July 18 2023 08:52 AM

What companies can learn from the classified document fiasco in the executive branch

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The ongoing chaos around the mishandling of the country’s classified documents by our Presidents (both former and present) and other high level government representatives continues to dominate the headlines.

The haphazard management of our country’s top secret classified documents should alarm all Americans, no matter what side of the aisle you’re on. One of the main problems that will need to be reckoned with once the investigations are complete and the dust has settled is the total lack of consistency and continuity of IT systems, policies and best practices regarding document handling processes in the highest level of our government. This appears to be a pattern of behavior that is endemic from administration to administration. Whether anyone knows the location of our every document marked “Top Secret” may be a perpetual unsolved mystery.

There must be standardized policies that surpass administrations and political parties, in order to keep our country’s secrets safe and secure — and these policies can also be applied effectively to businesses. Let’s face it: most businesses run more efficiently than our federal government and most have very stringent data management and records management process in place already. One reason for the more organized and secure approach to records management is that private sector organizations also must comply with a whole swath of data privacy regulations, including the EU’s GDPR and California’s CCPA.

Organizations in highly regulated industries, including healthcare and finance, have their own specific regulations to adhere to, such as the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) which requires financial institutions to protect customer data and disclose all data-sharing practices with customers. Healthcare providers prioritize patient privacy by complying with HIPAA, which was established in 1996 and protects sensitive patient health information from being disclosed without the patient's consent or knowledge.

Digital Transformation and Records Management Best Practices

The pandemic accelerated digital transformation. In fact, the International Monetary Fund claims “the surge in digitization saved many firms during the pandemic, helping them to adapt to lockdowns through remote work and online operation.” Indeed, digitizing paper documents to better management data and records is an important component in digital transformation — which is more than just moving processes and applications to the cloud and encompasses making sure all systems and platforms can communicate with each other and empowering organizations to automate processes that were previously manual and employee-driven.

The pandemic has waned (thankfully) but companies are still investing heavily in digital transformation to drive better team collaboration, decrease data siloes and deliver better employee and customer experiences. Through the digitization of processes and records, important information and data can be made available securely to all employees, whether they’re working from Portugal or in the New York headquarters.

The federal government should take some cues from the private sector, and its wholehearted embrace to modernize and transform data and information sharing. While paper records may always have a place in business and government, trusting that classified information are secure because they’re red-stamped “Top Secret” is a house of cards, as we all know now.

A Teachable Moment

So, what can these recent incidents involving former President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and our current President Joe Biden teach organizations? Are there any lessons to be learned from the mishandling of classified documents in our executive branch to improve on their own document management policies and practices?

The answers is yes — there are many lessons to be learned, but the top takeaway is that companies must utilize the digitization and technologies readily available to them to secure corporate and customer data. Three best practices for companies looking to strengthen document and records management processes include:
  1. Don’t rely on paper to drive business. As mentioned previously, there are perils related to just using paper documentation to drive business processes. Paper is less secure because it can be photographed, folded up, or stashed in a briefcase — never to be seen again. True records management requires chain of custody protocols which include check-in and check-out privileges and other security safeguards.
  2. Use modern content management systems. Content management systems provide the ability to track and secure documents, even suppressing documents from being printed and copied. In 2023, it’s virtually impossible to boast of records management best practices without a modern content management system in place.
  3. Do utilize a private cloud. Companies should store data in a private cloud for true document security. Access privileges to cloud data must be monitored and updated regularly, especially when employees leave their position, or the company. Technology is also readily available to secure corporate data on company IT, including desktop computers and laptops, so that information can’t be stolen via a USB drive.
There’s another huge benefit to relying less on paper documentation and more on digitization: organizations can take stock of their processes and work to decrease paper usage and their carbon footprint. Most companies are spending a lot of money on office and paper storage space. Digitization enables companies to decrease the paper they store in file cabinets and storage rooms and helps them to build their sustainability portfolio by committing to more “green” work processes. Less office space equals less energy usage (and costs) for lighting, heat and a/c. While the much-hyped “paperless” office may never happen, we certainly can meet the goal to be less paper-dependent.

Hopefully this very public debacle is a teachable moment for the government because the inconsistency of policies and procedures from administration to administration, and the inability to secure highly classified documents, could potentially put our country and citizens in danger. The first order of business for government IT officials is to invest in the technologies that will enable them to modernize processes, using digitization best practices to secure our nations’ secrets and decrease reliance on outdated paper records management — processes that are also very relevant and necessary for businesses, nationwide.

Scott Francis, Technology Evangelist at PFU America, Inc., brings more than 30 years of document imaging expertise to his position where he’s responsible for evangelizing Ricoh’s industry leading scanner technology. With over thirty years of experience in the enterprise content management industry, he frequently provides thought leadership on document scanning use cases and best practices in addition to the overall benefits of digital transformation solutions.

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