Bringing paper processes into the digital age

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An overhaul to Whitehall’s IT systems demonstrates that going digital can relieve a major administrative burden.

It’s easy to make a case for a paperless office on logistical grounds alone. Organisations that persist in using reams of paperwork need somewhere to store it, which can be tricky when you’ve been in business for decades, and stand to see productivity take a hit if employees can’t find the documents they’re looking for.

However, going digital has more benefits besides. For instance, it makes it substantially easier to secure data, preventing sensitive assets from falling into the wrong hands.

A recent example of this comes courtesy of the Cabinet Office, which recently revealed that it’s about to overhaul government security classifications. Why is it doing this? Apparently, it’s because the current system is getting long in the tooth. The digital age has made security so much simpler that ministers are finally cutting red tape that’s cost the taxpayer money for decades.

At present, the government uses six security classifications: Unclassified, Protected, Restricted, Confidential, Secret and Top Secret. This difficult-to-fathom system dates back to the second world war, but apparently when Whitehall first started digitising documents, it kept the same level of bureaucracy intact.

Only now have ministers realised that security management is much more straightforward with the technology of the 21st century than it was in the 1940s.

"The new system is specifically designed for the digital age – it will be more straightforward than the current one for staff to understand," the Cabinet Office said. "The current system dates from a time when civil servants worked exclusively with paper. Carrying forward essentially clerical processes into our IT has led to unnecessary controls, complexity, and misunderstandings that obscure common-sense protections."

In future, civil servants will have just three classifications to work with: Official, Secret and Top Secret. Whitehall believes this will help relieve a major administrative burden, as well as make it much easier to share information across departments without compromising their security.

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