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Canadian Digital Service takes startup approach to building better IT for government

Canadian Digital Service takes startup approach to building better IT for government
From CBC - December 14, 2017

Jason White heads off on his tour of duty in early January.

He's not going into danger, not joining the militaryhe's actuallyjust going down the street.

Canada needs his brain.

"I absolutely feel like this is an opportunity for me to give back to the country," said the Ottawa resident.

This 39-year-olddata programmer and engineer has the skills the federal government is trying to attract right now as it creates its very own startup, the Canadian Digital Service(CDS).

CDShas a mandate to help federal departments create better online connections to Canadians, whether they are veterans looking into their eligibility for services or immigrants trying to book a citizenship exam.

White is among the people who helped Canada's e-commerce darling,Shopify, go public and reach the multibillion-dollar valuation it boasts today.

But Amanda Clarke, a professor at Carleton University's School of Public Policy, is not so sure the hip, agile unit at CDS will have an impact on the government's overall IT development.

"We still have a lot of IT decision makers in the government of Canada that follow the old model, and that are really beholden to these large-scale contracts, and that's kind of where I am not convinced yet that we are not going to see a Phoenix," she said, a reference to thePhoenix pay system debacle.

Federal government sabbatical

CDS is not quite six months old, but it aims to grow fast.

"This is mission-driven work," said AnatolePapadopoulos, executive director of CDS. "We are not looking for people to sign up for life. We are looking for people to do a tour of duty."

White has worked at Shopifyfor five years.

"I have spent some long hours here," he saidona recent day atthe company's Ottawa headquarters, where hallways have cork floors and the office contains a yoga room and a cafe. "I make sure, along with my teammates, that all the data keeps flowing, that the onesand zeros add up properly."

Next month, he will leave his colleagues andShopify'sperks behindto take a three-month sabbatical with the federal government.

"Going from Shopify to the government is about as diametrically opposed as you can get," said White. It's a transition"from a business in which process is a bad wordto government, where it's entirely the opposite."

'Bureaucracy hackers'

TheCDSstaff of about 30 is currently stuffed elbow to elbow into two small rooms in anon-descriptfederal government building on Elgin St.(just down the road fromShopify). Depending on recruitment, the CDS workforceis set to more than triple.

Recruiters are finding "flexibility" in the federal hiring process to bring in data analysts, design and product managerseven a CEOfrom across the country or overseas as quickly as possible.

The Obama model

Some rules sacrosanct

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