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How Government Agencies Can Safely and Efficiently Manage Data Across Entire States and Counties

Organizations in every industry are grappling with unprecedented data management challenges—and state and municipal government entities are no exception. In fact, they have the added burden of addressing numerous electronic discovery (eDiscovery) and compliance issues as they gather, store, and transmit massive volumes of information.

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Organizations in every industry are grappling with unprecedented data management challenges—and state and municipal government entities are no exception. In fact, they have the added burden of addressing numerous electronic discovery (eDiscovery) and compliance issues as they gather, store, and transmit massive volumes of information.

Government operations increasingly are providing digital services to citizens, and that means having to manage more data. They’re also fulfilling a growing number of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and public records requests on a daily basis. And they’re dealing with these difficulties while being heavily regulated; having to abide by court ordered, mandated requests; and facing challenging timelines—all with limited resources.

Fortunately, agencies can deploy technology solutions and put in place policies and procedures to significantly enhance the way they manage and protect data. And given the enormous challenges, they’d best begin these efforts soon.

Among the biggest challenges state and local governments face are the sheer volumes of information they need to deal with, the ongoing growth of these data lakes, and the variety of data they’re taking in from an ever-increasing number of sources.

“We have so much data—and so many different kinds of data—and it’s not all the same when it comes to the security and privacy requirements,” says Chris McMasters, CIO of the City of Corona, Calif. “Sorting out the types of data and the compliance needs for each type and making information accessible to those who need it is hard, because much of the data resides in silos,” McMasters says.

Corona is gathering information about citizens, utilities, building and other types of permits, city planning—and more recently a growing number of sensors as part of the Internet of Things (IoT). For example, it acquires data from connected infrastructure components such as video cameras, traffic lights, streetlights, smart meters, even lawn sprinklers and trees.

The city has seen an average increase in data volume of about 20% per year over the past four years, McMasters says.

While Corona wants to maintain as much transparency as possible with information, that strategy can run the risk of invading someone’s privacy. For example, the city provides a variety of information via online, open portals.

“We want to be transparent with that data so citizens can see what decisions we’re making,” McMasters says. “But we have to make sure we’re not compromising individuals,” such as when police report details are made public on the portals, he says. “We need classification and governance around data and this is a big challenge, especially when we’re ingesting so much data at the same time.”

Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland has also struggled with managing data—particularly the need to keep it safe at all times.

“With emerging concerns with data privacy, protecting data is paramount in our line of work,” says Pete Cevenini, CTO. “The emphasis has expanded from data backups for business continuity to encrypted data at both rest and in transit. Providing those protections, while remaining compliant with the demands of public information by way of requests for data is like walking a very fine line.”

As major application providers are moving to the cloud, the challenge of protecting data during transmission and at rest is more challenging than it would be if the data flow were exclusively traversing the school system’s own on-premises equipment, Cevenini says.

“As such, it has required better equipment, technology, configurations, policies, and education, to ensure that we are respectful of protecting data that traverses the Internet to get to and from our end users,” Cevenini says. This has been especially true with student data, critical financial data, and employee data, he says. “As we need to send data across the Internet, we have to work much harder to ensure [the] highest levels of data privacy and protection.”

Managing the Data Onslaught

Fortunately, there are practices governments can follow to effectively address the big data management challenges. One is to take a gradual approach to data management, rather than trying to make broad, overnight changes in order to fix what oftentimes are complex problems.

“Start small; take it one project at a time versus doing the whole thing at once,” McMasters says. “We started with just fire department data and then built a management structure around that.”

Government entities also need to deploy technology solutions and cloud-based services designed to help manage burgeoning volumes of data and adhere to compliance and ediscovery requirements.

Such tools should enable government IT to take control of the end-to-end ediscovery process and command over data and workflows; effectively collaborate with cross-agency counterparts in real-time; and quickly analyze, review, and collaborate all electronically stored information.

IT teams also need the capability of packaging digital evidence and sharing intelligence with cross-agency investigators.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is playing a vital role in enhancing data management and will only become more important as the technology advances and is made available in more tools.

A recent report by the Center for Government Insights at consulting firm Deloitte, “Government Trends 2020—What are the most transformational trends in government today?” says AI has the potential to enhance almost everything government does.

“Until recently, many governments struggled to understand what AI could accomplish,” the report says. Today, more than 80% of early adopter public sector organizations the firm surveyed are using or planning to use AI, and nearly 90% consider cognitive technologies to be of extreme strategic importance for their internal business processes.

One reason AI can work well for government is that it needs volumes of data—and governments have plenty of volume, the report says.

With data management specifically, AI can help organizations with the task of classifying and tagging data as part of governance, McMasters says. Corona has taken advantage of AI and the cloud to better manage data from 700 video cameras around the city, for example.

The tools needed to perform the tasks associated with compliance and ediscovery are improving to the point where the process is less cumbersome, Cevenini says.

“Some requests [for information] are still time consuming and complex, due to the various source locations of the data—cloud, on-premises servers, user workstations, etc.,” Cevenini says. “But improvements have also been made to setting expectations of the need for ready-access to this information, for authorized staff.”

Another good practice is to seek expert advice on data management from outside the organization. “There are lots of universities, businesses, and other organizations willing to help,” McMasters says. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help.”

Finally, state and local government entities need to ensure that workers understand their role in managing and protecting data.

“Employee education across all levels has never been more important,” Cevenini says. “Technology staff must, of course, be the experts in providing the secure pathways for data to travel.” But the need for non-technical staff to have access to critical data requires proper protections through rights and permissions, as well as through education about peoples’ roles in protecting data.

“Attacks on our critical data are becoming more sophisticated and frequent, especially in our vertical,” Cevenini says. “While we have spared no expense with the best-in-class infrastructure to protect our precious resources, we need our employees to be educated and vigilant.”

Author or company bio

Ipro is a global leader in eDiscovery, Investigations, FOIA, and Information Governance, giving organizations the ability to federate processes across any data source and build workflows that help customers solve business problems. With solutions spanning the entire EDRM, Ipro enables legal teams to effectively make tactical decisions prior to collection, as well as the power and scalability to move data through the entire litigation life cycle with best-in-class capabilities. Ipro's goal is to provide the most innovative approach to eDiscovery with one unified end-to-end solution that changes the way organizations govern their information, and the way they use the EDRM. For more information, visit