Our Approach to Strategy
The mission of Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC), including the Labour Program and Service Canada, is to build a stronger and more inclusive Canada, to support Canadians in helping them live productive and rewarding lives and improving Canadians’ quality of life.
This mission is now heavily influenced by the strategic use of technology in delivering services to Canadians. As stated in the 2019-2020 Departmental Plan, ESDC commits to “continue to transform the delivery of its services to ensure they meet the evolving expectations of Canadians”. The use of technology in service delivery is reiterated as part of the Treasury Board (TB) Policy on Service and Digital.
In supporting departments towards the transition to Digital Government, TB Secretariat (TBS) established a set of 10 Digital Standards and a Digital Operations Strategic Plan that contains 79 actions. Due to ESDC’s citizen-focus mandate, it is heavily engaged in those digital operation actions. For example, the OneGC vision and Omni Channel Digital Strategy contains 14 cluster groups where ESDC either leads or is an active participant in each one.
Internally within ESDC, the Innovation, Information and Technology Branch (IITB) established the IITB Way Forward, containing 26 service improvement and modernization activities to improve its Information Management/Information Technology (IM/IT) service offerings.
In addition, ESDC has started investing in a Business Delivery Modernization effort that targets a complete business process and technology renewal for Employment Insurance, Old Age Security and the Canada Pension Plan.
Moving to digital is creating a world that is highly complex. More software solutions (applications) are required to deliver services to citizens and more interconnectivity between public and private organizations is necessary. This increasing complexity can be seen in ESDC’s Medium-Term Planning, ESDC operates a portfolio of approximately 500 applications, 101 of which are mission critical. These IT systems can no longer meet the needs of ESDC programs due to system aging and too much unaddressed technical debt. Some new government regulations cannot be implemented because ESDC IT systems are unable to respond to those changes.
In addition, with the emergence of digital government that is reviewing business processes, policy, and delivery, the demand on IT is expected to continue increasing exponentially. ESDC’s portfolio of applications will increase. This exposes the ubiquitous nature of technology in government service delivery and that IT can no longer be seen as a back-office function, it has real repercussions to Canadians.
ESDC must change the relationship it has with IT to one that reduces its risk and enables business agility. To achieve this, a new method of doing IT is required.
To work effectively in the digital world, you must first accept complexity and uncertainty, for they demand very different approach to carrying out initiatives. A predictable world rewards advanced planning and rigid plan execution. But a complex and uncertain world rewards an empirical cycle of trying, observing, and correcting.
- Mark Schwartz, War & Peace & IT
ESDC IT Strategy Logic Model
ESDC’s IT Strategy is not about trying to predict the future as it accepts that the future is highly complex and unpredictable. Instead, the core of ESDC’s IT Strategy focuses on reducing the risks associated with IT and increasing business agility. It will do so by:
- moving to a shared accountability amongst software stakeholders (which includes “the business”)
- improving the responsiveness of IT by investing in internal capabilities
Achieving the above is mostly about cultural change as the ESDC IT Strategy looks to empower its existing teams, giving them more autonomy so they can more quickly respond to change. Hence the strategy will focus heavily on improving the culture within the organization. It will do so in an iterative fashion, making course corrections as need be.
Because strategy making fosters long-term impacts which are difficult to measure directly, the following IT Strategy Logic Model helps visualize the causes and effects of output activities that are expected to directly affect short term outcomes and lead to long-term impacts.
Image 1: ESDC IT Strategy Logic Model
The above diagram positions ESDC’s IT within its current state of transitioning to Digital Government at the same time as requiring to maintain its legacy systems until they are being replaced with modern ones. In addition, the 4 high-level priorities of IITB are listed to remind the focus of the organization.
Input and Outputs
Inputs are what both the IT Strategy team require to produce their outputs. Inputs for other IITB teams is not displayed here as a means to reduce redundancy and confusion. Other IITB teams play an essential role and have their distinct section (see below)
Outputs are the IT Strategy team’s own activities and creation. Those outputs are expected to create the short term outcomes listed below, which will lead to the long-term impacts sought.
Short Term Outcomes
As culture is defined by a set of behaviours, the short-term outcomes sought by the ESDC IT Strategy is to create the environment needed to manifest them. More specifically, an environment that will enable:
1) Reduced IT project sizes: Lines of business become more aware of the risks in using technology and so reduce their initiative sizes. Advance planning is shifting to iteration and adjusting course using empirical evidence from user feedback.
2) Increased visibility of ongoing efforts: Efforts by IT teams are exposed and more visible by all, promoting a general awareness of IT’s complexity and amount of efforts needed to solve problems of stakeholders.
3) Increased surfacing of challenges: Challenges between IT teams, especially relating to information flow, are surfaced to allocate time needed to be address them
4) Increased surfacing of successes: Successes of IT teams within and outside of IITB are discovered, communicated and celebrated
5) Improved knowledge sharing: Teams shift from requiring specialists to requiring t-shaped skills. Knowledge is easily discoverable and consumable
6) Increased user feedback: Measurements are built within products and used to inform technical decisions. Quality starts getting validated by end users instead of proxies.
7) Reduced toil: Toil is addressed using automation and process re-engineering, allowing teams to focus on more meaningful work.
Medium Term Outcomes
The above short term outcomes are expected to lead to the following medium term ones.
1) Business problem solving includes technology consideration
Lines of business start engaging more and more IT teams to help them solve business problems. This involves:
- Moving away from business requirements, and towards clarity of the problem statements instead
- Engaging IT teams earlier in the process, fostering a collaboration of problem solving
- Experimenting more with proof of concepts or pilots before starting a project
- Committing subject matter experts, including policy-makers, during the project execution phase
2) IITB is becoming a generative type organization
An organization culture that is high-trust and emphasizes information flow between teams is necessary to achieve excellence. The Westrum organization topology model, by Dr. Ron Westrum, will be used as a guide to move towards and measure the organizational culture as follows:
- The cooperation level between teams
- How the reception of bad news is treated
- The level at which shared responsibilities are encouraged and observed
- The level at which bridging, breaking down silos, is encouraged and observed
- How the response to failure is managed
- The level at which experimentation is encouraged and observed
3) Reduced gap between the user and IT
Moving towards an empirical cycle of trying, observing, and correcting when managing IT initiatives will require involving the user throughout the exercise. This involves:
- Increased focus on outcomes over advanced planning activities
- Increasing the frequency of deployment in production to receive feedback from end users
- Allowing IT teams to engage directly with end users
- Increased awareness of policy-makers on the impacts of policies to end users and IT systems
Long-Term Outcomes (Impact)
The long-term impacts of the IT Strategy are to create the following two conditions:
1) Technology is a shared accountability between stakeholders
Lines of businesses share the costs and risks of using technology with the IT branch. Before an IT-enabled initiative is launched, the business problem to solve with technology is clear, business experts fully participate in the execution of the initiative in partnership with their technology colleagues, and rapid feedback from end users is not only promoted, it is enabled.
The business vs IT paradigm is replaced with a team partnership paradigm.
2) The four (4) key metrics as identified in the DevOps Research and Assessment (DORA) institute research for software delivery & operational performance are continuously improved
- Lead time: the time code changes take to go from check-in to release in production
- Deployment frequency: the rate at which software is deployed to production or released to end users
- Change fail: the change failure rate measured by how often deployment failures occur in production that require immediate remedy
- Time to restore: the time it takes from detecting a user impacting incident to remediating it
The above outcomes will make use of this Strategy Map diagram to guide technology teams towards the short, medium, and long-term outcomes. The strategy map accepts that individual teams may be at different maturity levels and so accepts that teams may have different starting points. The content in this Strategy map is guided by the DevOps Research and Assessment (DORA) 21 capabilities.
Each block in the diagram represents a distinct strategy to move ESDC towards its ultimate Digital Transformation goal: become a key stakeholder in the Canadian Government as a Platform.
Efforts and outcomes produced by activities of all IT teams continue and all contribute towards the same long-term impact.
Descriptions of the above outcomes from adopting this IT Strategy are described in the following two pictures: