Canada’s CIO charts Government On-Line progress

TORONTO — With virtually all federal government services now online, Ottawa is left with the decidedly more challenging task of making those services work seamlessly, according to the CIO of Canada’s Treasury Board Secretariat.

“In many respects, we’ve done the easy part,” Michelle d’Auray told an audience at the Gartner Symposium ITxpo 2001 Wednesday. “But the joining up of services, so you, as the end-user, has the (seamless experience), that’s the tough stuff and we’re just starting to get there.”

D’Auray proudly discussed Canada’s leadership in government online (GOL) initiatives, but she stressed there remains much to be done before the feds can reach their ambitious goal of getting a fully-functioning slate of government services online by 2004.

For example, businesses can use the government of Canada Web site, relaunched at the beginning of this year, to register themselves, seek funding or research business statisitics, but they are currently unable to accomplish all of these tasks at once.

“The hard stuff is ‘How can I complete a series of transactions across two or three programs in one session?’” d’Auray said.

D’Auray said other obstacles to Canada’s GOL drive are not limited to integration of services. She said the GOL initiative also must tackle interjurisdictional issues, the development of the Secure Channel authentication system, the management of IT assets and shared services and a reluctance of citizens to fully embrace e-government.

On one hand, Canadians have not, by and large, jumped on the concept of e-democracy.

“The assumption is that if I put all these services online, you’re going to connect more,” d’Auray said of efforts to use the Internet to encourage citizen engagement. “We can put up consultation papers, but are you individually going to give us your opinion?”

D’Auray said the groups making their voices heard online are also the one that are vocal offline.

“The promise of engagement and broadening of engagement has yet to be realized,” she said.

The GOL initiative has also met resistance is its efforts to get citizens to handle government transactions end-to-end online, even as the Canadian public has been making inquiries and initiating transactions online.

“How we move this forward is a key element for us,” she said.

Citizen reluctance to complete government transactions online can be explained in part by the apprehension swirling around online security in general. D’Aulay said the government realizes citizens will continue to use other means of communications, including the telephone and the post office, to interact with government. She mentioned that the much-maligned Human Resources Development Council (HRDC) alone supports 21 call centres.

Secure Channel, which would encourage greater use of online services and allow for services not yet online, such as receipt of income-tax form confirmation, may address these issues as they are brought into the GOL Web, d’Auray added.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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