The role of technology in correctional transformation

The Cart Before the Horse: this would be an apt analogy for some organisations’ approach to digital transformation. We too often lead with technology – while the horse (the business strategy) is left behind or not even hitched up. Digital transformation must have a purpose, it is not digital for digital’s sake.

By starting with an organisation’s mandate and its strategy, its raison d’etre, its people, and meaningful insights born by critical investments in data; only then can the enterprise be situated to begin its digital transformation journey. Seeking opportunities to innovate means understanding all the interactions with correctional services and operational processes that our offenders and other stakeholders experience. This paper shares some insights into the transformation journey that Correctional Service Canada (CSC) has embarked upon, and what role digital will play in their travels.

As the public’s digital experiences in the private sector evolve, so will their expectations of government services. CSC can better deliver on their expectations by embracing an operating model with citizens’ values at the core.

The digital revolution provides the opportunity to fundamentally change the way technology can support corrections in providing platform-based solutions. Solutions that will require a rethinking of how the services and operations of the correctional system are designed and managed. In Canada, corrections are increasingly complex; there is a rising rate of mental health issues affecting offenders, and an increasingly diverse and ageing offender population. These are just two trends that are driving CSC to consider how it can deliver its services differently to meet a changing offender population.

What is a digital strategy?

A digital strategy is viewed as a lens into the business strategy. It refers to creating positive business outcomes using digital assets and capabilities. Typically, a digital strategy focuses on SMAC – the social, mobile, analytics and cloud technologies, but can also include the Internet of Things, Machine Learning, 3D printing and blockchain, and how these can be used to create new or enhance existing business capabilities. Business strategy is necessary to define what digital capabilities are required; fundamentally IM/IT is no longer the ‘automation’ function, it is the driver for strategic continuous engagement with the partner, proactively bringing the opportunity to the operational partners on how emerging technologies and platforms can transform the way we deliver services.

In CSC, having an understanding of the operational partners’ needs means entering into a dialogue with all sectors responsible for all the offender needs, from the operations themselves to the policy, corporate services and legal functions. It means talking to front line programme, security and service delivery employees to understand how they execute on their mandate today, and the opportunities they see born from evidence. It means having that dialogue with our partners as how to better share information and insight into the overall public safety portfolio as a whole.

We can take a methodological approach to understand our stakeholder journey through our operations and services today; what works, what doesn’t work, and what is inefficient or ineffective. By following this path and utilizing quality data as our ongoing basis for measuring our improvements, we have the opportunity to create outcomes that are measurable and can be directly connected to our mandates of public safety and improving outcomes for offenders.

CSC has invested in some digital enablement where the value proposition was clear. It introduced a Victim’s Application that provides real-time information to victims on their offender’s sentence and release date. is a powerful example of how digital can create a necessary and safe connection for these stakeholders.

However, for digital to be truly powerful, it is not a singular investment, not an addition or a bolt-on to existing operations. To fully leverage a digital strategy, CSC must look at all of its operations, programmes and services to see how differently they can be delivered, and how the output of digitally enabled processes and activities may create new insights and drive greater value and results.

The digital opportunity across the correctional system exists everywhere you turn; from offender monitoring and supervision while incarcerated, which really hasn’t changed from 100 years ago, to community supervision, where ankle bracelets are the extent of a technology-enabled solution.


Data as the foundation of a digital strategy

Assessing performance and outcomes against one’s objectives can only be achieved with a fulsome approach to collecting, managing and analysing data. Data relates both to offender outcomes as well as operational and service delivery. CSC has begun with the fundamentals of data management. Do we know what data we have, how it is stored, and how it is connected? Data is at the heart of a digital strategy. Organisations need to value data, including performance measurement and business intelligence to mark their baseline and evaluate progress against their objectives. All of this matters in order to leverage data for insights and ultimately to make informed business decisions.

Trust and security of data are essential for all organisations today, but perhaps more so in the case of public safety departments such as CSC. Termed digital trust* (definition by Gartner, 2017), it relates to:

  • Offenders, through informed consent, trust that the information about them will be accurate, confidential and only available to those with a need to know or where permitted for public interest;
  • The ability to anticipate behaviour and profile individuals offers clear benefits. These techniques can cross lines when it comes to offender rights. Should an offender’s movement be restricted even before they commit a crime? How do you balance the rights of the offender against those of the correctional system?;
  • Canadians trusting that the decisions about offenders and their data privacy are being made in the best interest of public safety, and;
  • That the government has confidence that its infrastructure is robust and safeguards corrections against security threats, enables encryption of data where needed and prevents both external and internal leaks.

Building digital trust and therefore managing digital risk is a critical aspect of CSC’s data investment strategy.


A Culture and Workforce Supportive of the Digital World

What about people and innovation? Even with the latest and greatest technologies, digital transformations fall down without the right culture and the right people working together to think about their business differently. It is recognised that CSC’s culture requires conscious management to drive cross-enterprise collaboration and opportunity identification. The organisation needs to continually adapt and respond to new and emerging service and operational requirements and agree that transformation through innovation is only successful through a shared journey. Organisations need to purposely think about change and the need to position themselves to manage change effectively.

CSC’s technology function is currently investing in critical talent management activities such as developing key competencies of the future and understanding the skills of its workforce today. The changing nature of the IT professional is such that rather than just focusing on learning one programming language, or one technology application, these resources will be challenged with integrating several digital skills with an understanding of software as a service, and the process of business automation. This more complex service and client-oriented role will really require a workforce who has developed and invested in learning as a core competency.



There are barriers to digitally-enabled corrections despite the gradual shift to digital government and continued investment in infrastructure. For example, similar to many of its federal department counterparts, CSCs’ legacy systems are technology solutions designed in a different age and are no longer meeting the needs of an increasingly complex, data-on-demand correctional system. In addition, though data is at the heart of becoming a truly digital organisation, organisations need to modernise their approach to leveraging data for insights and empowered decision-making.

While these constraints can be overcome, for digital transformation to deliver on its expected benefits, CSC needs to shift its mindset to investing in its business transformational effort; what are the opportunities to be had – how can technology inspire change and transformation? In addition, what are the problems to be solved to deliver on its strategic direction and mandate? Clearly articulating these will help to make the right digital platform investments.

CSC’s journey has been an organic one as leaders from across the enterprise rethink the business of corrections, and how to do it differently for better outcomes. We are focused on improving our data foundations. We are assessing our people’s talents and skills. We plan to execute change incrementally to take advantage of iterative learning and its application to digital opportunities. CSC is learning as it goes about the opportunities and investments required in the brave new digital world.


Simon Bonk is the Chief Information Officer at Correctional Service Canada (CSC). In his role, he’s responsible for engaging with partners to identify opportunities where the enablement of technology and information management services can address business challenges. He manages a workforce of approximately 550 employees and contractors. Mr Bonk’s expertise also lies in IT financial management, which helps to shine a light on how IT investments align with the mandate and priorities of the business. 



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