Digital diplomacy: why MoFAs must become data-centric

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Ministries of Foreign Affairs (MoFAs) are serious players in a serious business. They are located all over the planet, communicate highly sensitive information daily and are regularly involved in economic relations with other countries and highly sensitive projects. When your daily work is wrapped up in a world of unpredictable politics, commerce, social events and even natural disasters and crises, how do you ensure data integrity?

For MoFAs and non-government organizations (NGOs), like the International Red Cross or the World Bank, that operate in potentially volatile places, today’s world involves operations that are complicated by continuing factors like inadequate legacy technologies and the common problems of finding sufficient overall funding for their needs. The security threat landscape is always changing and must be addressed to military-grade level, and MoFAs regularly operate in high-risk countries with unstable or unpredictable political climates. Furthermore, they typically do so in environments where needing to deploy resources rapidly to address emergency situations is vital. And all while adhering to local laws, regulations and restrictions.

The cooperation imperative

MoFAs and international NGOs naturally need diplomatic skills. They work in high-risk locations, sometimes war zones or sites where natural disasters have occurred, meaning real-time communications and secure access to critical data are essential. Their people on the ground need fast, reliable access to information that helps them do their jobs, while at the same time, they need to work together with local agencies, other international bodies and so on. Cooperation is paramount.

Further challenges exist simply because the world is changing rapidly and continuously. Terrorism is on the increase around the globe, political instability creates refugee crises (the UN Human Rights Council reported a record 68.5 million displaced people in 2018), natural disasters are on the increase, and there are always economic and diplomatic issues to manage as well. The roles of established institutions like NATO and the EU are changing, and MoFAs often have to work with these bodies in the field and on a day-to-day basis.

With all this in mind, MoFAs need their IT infrastructure to be able to support more agile ways of working while maintaining a highly secure perimeter. The rise of state-sponsored hacking presents another big challenge and has made IT security a major political issue that MoFAs must also manage.

Ensure effective collaboration

In a data-powered world

MoFAs are like other organizations in that data has become their lifeblood. The big difference is that the data MoFAs work with is often orders of magnitude more sensitive and requires even greater security and protection.

Regulations like GDPR now mean that countries are compelled to manage data better and more securely, and MoFAs must have access to the right data, securely, in a matter of seconds, because their missions are often crucial. And they deal with highly sensitive data, confidential reports that are created in embassies about what is happening in countries, personal information about passports and visas and more. So big data and how MoFAs design and implement a data strategy are vital: data governance and data analytics can help them manage data better, monitor the aid and economic programs they are involved with, and use analytics to their advantage.

Developing data-driven organizations

Becoming a data-driven organization starts with planning for data governance, data quality requirements and a master data management strategy. Factor in who will be involved and when, using process and stakeholder governance, and then plan what technologies will help you get there.

The technologies MoFAs will need to master their sensitive data on the road to becoming a data-driven organization will include business intelligence tools like operational data stores, data warehouses and cubes – semantic data structures. These are the data repositories that fuel the analytics that make MoFA entities ready to become proactive rather than reactive in today’s digitized world.

The benefits that MoFAs can reap from being data-driven start with improved quality of data: data governance can give MoFAs a plan to ensure data accuracy, completeness and consistency. They can have a common understanding of the data at their command, and putting a data map in place means being able to understand the location of all data related to key entities they need to know.

Data governance also ensures MoFAs have a 360-degree view of contacts and individuals within other business entities, and also makes sure they are compliant with relevant legislation and regulation, such as GDPR. Data governance also brings the human element to organizations in the face of a highly automated, data-powered modern world. Codes of conduct and best practices and tools relating to data management can be put in place, so that human decision-making can be brought to bear on areas like legal, security and compliance – added peace of mind and another level of protection.

Orange recently worked with a customer on a project across these areas with master data management at its center. The project included a focus on validation of data sources and verification of data quality to ensure data accuracy before concrete steps were made towards big data management and advanced analytics.

Orange is currently managing a project for a major European international institution, part of which is helping the organization analyze its critical data sources. This is a crucial phase of the project as it will guarantee not only the consistency and quality of the data, but also organization of internal resources around data management. Our experts will make sure this phase is executed efficiently and professionally, so the real power of big data and analytics can be unleashed in the project’s next steps.

Being data-driven in an unstable, international world

The key overriding concerns for MoFAs are broadly similar to commercial organizations today but ramped up a few levels: they deal with more sensitive information and in more dangerous and risky environments and locations. Governments and, by extension, MoFAs are under pressure to reduce costs and do more with less, and that pressure never really goes away: but approaches like shared-service models could bring benefits to them. Ultimately though, the onus is really on MoFAs to become data-driven organizations, and the right consultancy can help you do that. Data analytics can help you operate more efficiently and effectively, but you cannot do data analytics before you have the data: you have to become the data-driven organization first.

Check out our MoFAs ebook, Reassurance in an uncertain world, and to learn more about digital diplomacy, watch our video, The new age of digital diplomacy, below.