I wish I were at GTEC 2012 in Ottawa this week. It’s the 20th anniversary of an event that has come to define how the public sector articulates its IT priorities and sets the tone for many of the discussions around how citizens will be served via technology. It’s also a classic example of an event that focuses as much about what hasn’t been done as what has.
Take, for example, the coverage of the keynote speech by Corrine Charette, CIO for Treasury Board Secretariat, who struck what sounded like a very humble note in describing the federal government’s failure to meet expectations around the use of IT.
“We haven’t kept up as much as we need to,” she said, according to a story posted by the Ottawa Citizen, adding that the government needs to transcend its aging network infrastructure to “be efficient, cost-effective, and have sustainable solutions.”
The timeline for getting there, she reportedly said, was sometime within this decade. I would suspect that, looking back, other federal CIOs have told GTEC much the same thing over the years. It’s not that different from what many CIOs used to tell their senior management in private sector enterprises: they knew the IT they were offering employees and customers wasn’t that great, in part because it was obsolete, and that eventually it would get better.
After a while, of course, CFOs didn’t buy it, which is one of the reasons CIOs were encouraged over the last 10 years to stop talking about technology and start talking more about the business. Some of them did, but when you look at the agenda for GTEC, the tech talk is what stands out. Sessions about the cloud, big data and network generation networks are all there (in contrast, and somewhat scarily, a session called “Becoming a Digital Nation” was cancelled).
I think the government has actually done a pretty decent job of delivering more of its services electronically, protecting our data from the worst cyber-attacks and even experimenting with open data and social media. Perhaps, though, this would be an opportune moment to think about what the next 20 years of GTEC, and by extension public sector IT, should look like. What are the business issues that are most important to citizens, and how can government better address them? Like last year, I suspect much of the talk at GTEC 2012 will be around the Shared Service initiative, but that’s really a means to an end. It’s about reducing costs and creating efficiencies. The emphasis at GTEC – and at Treasury Board, should be on value.
You can provide online access to government information, but are citizens better informed about the things they need to know than they were 20 years ago? Have we creating new channels and pushing citizens to them while closing off others over the last two decades, and if so what have been the tradeoffs? What are the best metrics to calculate the specific ROI of government IT spending – the number of citizens served, the money saved, or is a calculation around quality of life possible? These are the questions I hope attendees will be wrestling with at GTEC 2013 and beyond. Until then, congratulations to everyone involved in getting us this far.