Tech Trends Insights Every Canadian Public Sector IT Leader Needs to Succeed in 2023

Author(s): David Wallace, Christine Coz, Jim Kirk

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Info-Tech’s Tech Trends 2023 report has a wealth of information for IT decision makers (ITDMs) and CIOs across industries. Before you review the whole report, here are highlights and key insights Canadian ITDMs and CIOs should explore!

Tech Trends 2023 provides a very useful point of reference for organizations continuing to evolve their enterprise digital strategy as it moves faster and performs more effectively. There are some important nuances to this body of research and trends that require a view from a Canadian public sector perspective. Canadian IT decision makers and CIOs should consider the report in light of the following highlights and recent developments.

EXPLORE NEW OPPORTUNITIES

The Metaverse

Meta may have just laid off 11,000 employees, including many Canadians, to focus on the metaverse. However, we do not yet see a compelling, holistic vision of the value the metaverse might create for the public sector. We advise government IT decision makers and CIOs to watch and wait as the technology landscape evolves.

Over the course of the pandemic, public sector leaders across Canada were able to make virtual collaboration tooling and platforms a key part of communications, collaboration, and data management practices. Moving ahead, we recommend that public sector teams keep the spirit of innovation alive and continue to expand their digital collaboration capabilities. Two key actions worth taking in the near term to prepare for the future are:

Regardless of the future direction of the metaverse, one underlying factor still applies: More collaboration and more communication require better orchestration and management of underlying data.

Generative AI

Generative AI refers to a type of semi-supervised machine learning that uses neural networks to create new content or to interpret complex signal information. By training the models with a large amount of data – primarily unstructured data – new works/findings can be generated, like what people would create. This technology goes beyond creating imagery – it can help governments with predicative maintenance, improved cybersecurity analytics/defense, among many other potential uses.

Through the creation of a Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy in 2017, Canada is positioned to be a leader in generative AI regulation. It is based upon three pillars:

  • Commercialization.
  • Standards.
  • Talent/research.

The commercialization pillar is comprised of support for three national artificial intelligence centres as well as global information clusters, established to promote made-in-Canada AI technologies for private, public and non-profit innovation. AI standards – the second pillar of this pan-Canadian strategy – are being developed in partnership with the Standards Council of Canada. The federal government is developing the last pillar, advancing talent and research in collaboration with the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) and the Digital Research Alliance of Canada. All three pillars are eligible for government funding through fiscal year 2026.

As its usage becomes more widespread across Canada, the federal government is investing in additional efforts to establish parameters for governance, adoption, and administration. As of the date of this publication, the federal parliament completed the first reading of Bill C-27, the Digital Charter Implementation Act, and has begun its second reading. This bill includes updates with a law on artificial intelligence – the Artificial Intelligence and Data Act. This is the first federal law in Canada regulating the use of artificial intelligence systems. The objectives of this bill are to “...regulate international and interprovincial trade and commerce in artificial intelligence systems by requiring that certain persons adopt measures to mitigate risks of harm and biased output related to high-impact artificial intelligence systems.” Specifically, it authorizes the government to order the production of records related to AI systems. Critically, it also outlines prohibitions in instances where personal information is obtained illegally if its usage causes serious harm to individuals. The continuing investment in legislation related to AI reflects similar trends in other jurisdictions, such as the European Union’s Artificial Intelligence Act.

Canadian government organizations should be tapping into the potential of AI to augment their workforce, accelerate the training of AI models, and harness unstructured data – while gaining a solid understanding of new regulations (such as what Canada and the EU are passing), balancing the risks of biased results against improved governance, and considering ethical implications.

Industry-Led Data Models

Standardizing data models for the Canadian public sector is a key step required to unlock the potential of shared digital services. It is also essential to leverage enabling technologies such as digital identity, which require data sharing across all levels of government and sustaining reusable, shareable, digital services and processes.

Industry leadership in this area is not new in the Canadian public sector. In 2010, Roy Wiseman promoted using the MISA Canada’s Municipal Reference Model (MRM) as an Information Management framework, while he was the CIO of the Regional Municipality of Peel. While MISA members are using the MRM as a reference (such as the City of Toronto for its budget structure), to date, there is not a common reference data model at all levels of government in Canada. This has been a key topic in Info-Tech’s recent Digital Identity Datathons with our public and private sector members.

At the federal level, the Government of Canada published a critical Report to the Clerk of the Privy Council, A Data Strategy for the Federal Public Service. This document provided a broad array of recommendations for creating, protecting, and sharing data as a strategic asset – as noted in the publication, “... to enable social innovation and support economic activity.” When we consider the amount of transformation that Canadian society has gone through in the last four years, a data strategy with scalable data models is a very real, ongoing need. This data strategy roadmap for the federal government is currently being positioned for renewal, with efforts initiated in fall 2022 and continuing through 2023. Influences such as the increasing role of artificial intelligence in Canada are in part driving this refreshed strategy.

To make lasting progress, a key step is for municipal, provincial, and federal leaders to come together to establish reference standards to enable their digital ambitions. This begins by leveraging the Municipal Reference Model and the GC Enterprise Architecture to Create and Manage Enterprise Data Models.

Sustained Digital Processes

Canadians have developed a voracious appetite for digital services over the course of the pandemic. They are also clearly saying that existing services need significant improvement. Creating seamless experiences and seamless integration of digital channels into the traditional in-person and telephone services is a key driver for Canadian public sector organizations as a result. Canadian public sector ITDMs and CIOs are:

  • Building a robust platform for digital services with Application Portfolio Modernization.
  • Refreshing Digital Strategies to create clear goals and direction.
  • Identifying opportunities to strengthen digitization by implementing sound IT security practices and procedures.
  • Targeting digital identity as a key enabler of better service across all levels of government.

This last is a rapidly evolving topic in Canada. The Honourable Mona Fortier, current President of the Treasury Board of Canada, recently communicated the following aspiration: If users access an experience from one entry point in the Government of Canada’s digital services, they should be able to access that same digital experience from any entry point in the federal government’s digital ecosystem. Attaining this level of access and interoperability to government services in the public sector is an admirable and lofty – if challenging – goal. Having standardized data models in place is a necessary foundation for the Government of Canada to reach this goal.

Other levels of government are also moving forward. Provinces like British Columbia and municipalities such as Kingston and Kitchener have implemented digital identity solutions. Info-Tech is working closely with Canadian public sector leaders as they develop solutions. Info-Tech’s Enterprise Research Team led by Andy Neil is leading that initiative. If you are interested in hearing more or would like to share your experiences with the team, please contact your account rep to set up a research interview!

PROTECT AGAINST VOLATILITY

ESG Analytics and Reporting

Public sector support for ESG analytics and reporting is in early stages across Canada. The 2022 federal budget mandated full ESG disclosure starting in 2024. Financial regulators were quick to follow suit with upcoming mandates that will impact public sector financial services boards and pension funds. The rationale is that industries that are adequately managing their ESG risks will be less vulnerable to changes in regulations or societal expectations and will thus perform better.

Public sector organizations at all levels across Canada can leverage The ESG Imperative and Its Impact on Organizations to get started!

Zero Trust Security

The recent pandemic was instrumental in reminding us of the importance of constancy in the supply chain (recall PPE shortages), core services, and people who provide those services. However, in recent years, we have seen an uptick in the number and cost of cyberattacks. According to IT World Canada, Canadian municipalities are on an island fighting ransomware and hackers are winning. The Government of Canada's National Cyber Threat Assessment 2020 report indicates that cyber threats from “state sponsored programs … pose the greatest strategic threats to Canada.” Indeed, the Government of Canada found this threat to be sufficiently worrisome that additional funding was allocated to government departments and agencies for cybersecurity. Provincial governments are also supporting public sector organizations with initiatives such as the Ontario Cyber Security Center of Excellence.

Putting security borders around systems using legacy tools has proven to be both porous and challenging as new products and solutions are needed to incorporate the now-expanded use of XaaS platforms. The concept of “Zero Trust” – now more than 10 years old – has been called “borderless” security as internal and external access to services is enabled through the verification of identity and access. This is truly a paradigm shift from the traditional “defense in depth” mantra where security resembled a Russian nesting doll. Indeed, zero trust requires planning, expertise, and budget and should be thought of as a journey rather than a project.

Governments at all levels should consider their most critical services and infrastructure (including OT and IoT) first as the road to zero trust may not be able to encompass all solutions – and certainly not in one effort. InfoTech’s Determine Your Zero Trust Readiness is a great tool to understand the scope of a zero-trust journey. Once completed, strategic support and tactical planning assistance can be found in our blueprint, Build a Zero Trust Roadmap. Even if you are not yet firmly entrenched in zero trust planning, ensuring that your practices to Assess and Govern Identity Security are well defined and operational is a key precursor to zero trust.

Recession Preparation

In Info-Tech’s recent note on the recession for Canadian public sector IT leaders, Jim Kirk wrote, “With economists anticipating a recession in early 2023, the impact to government IT departments is unclear. … To show leadership during periods of fiscal uncertainty, I&IT leaders need to be deliberately flexible and show an ability to put their foot on the gas or gently pump the brakes.”

Despite the negative economic signals, 55% of leaders surveyed anticipate a bigger budget next year. This highlights the expectation that investment in – and sustainment of – digital infrastructure will continue in the post-pandemic “new normal.” An opportunity exists for IT leaders to find champions at the executive level in the business to call out the importance of continued investment in support of digital transformation. To mitigate risk, this is an excellent time to focus on fewer, more strategic vendor relationships. This will present opportunities to negotiate better prices and get more value for taxpayer dollars.


Want to Know More?

Continue to the full Info-Tech Tech Trends 2023 report, or click any of the links above to book a call on the supporting topic!

Establish a Communication and Collaboration System Strategy

Modernize Communications and Collaboration Infrastructure

Define Your Digital Business Strategy

Application Portfolio Management Foundations

Build a Winning Business Process Automation Playbook

IT Cost Optimization Research Center

Optimize IT Project Intake, Approval, and Prioritization

Create a Ransomware Incident Response Plan

Develop a Security Awareness and Training Program that Empowers End Users

Assess your Zero Trust Readiness

Build a Zero Trust Roadmap

Budget 2022: Support for Canadian Federal Government Departments and Agencies for Cybersecurity and Fighting Misinformation

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