Seeking Service New Brunswick 9.0

You don’t have to roam the halls of the Centennial Building for too long before finding someone that will wax romantic about the introduction of Service New Brunswick back in the 1990s.   You will be told that at the time SNB was among the most innovative public service delivery models in the world.  It’s single customer service window for a myriad of public services and its use of IT to bring it all together was the stuff of legend.

Of course there is some exaggeration in this but the fundamental idea of a single window for drivers’ licenses, permits, bill paying, etc. was very convenient to the public and the idea was picked up broadly in other jurisdictions.

Since then, there really hasn’t been a Service NB 2.0 or 3.0 and so on.  Sure, the system is better now – there are more online features, etc. but certainly no breakthroughs.

I thought about SNB while reading this article on the application of design principles to public service delivery.   Imagine if the same people that designed Apple’s mouse put their heads around designing public service delivery.

The firm at the heart of the article, IDEO, doesn’t seem to have a Canadian presence which is a little strange given that Canada has some very interesting design challenges such as serving large immigrant populations.

Maybe we could attract this firm or another to set up in New Brunswick.  Maybe we could tie it into a university-based research institute in this area.  I know NB is not exactly a hub for design concepts but it’s alright to dream once in a while.

I continue to think we have a very narrow view of economic development – both our government and our industry leaders.   I love the quote from Frank McKenna  “It’s been too easy to cut trees, catch fish and plow land in this province. We’ve never had to think. Now it’s time to be creative.”

The problem is that McKenna made that statement nearly 20 years ago in 1994.



3 thoughts on “Seeking Service New Brunswick 9.0

  1. > Maybe we could attract this firm or another to set up in New Brunswick. Maybe we could tie it into a university-based research institute in this area.

    Actually, that’s what was done. A research institute was set up at UNB focusing on e-government, with the idea of cooperating with Service NB. Stuff happened, the NB government lost interest in this sort of thing (during the Lord administration), people were laid off and the whole thing pretty much disappeared.

    I’m not saying it’s a bad idea because it failed once, but it’s illustrative to look at the contradiction at the heart of such proposals:
    – on the one hand, government-led research programs in such areas are viewed in some sectors as competition against the private sector, but
    – when such research is left to the private sector, they don’t do this work in New Brunswick, not even if the government agrees to be a primary client

    That’s why efforts to “attract this firm or another to set up in New Brunswick” can be less effective than desired. The price to convince them to relocate would be steep – we would have to essentially privatize SNB and give it to them. And even then, they would remain in the province only so long as the subsidies stayed in place. If we tried to tax them, or to have them locate jobs here, or some other such socialist-type plot, they’d simply leave, leaving us without a homegrown industry (or any industry at all in this space).

    My own view is that if we want to establish an e-government type industry (though that ship may have sailed) then the way to do it is to establish a spin-off of the government program. But this involves continued government interest and investment in R&D, which some governments are loathe to do (not just the Lord government; I can think of others) even if it results in new economic development and technology exports.

    Interestingly, there could have been breakthroughs – they were well under way – had the government investment not ceased. But now there is nothing, we’d have to start from scratch, and the rest of the world has caught up and taken the lead. This has happened in other areas, as well, not just e-government. New Brunswick was really let down after the end of the McKenna era, and none of the governments since has recaptured that vision.


    > Imagine if the same people that designed Apple’s mouse put their heads around designing public service delivery.

    I know what you mean, but it’s a bad example.

    The mouse, as is well known, as actually invented at the Stanford Research Institute; Apple simply licensed the patent.

    Apple’s later ‘innovations’ around the mouse were disasters. Apple stayed with the one-button non-ergometric mouse long after better alternatives were devised. They introduced the hated (and horrible) ‘puck mouse’) with the iMac. Long after the rest of the world had switched to optical mice, Apple was a holdout for the unreliable ball mouse. To this day, the first thing people do when they purchase an Apple computer is to go out and purchase a better mouse.

    If the people behind the Apple Mouse were in charge of SNB, there would be only one option on every screen, and you’d have to print everything out and mail it in.

  2. That was funny, I had the same thought when I read that about the Apple mouse. My thought was, given the demise of most of the innovations of SNB, it may have been likely that the guys who developed the Apple mouse WERE in charge of SNB! I have numerous Apples, NONE have the original mouse, ironically the only mouse that has lasted over a decade was a cheap ‘ball’ mouse. The occasional clean of the rollers and it works fantastic. But we get your point, although my little story is illustrative-you DON”T need whats ‘new and exciting’ to provide good service. You need quality, transparancy, and accountability (ok so a mouse doesn’t actually have the last two).

    To prove my point, Ontario was a jurisdiction that ‘surpassed’ New Brunswick with the SNB model-in fact the ‘one stop shopping’ could be done at a kiosk in the local mall. This past winter they were all removed from the public because it turns out they weren’t secure and much of the data may have been copied. That would be the equivalent of the Apple Pippin!

    But I just can’t help myself: “”It’s been too easy to cut trees, catch fish and plow land in this province”…..or frack gas:)

    On a positive note, Gogii games has finally released its Archie game for the Ipod, and the ‘homegrown’ owner has stated that although he gets offers all the time to relocate, the company is staying put.

  3. Yeah, Gogii games is the kind of success story that sticks. But note the sort of investment it takes: CEO George Donovan is a graduate of the the international software marketing program at New Brunswick Community College’s Miramichi campus. NBCC Miramichi has been supporting these programs for years, and this isn’t the only spin-off. They’re constantly challenged to get appropriate funding for the program, when it’s exactly the sort of thing we should be focusing on. Every dollar spent subsidizing Irving or attracting IDEO is money we’re not spending developing our own capacities, and by extension, our own industry.

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