Hildegarde The Arena
AS governments, companies and other organisations embrace Information Communication Technologies (ICTs), it is apparent that filing cabinets, box files are being rendered useless. And, as more people resort to online communication, what this also means is that fewer documents are being printed out. It also means that fewer paper documents are being filed. It also means that over the years, records management systems have been changing.
Smart phones, iPads and other communication gadgets have become the new office models with their owners taking full control and responsibility of how they manage records of their communication and the information on those platforms.
These easy-to-use gadgets are complete offices and records departments.
The questions though are: whose records are on those smart phones, especially if they we were purchased for the employee by the organisation? Should there be a centralised online information storage and retrieval system for all employees? How secure is that information? Should it only be accessed by the smart phone holder, and/or family members, friends can easily access the information?
These are some of the challenges that new technologies pose. Over and above these questions, there are also issues that relate to codes of conduct and work ethic. Where do we draw the line when handling work-related issues through email and/or social media platforms, especially when it is being done on smart phones?
Although challenges on how organisations should manage, let alone control their usage within the parameters of their goals and objectives have always existed with many of them lacking clear policy guidelines, this writer believes that the Hillary Clinton email saga is a good case analysis that should be studied by governments and organisations that care about their investments in ICTs and personnel work ethics.
It recently emerged that former United States secretary of state Hillary Clinton exclusively used her personal email address instead of the government email account even when she was conducting government business. Questions are being raised on why she opted to exclusively use her personal email address.
Was this a liability to the US government and, did her action pose a threat since private emails are usually susceptible to hacking?
Although Mrs Clinton defended her position, her responses to the questions are instructive not only for the US government but for all organisations and individuals that care about how they should manage information in this digital age.
She said that having one email address was more convenient for her, and that she did not break government regulations: “First, the laws and regulations in effect when I was secretary of state allowed me to use my email for work.” “That is undisputed,” she said.
“Secondly, under the Federal Records Act, records are defined as reported information, regardless of its form or characteristics, and in meeting the record-keeping obligations, it was my practice to email government officials on their State or other government accounts so that the emails were immediately captured and preserved.”
This shows that the US government has a system in place to address the questions raised earlier. But, is this standard procedure all over the world? Do we have such systems in Zimbabwe? We embraced ICTs, but have we also been proactive in designing policies to ensure proper management of those digital records?
However, Mrs Clinton seemed to regret her actions. Why? “Again, looking back, it would’ve been better for me to use two separate phones and two email accounts,” she said. “I thought using one device would be simpler, and obviously, it hasn’t worked out that way.”
What lessons can the Government of Zimbabwe, companies in Zimbabwe and other organisations draw from this? Are there policies in place where online communications end up with the relevant departments in Government and/or company? What is the rate of leakage of organisational information and how should the problem be addressed?
The New York Times yesterday also raised crucial questions in this case analysis, questions that can be replicated when addressing local needs:
1. Was Mrs Clinton’s email account ever searched in response to Freedom of Information Act or congressional oversight requests?
2. Did anyone at the State Department or White House tell Mrs. Clinton that she was permitted to use a personal email account for government work?
3. Did Mrs Clinton have classified information on her personal e-mail account?
Most of us now use these gadgets where we conduct organisational business on private email addresses despite having organisational email accounts.
What is of concern is that even if someone does everything above board, how does the information that we collect on a daily basis through those private email addresses become part of the organisation’s collective memory?
How should other employees access that information? In the paper era, it was easy to access files.
In some organisations, it is also now trendy to append one’s online signature with the Facebook, Twitter handle, YouTube, Google+ and other social media accounts.
What are the implications, and are their set parameters? What are the levels of transparency and does the information end up in the organisational database? How much of the organisation’s data is given away due to lack of controls and just because no one thinks that it is important to put in place control mechanisms?
Maybe if Mrs Clinton did not intend to contest in the 2016 presidential race, this laxity in managing government information on a digital platform might never have been an issue, but it is now, and we all can learn from it – from the lowest level to the highest level employees.
If proper systems and policies are not put in place, the conclusion by Representative Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi can be applied in every situation be it in Government and/or other organisation.
He concluded: “Without access to Secretary Clinton’s personal server, there is no way for the State Department to know it has acquired all documents that should be made public,” he said in an email. “Given State’s delay in disclosing the fact Secretary Clinton exclusively used personal email to conduct State business, there is no way to accept State’s or Secretary Clinton’s certification she has turned over all documents that rightfully belong to the American people.”
As we bridge the digital divide, let also not what Aldous Huxley said become a truism: “Technological progress has merely provided us with more efficient means for going backwards.”