Challenges Facing the Public Sector

By | August 6, 2006

Government departments must ensure that internal processes that were developed in order to manage the flow of paper-based correspondence, contracts or application submissions can be applied to the management of the same information when it arrives in electronic format. Management of email information requests needs to be viewed in the context of its subject matter and business and historical importance, not managed based on arbitrary storage capacity rules imposed by IT administrators. A shift in how electronic correspondence and other forms of public communication are perceived needs to occur in many agencies, as the electronic work environment overtakes the traditional paper processes.

Legislation is also pushing the public sector to move into an electronic information dissemination model. Governments have been facing transparency and openness issues for decades. While private sector has only recently been obligated to manage disclosures under new legislation such as Sarbanes-Oxley, most Western jurisdictions have had some form of Freedom of Information legislation for years. Electronic records, including email, are subject to these laws within the parameters of specific exemption or exclusion clauses. As more information is created, stored and transmitted electronically, management and indexing systems are essential to be able to conform to these access laws. The establishment of an information management infrastructure in which these electronic records can be captured, managed and screened for personal or sensitive information is critical to ensuring appropriate compliance.

Interestingly, the UK government is among the last countries to adopt a comprehensive Freedom of Information mandate, with the law only coming into full force in 2005. Like many other such laws, the UK government has established specific turnaround times in which a response to the information request must be given—in this case, within 20 days.

The new Government IT strategy, Transformational Government, published on the 2 November 2005, looks to embed a vision, which involves “better use of technology to deliver public services and policy outcomes that have an impact on citizens´ daily lives”. However, this is part of a wider strategy designed to focus on IT as the means to further deliver citizen accessibility and choice, joining up and sharing services to achieve efficiency.

Technology is a critical component of building an information management infrastructure to assist with the new compliance mandate. The volume of electronic record collection and creation makes manual processes and search impractical and a risk area if the response deadline is to be met.

Security, and Other Concerns

Another contributing factor to the expansion of e-government initiatives has been the heightened concern over national security and intelligence gathering. First- responders and field workers need to be able to communicate rapidly as information is gathered and observations are made. Many jurisdictions are now investing in a mobile framework for knowledge workers who are no longer considered deskbound. Hand-held electronic devices such as PDAs, smart phones and tablets are now replacing laptops and desktop PCs as the primary information conduit for inspectors, detectives, emergency services and case workers. Agencies moving into a more distributed model using more wireless and mobile technologies need to fully understand the implications of such a cultural and technical change. If the capture and control of electronic communication is a concern today, consider the issues when even more email and messaging devices are in the hands of government workers. An assessment of the information management capacity of such technology solutions needs to be made, and the system must lend itself to effective record capture.

Conversely, the mobile field worker needs to have the same level of access to corporate records repositories and intranets/portals as the deskbound colleague. The ability to search for the correct versions of forms, templates and be able to instantly submit field reports and other objects (such as digital photographs) to a centralized, easily accessed repository is a fundamental requirement when building an effective mobile platform. Being notified of new workflow tasks, of updates to key documents, and the ability to view data collected by peers across geographic districts are all essential to making full and effective use of wireless systems and smart hand-held devices.

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