By: Karim Sliti, CIA, CRMA,CGAP,CCSA, MPA, Audit Controller, State Audit Bureau of Qatar

Edited by: Andrew Cox

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The world is witnessing significant change as a result of technology affecting our lives. This includes mobile social media (MSM).

MSM refers to the use of social media on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablet computers. This allows creation, exchange and circulation of user-generated content.

People today are speaking a new technology language, with our speech punctuated by new terms driven by social media, leading to change in our priorities, schedules, and our lives.

Public sector entities are facing new challenges, but also new opportunities (Juergens, et al., 2013). MSM is becoming an integral part of public sector service delivery.

In turn, this means public sector audit has new challenges driven by the rise of MSM. Questions to be considered are:

  • What are the MSM opportunities for public sector entities?
  • Is management sufficiently aware of changes brought about by MSM and potential impact on service delivery?
  • Is public sector audit ready to cope with MSM and the risks?

Does public sector audit have the ability to effectively review risks and controls around MSM?

People today are speaking a new technology language, leading to change in our priorities, schedules, and our lives.

MSM opportunities for public sector entities

Nowadays most public sector entities have a presence on social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and LinkedIn, with regular comment received on the quality of their services and how they are delivered. Communication has never been so easy and interactive.

For public sector entities, it can be an effective method to communicate in real-time with their customers, stakeholders and the wider public. This includes collection of feedback relating to the quality of services.

Public sector entities were initially slow adopters of social media and moving towards innovation. They generally lacked creativity and adopted a risk-averse position (Bourn, 2007). This has now changed.

MSM, if well managed and exploited, has potential to improve design of strategies and programs, and assist with more informed and timely decision-making, leading to better outcomes.

MSM adoption has potential to increase organizational transparency, openness, and accountability.

MSM also has potential to improve quality of service delivery and responsiveness.

Nowadays most public sector entities have a presence on social media.

Public sector awareness of technology innovation

People generally believe the public sector is not dynamic in terms of adoption of new technology and new media. In the past this is generally acknowledged to be a combination of low awareness and risk-averse thinking.

In the USA, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported “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 public sector management should be aware and proactive in adopting a MSM strategy.

No one denies the risks related to MSM. There are many potential risks that could impact a public sector entity.

Risks may be data spill of sensitive information, hacking of customer information, publication of misleading or malicious information, non-reaction to an important event, or delay in publishing important information or breaking news (Juergens, et al., 2013). As a result, reputation risk a significant factor.

Social media websites may be used by a variety of people to disseminate misinformation or negative information. This may be initiated by dissatisfied customers, disgruntled public sector employees, or individuals with resentment against a public sector entity.

Citizens expect integrity from governments and their employees (Office of the Auditor General of Canada, 1997). However, public sector employees may share information via social media and intentionally or unintentionally disclose confidential information with potential to cause damage to public sector entity reputation.

Some public sector entities may choose to avoid the risk altogether by not opening social media accounts, but would be in the minority these days

People generally believe the public sector is not dynamic in terms of adoption of new technology and new media.

Public sector entity preparedness for MSM

Expansion in the scope of government auditing has taken place in a short span of time (Khan, 1997), with auditing MSM one of the newest audit engagements

There are questions to be asked pertaining to the role of public sector audit in the era of MSM, for example:

  • What are the MSM opportunities and challenges for public sector auditing?
  • How should public sector audit handle MSM engagements?
  • Does public sector audit have sufficient technical knowledge and experience to complete a MSM engagement professionally and effectively?
  • Are public sector entities ready for a MSM audit?

The primary role of public sector audit is to assure that public funds are spent properly, meaning service delivery should be managed effectively and efficiently (Bourn, 2007). The biggest issue has generally been how to measure customer satisfaction. In the past, this has necessitated special studies, which could be time-consuming and expensive. Today, with the necessary software tools, feedback data via social media can be more easily collected and analysed.

When it comes to MSM, public sector audit has responsibilities. Disconnecting from the digital age is not an option (Juergens, et al., 2013). Therefore, it is up to public sector audit to be at the forefront of assuring controls over social media, helping to monitor guidelines, and providing advice on how to deal with threats, risks and opportunities.

MSM is a new battlefield for public sector audit, requiring special capabilities. Public sector audit needs to have the technical knowledge and expertise to effectively perform MSM engagements. Continuous auditing is a valid tool to monitor MSM activities.

The audit team should have a clear methodology, objectives, and an audit program detailing the audit steps to be performed. The following questions should be answered by the audit:

  1. Is responsibility for MSM allocated to a senior executive?
  2. Has a MSM risk assessment been performed?
  3. Is there an effective MSM strategy?
  4. Are there MSM policy and procedures, and are these disseminated throughout the organization?
  5. Are there adequate MSM assurance activities built upon the ‘3 Lines of Defence’?
  6. Does management have adequate awareness of MSM risks and opportunities?
  7. Is there a code of conduct specifying MSM activities permitted, both professionally and personally?
  8. Is there capability to monitor and manage MSM activities?
  9. Does the organization exploit MSM feedback as an input to strategy improvement?

Is there a periodic SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) assessment of MSM activities?

Disconnecting from the digital age is not an option.

Conclusion

MSM is a relatively new challenge for public sector audit, with very real risks and challenges.

Public sector audit has a responsibility to provide assurance to their management that MSM is effectively controlled and risks are being mitigated.

MSM is a relatively new challenge for public sector audit, with very real risks and challenges