Over the past year or so, there’s been a lot of talk about Estonia in New Brunswick’s technology circles.
David Alston and Greg Hemmings travelled to Finland and Estonia to make the CBC-aired documentary Code Kids, a great film about the incredible advantage we can give our kids by teaching them to code from elementary school onwards.
Estonia has also pioneered Electronic Identification (eID) for every citizen. This unique identifying number would be a secure, and vastly more efficient way for New Brunswickers to manage their interactions with government – that includes everything from car registration, to health records, to voting. eIDs streamline the delivery of government services – you could say that they allow ‘the right hand to know what the left hand is doing’ without compromising the security of our personal data.
So while our community has been pretty inspired by Estonia’s approach to creating a better society for its citizens through technology, the inspiration we’ve gained through exposure to this innovative culture should not lead us toward simple imitation. This inspiration can motivate us to create our own Made In New Brunswick solution that draws on the best practices of other cultures, while reflecting the values of the people who call New Brunswick home.
At TechImpact, we want to help chart the unique path to a better New Brunswick. We have dedicated a lot of time and effort to answering the question “What would an eID system mean to New Brunswick?”
What if our province created a platform to accelerate public and private sector innovation? What if we created a safe environment where government departments, private sector businesses and citizens could come to and experiment with new technologies to create new ways to deliver government services to their citizens? We see this as one of the best ways in which we can help build that prosperous future that we’re all working towards. This is why we have embraced the idea of “unlocking prosperity with technology.”
We need to march into the 21st century ready to embrace technology and leverage it to our advantage, while remaining mindful of the privacy and security responsibilities that the government must manage on an ongoing basis.
Governments are indeed the trusted line of defense for the protection of citizens’ information. As citizens, we are obliged to share some of our information with government, so the quid pro quo is that our data will be protected. Governments also have a responsibility to New Brunswickers to deliver high-quality public services at good value – that’s nothing new. Across Canada, every provincial government is trying to meet those same criteria, in different ways.
We’re excited that our provincial government is willing to be innovative as they seek to deliver services to their citizens more effectively and at a reduced cost. They have been actively thinking and looking inside and outside of Canada – indeed, outside North America – for the best solutions to these same questions. With our unique understanding of the industry, we want to work with them to help evaluate and implement a project like this.
New Brunswick’s best interests are our best interests: that’s why we’re taking a citizen-centric approach that focuses on three initiatives that we believe are key to success.
As we said in the beginning of this “what if” discussion, it all begins with the notion of a secure, trusted identifier for our citizens. What if GNB and Tech Impact partnered to create and operate a Smart Province Digital Lab in New Brunswick?
A lab where public agencies are invited to come in and experiment with new technologies because we have the ability to uniquely identify our citizens though the myriad of government services that our citizens depend upon. With a secure ID the paper trail of records locked in cabinets across the province can be stitched together in one cohesive picture for every citizen. Imagine the increased efficiency of a system that could do that!
In our lab these governmental departments would be given the chance to test their ideas and experiment in optimum conditions. It would be a safe place to test these ideas with cutting-edge technology. The risk to their day to day operations is removed, while allowing them to experiment with a level of service we can only dream of when you’re standing in line at Service New Brunswick, or moving through a lengthy procedure of referrals and appointments.
The argument for open data is not purely about government transparency and finding out what’s going on behind closed doors: for us, open data is about recognizing that we have a resource that we could be using, but aren’t. The 2013-2014 Big Data Conferences hosted by T4G showed us that we have reams of data we could be refining into a high-quality resource that will benefit everyone from government agencies to communications specialists to medical research.
Making high-quality, anonymous information available to industries that can use it to improve our quality of life? That’s open data for us. There are so many solutions hidden within this new natural resource we call data. Let’s not abdicate our responsibilities as citizens to help governments uncover these solutions. But before we can do that, the data needs to be made accessible.
This is about a physical and digital space where new ideas are imagined, created, developed, tested, piloted, and launched in a collaboration between the provincial government, citizens of New Brunswick, businesses, and the tech industry.
The accelerated delivery of new products and services to the public can be achieved when we remove the siloed approach to delivery of government services. We waste precious time and resources funding the same innovation under different roofs – by encouraging strategic l partnerships, we will see changes happen faster, and with greater oversight.
Companies and governments around the world are vying to develop electronic identification systems: the opportunity to develop a system for New Brunswickers isn’t simply business as usual, but rather an opportunity to develop new ways to deliver services to citizens in a more efficient and cost-effective manner.
It’s also a lucrative chance to develop intellectual property here at home.
We believe in moving forward, while staying true to who we are. That’s why TechImpact is working towards a Made In New Brunswick solution. A solution we can be proud of and showcase to the world.
We recall a phrase once used by an iconic New Brunswick company. “Come to work every day and think of ways to do everyday things better, every day”.
This is what your government wants to do for you, and we’ll be there to help.