Side view close-up of a female executive conversing with colleagues and team members on a Teams meeting.

The accelerated adoption of technology due to the global pandemic has motivated organizations of all sizes, both private and public sector, to think critically about their digital strategy and make room for digital transformation opportunities that meet the needs of customers, employees and citizens.

The Ontario Government’s Ontario Public Service (OPS) is no different.

Comprised of more than 65,000 employees across the province, the OPS delivers essential government services to citizens across the province including healthcare, transportation, social services and education. Like many other organizations across Canada, the OPS has leveraged the capability and knowledge of employees to identify opportunities to modernize public service delivery through internal hackathons in collaboration with Microsoft Canada. These events align business problems with solutions mapped to an organization’s existing technology platforms.

Inspired by the Ontario Onwards Action Plan, the annual OPS Microsoft Cloud hackathon, now in its second year, is designed to enable OPS employees to provide and uncover new ideas that drive efficiency, effectiveness and data based decision-making in service delivery for the province’s citizens.

The event unites employees across IT departments and Ministry business areas to collaborate in a fast-paced environment, empowering employees to share big ideas, make a difference and drive meaningful change organization-wide. The inaugural hackathon held in 2020 was a huge success and led to the implementation of solutions that ultimately brought the OPS a step closer to modernizing public service delivery.

The 2021 OPS Microsoft Cloud hackathon sought to address big challenges that were brought to the forefront by the pandemic. More than 90 participants, divided among 20 teams, came together virtually to innovate and share their ideas, leveraging Microsoft Azure, Microsoft 365, Power Platform and Microsoft Dynamics. Connecting over Microsoft Teams, each group was equipped with the technology to ideate and develop their concepts into prototypes, polish their pitches and present their innovative ideas to a panel of judges from Microsoft Canada and OPS leadership.

Notable proposed hackathon solutions include a ‘One Ontario’ service portal that could provide a singular repository for Ontarians to easily apply for government services reducing time spent by citizens completing forms while centralizing data securely in the Microsoft platform.  Another example is a ‘Smart Plate’, a license plate that illuminates different colours to signal when it is time for the owner to renew and notifies surrounding vehicles of Amber Alerts or missing vehicles. The idea was awarded the hackathon event’s ‘People’s Choice Award’ for its creativity and its focus on simplified citizen service delivery.

“Not only did we receive incredible feedback from participants sharing how much fun they had and how much they valued the opportunity to create, innovate and showcase their skills, we also witnessed firsthand the incredible potential technology brings to the public sector,” says Scott Bolton, CIO of Enterprise Technology Delivery division at Ontario Public Service.

Public sector hackathons are taking place across the country in places such as Langley, British Columbia – recently named one of the top 21 intelligent communities in the world by the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF). In January, the Township of Langley hosted Codathon: CodingMatters, a coding event that encouraged locals to harness their technology skills and creativity. Similar to the OPS, participants in Langley’s codathon developed prototypes that can help solve challenges facing the community including sustainability, culture, inclusion and community pride. Leveraging resources from Microsoft including Azure credits, the three winners developed prototypes that sought to improve citizen engagement, calculate a person’s carbon footprint and help connect farmers with consumers to reduce local food waste within the municipality.

If we want Canada to maintain its position as a tech leader on the global stage, it is important that we continue to challenge the status quo, think big and create more opportunities for people to express their creativity and ideas across industries. Hackathons are just one innovative way to do so – providing an enormous potential to grow our innovation economy, accelerate digital transformation and build better and more resilient organizations for the future. For more information on public sector digital innovation, please visit Cloud Computing for Government | Microsoft Industry