The final phase of the government’s The Way Forward “vision document” will see the province take a long look at using digital technology to deliver services to residents.
At the College of the North Atlantic Ridge Road campus on Tuesday, Premier Dwight Ball and Finance Minister Tom Osborne laid out the plan that will see an eight-year redesign of the government’s website in an effort to make filing for permits, updating driver licence information or starting a business easier for online users.
The government plans to spend $8 million over the next five years to take about 65 main pages of gov.nl.ca and shrink it to about six websites, Osborne said.
The goal is a streamlined service delivery that Osborne says should lead to savings in the long run.
“This is the way of the future. This is service delivery in the future. Over the next five years, you’ll see it transform from the service that government currently provides, which is kind of awkward. It’s outdated, and to a large degree doesn’t provide the service that people require today,” said Osborne.
“This would allow us to interact with people regardless of the device.”
The new site will allow users to fill out documents and have that information saved to a profile. The information saved could then be used again on other documents in different departments, in an effort to minimize doubling of efforts by people who want a government service.
Osborne says he has no concerns over privacy when it comes to government retaining and reusing information.
“We have all that information today. The difference is that we have all that information in 65 different portals. We’re going to consolidate that into one portal,” he said.
“We take protection of privacy very seriously.”
There are no planned layoffs as a result of the expected savings, which Osborne estimates will be $16 million a year once the changes are finalized in 2023.
No tender has yet been awarded for the changes.
In October 2016, the government spent $23,950 on essentially a cosmetic change to its primary websites, through a contract awarded to St. John’s-based Idea Factory, led by Kevin Casey. The “refresh” consisted of new templates, pop-up banners and website redesign.
A Department of Finance spokesperson says there are no plans to erase the work of the 2016 contract as a result of another website redesign. The “digital-by-design” changes announced on Tuesday have more to do with the function of government websites, rather than a change in esthetic.
Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Technology Industry chair Kendra MacDonald says the government looking more at digital technology is great news for the local tech industry.
“We’re seeing it around the world, certainly across the country. Leveraging digital is both improving efficiency and effectiveness, but also improving the actual delivery of the services, so it’s a better outcome for citizens, which is exciting,” said MacDonald.
She says she doesn’t think the government will alienate less tech-savvy residents with the redesign.
“There’s always bumps with change, but there’s a tremendous opportunity to serve everyone with these digital solutions.”