Happy 5th birthday, Ontario.ca

Ontario.ca turns five years old today!

Why does this matter? The relaunch of Ontario.ca in 2012 was our first experiment in working differently, using internet-era technologies, and designing a website around user needs instead of government structures. With Ontario.ca, we began a journey of working with every ministry to make it easier for people to interact with their government online.

(In many ways, Ontario.ca is our prequel story, but much better than the Star Wars prequels)

To celebrate, let’s take a short stroll down memory lane and share our startup story.

Getting ready to launch the new Ontario.ca. We ate a lot of fast food.

On November 7, 2012, Ontario.ca became the government’s new official website. The new site featured a common, user-centric design, plain language content and was built using lighter, more flexible and cost-effective technologies: open source Drupal for content management and cloud-based Amazon Web Services for infrastructure hosting.

The new Ontario.ca was the first major deployment of open source and cloud in the Ontario government, setting the stage for more adoption and new ways of working in the years to come.

Ontario government webpages before and after the Ontario.ca launch in 2012.

To complete the first iteration of Ontario.ca five years ago, we worked with ministries to analyze our web traffic, and redesign and publish the government’s most popular pages on the new platform. The first information published on Ontario.ca included:

  • Driver and vehicle licensing
  • Student financial assistance (OSAP)
  • Fishing licenses
  • Birth certificates
  • Address changes on government-issued ID

Ontario.ca became the online destination for the provincial government — a place where we could help users find, use and understand government information and services.

Since then, the site has been continuously improved based on user feedback and data. The team supporting Ontario.ca has worked hard to make government information quicker to access, easier to use and simpler to read. This work continues now as part of the Ontario Digital Service, and we’re excited to continue to build upon the great work that has been done over the past five years.

The re-launch of Ontario.ca, and its subsequent five years, could not have been done without people across the public service working hard and being committed to the user experience. We have many people to thank, including the Ontario.ca team that made this vision a reality, all the ministry teams who made the move to a new platform possible, our colleagues in IT who created the space to experiment, and the leaders across the public service who shined a light on digital and endorsed a new way of working.

This past summer, I had the opportunity to talk about the story of Ontario.ca at the Amazon AWS Summit in Washington DC. The video below has more details about our journey, and talks about the importance of allowing teams to experiment and try new things.

Zeena Abdulla tells the story of Ontario.ca at the Amazon AWS Summit in Washington DC.

Here are a few highlights of the past five years:

  • We made sure that users could expect to access government information and services at any time, around-the-clock and without service interruptions, by improving site uptime from around 99% (this meant that the old site could be down for hours at a time) to 99.999%.
  • The new platform was $4m cheaper than the previous one.
  • Ontario.ca received 17% of the government’s web traffic in 2012 compared to 51% in 2017.
  • Every ministry has content published on the site; 14 ministries have completed their full transition to the platform, 5 ministries are in progress, with 12 left to go.
  • Visits from mobile and tablet have jumped almost 15% between 2013 and 2016.
  • The number of pageviews on Ontario.ca nearly doubled between 2013 and 2016.
  • Between October 2016 and September 2017, there have been, on average, almost 9.6 million pageviews per month on Ontario.ca.

Help us celebrate Ontario.ca’s fifth birthday by stopping by the site and seeing what’s new. We’re excited by how far we’ve come in five years, and even more excited by where we’re going to go next.

Over the next few months, we’ll be doing more reflecting about how Ontario.ca came to be, and sharing what we learned with you here. Stay tuned for episodes 2 and 3 (again, much better than Star Wars) of our prequel!


Zeena Abdulla is the Director of Digital Enterprise in the Ontario Digital Service, and one of the founders of the digital government movement in Ontario.