Province Plans to Go Digital With Help From Tech Sector

Image: iStock.

MONCTON – The government of New Brunswick announced Friday a five-year digital strategy that would allow residents to access their information and government services from “any device, anywhere, at any time.”

Treasury Board President Roger Melanson said the province aims to be the first jurisdiction in North America to provide government services digitally. The strategy is a piece of a larger plan announced Wednesday, ahead of Innovation Week April 29 to May 5.

“The digital strategy is a piece of the entire strategy for innovation,” Melanson said. “By embracing a digital platform, New Brunswickers will have direct access to personal health information and will be able to use technologies that will improve communications between patients and their caregivers.”

The province aims to move New Brunswickers to one digital ID card, consolidating information from documents like their drivers’ license, Medicare and hunting or fishing permits. Other services could also be digitized.

“For example, in a digital New Brunswick, you will be able to wake up on a snowy winter morning and check your smartphone to find out when your road will be plowed,” Melanson said.

Digital New Brunswick was developed in collaboration with the IT industry and the input of 7,000 New Brunswickers.

TechImpact, an industry association representing 20 tech companies in the province, has been advising and consulting the government about the plan for the past four years, executive board member David Small said.

“Speaking on behalf of the tech sector, there’s a great opportunity here for us to deploy technology throughout the province and businesses can benefit from it,” he said. “Some companies may not be technical but they’ll need technology to enable delivery of some of these services. So ultimately it will engage tech sector, mostly software related companies.”

The IT sector will see opportunities to provide technical support and develop new products and services from data that will be available.

“One big thing would be data accessibility – a secure anonymized way to access data through the government,” he said. “That’s going to create lots of opportunities for the private sector to take that data and do some analysis and help improve the services that are being offered and come up with some new services that we never even thought of before.”

“For citizens, it’s going to make things much quicker, cheaper, faster, more efficient. It will be a great way to access government services moving forward,” he added.

Greater Moncton Chamber of Commerce CEO John Wishart said businesses would be pleased the government is catching up with the private sector. Over the next five years, Wishart hopes the strategy will provide opportunities for the tech sector to grow.

“There are a lot of businesses in New Brunswick doing things that are being embraced outside the region. So, this may provide a market for them right at home.”

But questions remain about the amount of government investment for the strategy, cybersecurity and whether the move will reduce red tape and make government more efficient, he noted.

Melanson said it’s still “too early to say” the exact amount of investment going into the strategy because the government will ask the private sector to bid on the technologies the government may need. But he noted that in parts of the world that do offer government services digitally, there have been some savings and increased transparency.

He also said it would make government processes less complicated for businesses.

“Reducing red tape, reducing the levels of bureaucracy in a sense of there are many channels to get approval – this will be done using the digital platform,” he said.

The government will announce details about a pilot phase and the steps to follow later. Small said this approach works for the “huge” project of moving government services to a digital platform.

“Launching services one step at a time will ensure we take the right amount of testing upfront and make sure it’s working before it’s launched, and gradually build upon successes until it’s fully deployed throughout the province. So, I think it’s a very manageable process if we do it that way.”

RELATED: N.B. Will Invest More Than $53-Million On Innovation, R&D