transparency too far into the boardrooms is ultimately unhealthy for our democracy. Bureaucrats should be entitled and encouraged to have healthy debates and disagreements without fear that these will become public. It is the decisions or recommendations that arise out of such debates which are legitimately public records.

Much of this confusion relates back to technology. Text messages are now generally logged, so we assume a right of access and an expectation that they not be deleted unless we can “prove” that they are not “of business value.” Telephone and hallway conversations are generally not logged, so the same expectations do not apply. To be consistent, does this mean that all “conversations” should be recorded and logged, until we can prove that they were not of business value? If not, why are we separating out a specific form of conversation?


Roy Wiseman
Roy Wiseman is currently Executive Director and was a founding member of MISA/ASIM Canada. He is a Board Member and Past President of the Institute for Citizen Centred Service, Past President of MISA Ontario, former municipal Co-Chair of the Service Mapping Subcommittee and Project Director for the Municipal Reference Model (MRMv2) project.

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Government Cloud Strategy

In February 2011, the U.S. Federal Cloud Computing Strategy (Cloud First Policy) estimated that up to 25% ($20 billion) of US federal government IT spending could be was a target for cloud computing. To accelerate adoption, they introduced FedRAMP, pre-certifying cloud service providers (CSPs) who could be used by all agencies.

The U.K. government published its Cloud First strategy in March 2011, setting a target of 50% of new government IT spending for cloud-based services by 2015. To further speed adoption, they introduced G-Cloud framework agreements with suppliers and an online CloudStore, where public sector bodies could search over 1,200 (by 2014) approved G-Cloud suppliers and services.

  • The Australian National Cloud Computing Strategy, released in May 2013, goes beyond government use, viewing cloud computing as a significant economic development opportunity “promoting Australia as a trusted hub for data storage and processing” and including three overall goals:
  • Australian government becoming a leader in use of cloud services;
  • Promoting cloud computing to small businesses, not-for-profits and consumers, while ensuring that they have the protection and tools to acquire cloud services with confidence;
  • Support a vibrant cloud services sector, including regulatory settings that support growth, foster innovation and protect users.

The European Union announced the European Cloud Partnership (ECP) in July 2013. In November 2013, it launched its Cloud-for-Europe (C4E) initiative to boost public sector uptake of cloud services, defining “safe and fair contract terms and conditions” and a model contract for procurement of cloud services.

In some ways, the government of Canada was early off the mark. In 2010, Treasury Board developed a cloud computing roadmap, since updated continuously to include a robust architecture defining the government’s approach to cloud services. In 2013, Corinne Charette, Government of Canada CIO, described creation of a Cloud First Directive as “the last key element of our future IT policy suite renewal.” She goes on to say: “We want departments to seriously consider cloud based solutions for new or renewed applications.” However, relatively little information is available on the government’s actual implementation of cloud-based services – other than the 2013 email outsourcing contract.

Provincially and municipally, there have been a few examples of adoption of cloud services. Ontario has moved its government website to Amazon servers and some leading municipalities have adopted cloud-based email or offices suites – e.g. gMail/Google Docs (Edmonton; Office 365 (York Region). Elsewhere, CRM and GIS seem likely to provide the next wave of municipal cloud-based applications – excluding niche applications (e.g. Long Term Care) for which cloud-based solutions are becoming the only option.

Notwithstanding these examples, cloud computing is not yet mainstream in Canadian governments at any level. The government of Canada has yet to follow other countries in a national strategy for cloud computing, despite perceptions that Canada may have competitive advantages in this area. In particular, Canada’s long awaited digital strategy, “Digital Canada 150”, released in April 2014 contains no mention of the cloud. Perhaps recognizing this omission, federal Industry Minister, Tony Clement, has since invited Canadian cloud industry leaders and provincial governments to engage in a discussion of made-in-Canada approaches to cloud computing.

From the private sector, the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATA) has launched a G-Cloud First for Canada advocacy campaign, which would require public sector organizations to consider and fully evaluate Cloud solutions first, before considering other options. CATA argues that such regulations could stimulate the growth of a Canadian cloud industry.

  • In March 2014, Jerry Mechling, Gartner Research Vice President, argued that “cloud computing is revolutionizing the world” and that “for governments to realize the benefits, they must take much of the work they have been doing for themselves and outsource it.” Mechling provides three recommendations:
  • Local governments need to move to the cloud while simultaneously collaborating (standardizing their demands and aggregating their buying power);
  • Regional and state governments need to extend cloud-based production to serve local jurisdictions in their realms;
    •National governments need to provide seed money and experiments with a view to standardizing at the scale required for the cloud.

It remains to be seen whether recommendations such as these will be adopted in Canada.


Roy Wiseman
Roy Wiseman is currently Executive Director and was a founding member of MISA/ASIM Canada. He is a Board Member and Past President of the Institute for Citizen Centred Service, Past President of MISA Ontario, former municipal Co-Chair of the Service Mapping Subcommittee and Project Director for the Municipal Reference Model (MRMv2) project.

BYOD – Trending or Hitting a Wall?

For the past two-three years, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) has been a hot topic for government IT leaders. In May 2013, Gartner called BYOD “the single most radical change to the economics and culture of client computing since PCs invaded the workplace” – even predicting that by 2017, 50 percent of employers will require employees to supply their own devices for work purposes.

More recently, there seems to be cooling enthusiasm for BYOD as issues and trade-offs become more apparent. Governments, in particular, have been slow to implement BYOD. Both the U.K. and U.S. government guidelines are cautious, with one U.K. report noting that “while BYOD strategies are possible for public sector organizations, they are not recommended.” Canadian government CIOs have likewise been generally cautious, with a few noteworthy exceptions (e.g., City of Mississauga).

Although a BYOD strategy could be applied to any device, it has generally been focused on smartphones and tablets due to:

  • Ubiquity of such devices (everyone has one) and associated desire to avoid having two devices, one for work and a second for personal use;
  • Lack of a dominant platform and associated strong user attachment to the platform/device of their choice (Apple, Android, Windows, Blackberry).

Suggested benefits of BYOD include:

  • Employee attraction or retention (especially younger employees) – although surveys indicate that while BYOD may increase job satisfaction, it doesn’t necessarily influence job choice or retention;
  • Since users may get the latest technologies first (and upgrade more frequently), the organization can benefit from newer features and capabilities;
  • Users can have the devices they prefer and on which they are most productive;
  • Users can configure their own devices – potentially relieving IT of this responsibility. However, suggestions that BYOD can reduce IT support seem unrealistic. Some support is inevitable, especially for senior staff, and may be more complex given the range of devices, operating systems and applications;
  • Potential for cost savings. Generally, the employee should purchase/own the device with the company covering a portion of usage costs – consistent with CRA rulings that suggest no taxable benefit for reimbursement for “reasonable voice and data services required for employment purposes.” Any cost savings may, however, be offset by increased costs required to maintain security and protect government information stored on such devices – e.g., licensing and implementations costs for Mobile Device Management (MDM) solutions.

Resistance to BYOD arises primarily from security concerns, including fear of losing sensitive data or intrusions resulting from improperly protected devices. Unlike corporately-owned devices, personally-owed devices will inevitably be used for both personal and work related purposes – meaning that the device will likely contain personal-use applications not previously approved by the organization, as well as a mix of both corporate and personal information (with associated privacy and liability implications).

One approach to addressing such concerns involves partitioning the device into corporate and personal partitions (“containers”), allowing tight control over the corporate partition with increased flexibility on the personal side. This approach (supported by various devices/applications) can allow remote wipe/reset of the corporate side without touching personal information (e.g. if the device if assumed lost or stolen). Similarly, it can allow access to corporate data (e.g., for a discovery process), without compromising the employee’s personal information.

Overall, in considering BYOD solutions, CIOs must balance their desire to respond to employee needs/expectations against corporate expectations for security and protection of sensitive information. These are not easy trade-offs. While it seems likely that BYOD may eventually win out, especially for smartphones, this will only occur when security and device management solutions have matured sufficiently to address current concerns. In this context, Gartner’s 2013 prediction seems overly optimistic.


Roy Wiseman
Roy Wiseman is currently Executive Director and was a founding member of MISA/ASIM Canada. He is a Board Member and Past President of the Institute for Citizen Centred Service, Past President of MISA Ontario, former municipal Co-Chair of the Service Mapping Subcommittee and Project Director for the Municipal Reference Model (MRMv2) project.

In Defence of Direct Negotiation

From time to time, the popular media jump on examples of contracts awarded without competitive bids as examples of everything that is wrong in government. Perhaps, it is time to make the opposite case that open competition also has some problems and there are times when direct negotiation (or sole source) may be preferable.

First, I could point out that none of us use anything like the government “open competition” model in our private lives. Nor do private corporations use it for the vast majority of their purchases.
The key characteristics of most government formal bid processes are as follows:

  • Governments must precisely define their needs in advance, using either a Request for Tender or Request for Proposal;
  • Only bidders who submit formal and fully complying responses to the issued RFT or RFP will be considered. (The requirement for “fully complying” bids is important. I have participated in processes in which as many as three-quarters of submitted responses were rejected, often for seemingly trivial reasons – i.e. missing signatures – that could easily be corrected in a less formal process.)
  • Only the precise solutions included in those responses will be considered;
  • The contract will be awarded for the bid price with no or limited opportunity for further negotiation.

Problems associated with this process include:

  • The process is time consuming for both government and responding vendors. From the government side, the process cost can and often does more than outweigh any “savings” achieved through lower pricing.
  • From the vendor perspective, the cost to participate must be evaluated against the likelihood of winning the contract. As a result, many smaller firms choose not to participate in government procurements. Vendors who do must realistically factor in the added costs for participation into their bid price.
  • Many suppliers of potential solutions (e.g. IT/software) may be based in other countries and/or have a business model in which their price is established and they do not respond to government issued procurement requests – meaning that they cannot be considered.
  • The process assumes that the governments know precisely what they want in advance, including the factors that will be used to evaluate potential solutions. This flies in the face of our experience in other areas (e.g. buying a car), in which we learn as we go. My experience is that many RFPs are based on lists of “features”, usually gleaned from industry literature, and that the true differentiating factors between leading vendors appear only during the evaluation.
  • Notwithstanding supposed “objectivity”, evaluations always come down to human judgement – what “score” to give each vendor for each factor being evaluated. From my experience, scepticism about the “objectivity” of such evaluations is often justified. Even the specifications can be (and frequently are) defined to favour preferred vendors.

Given these and other issues, the notion that “open competition”, as described here, always yields the best price and the best solution for governments is, quite frankly, an illusion. There are many situations in which we would get a better price – and a better solution – simply by sitting down with one or more vendors, discussing our requirements and negotiating a price – the way most of us buy a car. What is wrong with playing vendors off against each other? Why does it always have to be “one final bid”?

While I fully understand the need for “fair and transparent” government procurement in many (most) situations, such processes have a cost. When used with care and appropriate controls, direct negotiation can be an efficient and effective use of taxpayers’ dollars. Sometimes, it just makes sense to award a contract to someone who has done excellent work for a good price on a similar contract in the past. This isn’t always favouritism. It can be just common sense.


Roy Wiseman
Roy Wiseman is currently Executive Director and was a founding member of MISA/ASIM Canada. He is a Board Member and Past President of the Institute for Citizen Centred Service, Past President of MISA Ontario, former municipal Co-Chair of the Service Mapping Subcommittee and Project Director for the Municipal Reference Model (MRMv2) project.

Public Wi-Fi: A Second Wave

Public Wi-Fi First Wave: Big Plans, Few Successes
In about 2004, the technology press was abuzz with stories of municipal public Wi-Fi. In the United States, projects were initiated in more than 200 municipalities, including major cities like Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago and San Francisco.

By 2008, most of these projects had been significantly scaled back or abandoned entirely. In Boston, visions of city-wide coverage were scaled back to just key downtown areas. Projects in Philadelphia and San Francisco were abandoned entirely. Others, like Chicago, never got off the ground, as explained in this 2007 press release:

“. . . the unexpected high cost of building a Wi-Fi network, combined with increased competition from other service providers, meant that these networks are unlikely to succeed without extraordinary financial support from the local government. Even with such support …there appears to be far less demand …than originally projected.”

Within Canada, Toronto Hydro proposed in 2004 to provide city-wide wireless coverage. By 2006, this had been scaled back to a downtown core service called OneZone – which is still offered (with limited take-up) by Cogeco (who bought Toronto Hydro Telecom in 2008).

Notwithstanding the failure of many larger projects, there were some successes, especially in smaller cities. Within Canada, the City of Fredericton’s Fred-eZone provides free public Wi-Fi access in most of the downtown business area. Building on the success of their community fibre network, Fred-eZone was built and operated by E-novations, a city-owned company staffed entirely by city employees and using city-owned infrastructure (light poles, water towers, etc.). The resulting network was the first of its kind in Canada and attracted considerable media attention and contributed to the City’s economic development strategy.

Public Wi-Fi Makes a Comeback: New Models
In retrospect, 2005 may have been too soon for major public Wi-Fi investments. However, with Wi-Fi cards now standard in computers, tablets and smart phones, Wi-Fi hotspots are increasingly available at coffee shops, restaurants, book stores, airports, hotels, etc. Municipalities have likewise provided Wi-Fi access in libraries, recreation facilities and other public buildings. Since municipalities increasingly need Wi-Fi for their own staff in these buildings, extending access to the public imposes limited additional costs.

But other models have also emerged for providing public Wi-Fi in western Canada. Unlike other telecom carriers, Shaw Communications has entered into partnerships with a growing number of municipalities – Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, Victoria and many smaller municipalities, primarily in Alberta and British Columbia, but extending as far as northwestern Ontario (e.g. Sault Ste. Marie). Under such agreements, Shaw installs, at its cost, Wi-Fi access points in municipal facilities and using municipal infrastructure (street light poles, etc.). Shaw owns and operates the resulting network, which it makes available to Shaw Go Wi-Fi subscribers. Many agreements require Shaw to provide free public access in municipal facilities and defined public spaces. Such free access may be limited in some ways (e.g. connect time, data limits), with higher levels of service being available by becoming a Shaw Go Wi-Fi subscriber.

Using the 2013 City of Edmonton agreement as an example, the City estimated that expanding its own network would cost up to $15 million. Once the Shaw network is in place, Edmonton will decommission its public Wi-Fi access in locations served by Shaw – although the City wireless infrastructure will remain in place for use by City staff.

To a limited extent, other carriers have followed a similar model. For instance, the City of Winnipeg has agreements with both Shaw and Manitoba Telecom Services (MTS). Ice Wireless has entered into an agreement with the City of Ottawa to provide free public Wi-Fi in 25 municipal facilities. Ice Wireless will be allowed to set up 75 screens in high-traffic areas of the buildings and sell advertising. Ice Wireless plans to extend this advertising-based business model to other cities. Bell is providing free public Wi-Fi in an area along Boulevard Saint-Laurent in Montreal, through an agreement with the local business association.

Carriers do not necessarily require municipal agreements to provide Wi-Fi access – although they may be less likely to provide public access without such agreements. For instance, Shaw subscribers can receive Go Wi-Fi access in locations where Shaw has negotiated agreements with facility owners (e.g. shopping malls) to install access points.

In addition to carrier-based initiatives, many Canadian municipalities are getting back into the public Wi-Fi game either on their own, in public-private partnerships or in partnership with not-for-profits or downtown business associations. The following provides a by no means exhaustive list of current initiatives:

  • London’s LAWN (London Area Wireless Network) provides free Wi-Fi in public spaces in downtown London, through a collaborative venture between Downtown London (funded by downtown businesses) and the City.
  • Moncton partnered with Cisco and HP to install Wi-Fi Moncton in the city core, on city buses and the Magnetic Hill area.
  • In Montreal, more than 500 Wi-Fi access points have been implemented in cafes, restaurants, hospitals, colleges, etc. through a not-for-profit organization (Ile-sans-Fil) for a minimal cost for location owners. (The Wifidog user authentication software, developed by Ile-sans-Fil, is also used by ZAP in Quebec, as well as wireless communities in New York, Paris, Berlin, Brest, Marseille, Vancouver and Toronto.)
  • In Quebec City, another not-for-profit, ZAP Quebec (Zone d’Acces Public) has installed more than 400 hotspots covering in cafes, restaurants and public building. As a result, Quebec has Wi-Fi coverage for over 60 percent of its territory and was named Canada’s best connected city in 2011.
  • With considerably less success, Wireless Toronto has attempted to play a similar role helping businesses create wireless hotspots in downtown Toronto.
  • The Valley Community Fibre Network Authority, a consortium of six municipalities and two education institutions, is providing free Wi-Fi access in the Annapolis Valley town of Berwick.
  • Free.Baffin set up a single access point, providing free Wi-Fi access in Iqaluit at a cost of $5,500 and hopes that the service can be supported through advertising on its portal page.
  • Langley (British Columbia) is deploying free wireless hotspots around city facilities at a cost claimed to be less than $200 per access point – and has posted an “Implementing Low-Cost Public Wi-Fi” guide for those interested in replicating their approach.
  • In 2005, Atria Networks installed Wi-Fi access points in and around Waterloo Region. However, when Rogers bought Atria in 2010, it cancelled the Wi-Fi initiative, leaving the municipalities to pick up the pieces. In response, Stratford created Rhyzome Networks, a wholly-owned communications facility serving Stratford and six neighbouring communities. Rhyzome now provides both fibre optic and Wi-Fi services and contributed to Stratford being voted a top seven Intelligent Community in 2011 and 2012.

Summary
After a succession of high-profile early failures, especially in the United States, public Wi-Fi has re-emerged as an economic necessity for a modern municipality. Canadian municipalities have experimented with a number of models to meet this need. It is to be expected that this marketplace will continue to evolve in the coming years – and that municipalities will continue to play a variety of roles.


Roy Wiseman
Roy Wiseman is currently Executive Director and was a founding member of MISA/ASIM Canada. He is a Board Member and Past President of the Institute for Citizen Centred Service, Past President of MISA Ontario, former municipal Co-Chair of the Service Mapping Subcommittee and Project Director for the Municipal Reference Model (MRMv2) project.

E-Voting: Is it time?

Given upcoming municipal elections in some provinces and the current debate around the new Federal Elections Act, it might be time to review the issues around e-voting and, specifically, Internet voting.

Recent studies of Internet Voting by Elections Canada, Elections Ontario, Elections BC and others have all been generally cautious or negative, notwithstanding its potential to slow down or reverse declining voter turnout.

The studies have all emphasized the risks, including:

  • Security: Protecting and ensuring the integrity of the servers running the election software – as well as concern regarding vulnerabilities being exploited in the devices used by voters, in the transmission of the “vote” to the servers or from denial of service attacks (experienced in the 2012 NDP leadership vote).
  • Voter authentication – ensuring that only authorized voters can vote – notwithstanding that manual processes for confirming identity/authorization to vote are also imperfect.
  • Secret ballot – ensuring separation of “the vote” from any information identifying the voter so that no one can know how any individual voted – replicating the polling booth where there is, in theory, no way to associate a ballot with the individual who cast it.
  • Equality of access – addressing the perceived ”digital divide”, especially if e-voting is the only option, rather than an additional option to traditional voting.

While not wishing to downplay these risks, we now have enough experience in Canada and elsewhere to design e-voting systems and processes that minimize such risks (without eliminating them entirely), while preserving the essential characteristics of free and fair elections.

In 2010, 44 Ontario municipalities with a total population of just under 1,000,000 provided e-voting during their municipal elections.  In most, (e.g. Markham) e-Voting was offered as an alternative during an advanced polling period; however, a few eliminated in-person paper ballots, relying entirely on Internet and/or telephone voting.

The 2010 election was Markham’s third using e-voting, having used it previously in 2003 and 2006.  Halifax provided both Internet and telephone voting in 2008, a 2009 by-election and in 2012.  Although e-voting has, to date, been used only at the municipal level in Canada, it has also been used to elect leaders of political parties, both provincially and federally.  The current leaders of the federal Liberal and New Democratic parties were both elected using Internet voting.

Internationally, Estonia has used Internet voting for national elections since 2005.  Almost one-quarter of the votes cast in Estonia’s 2011 parliamentary elections were Internet votes.  Norway has included extensive trials of Internet voting in their 2011 and 2013 local government elections.  In Switzerland, both Geneva and Zurich have used Internet voting since 2003.  A number of e-voting trials have also been undertaken in UK local government elections, although these have been discontinued.  The United States has piloted Internet voting for specific groups – e.g. overseas military personnel and Americans living abroad.  New South Wales (Australia) provided Internet and telephone voting in advanced polls during their 2011 state elections for those meeting certain criteria (low vision, handicapped, living more than 20 km form a polling station or who would be away on voting day) .

Despite the naysayers, no serious disruptions have occurred in any of these elections.  Yes, things can go wrong and we need protocols to address such situations when they do occur.  On the other hand, quoting Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party of Canada: “the crisis in Canadian democracy is not that Canadians are voting more than once but that they are voting less than once”.  If e-voting can even partly address this, it is worth trying.  Does anyone doubt that e-voting will be the dominant mode of participation in elections 10-20 years from now? Isn’t it time that we began seriously to work on more widespread trials of something that appears inevitable?


Roy Wiseman
Roy Wiseman is currently Executive Director and was a founding member of MISA/ASIM Canada. He is a Board Member and Past President of the Institute for Citizen Centred Service, Past President of MISA Ontario, former municipal Co-Chair of the Service Mapping Subcommittee and Project Director for the Municipal Reference Model (MRMv2) project.

Canadian Governments Lagging in Online Service Delivery

In November 2013, the Office of the Auditor General of Canada issued its report on Access to Online Services.  Not surprisingly, the OAG Report found that while in 2005 an independent assessment ranked Canada first as a world leader in bringing online government to its citizens, more recent United Nations studies show Canada dropping in worldwide rankings – from 3rd in 2010 to 11th in 2012 among 190 countries.

As described in the OAG Report, the Government of Canada announced its Government On-Line (GOL) initiative in October 1999, with a goal of ensuring that all key government services would be available over the Internet by 2005.  When the initiative ended in 2005, the government reported that Canadians could access all 130 key services online and that online transactions accounted for 30 percent of all transactions with government.  Since that time, the audit finds that, notwithstanding some incremental improvements, “the government has not significantly expanded its online service offerings since 2005.”

For those who have followed progress on e-government throughout this period, these findings may come as no surprise.  In fact, I’m surprised that Canada might still rank as high as 11th.

In the heady period of GOL, Canadian CIOs at all levels of government were talking about using technology to improve services to citizens and businesses.  In the period after 2005, the focus shifted to consolidation and cost reduction – e.g. consolidating data centres, integrating email and networks, rationalizing back office systems, etc.  While such focus was understandable in the context of broader efforts to reduce the size and cost of government, there is the danger that we may have thrown out the baby with the bathwater.

While Canadian governments were pulling back on their efforts to use technology to improve service delivery, the world was not standing still.  Social Media, mobile technology and the cloud have radically changed the technology landscape.  Other governments have been moving forward aggressively to embrace these new opportunities.  Even conservative governments with a cost-reduction agenda, such as in the UK, are implementing aggressive digital strategies including “digital by default” – defined as “digital services that are so straightforward and convenient that all those who can use them will choose to do so, while those who can’t are not excluded.”  Such governments recognize that aggressively developing and promoting online services can yield huge cost savings, as well as improving services to citizens (and perceptions of government).

In this context, the Canadian government’s failure to deliver a new digital strategy, despite repeated promises to do so, risks further eroding Canada’s ranking and performance in this area – and ultimately our world-wide competitiveness.  Yes, such a strategy may require new investments – but 10 years after the end of GOL, can we afford to do otherwise?


Roy Wiseman
Roy Wiseman is currently Executive Director and was a founding member of MISA/ASIM Canada. He is a Board Member and Past President of the Institute for Citizen Centred Service, Past President of MISA Ontario, former municipal Co-Chair of the Service Mapping Subcommittee and Project Director for the Municipal Reference Model (MRMv2) project.

From Open Data to Open Government

During 2013, Canadian governments at all levels were continuing to join the Open Data movement.  As reported on the www.data.gc.ca site, maintained by the Government of Canada, there are now four provinces (British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec) and 38 Canadian municipalities with Open Data portals.  (This site provides links to a number of other provincial sites, but since these provide only a few GIS datasets, with unclear or restrictive licensing provisions, they do not, in my view, qualify as “open data” sites.)

At a provincial/territorial level, Canada still lags behind the US, where www.data.gov reports 39 states with Open Data sites.  However, Canada is doing quite well municipally.  Our 38 municipal sites include 15 of our 25 largest cities.  This compares with only 43 US cities and counties and only 11 of the 25 largest US cites, as listed on www.data.gov.

Federally, the Canadian government has been quite active, joining the Open Government Partnership in April 2012, becoming one of 62 participating countries.  As required for all OGP members, Canada developed a very good (in my view) Open Government Action Plan and has now completed a Year 1 self-assessment report (available at www.data.gc.ca).

But Open Data is just one of three streams (along with Open Information and Open Dialogue) of Open Government, defined by Wikipedia as “the governing doctrine which holds that citizens have the right to access the documents and proceedings of government to allow for effective public oversight.”  While Open Data is a good start, it is only a start.  In fact, most Canadian Open Data sites rely heavily on GIS datasets and others, which, while useful for app developers (e.g. transit schedules), provide very little insight into “the proceedings of government.”  This contrasts to the situation in the US, in which many such sites focus on information intended to enhance government transparency – e.g. www.ohio.gov/government/transparency.

A July 2013 report by British Columbia’s Information and Privacy Commissioner (“Evaluating the Government of British Columbia’s Open Government Initiatives“) provides some excellent suggestions for the types of information that should be disclosed, including travel and hospitality expenses, as well as calendar information of ministers, deputy ministers, and ADMs or equivalent; contracts over $10,000; final reports or audits of performance or efficiency; feasibility or technical studies; etc.  In this regard, BC is fairly unique in having both an Open Data and Open Information portal.

Given the work still to be done in relation to Open Information, it is perhaps too soon to move to the third pillar (Open Dialogue) of Open Government.  Both Ontario and British Columbia, along with the Government of Canada, have made commitments to this third pillar.  Ontario has even appointed a Deputy Minister for Open Government and has established an Open Government Engagement Team to “consult with people on how government can best engage and inform the public on the work it does.”  While the announcement of this team was greeted with considerable public cynicism (or apathy), one can only wish that this and similar initiatives achieve some level of success as we struggle to find new ways to engage 21st century citizens in our democratic processes.


Roy Wiseman
Roy Wiseman is currently Executive Director and was a founding member of MISA/ASIM Canada. He is a Board Member and Past President of the Institute for Citizen Centred Service, Past President of MISA Ontario, former municipal Co-Chair of the Service Mapping Subcommittee and Project Director for the Municipal Reference Model (MRMv2) project.

The Case for Modern Government

In an October 16, 2013 article (“Service Ontario’s web failing to attract users”), the Toronto Star reported that even John Milloy, Government Services Minister (with responsibility for Service Ontario) didn’t know that he could review his vehicle sticker online.  As someone who also recently renewed my vehicle sticker, I’m not entirely surprised.  Although I was pretty sure that it could be done online, I had to read carefully through the mailed-out reminder to find this option – buried in the small print.  As a result, apparently only 9.3 percent of stickers are renewed online.  Apparently, 91 percent of us either don’t know (like Mr. Milloy) that there is an online option – or (unlikely) we prefer to stand in line at the Motor Vehicle Registration offices.

The same article also reports that the Ontario government expects only five percent of motorists will take advantage of the online option for renewal of drivers’ licences.  Why so low? While some potential users may not have convenient access to a computer or may have limitations that make online renewal difficult, this can hardly account for a projected five percent take-up rate.

More to the point, why is the government so reluctant to aggressively promote the online option, when standard analyses suggest that the cost (to government) of in-person transactions can be 20 to 30 times that of the same transactions completed online.

In my observation, the Ontario government is not unique in its reluctance.  Only this year, the Government of Canada stopped mailing out paper tax forms to millions of Canadians – even though 65 percent of Canadians filed electronically in 2012 and early reports suggest that this could be as high as 76 percent in 2013.  Even then, instead of proudly proclaiming how it was saving money (and thousands of trees) through this measure, it left it to the media to report the story, focusing on a few complaints (e.g. from the Canadian Association of Retired Persons) and putting the government in a defensive mode.  (CRA could, perhaps, have avoided such complaints through better communication and/or including a check-box option for those filing electronically to indicate that they didn’t wish to receive paper forms in future years.)

These are not isolated instances.  For some reason, it appears that governments have concluded that promoting online services is “toxic.”  Perhaps they are concerned that online services may be considered impersonal or insensitive to seniors, the disabled or those without easy access to computers.  But the alternative of simply accepting a five percent take-up rate – without even trying to convert the 70 percent or more of us who would be only too happy to use the far less expensive (for government) online channel – seems hardly responsible.

Instead of hiding, let’s proudly promote “modern government”, taking full advantage of the cost-saving opportunities (and increased convenience) provided by modern technology, without taking away the in-person option for those who still want or need it.


Roy Wiseman
Roy Wiseman is currently Executive Director and was a founding member of MISA/ASIM Canada. He is a Board Member and Past President of the Institute for Citizen Centred Service, Past President of MISA Ontario, former municipal Co-Chair of the Service Mapping Subcommittee and Project Director for the Municipal Reference Model (MRMv2) project.

Canadian Governments Moving on Three Initiatives

On returning from the Joint Councils meetings in Fort McMurray, I came away with the distinct impression that Canadian governments are moving forward collectively on a number of initiatives.  “Collectively” doesn’t mean that all governments are on board with each initiative or that they are all moving at the same pace.  But in each case, there is encouraging momentum, with participation from all three orders of government.

The three initiatives are:

1.     Identity Management: Led by the Governments of Canada and British Columbia, it appears that Canadian governments are finally moving towards a workable solution in which citizens can use either government issued credentials (user ID and password) or those issued by third parties (initially the Canadian banks) to access government services – with the potential that the same credentials will be accepted across levels of government.  The Government of Canada has negotiated arrangements with three of the big five Canadian banks (BMO, Scotia Bank and TD).  Other banks seem sure to follow.  Several provincial governments are in various stages of adopting a similar approach.  Municipalities are now being brought into the mix.

2.     The Business Number (BN), issued by Canada Revenue Agency, is increasingly being used as a standard identifier for businesses accessing government services.  The BN is being adopted across the federal government and by six provinces (BC, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia) and the City of Winnipeg – the first municipality to come on board.  The BN supports more integrated services to business, including “tell us once” functionality, which allows updates to business information to be shared (with permission) within and across orders of government.

3.     Open Data has been adopted by the Government of Canada, at least four provincial governments (British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec) and more than 35 Canadian municipalities.  Perhaps more significantly, a standard Canadian Open Data Licence has been adopted by the Governments of Canada, British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and at least five municipalities.  In addition to reducing costs to jurisdictions to develop their own licences, a standard licence allows an application developer to use data from multiple Canadian jurisdictions, without having to comply with different and sometimes conflicting terms of use.

The Joint Councils (Public Sector CIO Council and Public Sector Service Delivery Council) include the CIOs or heads of service delivery, respectively, from the Government of Canada, all provincial and territorial governments and three municipal representatives on each Council.  Since 1999, they meet 2-3 times annually and provide a platform for moving forward on initiatives requiring collaboration across levels of government.  While progress is often slow, the above examples indicate that inter-jurisdictional collaboration is real and worthwhile.


Roy Wiseman
Roy Wiseman is currently Executive Director and was a founding member of MISA/ASIM Canada. He is a Board Member and Past President of the Institute for Citizen Centred Service, Past President of MISA Ontario, former municipal Co-Chair of the Service Mapping Subcommittee and Project Director for the Municipal Reference Model (MRMv2) project.