The world is witnessing deep changes not only politically and economically but also in terms of way of life through the sudden booming of myriad phenomena which are closely interconnected and spread all over the world, changing the life of billions of people everywhere.
Today we are speaking a new language; we are handling in our speeches new terms full of new meanings, we are speaking social media, cloud computing, smartphones and tablets, responsive websites, Big-data and Analytics, digital currency (Bitcoin), digital goods, apps stores…etc.
These new phenomena are changing our values, our priorities, our time schedules and our lives.
Public sector organizations are facing new challenges, but also leading to new opportunities (Juergens, et al., 2013). Social and Mobile Media (SMM) are becoming an integral part of the public sector service delivery. For Public Sector Audit Activity (PSAA) there are also new opportunities and challenges driven by the rise of use of SMM in public sector entities. Today the questions are:
- What are the opportunities that SMM might give to public sector entities and how can it help PSAA in their mission?
- Are Top management and civil servants aware enough of the new changes and their effects on the delivery of public services?
- Are PSAA prepared to cope with these new phenomena and their deep effects on the public sector?
- Do PSAA have the ability to assess how the public sector organizations are handling this SMM boom?
1- Social and mobile media opportunities for public organizations
Nowadays most public sector organizations have a page on Facebook, tweeter, Instagram, Pinterest and/or linkedin, with thousands or may be millions of followers. They are getting feedbacks every second pertaining to the quality of their services. Customers are reacting immediately to whatever been published on their pages. The communication between the public Entity and its customers never been so easy and so interactive.
In fact, these data are of huge benefit to the public organizations and also for PSAA.
For public sector entities, it is a marvelous way to communicate in the same time directly with the wide public and to get their mission, vision and values spread throughout their targeted customers. In addition, it is the right means to collect continuous feedback from the customers and the public pertaining to the quality of service has been provided.
Public organizations, are for long time accused to be slow moving towards innovation, lacks creativity and risk averse (Bourn, 2007). Today they could use the free tons of recommendations to build up innovative solutions based on the real expectations of customers. The SMM – if well managed and exploited- has the ability to lead to the design of more accurate strategies and programs, better decision making processes and ends up by better outcomes.
No doubt that the adoption of active SMM pace by public institutions will increase organizational transparency, openness, and accountability. This transformation will unavoidably lead to better governance of public sector entities
Financially speaking, social and mobile media can save a lot of money by digitalizing services, reducing the number of employees, improving the quality of public service and responsiveness, reducing the queues and waiting lists or even eliminating them for good.
2- Top management and civil servants awareness of the new changes and their effects on the delivery of public services
It’s known that the public sector in general is not that much dynamic in terms of adoption of new technologies and new media. May be the reason behind that is the risk averse attitude or even the risk ignorance of Politicians and civil servants (Bourn, 2007). However due to the huge metamorphose that is moving the whole world, high-level executives and civil servants should not only be aware of these new changes and their crucial effects on the delivery of public services and the opportunities that are provided, but also the huge risks in case of neglecting the SMM.
In the united states, the Government accountability office (GAO) considers that “Establishing a communications strategy to foster transformation, create shared expectations, and build involvement” is one of six priority tasks for a government agency to strengthen its capacity to perform its mission (McNabb, 2007). This means that top management should be aware and proactive in adopting an SMM strategy.
No one denies the risks related to SMM. There are too many potential risks that can really cause a big harm not only to the reputation of the public organization but also it may affect the public service delivery.
The risks may be sensitive information leakage, the hacking of public organization accounts, publication of misleading, conflicted or wrong information or even non reaction to an important event or delay in publishing important information or breaking news (Juergens, et al., 2013).
Social media websites may be used by dissatisfied customers, civil servants or individuals with a resentment against a public sector organization to disseminate misinformation and negative information.
Citizens expect integrity from their government and civil servants (Office of the Auditor General of Canada, 1997). However civil servants may share daily activities with friends and unintentionally disclose information that could be damaging to the public organization’s reputation or provide information otherwise considered confidential.
Some public service managers may choose not to play the game, by not allowing the opening of official accounts in the SMM, in order to avoid the potential risks related to social media. However this could be the worst decision that could be taken to mitigate these risks, because someone else illegally will open accounts using the name of that public organization and catch thousands or even millions of potential followers. In this case it will be very difficult for that organization to rebuild a new account or to catch back the followers, besides the reputation damages and misleading information disseminated by the falsified account.
3- Are PSAA prepared enough to cope with SMM and their deep effects on public sector?
The expansion in the scope of government auditing took place in a very short span of time (Khan, 1997). The SMM audit is one of the latest new assignment.
In fact, there are too many questions to be asked pertaining to the role of PSAA in this new era of SMM. What are the opportunities and challenges of SMM to PSAA? How should PSAA handle new assignments dealing only with the assessment of SMM strategies of public organizations? Do PSAA have enough knowledge and experience to get the job done professionally and effectively? Are public sector entities ready enough to get an SMM audit.
We all know that the basic role of most PSAA is to make sure that the public funds are spent wisely; this means that public service delivery should be managed effectively and efficiently (Bourn, 2007). However, the biggest issue was how to measure the level of satisfaction of customers, which needs special customers satisfaction studies. Such studies were very costly and time consuming. Today, if PSAA has the necessary software tools, it can very easily collect the data from social media and analyses them in order to measure how effective the delivery of public service and how much the customers are satisfied from that specific service.
The role and responsibilities of PSAA towards SMM is on the rise and increasingly developing, becoming “anti-social” or disconnecting from the digital Age is not an option (Juergens, et al., 2013). Therefore, it is up to PSAA to be at the forefront of the public sector social business initiative, helping to monitor and establish guidelines on how to deal with threats and strike a balance between risks and opportunities.
The SMM is a new battlefield for PSAA, therefore it should build capabilities and systems and should have the knowledge and expertise to cope with the upcoming assignments dealing essentially with the assessment of SMM strategies and operations of public organizations.
Auditing or assessing public organization’s SMM strategies, policies, procedures and operations, is not a quite traditional assignment that PSAA are accustomed to. It is really a challenge that cannot be overcome without proficient auditors and sophisticated audit programs and procedures.
The PSAA auditors should be professionally trained and well versed in SMM. The competency and proficiency should be built up on mastering the evolving SMM technologies and the analytical software tools.
The Audit team should have a clear methodology, and assignment objectives, and an audit program/procedures that may detail the audit steps that should be performed. The most paramount questions that should be asked in the audit canvas and answered by the audit report are:
- Did the organization have a recognized SMM strategy or an SMM Governance program?
- Did top management have a high level of awareness towards the risks and opportunities of SMM?
- Is there a code of conduct that specifies to civil servant what is permitted and what is not in their private SMM activities?
- Have the organization built capabilities and systems that allow to manage efficiently and effectively SMM activities.
- Did the organization exploit effectively the data/feedback derived from SMM, and use them as an input in the decision making process.
- Did the organization have a set of policies and procedures that mention how to mitigate potential SMM risks?
- Is there a committee that is monitoring the organization SMM activities and their benefits and drawbacks on reputation?
- Is there a clear job description for the civil servants that are managing daily SMM activities?
- Is there an updated register for the different SMM accounts, password and table of authorities?
- Has the Internal audit department been involved in the assessment of SMM risks and the degree of alignment between SMM strategy and SMM activities
- Is there a crisis management plan pertaining to SMM, that allows the public organization to detect events on social channels that may damage its reputation.
- Is there a periodic SWOT assessment of SMM activities, and continuous benchmarking with leading practices pertaining to SMM.
In terms of making a difference and securing added value for the taxpayer, careful consideration needs to be given to the potential for recommendations, to be understood, appreciated, and put into effect by the auditees without, vast expenses, or changes that would be extremely difficult to undertake (Bourn, 2007).
PSAA might also publish blueprints pertaining to best management strategies and practices related to SMM. In addition it should disseminate awareness between government officials and top management regarding the risks and opportunities of SMM.
- Bourn, John. 2007. Public Sector Auditing: Is it Value for money? West Sussex : Wiley, 2007.
- Juergens, Michael , Wasti, Khalid and Odhiambo, Steven . 2013. Social media and the role of internal audit. s.l. : Deloitte, 2013.
- Khan, Muhamad Akram. 1997. Performance auditing in the Islamic banks. Islamic Economic Studies. December 1997, pp. 23-37.
- McNabb, David E. 2007. Knowledge Management in the Public sector. s.l. : M.E. Sharpe, 2007.
- Office of the Auditor General of Canada. 1997. Auditing the Management of People. s.l. : Office of the Auditor General of Canada, 1997.