The past few months have made it abundantly clear that local government has been facing unprecedented challenges. With the ongoing pandemic, atop of all existing responsibilities, new challenges have risen to the forefront that need to be addressed swiftly and effectively. And if that weren’t enough, bad actors have reared their ugly heads: They took advantage of this situation and put local government in their crosshairs. Hard pressed CISOs may well ask: ‘Is there any good in this for public authorities?’
Working digitally and remotely as a new reality
2020 was off to a truly terrible start with a pandemic on a scale the world hadn’t seen in a century. Many local authorities had to close their doors to the public and send their employees home, but somehow deliver critical services. Without a blueprint for this scenario, all day-to-day operations had to be shifted to working remotely with little to no time to prepare. By the same token, local authorities still had to remain operational for – and accessible to – the people and communities they served as well as their entire supply chain. Somehow they had to ensure their employees were able to work remotely, securely, and effectively.
But how was this supposed to work? Physically taking documents home was not an option: Logistically, this would have been an absolute nightmare; nothing short of an unmitigated disaster in regard to data protection. Local government rightly places a high priority on the security and privacy of information from the people and communities that they serve.
For local government, working digitally clearly is the way to go. With fully digitised documents and a digitalised workflow these issues can be meaningfully addressed. Not only is it significantly easier to store and access digital data from virtually anywhere, it is also easily possible to collaborate on it. At the same time, however, the technology involved is often perceived as expensive and complex, which needs to be budgeted for. Therefore, local government has had to find digital solutions that are:
- Involve minimal administrative efforts
- Quick and easy to understand and apply for all users, both internally and externally
Often overlooked, or at least underestimated, is the fact that working digitally means that file sizes are inevitably going to increase, and files need to be carefully organised and shared ad hoc inside the organisation as well as with citizens, businesses, service providers, and third parties such as the Courts. An effective and secure digital transfer service is a cornerstone element for any organisation’s daily working armoury.
How a local government agency in the UK became fully digitised without a case management system.
Moving towards a paperless office: Local government’s challenges for working digitally
Transitioning to a fully digital workplace does require some effort from local government, particularly in the initial stages. But at the end of the day it clearly isn’t only a feasible and worthwhile endeavour, but also an investment that pays off in spades: It is in situations where local authorities unexpectedly face unprecedented challenges (such as the pandemic) that old working models are rendered obsolete. Working digitally allows for flexibility and quick response times; it enables continuous decentralised operability and ongoing service that citizens and communities can rely on. And this puts a huge value and financial saving that extends through and beyond the pandemic.
Admittedly, this hardly comes as news to local government; in fact, they have put great effort into their digital journey, and many are well on their way. But here are their main hurdles to overcome, some of which can be done for little cost:
Public authorities are still struggling with ongoing austerity measures that followed in the aftermath of the recession of 2008/2009. By all accounts, things don’t look likely to change for the better after the COVID-19 recession of 2020. Tight budgets, however, keep seriously constricting local government’s financial ability to pursue a digital strategy and they impede effective responses to IT threats. Staff may resort to unauthorised alternative workarounds. Such workarounds and the limitations of legacy solutions can very easily result in shadow IT and data breaches.
- FINDING A WORKABLE SOLUTION that provides compliance and is accepted and applied by all users (the latter part is precisely where most solutions fail). Often the first stage is overlooked, organising the workflow so as to enable the simple use of technology downstream, then finding and implementing effective software and tools under the weight of daily commitments. Often employing thousands of public servants, councils require easy-to-use solutions that can be deployed quickly and effectively without huge training programmes. Such solutions must be in continuous compliance with the ever-growing regulatory environment. Violations of data protection and the ever-looming threat of data breaches can incur fines and reputational damage that cash-strapped public authorities simply cannot afford. As large parts of the public are concerned over the security of their personal information held by public authorities, it is no surprise that there is a great deal of careful consideration in local government’s selection process for any digital solution.
The majority of people has no trust in public authorities' ability to keep their personal data secure.
- BAD ACTORS
Whether state-sponsored groups or private individuals, cybercriminals are well aware of how much data is processed by public authorities and how valuable that data is. Professionally organised and executed cyberattacks are no longer an abstract or remote possibility but a very real threat. All it takes is one successful ransomware attack: After control over an organisation’s data is gained, all information can be encrypted. Once that happens, local government is ultimately at the mercy of the attackers. Even if ransom for the decryption of the data is being paid, there is no guarantee that the criminals will hold up their end of the bargain. They may decide not to decrypt the data after all – they can manipulate the data, steal it, and delete it. In short: They can do whatever they want.
Embracing the new reality to benefit from working digitally
As the saying goes ‘We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust our sails’: The tidal wave of digitising information and digitalising of working processes is going to transform the way people work – change is coming, and it is here to stay. Going forward, digital offices and digital work will gradually, but inevitably, become the norm. Local government isn’t going to be able to fight or elude this development (nor should it try to). Yet if it embraces the coming changes and makes the necessary adjustments, it can realise the very real opportunities this shift offers:
- Substantially increasing efficiency for all users and significantly reducing costs due to digital work processes and consolidation of existing tools
- Increasing appeal as an employer by creating a more flexible workplace with home office options
- Improving service to the public through secure digital communication: providing stronger responsiveness, effective security, and more convenience by greater ease of use
- Ensuring comprehensive and traceable compliance with data protection regulations
Has the Coronavirus single-handedly caused local government to move their work to the digital sphere? No, it hasn’t. The need to do so existed long before and many authorities began their digital journey years ago. However, it certainly has been playing a major role in serving as a catalyst for many organisations’ digitisation and digitalisation efforts. The ongoing pandemic has amplified the need to transition to digital work and laid bare any shortcomings authorities have had.
For local government and their CISOs, there is actually some good in all of this: By embracing the new digital reality, local government can become leaner, smarter, and more efficient, making it better equipped to serve the public effectively. Which is really what it’s all about.
Local government may not be able to direct the wind that is blowing toward digital work, but they can adjust the way they operate and use it to get where they want to go, faster.