Immediate digital disruption: Government adaptation
Access to digital services has never been so important. Governments must move swiftly and safely.
As a consultant, I spend a great deal of time helping technology companies connect with government. This is a process of idea sharing, collaboration, and often playing catch up, as governments slowly modernize their digital regulations and services. The COVID-19 era has enabled an unprecedented shift at the intersection of government and technology sector. Our demand for digital services will likely increase dramatically as a result of social distancing. The government now faces a pace of change more familiar to tech startups, scaleups, and larger tech companies.
Up until now, government bureaucracy has been risk-averse, moving slowly and methodically through complex procurement and implementation processes. When new technologies are adopted within government, employees familiarize with new methods, troubleshoot new processes, and inform Canadians of the new services. Traditionally, this has taken a long time to implement. It also must be done while adhering to the responsibility, security, and transparency of a democratic government. The pre-COVID pace of development has been contrary to that of technology firms – nimble enterprises that seek quick action and results.
Enter the COVID-19 pandemic. As governments work quickly towards response and recovery efforts, the new realities of a remote workforce have emphasized the importance of digital resiliency and access. For all Canadians, day-to-day life has been significantly altered as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. As society adjusts to this ‘new normal’, there is a greater demand for digital services. Accessing emergency benefits, data utilization, simple online tools, education, and communication, has emphasized the need for a digitally savvy, resilient government.
Crises like COVID-19 have a way of highlighting what is working – and more important, what isn’t. Access to personal health information is flagship issue for the Canadian healthcare system. Data rights and privacy have proven to be difficult policy areas for government, with reason. The issues are countless: regional disparity, compliance with existing legacy systems, procurement, standards of anonymized data, and data sovereignty are just a few considerations outside of the enormous responsibility to personal privacy. However, Canadians have been lucky: the Canadian health innovation ecosystem is healthy, and the pandemic has spurred the development of many solutions to legacy system problems. These range from health information portals and electronic medical records to full virtual care solutions. In this time of crisis, now is the time to look at the adoption of these tools as permanent parts of the system.
The COVID-19 crisis will change the way Canadians view their healthcare system. After years of disconnect between government innovation and digital policies and the ability of governments to set and implement procurement of new technologies, the capabilities of our tech sector are shining through – and governments are starting to notice. New technologies are being embraced and implemented through the crisis. This is a good start, but governments need to ensure that new technologies continue to be embraced as they evolve.
COVID-19 may be a health crisis, but the opportunity to embrace digital innovation is not limited to the health sector. The pandemic has touched nearly every facet of our daily lives, and the need to explore, test, edit, and embrace innovations around a savvy digital public service, remote education, and effective communication is apparent. Not everything will go right the first time – governments will need to learn on the fly, from troubleshooting a digital parliamentary sitting to implementing emergency financial assistance programs. As they succeed, they will inspire confidence in citizens and society at large. Progress is coming – and it’s exciting to see.
Governments are being challenged to embrace innovation, building a foundation in Canada’s digital prowess and infrastructure. The hardships of COVID-19 have the potential to accelerate government adoption of the best possible digital assets. Historically, times of great uncertainty are followed by some of the largest leaps forward – and Canada is poised to take a great leap.
Vince Amodeo is a Consultant in Global’s technology practice. He specializes in digital policy and data management.