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opinion

Michael Benadiba is president and chief technology officer of MBC Managed IT Services.

The Government of Ontario is on the hunt for its first chief digital officer. The position will report to the head of Ontario's Public Service and to the Minister Responsible for Digital Government, Deb Matthews. According to the job posting, the chief digital officer "will set and execute a bold vision for Ontario through its first-ever digital government action plan." This person will lead Ontario's digital government office and serve as chair of the province's digital government board.

The whole idea is to make government work better for people, and to design digital services and products around users' needs, not government needs. This is a great idea, and it's about time.

We can all relate to the complexities and difficulties of dealing with government – a huge impersonal bureaucracy, long wait times on the phone or at a service kiosk, and that constant runaround where you can never reach the person you want. A lot of people just give up. Even when government tries to bring services online, we are usually faced with clunky user interfaces that only work on certain types of browsers. What's more, services are rarely compatible with a tablet or smartphone.

The fact is that consumers in this country are way ahead of government – any level of government – when it comes to the digital world. The Canadian consumer is tech-savvy and demanding, but is not being well served.

Millennials, in particular, have little or no patience for waiting. They won't stand in a line or wait 20 minutes on the phone to get a person who may or may not be able to help them. They won't even wait two minutes. They want nothing to do with lines of any kind, even telephone lines. They don't want anything that comes with cords or ties them down.

Our company knows this because almost all of our employees are millennials and we are in the technology business.

The people we hire like to multitask, but tend to be easily distracted. Many of them "live" on social media. As an employer, that means we make a big thing about expectations, deadlines and goals. We make a point of having an active and vibrant social media environment and are mobile optimized. We provide recognition at every opportunity and give incentives.

The people we hire, and the millennials Ontario's new chief digital officer will be serving, got lots of praise when they were growing up. They are used to instant gratification and constant recognition. In short, they want to be happy and fulfilled. That goes for when they're at work and when they use government services.

When was the last time you were happy and fulfilled using a government service?

This is the challenge for the new chief digital officer. His or her department will have to make it easier to deal with government. Here are some things that should be considered:

  • How to provide a fast, fun, friendly experience built primarily for use on a mobile device. Today, many government services are available only on a Web browser from a desktop computer. Millennials want to use a phone or tablet, not a desktop computer.
  • How to bring different departments and services together so less time is spent managing and updating the person’s government identity with logins and passwords.
  • Ways to provide better integration between provincial and federal systems to keep citizen information synchronized and updated.
  • Upgrades needed for older systems and “legacy” technologies so new ones can be introduced. Without these upgrades, the chief digital officer will be limited in his or her ability to serve the public.

Ontario is correct to identify digital as a need and to establish a mandate for the chief digital officer – the government is to be commended in this regard. Let's hope it can deliver.