If you ask most people about their experience navigating government services, it’s rare to hear words like “easy,” “consistent,” or “accountable,” but that’s exactly what Service Canada hopes to achieve with the new Canada.ca, an online portal where Canadians can access all federal government services.
Introduced in December 2015, Canada.ca was born from the federal government’s Web Renewal Initiative program announced in Fall 2013. After selecting San Jose, Calif.-based Adobe Systems Inc. in a competitive request for proposals process, Services Canada is now partway through a project that will see 1,500 government websites wrapped up into one mega-portal. Mobile-friendly and with design aided by user behaviour, the goal of Canada.ca is simply to allow citizens to access government services faster and at any time, says Michel Laviolette, director general, program and services oversight for Service Canada.
“It’s much easier and simpler for Canadians to find what they’re looking for,” he says. “I’m really excited for this project. It’s a great way to improve service to Canadians.”
Two solutions from the Adobe Marketing Cloud were selected by the government as the base for its new web portal – Adobe Experience Manager (AEM) and Adobe Analytics. With millions of pages spread across the 1,500 websites and 91 different departments using different tools to update them, the project is a huge one for Adobe, says Alex Noseworthy, the project executive for the government of Canada web renewal, managed web service at Adobe.
“Right now because the project is so big, this is my sole focus,” she says. “The effort is totally immense.”
Noseworthy is one of 34 Adobe employees on the project, divided into a development team, migration team, integration team, training team, and a project management office.
The great Canadian migration
In order to provide the single point of contact the government wants, Adobe is migrating all 91 government departments over to using AEM for its web content management system. Given the depth of archive material on many of the sites, the migration is being handled by automated scripts, customized for each department, which do the lion’s share of the work.
Once implemented, using AEM is much easier than many of the legacy systems in place across government departments, Noseworthy says. That means it’ll be easier for the people that actually create the content to update it live online – instead of emailing a Word document to the IT department describing a problem on the website, for example.
For Laviolette, that simple change means better accountability.
“It’s the public face of their programs and services for Canadians. Who better to manage it than the institutions that now have market-leading tools available to them?” he says. “It’s more streamlined, it’s more standardized.”
The Analytics deployment is helping the government shape its navigation strategy. Below a rotating header image, a sub-head appears on Canada.ca – “Most requested services and information.” It’s true, because administrators have seen how people are using the website based on analytics data.
“We can look at the patterns of use and make sure the top page reflects what Canadians are looking for,” Laviolette says. “The content may be fed from multiple partners, but that’s irrelevant for a Canadian looking in. They just want to know about having a baby.”
Other top services used on Canada.ca include tasks related to finding or getting a job, doing taxes, seeking information on employment insurance, getting a passport, and seeking details on old age security pension. Just these few services touch on a variety of federal departments – from the Canada Revenue Agency to Employment and Social Development Canada to Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
Giving people the services they want
It’s possible to know objectively which services are most in-demand because the project also synchronized the metrics used to measure interactions with content and services across departments, Noseworthy says. Beyond that, Adobe even templated the way that content can be created based on the type of information and services supplied by departments.
Templates include one organizational template for each department, a minister profile, a news item, and a services item. Content creators select the 15 different themes available on the Canada.ca site too. The templates include all the necessary header and footer information for that area of the site, leaving the body to be completed by the author. Using the templates also helps ensure that every page meets the government’s stringent language and accessibility standards.
“It will give you warnings if you don’t complete the mandatory fields,” Noseworthy says. And make sure you pardon your French, literally.
AEM and Analytics are cloud-based services and Adobe uses Amazon Web Services for its infrastructure, which isn’t opening a Canadian-based data centre until later this year. That means the website content is stored on American servers, but both Noseworthy and Laviolette explain that only public domain information is stored on that cloud. Any service that requires account-based activities involving a Canadian’s personal details aren’t part of this platform, and handled on a separate system.
“We are carving those services off,” Laviolette said. He notes an international agreement between Canada, the U.S. and European countries specifies that it’s OK to store government data in the public domain on foreign servers in those jurisdictions.
There’s still plenty of pages and websites to migrate to the Canada.ca platform, but the project is slated for completion by 2017, Noseworthy says. Adobe and Service Canada are working together on continuing the integration, and working with an agile approach to migrate the content.
“There’s still a lot of work to do,” on Canada.ca, she says. “This project is really creating a platform for the digital transformation of the government of Canada.”
The next time you need to get some government paperwork taken care of online, you might just find that you’re surprised at what words you use to describe the experience.