External Collaboration - The New Problem Government Agencies Face

TEAM IM
Sep 13, 2022 1:14:15 PM

The only constant in the world is change. That’s true in nature, in business, and in government. There was a time that everything important was done on paper, leaving a literal paper trail, but that time is over.

In the business world, we see more and more contracts and administrative duties carried out wholly online — giving rise to new forms of external collaboration. To ensure that your agency is best able to serve the people within your purview, it is imperative that you follow that lead. 

This is not to say that running operations online or via cloud-based apps does not have its risks. The risks are there. But do you know what they are? Do you know how to mitigate them?

Defining External Collaboration 

External collaboration is about working with people outside of your organization. 

In business, engaging and collaborating with stakeholders in a project often means working with people outside your company towards a common goal— partnerships, supply chain processes, contracts, commissions, etc., all involve a level of external collaboration.

In government, this can be working directly with citizens and consumers, as well as working with other government agencies, non-government organizations, vendors, and suppliers.  Collaboration suggests sharing information, knowledge, and expertise so that it flows from and into the government agency.

Online access to government services brings a host of benefits to the citizen customer— no need to visit the agency at a branch location, no waiting for forms in the mail, no queuing, and so on.

Of course, when a customer utilizes a service online, they leave behind information that a company can then analyze to better serve that customer in the future. 

This is where government and business can be similar. Because when constituents access services provided by a government agency online, they leave that same information. Information that can be analyzed to create strategies that will better serve constituents in the future.

Where government and business differ in this area is an inter-agency collaboration by government workers on behalf of a citizen’s request that may span multiple agencies. Agency to agency collaboration allows for citizen engagement with various agencies instead of bouncing around a maze of red-tape and paperwork— this form of collaboration adds unique challenges, such as data-sharing agreements and how that data is used. 

Such use cases require specialized processes around data security, records management, compliance, and business process management. Increasingly, our government customers are seeking collaboration solutions that consider all these aspects holistically.

Understanding PII

As well as collaboration and engagement with various stakeholders, the government can gather citizen data via online forms and applications and potentially provide access to their own personal data.

Unfortunately, because that information is useful, that means that there are certain people who will want to get hold of it for reasons that are less than noble. So you need to know what information needs to be protected and what steps you can take to do so.

Before you can worry about citizen experience and data management, you need to have fortifications in place to protect the personally identifiable information (PII) of the people who come to your website or app. 

There is some legal grey area regarding what is and what is not PII. In the United States, this is because each state has its own regulations for PII, and they don’t use the same definition across the board. There are similar issues in other countries, excluding the member nations of the EU.

In the EU, member states have their own data compliance authorities, but the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is the guidepost for those authorities. In the US, California’s CCPA (California Consumer Protection Act) is the strongest data protection law.

Protecting PII isn’t a matter of GDPR vs. CCPA, though. By ensuring you protect user data to the standards of these regulations, you get ahead of the game in your area. Eventually, everyone will catch up to the standards set by these laws. So embracing their regulations now will protect your constituents and save your department money in the long run when your locality embraces their level of consumer protection in the future.

With all that said, the most common definition of PII is data that can be used to identify an individual. Things like name, address, email, social security, or social insurance number— all of these are pieces of information that you may need to identify and serve a constituent but that you need to protect from unauthorized eyes.

This information absolutely must be kept safe. Your constituents deserve the ability to interact with your agency free from the worry that their PII will be intercepted. To begin protecting PII, you must first understand the risks.

Risks to PII

External collaboration without smart records management puts PII at risk. That is a fact. But how does it do that? What are the risks that come along with the benefits of external collaboration?

When creating a data protection policy, you need to be aware of who will be viewing your data and how they will view it. That gives you your first clue as to where risks may come from.

With a government agency, your main avenues of external engagement will be via citizens, non-governmental organizations, and inter-agency collaborators. In sharing information, a problem can arise if these parties do not have the same levels of security as you to protect the data. 

That problem can arise because of where the data is stored. Are people downloading information to unsecured servers in other departments? Are your team members bringing work home with them and saving data to home computers? Is your data in a cloud?

All of those factors can be risks and can result in deserved reputational damage to your agency if a data breach occurs. Your department could open themselves up to a lawsuit on top of the sky-high costs of addressing a major data breach because your end-users deserve to have their PII protected. 

So what can be done to mitigate these risks? How can you give your constituents easy access to programs they need without opening them up to the risks of data theft?

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TEAM Works

TEAM IM has data protection and privacy services built into every aspect of our business. From user-facing solutions to analytics on the back end, we make protecting your data and the data of your external collaborators a top priority.

TEAM’s wide array of products and services is designed to help you get the most out of your data without putting it at unnecessary risk. Our partnerships with the leading names in content management have helped fuel our innovation and expertise.

TEAM has worked with organizations and agencies making use of content management solutions founded on Oracle, M-Files, and Microsoft SharePoint (among others) to extend collaboration securely to citizens, other agencies, and other types of organizations.

We do this by addressing the various use cases to tailor security and compliance requirements to be in line with the appropriate regulatory standards and legislation governing your data. Our solutions extend and enhance your current content platforms and ensure process, configuration and controls are in alignment.

Our Cloud Migration Services create information clouds with rigidly controlled access and varying levels of permissions. That way, only the people who need to see important information have access.

Then, using your platform of choice, we can create a portal application to help your users navigate your services— ensuring that the data they entered goes straight to the cloud. Portals can also be made for inter-departmental collaborators to limit their access without impeding their work.

As well as secure environments, TEAM can enhance security and data protection in additional ways. For example, we can provide auto-redaction services. It is possible to use AI to recognize certain fields of information as PII and automatically redact those fields to protect users from having their information go out to unauthorized eyes.

The cloud also makes it easier for your team members to work remotely without downloading sensitive information to a home computer. They can come in through the cloud, do their work, and log out without ever taking data down onto an unsecured device.

Every External Collaboration Problem has a Solution

The fact of the matter is that TEAM’s work in the data driven business sector makes us a perfect partner for government agencies looking to improve their external collaboration without sacrificing data security.

We have an experienced team that can give you a data inventory to see how much out-of-date and unneeded data you are keeping in your servers, migrate your data to a secure cloud and develop custom applications to make accessing your services simpler for your constituents.

Our solutions are designed with secure collaboration in mind. We know how important data is to better serve every citizen in your purview. We know how to protect that data without sacrificing the collaborations that can improve your constituents’ lives.

Protecting PII has to be a top priority. TEAM understands this, which is why we offer so many top-of-the-line data protection services such as auto-redaction and secure cloud services. 

These products and services make your external collaboration simpler and safer for your department, your interdepartmental partners, and your constituents. They help you get the data you need, keep it safe, and utilize it fully while mitigating the risks of a data breach.

In the end, that’s what’s most important— getting the best usage out of the data you’ve been given without putting the people that gave you that data at risk. With TEAM IM, you can accomplish that goal.

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