Alex Benay | Winner of the 2018 Startup Canada Policy Innovation Award – Ontario
“As a nation, we need to think bigger and act quicker.”
Alex Benay is Canada’s Chief Innovation Officer, a celebrated author, and the top tech boss of the public service. Since 2017, he’s been disrupting and innovating government from the inside out, encouraging it to accelerate failure, learnings, and adaptability.
His vision is a technology-driven public service that provides every Canadian with highly efficient and first-class services. His new book, Government Digital, is a blueprint for this vision.
Thanks to Alex, soon Canadians will access benefits, register companies, and vote from smart devices.
Under his watch, the Canadian government is on a path of ongoing transformation towards open data, collaboration, and agile management to respond in-time with the rapidly shifting tides of innovation.
Startup News had the opportunity to sit down with Alex Benay to learn more.
SN: What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?
AB: I think that entrepreneurship opens so many opportunities and possibilities. Startups should think globally from the outset, find a problem, and demonstrate how you can fix that problem. Digital technologies have enabled small startups to address issues that are global in scope- from cleaning up plastics in the world’s oceans, to micro-financing small farms in developing countries- the possibilities are limitless.
SN: What is the biggest lesson you have learned to date?
AB: As a nation, we need to think bigger and act quicker. In the startup community, a great deal of emphasis is placed on time to market. Similar thinking must now be adopted by the federal government- we can no longer rely on policies and practices from an analogue era that means it will take four to five years for change to happen. The digital revolution has drastically changed the pace of change, and governments need to adapt. Procurement timelines need to shift from three to five years to six to twelve months, and governments as a whole need to be more agile in their approach. Internationally, Estonia is a great example of a country that quickly changed their legislation in order to prepare for the digital economy. From a national digital program to encouraging global startups to make Estonia their place of business via e-citizenship, Estonia has established itself as a world leader in digital government. The economic benefits of this approach are easy to see- the small country with a population of 1.3 million currently boasts four ‘unicorns’ (tech companies valued over $1 billion dollars).
SN: What advice do you have to those starting up today?
AB: We need to think globally. The digital revolution means we can address problems that are international in scope, by working across jurisdictional borders. The world has problems, and governments have departments. This antiquated outlook needs to change in order to adapt to the expectations of citizens who are increasingly looking for all of their services to be delivered online, through multiple channels- be it their phone, social media platforms, digital assistants such as Amazon Alexa, or even the smart appliances in their home. Digital service delivery does not care about systems, our hierarchies or our departments. We must learn to work together to succeed in serving citizens who are themselves, digital citizens.