Opening Remarks during April 8th Council Meeting from the Honourable Joyce Murray, Minister of Digital Government

To support CIOs across the country, the April 8th Council meeting was held online to provide the latest information on what technology leaders are doing to better understand and respond to the changing business environments of their operations and technologies amid COVID-19, and welcomed the Honourable Joyce Murray, Minister of Digital Government.

April 8, 2020 – Ottawa

Good Morning. First I want to acknowledge – I am joining you here from my home today on the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Salish and Tsleil Waututh First Nations.

It is truly a pleasure to see so many of you here today and to connect. I hope each of you and your families are safe and healthy.

I want to thank the CIO Strategy Council for organizing this event and for using this great digital tool to make it possible in our current context.

Even when it is business as usual, your organization plays an important role in bringing together the public and private sectors to shape the Canadian IT environment to serve Canadians better.

This is important because now, more than ever, we need all hands on deck.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented challenge and change around the world, and Canada is no exception.

Every industry and aspect of our economy has been upended, including our social interactions – and the way we work. While much of the media coverage is focused on our socio-economic response to this pandemic …

…there is another story that has yet to be told about the work behind the scenes to support this radical shift in our everyday lives – the role of Digital.

Our Government has been quick and decisive in announcing supports for individuals, business and the health care system.

We need to make sure Canadians can pay their bills and employers can protect jobs so that when business picks up again, they can hit the ground running.

Canadians are relying on us to roll out these supports quickly and easily. They don’t have months and weeks to wait for support. Which is why digital delivery is so important.

As most of you know, I am leading the Government of Canada’s digital transformation with the teams at the Office of the Chief Information Officer, the Canadian Digital Service, and Shared Services Canada.

Our mandate is to provide public servants with the tools they need, so they can deliver the level of service Canadians have come to expect in a digital age.

This means:

  • Modernizing how we manage and store data – including a Government-wide shift to the cloud.
  • Replacing the antiquated systems that deliver critical services to Canadians such as OAS, and CPP; systems that are almost as old as the pensioners they serve.
  • It means building better digital tools that are secure, easy and reliable.

We know that this work is mission critical for the Canadian Government to keep pace in a digital world but the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us just how important it is during a crisis.

Canadians across the country, myself included are physically distancing from others. So we count on digital technology; to work, stay informed and keep in touch with family and friends.

Today’s meeting is a perfect example of how digital tools are instrumental to enable work to continue during a crisis.

A few weeks ago, the Government of Canada took the unprecedented step of asking public servants, where possible, to work from home.

Suddenly and unexpectedly the COVID19 forced the Digital Government teams to expedite and adapt our efforts, in order to support this shift…

…because our first priority is, and always will be, serving Canadians.

I am very proud of the incredible work Shared Services Canada, the Office of the Chief Information Officer and the Canadian Digital Service have been doing to not just support the ongoing operation of the government’s IT infrastructure and systems, but to also ramp up its capacity and resilience, and quickly develop new digital tools and solutions.

They have been working around the clock to ensure that hundreds of thousands of federal employees are able to almost overnight – shift to working remotely, so they can continue to serve Canadians during these critical times.

As you can appreciate, we are focusing our efforts on providing Canadians with information, services and benefits quickly:

Shared Services Canada has managed to roll out Microsoft Office 365, making it available to all departments ahead of schedule so that remote work and collaboration is easier than ever. In the last month, over 100,000 GC employees have started using these cloud based collaboration tools.

SSC has augmented and modernized call centre infrastructure improving the availability to Canadians and enabling call centre agents to continue delivering critical services that Canadians and businesses rely on, even when working from home!

Secondly, the Canadian Digital Service refocused its digital teams onto mission critical COVID 19 response challenges: for example they developed Notify, a program that allows departments to quickly send emails and texts to hundreds of thousands of Canadians.

Health Canada worked with CDS to quickly implement Notify to share important pandemic related information and updates with Canadians and quarantined individuals retuning from abroad.

CDS has also been able to offer the Notify service to other departments and word has spread to provinces who are now interested in using this technology as well.

CDS is also working with ESDC on a benefits self-assessment tool so that Canadians can ensure they are applying for the benefits they are likely to be eligible for.

And, thirdly the Office of the Chief Information Officer has been working across all of government departments for an integrated approach to defining and resolving Coronavirus-related IT challenges, as well as making sure that the private sector offers of help are quickly assessed and connected with the appropriate departments.

These large-scale efforts within a short period of time have not been without their challenges.

But this is what digital government is all about. Now, more, than ever, we need to be flexible, collaborative, while adaptive to a fast-evolving situation.

I am aiming to transform our digital response into permanent shift in the way our government operates. But, government services can be very resistant to change. As we all know the politics, history, policies, risk tolerance, structure, functioning and culture of public service can frustrate the best intentions to change.

That is why the role of this Council is so important. You work together to establish standards to ensure innovative, timely and responsible delivery of products and services to Canadians. Your work integrates public and private sector assessment of priorities and necessary safeguards. And you bring to the table the tools, expertise and muscle-memory of transformative change.

How can we use our current situation as a learning experience in working together to provide faster and better services to Canadians?

Our country is facing challenges we have never seen in our lifetime. Ones that can’t be addressed by one department or by one government or even one corporation acting alone.

Gone are the days of working in silos.

Our mutual objective is to provide Canadians with support and services that are quicker, more effective, and secure than before. The CIO Strategy Council is an important partner and resource in that effort.

Your networks, knowledge, and perspectives will be invaluable in the months and years ahead as we explore the terrain of transformative change together.

Now I’d like to hear from you. I want to hear about the challenges your organizations are facing, the tools you’re using to address them, and how you see this situation impacting or transforming your work in the future.

Thank you. I look forward to the discussion. Merci.

Minister Murray’s remarks were originally published on Canada.ca.