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GCN : September 2015
5 best practices for reducing risk in communication archives BY BILL TOLSON INDUSTRY INSIGHT WITH FORMER Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s email practices under scrutiny, email archiving is once again moving to the fore- front of the discussion as the FBI determines the risks and impacts of mishandling government-related communications. It’s worth remembering, however, that email is just one piece of a much larger puzzle. Thanks to new technolo- gies, email now represents less than 50 percent of communications. However, few government IT manag- ers are aware that, along with email, they must archive instant messages, text messages, agency blogs and comments, and agency LinkedIn and Facebook com- munications. That makes once clear retention rules murky and difficult to apply. Before IT managers can set and implement data- archiving protocols, they must be aware of and follow five best practices: 1. Know where the serv- ers are located. It is the IT manager’s responsibility to be aware of all technol- ogy investments and assets so that IT departments can access and keep track of information when regula- tors, Congress or the courts request it. From there, agen- cies can create and reinforce more effective policies. That knowledge also helps IT departments identify whether communications are being sent and received from private versus govern- ment servers. 2. Remember that it’s not the platform, it’s the con- tent. Contrary to popular belief, the issues government agencies face surrounding data archiving have little to do with the communication channel. Whether govern- ment data is sent via email or instant message is irrel- evant as long as the method of communication adheres to government regulations. Still, agencies need to have policies and rules in place to capture messages across all communication channels. That can be dif- ficult or impossible when offices are using messaging technologies that range from DOS prompts to Skype. 3. Upgrade legacy ar- chiving technologies. In many cases, government agencies lack the latest (or any) technology to be able to quickly retrieve commu- nication exchanges. Auto- mation can help agencies archive messages quickly, efficiently and securely. However, the ability to search not only keywords but context is essential. It gives users a more accurate way to find specific content and provides more context around conversations. Those tools can save days or weeks spent determining whether the data was cap- tured and managed correctly or piecing together conver- sation threads across differ- ent communication channels in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. 4. Understand the distinc- tion between personal and government data. An email message might start out with “Free for golf this weekend?” But 15 replies later, it might turn into a discussion about a current government project. Under- standing the distinction be- tween personal and agency information is necessary to prevent legal repercus- sions later. Context takes a primary role here because automated tools can capture and sort information. Government agencies must remove the gray area regarding archiving of all communications and clearly educate their employees about regulations. Agencies should also have a reten- tion policy in place that is reviewed annually and that clearly articulates archiving responsibilities and practices. 5. Implement an archiving system with security. Lastly, an archiving system’s secu- rity is crucial to safeguard government data. Protecting sensitive agency information with established and ac- cepted levels of technology provides additional layers of security to limit unauthor- ized access to information and protect classified data. Without implementing and enforcing archiving poli- cies at government agencies, it is almost impossible for the IT department to locate and piece together relevant information from commu- nication exchanges. Having the right systems in place and distinguishing among the types of communications are some of the important first steps agencies can take to prevent future mishaps. • — Bill Tolson is director of product marketing at Actiance. In many cases, government agencies lack the latest (or any) technology to be able to quickly retrieve communication exchanges. 16 GCN SEPTEMBER 2015 • GCN.COM 0915gcn_016.indd 16 9/2/15 1:53 PM