Like a 100-year flood that, upon receding, reveals a redrawn landscape, COVID-19 is remaking the way government agencies pursue their missions. The pandemic has “impacted the nature” of public sector jobs, according to 76 percent of more than 1,200 state and local government employees surveyed last year by MissionSquare Research Institute. Among them, 31 percent reported that it has been “extremely or very difficult to adjust to those changes.”
Already, the pandemic has provided glimpses of future government workforces that will be more data intensive, digitally oriented and hybrid. According to the MissionSquare survey, 21 percent of government workers want more flexible hours. The goal will be to deliver the right data to the right worker (or constituent) at the right time—in a way that is reliable, secure and aligned with advanced data tools.
Impeding progress toward that goal, among other things, are mountains of paper records. Despite the modernization of some government functions, employees at city and county agencies often must access information—from land records to public works documents—in print format. Employees that require access to these paper-based documents are unable to work outside the office, use mobile technology, join the workforce of the future or provide improved constituent services.
Making the leap to digital records and a new government workforce will involve several factors, including:
- Agencies must overcome challenges to be future-ready
Digital data will be at the center of the new workforce. The ability to easily access, analyze, share, store and act on digital information will make possible a modern, digitally transformed government. Characteristics of the new workforce will be greater collaboration, data-driven decision and policymaking, trusted security, operational efficiency and improved constituent services. For that to happen, agencies must liberate data trapped in paper records and convert it into formats that are compatible with modern technologies. The enormity of the conversion will require agencies to employ methods that are fast and efficient.
- Agencies must quickly digitize bulk physical records
Maintaining a repository of paper documents for the purpose of storing and managing government records is costly and inefficient. Local governments keep some of the largest inventories of paper records and microfilm that are decades, if not centuries, old. One solution, backfile conversion, reduces or eliminates on-site storage of records. Digitally converted files are easier to search, access and distribute. Proven processes for performing bulk conversion of paper records to electronic form are fast and efficient. To allay concerns over the possibility of inadvertently discarding important records, technologies and tools exist to scour files and identify unneeded records that can be safely purged. The reliability of such tools eliminates the time-consuming task of having staff physically handle and examine every piece of paper.
- Agencies must incorporate intelligent data capture (IDC) capabilities
Digitizing paper records via optical scanning enables government agencies to leverage intelligent data capture technology to extract metadata and other important information. IDC identifies, extracts and populates critical data used in business applications, automated work processes, and automated tools, while capturing metadata. Metadata provides a critical reference structure for classifying, identifying and retrieving digital data.
Integrating security and privacy
In the era of ransomware and supply chain attacks, security and privacy are primary concerns across all city and county agencies. Once an agency has transitioned to digital formats, implementing access controls to protect the data and information is a critical next step. The large volumes of data agencies store that are associated with personally identifiable information (PII) also exposes them to additional risk. Agencies must mitigate this risk by securing where that information resides and how it’s accessed, as well as by setting and enforcing retention policies that enable them to know what and when to destroy. Following a proven chain of custody program is also important. A chain of custody is the complete, documented, chronological history of the possession and handling of a piece of information or a record. It includes a set of procedures that assigns a distinct identifier to each asset to enable it to be tracked constantly, no matter where it is along its lifecycle.
City and county agencies must adapt to a changing and evolving work environment. To enhance operations as well as deliver advanced constituent services, pursuing a digital transformation program combined with enabling a data-intensive workforce will shape the future of work in city and county government.
Mary Ellen Buzzelli is the director of state, local and education strategy at Iron Mountain Government Solutions. In this role, she directs internal and external stakeholders on implementing the most effective solutions, garnering strategic alliances, and building relationships with key influencers and decision makers in state/local government. For more than 20 years, she has engaged directly with state/local agencies, advising them on approaches to better manage their information lifecycle.