When it comes to receiving government services, most people picture long lines, frustrating wait times, and red tape. Mark Brisson wants to change that. As the Government of Alberta’s (GoA) corporate chief information officer, he’s working to transform the way the provincial government engages its citizens and provides critical services. If he’s successful, Alberta will offer at least half of the services it’s targeted to load online by 2019. By 2021, every Albertan will use one digital form of identification to access a full array of government services from fine payments to license renewals to park reservations.
Brisson, who holds a BSc in health information science and economics from the University of Victoria, has split time between public and private sectors over a twenty-year career in technology and information management. Today, he’s responsible for providing leadership and direction on behalf of the GoA for government-wide information technology initiatives. As he manages a $200 million budget, he looks to design and implement the innovative tech solutions that will modernize the way the government delivers solutions and how it interacts with citizens.
For Brisson, it’s a natural evolution. “The government has a mandate to deliver services to make lives better for its people. In the modern tech environment, we have to move away from the government developing the entire process and expecting the citizen to consume it as-is,” he explains. Instead, his office is taking a private-sector approach by asking Albertans how they prefer to use and consume government services. Service Alberta staff work with third-party pollsters and focus groups to solicit consumer information it can then use to build effective policies, programs, and services.
ALBERTA BY THE NUMBERS
Local IT employees
Net migration in the first quarter of 2016
Instead of long lines and disconnected bureaucracy, Brisson pictures an integrated system full of automated alerts that cut out waste and inefficiency. Through this program, an Albertan will receive a digital ID. The user can then, for example, access the system through a mobile phone to pay a speeding ticket. While the system processes the payment, it will alert the user of upcoming license renewals or other related events. Brisson, who envisions the entire system connecting with businesses, says a strong GoA leadership team (new in 2015) and a strong investment model have the program well underway.
Since stepping in as CCIO in 2015, he’s seen e-commerce, mobile platforms, and cloud computing push his peers and colleagues to offer more services faster than ever before. “We are doing all we can to take everything digital because it costs less and reduces our environmental footprint,” he says. “Anything that we produce or deliver will be in a digital format and focused on the citizen instead of solely on the government processes.”
MyAlberta eServices already offers online transactions for some government services. Brisson and his colleagues have started a list of 150 additional services like annual ski passes and government information requests that they hope to take online soon. Additionally, MyAlberta Notify allows Albertans to sign up for free e-mail renewal reminders while MyAlbertaDigitalIdentity offers secure login info for access to government services.
These early iterations demonstrate the viability of Brisson’s vision and help citizens embrace quality digital services from the public sphere. “Canadians are ahead of the curve with tablets and gadgets,” he says. “They are more accustomed to online interaction, and we are aware of our responsibility to support citizens and interact in new ways.” Savvy Albertans who shop and book appointments online expect to receive government services in the same manner.
As the digital evolution rages on, security and privacy remain at the forefront. “We’re held to a higher standard because of the sensitive data entrusted to us by Albertans, and we are prepared to deliver,” says Brisson. His office has conducted full privacy assessments supported by the privacy commissioner. This step is especially important as Service Alberta works in concert with the health ministry to integrate digital IDs and personal health records. Eventually, Albertans will have access to their full medical history and patient information through the digital ID interface.
“In the modern tech environment, we have to move away from the government developing the entire process and expecting the citizen to consume it as-is.”
Brisson has laid out an ambitious road map leading to full integration by 2021, and his visionary team of information and technology professionals is working to execute that plan. In developing these products, ideas, and services, he draws much of his inspiration from the for-profit business world. “I’d like to get to a point where there’s not a lot of difference between how the public and private sectors do things. Albertans should expect the best services from the government,” he says. “And we’re ready to provide those services.”