Collaboration and governance: can you create synergy from competing priorities?


Getting agencies and stakeholders to connect has never been more important. Nor has staying on top of governance to foster trust.

For as long as democracy has existed in Australia, anyone dealing with public sector has at one time or another wondered why its different parts just can’t seem to work better together.

Let’s be honest. We’re a nation where the machinery of government has a lot of moving parts, and while overall it functions well, it could still be a lot better – especially when it comes to agencies, stakeholders and service providers collaborating for the public good.

Whether it’s the National Disability Insurance Scheme, intelligence agencies joining the dots or routine inter-agency transactions like property and financial information needed for tax, insurance and council rates, there’s now a top-level push to flush out information and process blockages.

Welcome to the collaboration age.

Common purpose, intelligent context

The driver for this necessary change, put simply, is the urgent need for groups to be able to share information, documents and data among themselves across teams that necessarily assemble their members from more than one place to work towards a common goal.

It’s a laudable aim, but not one that can come at the expense of established and necessary security, governance and integrity rules that underpin confidence in the government, especially when sensitive or personal information is at stake.

If collaborative government is to genuinely succeed, rules and safeguards need to apply just as much as convenience and accessibility does. And it pays to ask questions and keep your wits about you.

Trust and governance: solid foundations

While the pressure for governments to embrace collaborative practices (internal and external) has certainly escalated in the last couple of years, it’s still worth looking at its foundations.

In 2013 the Public Service Commission in New South Wales commissioned and released sector-wide research¹ into “successful models of collaboration within and between the public, private and not-for-profit sectors”.

Two core documents (a report and a blueprint) made crucial findings about what enabled productive collaboration — and what inhibited it — in five key elements:

  • Mutual goals, purpose and benefit as a threshold requirement
  • Trust – organisational and personal
  • Leadership – strong and effective leadership
  • Individuals – who can work collaboratively with others
  • Governance – appropriate and adaptable governance

If we separate those elements into ‘people’ and ‘systems’, trust and governance emerge as the two essential ‘systems’ factors that need to be embedded into agency systems to make things happen.

Beyond the buzzwords

This breakdown is important because it directly cuts through to what platforms public sector agencies need to embed at a systems level to make collaboration a core capability, not a passing project.

Ministers, policies, leaders and teams all change (sometimes quickly). Yet the systems and machinery that underpins and enables those people mustnecessarily be designed to have multiple custodians. Captains might and do change, but the ship of state sails on.

Having the right governance foundations, especially in regulated sectors when confidential personal records and highly sensitive information must be managed within a complex set of risks, is what ultimately makes or breaks collaboration.

Nobody wants their health or tax records on the darknet.

Permissions, access, custody and safeguards all come into play. And just paying ‘tick-box’ lip service to governance requirements or merely skirting around them is one of the quickest ways to erode team trust, especially if stakeholders are unsure if information will be safe.

The consequences of inadequate governance are all too real. Privacy breaches, leaks, unauthorised disclosures are a few of the pitfalls that bring projects, teams and reputations unstuck. And they are in the headlines daily.

Build your track record on trust

There is solid expertise around. Information management governance specialist Objective Corporation has partnered with governments in Australia for many years to design and implement world-class information platforms and solutions used by many agencies.

Founded and based in Australia, Objective has been at the forefront of creating easy to understand best practice guides that are specifically tailored to the needs and concerns of government and regulated industries.

This depth of expertise also takes into account that agencies and their stakeholders demand real-world solutions that can effectively balance the three competing imperatives of collaboration, governance and cost.

  • At a usability level collaboration tools and solutions have to be easy to use and minimise training requirements, as stakeholders, internal and external, are included in the collaborative process;
  • But they must also fully take on-board key elements including access permissions, life-cycle and destruction policies governed by an underlying document and records management system (governance can’t be a retrofit).
  • The licensing model of the platform must support the ‘fluid’ nature of the collaboration process, whereby new stakeholders, internally and externally are constantly added and removed without additional cost or restriction.

Inaction is not an option: neither is ‘shadow IT’

It’s no secret that the pressure on public sector executives to make collaboration just ‘happen’ is intensifying, especially as new digital government initiatives are rolled out as part of wider reforms.

At the same time seemingly free or nominal cost information sharing solutions for consumers have proliferated and become commonplace thanks to the uptake of cloud computing, vastly increased mobile connectivity and trends like ‘Bring Your Own Device’.

One of the biggest challenges those entrusted with information governance face is that this combination of pressures can prompt frustrated users to seek solutions outside of trusted technology channels, a phenomenon known as ‘shadow IT’.

Cheap thrills, expensive spills

The risks of resorting to shadow IT are well documented. Put simply, it exposes organisations to unmanageable risk as important information security and auditability controls are eroded in pursuit of a quick fix.

The key temptation of shadow IT is that because it is cheap and available immediately, it can rapidly accelerate the work that teams and stakeholders need to do – potentially at great expense a the wider organisation and government itself.

Unchecked tech products essentially bypass information governance, meaning that security and regulatory compliance cannot be guaranteed. Simultaneously, the creation of multiple repositories of information negates provenance and version control, thus destroying the critical ‘single source of truth’.

When this happens, it makes any sort of meaningful audit impossible (a major compliance red flag) and ultimately impedes or thwarts collaboration efforts before they reach maturity.

Better governance, better results

What’s less appreciated is that such scenarios often occur when existing systems can’t meet contemporary trusted sharing demands of agencies, or when safeguards become onerous and cumbersome.

A recent Gartner² research brief cautioned that shadow IT often takes root when business units in organisations bypass technology deployment controls “by classifying Software as a Service (SaaS) or Business Process as a Service (BPaaS) as business services or by purchasing subscriptions below authorization thresholds via app stores or online.”

This is usually a symptom that users have both become acutely impatient with existing products but don’t sufficiently recognise the severity of cyber risks they can inadvertently introduce.

That’s a warning bell.

What it tells us is that it’s time to get serious about collaboration and take the steps needed to bake in good governance from the outset.

Find out more about how to achieve better collaborative working and information governance through this expert guide written specifically for the Australian public sector.

Key steps:

  1. Deploy a government-grade solution to enable collaboration with external parties
  2. Extend existing information governance rules to collaboration
  3. Integrate collaboration with content management to create a ‘single-source of truth’

References
 1. NSW Public Service Commission, Collaboration between sectors report and blueprint
 2. Gartner, Don’t Let Shadow IT Put Your Business at Risk