Her official title is Canada’s Chief Information Officer, but in explaining her job, Corinne Charette, BSc 75, LLD 11, calls herself a “convener.” It’s clear that the social side of the job, gathering people from many different departments and figuring out strategies and solutions together, is what truly makes her tick. She’s been in the job since 2009, responsible for 180 staff, but with an influence that extends across all of government. Information management, information technology, security, access to information and privacy are among the hot-button policy areas that she must help determine for all of the civil service and governmental departments.
“My education prepared me well for this role,” she says, on the phone from Ottawa, early in the morning. “Engineering is a problem-solving discipline. That framework has been a great benefit to me. The government is a complex ecosystem of legislation and policies supporting program and service delivery for Canadians. You have to take a broad look to do what’s required—to take an integrated approach.”
She sees numerous benefits to the widespread adoption of technology. “Cost efficiency and speed,” are the top two she cites. For example, seniors can now be proactively enrolled in old-age security programs, a far better state of affairs than waiting to manually make these updates.
But there are downsides. The federal government’s systems and information stores are often targeted by cyber-attacks. Charette must ensure the government can handle the threats of malicious viruses, of which Heartbleed and Shellshock are but two recent examples.
Charette, while noting that she had to learn a lot about policy when taking on this new role, was nevertheless perfectly suited to it. Her education, combining digital architecture and telecommunications, was ideal, and was followed by decades of experience, including as Deputy Director and Chief Information Officer of the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada, and many years in the private sector, notably with the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Transat A.T., KPMG, and IBM Global Services.
“I loved my time at Concordia,” she reminisces. “I was on the Loyola campus. We were a small and focused group of electrical engineers, led by the department head [the late] Stanley Kubina. We were a close-knit community and had a strong cohort of professors who would roll up their sleeves and help us however they could.”
It was a lot of hard work, which inevitably left little time for outside pursuits, but when she did leave the campus, she was an outdoor sports enthusiast, a passion which remains to this day. “In winter, I used to ski a lot more than I do today. I went to Mont Tremblant, which was very different then. You took a chair lift, covered in blankets to stay warm. It was very frosty.”
Charette remains deeply attached to her alma mater, having been a very generous donor, and actively participating in a campaign to restore the old Loyola refectory. “The Loyola campus is lovely,” she says “I am so glad Concordia has invested in maintaining and improving it.”