Enabling Responsible Acceleration
Less than five years ago, Don Cuthbertson, CEO of Portage CyberTech, helped build Converge Technology Solutions, a global public technology provider that now owns more than 35 companies and has generated more than $2 billion in revenues since its founding.
Don Cuthbertson still has an appetite for visionary projects. The proof? His latest goal to empower governments digitally to better serve their citizens. While some may be intimidated by this task, he has already rolled up his sleeves.
“Give me something repetitive but essential to do, and I will automate it and make it great.”
With his partner, Bruce Lévis, he developed a portfolio of proven solutions and brought together a team of experienced specialists under the Portage CyberTech banner. And today, the company is on the upswing. But why take on this new challenge when he could have simply cashed in on his previous ventures?
Once you get to know the man behind the success, you will understand why complacency just isn't in this CEO’s DNA.
Raiders fan, businessman or engineer?
Some CEOs of large companies pretend to be superstars, but not Don. He is more of an introvert, a behind-the-scenes kind of guy.
He is the type of person who thinks before he speaks, always with composure, and he admits that he leads a simple life built on sincere relationships. His greatest joy? Watching the Raiders play on Sundays with his family in an Ottawa suburb, a bowl of chips at the ready.
But before he got to where he is now, Don Cuthbertson travelled down “a fragmented professional path.”
“I did start on a path to medicine when I went to Queens, then I switched to chemical engineering with a focus on environmental engineering.”
With a chemical engineering degree in hand, Don Cuthbertson entered the workforce at a time when the economy was in a slump. When the tech boom arrived, the father of three switched gears after discovering programming.
“I became a Java developer and an Oracle database administrator. From there I went on to become a consultant at Bell Canada for quite a few years, and then became an independent consultant.”
When he became a programmer, Don Cuthbertson says he stumbled on a new way of looking at things. He coded as much as he could, even outside normal working hours and as a volunteer for his daughter’s hockey team.
“For three years, it was my responsibility to email coaches their schedule; a 10-hour job each month. So, I wrote some code to open up the spreadsheet, gather their info, their schedules and then automatically email all of them in seconds. It’s gratifying to make redundant tasks efficient and take the tediousness out of them.”
Don realized technology’s full potential and, together with his partner Shaun Maine, set out to acquire some tech companies.
In the process, he learned how to do business and absorb losses the hard way. But the prospect of finding business opportunities to innovate more efficiently motivated him. The football fan is always ahead of the game.
“I think like a running back. (…) If there’s an opening, I push through as fast as I can, and I make the next decision as I get to the next level.”
This was his tactic when he orchestrated the acquisitions and merger which formed Converge Technology Solutions with Shaun Maine and Gordon McMillan.
Today, Don Cuthbertson is proud to say that he has contributed to developing one of the strongest tech companies on the market which is currently receiving praise from financial analysts.
Even so, in true running-back form, he laughs when he says, “I can’t help myself. I always want to seize the opportunity and do the right thing at the right time.”
And today, the technology deficit in North American governments is so great that he’s decided to go for it again.
Declining public trust: A window of opportunity
Don Cuthbertson explains that the rise of the internet has put blinders on us for the past 30 years. “We were so keen that we started acting recklessly in exchange for the easy way out.”
“We have put all our information out here, and maybe we were naive. Someone at big platforms like Facebook and Twitter discovered that there is a lot of value in this information because we can advertise around it.”
Now he reports that many companies have personal information about us, and we have no control over what they do with our data. “They know where we click and when we are scrolling through something. They show us stuff we agree with and rarely show us a counter opinion.”
"It’s going to be hard for them to accept, but we need to demand they change the way they use our information."
But it is not all doom and gloom. Technology has changed our lives in leaps and bounds. Access to knowledge, communication and commerce have never been as democratic as they are today.
“The tech isn’t the problem, it’s what we do with it. That’s where responsibility matters.”
The irony is that we are used to getting everything easily from private companies that listen to us without us even knowing it, whereas when it comes to the public sector, we do not get anything easily, even if we repeatedly give out our personal information.
“Today, people do not trust government. Service engagement is poor. It’s not anyone’s fault, they just don’t really trust the government, and that is reflected in a bunch of other societal problems like interest in voting, engagement in programs and community involvement.”
The gap is continuously widening between governments and citizens because we have become accustomed to the convenience technology provides. Don Cuthbertson is clear on the fact that it has only become increasingly prevalent over the past ten years.
Public organizations are now facing a big dilemma. If they want to get the public’s trust back, they must transform digitally and be as efficient as the web giants. However, they cannot manage information and security the way the private sector does.
To close the gap and regain trust, two things are needed: passionate experts and proven solutions.
Portage CyberTech—Responsible Acceleration
For the past few years, Don Cuthbertson has not been the only one dreaming of digitally transforming the public service sector. The difference is that, today, companies with nearly 30 years of expertise—including Becker-Carroll, Vivvo, Notarius, 1CRM and OPIN—are coming together under the Portage CyberTech banner with the same shared mission.
“We’ve come together with one goal in mind: To facilitate responsible digital transformation for organizations with high legal requirements. Together, we are stronger.”
For Don, the idea is simple: if a government organization, regardless of its size, needs a technology service, they will easily find all the solutions they need under one roof and can integrate them at their own pace.
“Our portfolio of trusted solutions solves a specific set of problems, and it would have been harder to build it from scratch. With everyone’s expertise, we are way ahead of the game.”
To back up his claim, he cites the successes of Portage CyberTech’s teams in the digital transformation of several governments, as well as engineering associations across Canada.
Portage CyberTech’s greatest strength is its sense of responsibility. Security is front and centre, but so is transparency about data privacy.
“It can’t be just a checkbox. We must be able to show a user all the information we have about them, and we must regularly ask them if they agree to let us use their information in a specific way.”
Portage CyberTech has huge growth potential because while about 74% of people consider themselves experienced with using a digital identity, only 16% of public servants know how to use or integrate it into their organization1 .
Why? Don believes that technology can be intimidating and mistakenly considered difficult to implement. It’s true that in the past, tech companies sometimes used jargon that was difficult to understand.
At Portage CyberTech, those days are over.
“Let’s not talk about the tech. Let’s talk about your outcomes as a government or as an organization. What are you trying to achieve? Let’s have important discussions about privacy, data management, security and scalability in order to help you deliver services to people.”
User-friendliness and scalability before all else
If you want to change the habits of government employees or employees at large institutions, Don says you can’t disrupt their processes. All too often, technology companies want to change workflows, and that is where the transformation fails.
“We match the analog processes which is super important. At Portage CyberTech, we do not want to be disruptive because governmental organizations cannot change on a dime. Change must be easy.”
That way, people who are not tech savvy can begin slowly, and people with more experience can start leveraging the benefits more quickly. Citizens and clients can also access services right from their homes or go to an organization’s offices. “No one is left behind.”
By digitizing time-consuming processes, citizens get subsidies faster and parents get medical appointments for their children more easily, all through a seamless process and via a single login for all services.
“Just think how travelling is easier today than ever before. Everything can be done on your phone now. You can get your boarding pass electronically, check into a hotel, fill out a customs declaration…. It could be like that in our everyday lives.”
Don Cuthbertson emphasizes the intuitive and scalable aspect of Portage CyberTech’s solutions.
“In the end, it is always about design. A good tech solution should be easy to use and easy to understand. Then, we can start thinking of other applications. We can explore other areas, innovate, and apply the technology in ways that have not been considered until now.”
That is where it gets interesting, because once our governments transform, society will have many new capabilities at their fingertips.
Preparing society for the 4th Industrial Revolution
Imagine voting online or getting a court hearing in less than 48 hours. It is possible.
“With technology, governments and organizations can innovate and focus on the quality of their programs instead of managing the burdens related to administrative processes.”
According to Don Cuthbertson, governments and organizations no longer have a choice. They must transform themselves, not just to address local issues but to keep the country competitive on a global scale. In his mind, if we let acceleration happen on its own without involvement from the public sector, the transformation will be to the detriment of the people.
“In the 4th industrial revolution, especially with the accelerated adoption of AI (Artificial Intelligence) and automation, we need responsibility. When it comes to machine learning, there is even more responsibility because computers can make a lot more assumptions on data that may be flawed from the outset.”
To ensure that efficient and responsible technologies are developed, Don Cuthbertson believes that solutions like the ones developed by Portage CyberTech can help produce clear data, with people’s consent.
“Organizations that are functioning digitally have relevant information about program usage and can improve them with the right data. Plus, if redundant administrative tasks are reduced by 90%, municipal employees have more time to interact with the people who need services.”
A digitally efficient government is one that understands the real, everyday impacts of technology on its citizens. Don believes that this technological acceleration can only happen properly if institutions are actively involved.
“Responsible technological acceleration can help overcome lack of manpower, promote climate resilience and strengthen democratic stability.”
To support his thinking, he quotes Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum about the 4th Industrial Revolution: “the ability of government systems and public authorities to adapt will determine their survival. If they prove capable of embracing a world of disruptive change, subjecting their structures to the levels of transparency and efficiency that will enable them to maintain their competitive edge, they will endure. If they cannot evolve, they will face increasing trouble.2”
At Portage CyberTech, we are ready to help government organizations meet this challenge with solutions they can trust.