The World Bank has recently indicated that countries are struggling to convert their technology investments into tangible, measurable and consistent outcomes, despite a widespread and renewed appreciation for digital government solutions as a result of COVID-19. Notably, the World Bank is calling on government leaders to prioritize digital citizen services, a whole-of-government approach and citizen centricity for public sector modernization.
The World Bank’s GovTech Maturity Index: The State of Public Sector Digital Transformation, now in its 20th year, tracks government technology adoption in 198 global economies across four key areas: core government systems, service delivery, citizen engagement adoption and fostering GovTech innovations.
While Canada was amongst the 43 countries identified by the World Bank as GovTech leaders, Canada was also one of a handful of these GovTech leaders who were called out for lagging on the adoption of a unique national digital identification (ID) system.
“A national digital ID will drive financial and social inclusion by providing citizens with seamless access to healthcare, education and other government benefit programs,”
A national digital ID system is a foundational necessity for future citizen services. It enables dramatic leaps in service quality and provides opportunities for system-wide innovation. Moreover, a national digital ID will drive financial and social inclusion by providing citizens with seamless access to healthcare, education and other government benefit programs via ubiquitous and convenient mediums.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for secure and citizen-controlled digital ID, to enable citizens to conveniently access online government services without the need for in-person ID checks. Just imagine how much simpler it would be for citizens to navigate all the federal government departments with just one ID. Digital ID empowers the individual, for the benefit of the collective. Although, in today’s polarized public environment, it’s crucial to keep in mind that we must earn public trust by creating tools that enable personal data transparency and control.
“A careful estimate of the potential value of trusted digital identity to the Canadian economy is at least one percent of GDP, or C$15 billion.”
The Digital ID and Authentication Council of Canada (DIACC) studied the economic impact of digital identity in Canada and noted clear benefits for consumers, citizens, small businesses and government services. A careful estimate of the potential value of trusted digital identity to the Canadian economy is at least one percent of GDP, or C$15 billion.
DIACC is working with a broad group of partners including federal and provincial governments and private sector leaders. The goal is to unlock societal and economic opportunities for Canadians by providing a framework to develop a robust, secure, scalable and privacy-enhancing digital identification and authentication ecosystem.
This technology adoption will have profound implications for all public sector digital transformation. As Canadians become more familiar with digital citizen services and public sector digital transformations at home, what sort of plans exist for digital identity in Canada?
In June 2021, the Honourable Joyce Murray, Canada’s former Minister of Digital Government, released the Government of Canada’s Digital Government Strategy. This three-year road map explains how the Government of Canada plans to allocate Budget 2021 investments towards the digital transformation of government services. The report demonstrates, in a transparent manner, the gaps that need to be addressed–many of which were decades in the making.
While digital identity was listed as a priority, the Strategy report did not include a definitive timeline. It says that Canada will in the next one to two years “continue to establish additional digital identity programs so that individuals and businesses can sign in once to securely access Government of Canada online services.”
“The Government of Canada’s new Chief Information Officer, Catherine Luelo, has identified digital ID as a top priority.“
Hopefully, we will see more details in the coming months from Treasury Board Minister, Mona Fortier, who has inherited the digital strategy portfolio. On a positive note, the Minister’s mandate letter, delivered to the minister following the re-election of the federal Liberal government in 2021, expressly mentioned a digital ID strategy for the first time ever. The Government of Canada’s new Chief Information Officer, Catherine Luelo, has identified digital ID as a top priority.
There are some promising digital ID projects in Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta. The Ontario Government is making progress with its own Digital Identity Project, despite recently delaying the program during the COVID-19 pandemic, with a plan to securely set up mobile-based identities for its citizens.
We can do this. The technology is straightforward, but we need to answer the World Bank’s call and map out a more ambitious plan. Actions we take to fast-track digital ID will pay many dividends down the road.
As many Canadians increasingly embrace digital transformation in their daily lives, using mobile devices and online tools in all aspects of life, there will be growing expectations for both businesses and governments in this regard. Trusted digital IDs are absolutely required to meet and exceed these expectations. At the same time, it is critically important that the adoption of digital ID relies on the principles of citizen-controlled credentials, and will not result in exclusion from services for individuals who are less able or choose not to use digital systems.