Federal government prepares biggest refresh of its web offerings ever
Published on: June 27, 2016 | Last Updated: June 27, 2016 7:04 AM EDT
Canadians are about to see big changes in the way they receive services from the federal government online.
More than 1,500 disparate, and often completely different looking websites, with strange and long Internet addresses, are in the process of being combined under the easy to remember Canada.ca umbrella.
Everything from the way Canadians access information about the weather to how they apply for government jobs, access benefits and even inquire about financial matters such as taxes is about to change.
“I’m really excited about this project. Canada.ca is such a great way to improve our service delivery to Canadians,” said Michel Laviolette, director general, digital service directorate of the federal Citizen Service Branch. “We are working with 90 partner institutions to migrate their content from their old environment to Canada.ca. If you go on Canada.ca, you will notice it’s organized differently by themes and tasks, such as ‘find a job’ or ‘get a passport’. We are organizing the content that way.”
While some may already know about the government’s internal push to a unified email system using @canada.ca for all government email addresses, this is the first update that the government has given on its efforts to completely overhaul the websites of its departments and agencies.
The rollout of Canada.ca is being undertaken by Services Canada with the help of Adobe Corp., which won an open competition to help with the transformation in 2015. Adobe will provide cloud-based web hosting services for the federal government. The company will manage, support and operate the new website. It is being handled at arm’s length from the federal government’s @Canada.ca email address initiative, which has faced numerous delays and aims to replace more than 350,000 federal government email addresses. The email address initiative is being handled by Shared Services Canada.
The Canada.ca website initiative will also see Vancouver-based Hootsuite manage all of the government’s social media accounts, allowing for quicker dissemination of information across platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
The idea of consolidating thousands of pages of various government websites under one unified address began in 2013. The Canada.ca website was launched in December, and the first departments to dump their old websites and start using the new web address were added in April. Laviolette said all the federal government’s departments and agencies will be under the Canada.ca banner by December 2017 if all goes according to plan.
“Canadians expect their government to adapt to new technologies and to provide up-to-date and reliable information about their services and programs,” said Jean-Yves Duclos, minister of Families, Children and Social Development. “As we continue to develop and improve the website, Canada.ca is becoming a central hub for Government of Canada information. I am proud of the innovative work the Public Service is doing to bring the public the information they deserve using the very best in modern technology. ”
The initiative isn’t just aimed at streamlining information and services to a single web portal. Adobe analytic software will analyze which information and services are being accessed by Canadians the most and present that more prominently, making it easier to find. The site will also feature sections for each of the government’s 90 partners and departments, which will offer information specific to their area of responsibility. All content on those sections will be provided by the departments, but the sites themselves will be administered by Adobe on behalf of the government.
The biggest change that Canada.ca will allow is for better functionality with mobile devices and applications, allowing Canadians on the go to better access information and services on their cellphone or tablet.
The move toward an umbrella web portal, a one-stop shop for Canadians, is being done in concert with a series of other initiatives aimed at reducing redundancy in the federal government’s technology departments. One initiative by Shared Services Canada aims to reduce the number of federal government data centres from 300 to fewer than 20. Another by that department aims to combine more than 100 email systems into one and a third is underway to reduce the 3,000 overlapping computer networks that now exist to serve the 377,000 federal government employees working in more than 3,500 buildings across the country.
The hodgepodge approach to technology integration in the past has led to patchwork evolution of technological solutions that offer no uniformity and haven’t been able to keep up with Canadians’ demand for new online services and faster information delivery. It’s also led to security breaches, including a cyber attack that crippled the Finance Department and Treasury Board in 2011, which was linked with attempts to gather data about the potential takeover of Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan. It took officials more than a week to alert the department responsible for national cyber-security about the attack due to the difficulty in tracking down information on various government networks.
Laviolette said one of the biggest benefits that Canadians will see as a result of moving all federal departments and agencies under the Canada.ca umbrella will be in the boost to network security. With a single point to protect, running in a secure data centre by qualified employees, the portal will be more secure than it has been in the past.