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Remote Work Highlights Need for Seamless Collaboration

Abruptly shifting tens of thousands of government workers from office buildings to remote work locations has illuminated the challenges of implementing new work arrangements, while also exposing longstanding systemic inefficiencies that bedeviled government employees long before the appearance of the novel coronavirus.

The pandemic has also challenged state and local governments’ business assumptions and their delivery of services and benefits. Traditionally, government workers and recipients of government services — child welfare, licensing, permitting and public health, for example — completed those transactions at brick-and-mortar government offices, a practice the pandemic disrupted.

“Overnight, they’re no longer available because obviously we were sheltered in place,” said Jeff Brown, Strategic Business Executive at Google Cloud. “The biggest piece I’m seeing is, how do I set up virtual assistants so I can actually schedule a meeting with you and talk to you face-to-face? How do I update something so that I don’t have to go into the office? How do I schedule for a lot of people so that they get the services they’re used to? How can I do that quickly and proficiently?”

When the pandemic hit, government agencies that deliver critical services, such as healthcare, responded quickly to provide telehealth options and other remote accommodations. “It’s time for us to do the same things for other services,” said Brown, noting that in some states, the Department of Motor Vehicles still don’t accept online payments.

Before switching to telework, onsite government workers were of two minds: “strapped to a desk or in the office and engaged,” Brown said. For both groups, learning to use tools that support collaborative work hasn’t always been a seamless process. Eager to bolster remote work capabilities, some agencies took a shotgun approach, adopting redundant tools and one-off solutions that don’t integrate well with other applications. Shadow IT crept in. At times, efficiency and security suffered.

Solution: Collaborating Securely in the Cloud

As many state and local government employees continue to work remotely, government has an opportunity to confront those longstanding collaboration challenges, exacerbated by the pandemic, and provide employees with the collaboration tools they need to get the job done, efficiently and effectively. At a time of financial uncertainty, state and local governments are looking for productivity tools that won’t bust their budgets.

Governments work with private and sensitive information — financial, tax and health data — and will benefit from the cutting-edge security features built into cloud-based collaboration suites, Brown said.

One example is context-aware access, which provides granular access control policies to apps based on attributes such as device security status, IP address, location and user identity. For example, it will block a user who makes multiple login attempts from geographically disparate locations. Other key features include two-factor authentication and encryption of data in transit and at rest.

To further strengthen security, agencies want robust collaboration tools with mobile device management solutions that audit, install and configure security patches. With on-premises solutions, patching is much more difficult.

“Most significant breaches happened through an attack on an on-premises server or database,” Brown said. “The other significant breaches tend to come from phishing or obtaining a user’s credentials to then access internal systems, but again, these can be prohibited and blocked with solutions like twofactor authentication and context-aware access, included with Google Workspace. “

Robust security also makes possible robust, real-time collaboration, including file sharing and management. With the right tools, government workers can share documents with colleagues and designate specific permissions, including access that lasts for an hour, a day, a week or indefinitely.

This article is an excerpt from GovLoop’s recent report, “Recovering From COVID-19, State and Local Governments Embrace Virtual Collaboration Tools.” Download the full report here.

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