Checking in with Ontario's first chief digital officer

Hillary Hartley was named Ontario's first-ever chief digital officer back in March, putting her in charge of streamlining the province's online services — like drivers' licence renewals or student aid applications.

Hillary Hartley worked in the U.S. government's digital office before assuming this role in April

As Ontario's chief digital officer, Hillary Hartley is in charge of streamlining the province's online services. (YouTube/Lean Startup Co.)

Hillary Hartley has what she calls "a pretty big mandate" ahead of her.

She was named Ontario's first-ever chief digital officer back in March, putting her in charge of streamlining the province's online services — like drivers' licence renewals or student aid applications.

"The role for me is, number one, focused on people and building this team up so that we are establishing rock solid practices for how to do this work," Hartley told Matt Galloway, host of CBC's Metro Morning.

"We are going to be thinking about everything, from redesigning services to focus on user needs ... that really is the driver. How do we bring a laser-focus on user needs to government across the board?"

Hartley's appointment comes nearly a decade after the province's eHealth scandal. Back in 2009, former Ontario Auditor General Jim McCarter slammed the government for wasting $1 billion in tax money on the agency. 

The idea was to create electronic health records for Ontario, something the auditor says could save $6 billion if implemented in every province and territory. Instead, McCarter said Ontario "is near the back of the pack" when it comes to electronic health records, having wasted millions on underused computer systems and untendered contracts.

Hartley said it's not unusual to have problems with the roll-out of an online health system. She pointed to issues with electronic health records in Britain as well as the United States' online rollout of the Affordable Care Act in 2013.

Former Ontario auditor general Jim McCarter's 2009 report on eHealth criticized the agency for relying too much on consultants and for lacking strategic direction. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

She said in order to regain the public's trust, the government will have to show users a system works before launching it — and that involves rolling out services gradually.

"It's sort of moving away from that waterfall mentality and a huge package deal to more modularity, more component-based, small iterative. So you know ... saying there's kind of five different pieces here that we need to build, and we can build them in tandem," she said.

"If one thing fails — it doesn't come in on time or on budget or just doesn't work — the other four pieces can continue to move."

Hartley has been in the industry for 20 years. Most recently, she worked in San Francisco as the deputy executive director of 18F, the U.S. government's digital office. She s also a former Presidential Innovation Fellow

Ontario's chief digital officer is a deputy minister-level position. Hartley will report to Steve Orsini, head of the Ontario Public Service, and Deb Matthews, the province's Minister Responsible for Digital Government.