With back to school behind us and a chill in the air on the first day of fall, it seems natural to reflect on the summer.
During my first 3 years in office, I spent the summer touring Alberta communities to learn more about how I could support their residents in my role as Minister of Service Alberta. These tours informed some of our work that has led to improved registry services, among other accomplishments.
This year, I spent the first week of July in Estonia and the UK to advance the Government of Alberta’s work on making services more convenient, by connecting with the leaders behind their digital government initiatives.
Both countries are leaders in digitization. Estonia is often cited as the most digital government on the planet, offering about 99% of its services online. Estonians can buy a house, get a driver’s licence, or apply for benefits from the comfort of their own homes. Similarly, the UK has seen incredible success through a digital transformation it began in 2010 to save money, optimize its teams and working practices, and give citizens more options in how they access services.
I often say Alberta’s government needs to modernize its approach to technology to continue serving Albertans efficiently and effectively, not in the future, but starting today. Albertans are already online, and we want to meet them there with online services that are intuitive, that save taxpayers money, and can embrace emerging technologies as they evolve.
As Alberta charts its own digital pathway through the Government of Alberta Digital Strategy currently in development, we know we can learn a lot from these leading jurisdictions.
The week started with the e-Estonia Briefing Centre, a unit of government created to introduce their digital government concept. There, I learned how services are packaged and delivered electronically, allowing every Estonian to access their government in the manner they choose. Our conversations touched on staying ahead of aging technologies – a problem for governments around the world. We discussed the importance of maintaining resiliency in our systems and the need to invest in new infrastructure when aging systems outlive their use.
I also met with leaders of the X-Road Data Exchange, a joint initiative between Estonia, Finland and Iceland. In essence, the exchange is a place where participating public and private sector organizations can collaborate to reduce duplication, improve service integration and facilitate innovation.
The X-Road Data Exchange also introduces the possibility of personalized services tailored to the needs of an individual. For example, an Estonian might get a notification that their driving licence is about to expire and the system will begin the renewal process for them, making the experience easier and faster. Introducing a similar concept in Alberta would open new doors for service design, while supporting innovation.
Before leaving, I had the opportunity to learn more about Estonia’s private-public partnerships by meeting with companies that work closely with their government, including Nortel, a technology firm that supports many of the country’s digital services, and Texta, a small AI firm.
I began my time in the UK by participating on a panel centred on cybersecurity, a rising priority in private and public sector organizations around the world. At the core of every effective digital service is a strong cybersecurity posture. Alberta works hard to maintain our high standard of security, in part because we work with other jurisdictions to understand rising threats and new approaches. It was fascinating to gain insight into the UK’s practices.
It was the perfect introduction to the afternoon’s discussion with Public, a consulting company that supports the UK GovTech ecosystem. We discussed their executive education initiative to help senior leaders gain a better understanding of technology in government – an interesting concept that I would like to introduce in Alberta.
I also connected with leaders at the UK’s Government Digital Service team. One of the many topics of discussion was technology procurement. When the UK began its transformation in 2010, it embraced buying technology services, solutions and talent from a wider range of vendors, including many more small and medium-sized companies. Not only does this help diversify the local economy, it also helps ensure government gets the best deal and the best products possible. Alberta is already exploring this idea to support our own service transformation.
Other discussions focused on overcoming challenges that most governments face. We discussed the challenges of health care technologies, project funding models, and how government can support key sectors of the economy, like agriculture. These meetings provided great insight into how updated processes can support government departments and the entities we support every day.
Listening to Albertans
I arrived home on July 9, eager to move forward with the new knowledge I had gained. The future is digital and Alberta is positioning itself to embrace that future.
Our province has an incredible opportunity to change the way we think about and implement digital services so we deliver great services that save time and money. My department is working hard to finish the Government of Alberta Digital Strategy, using some of the lessons I learned overseas.
Alberta is already making great progress. Several UK and Estonian teams were impressed with our progress, and willingness to adopt new technologies and approaches. Our work is just getting started, but it is encouraging to hear this praise as Alberta moves towards a public sector that is technically advanced and capable of embracing the changes we need to be efficient, effective and responsive to the needs of Albertans.
Nate Glubish served as Minister of Service Alberta from April 30, 2019 to October 24, 2022.