SSA’s data pipelines under construction to feed digital transformation

Customer centric and data driven are front and center in the Social Security Administration’s soon-to-be released new IT strategic plan.

While the concepts are not necessarily new to SSA, or for that matter any agency, SSA is trying to drive customer centricity and data driven decision making through all of its IT modernization initiatives that serve the public and frontline employees.

Patrick Newbold, the deputy chief information officer at SSA, said the new plan will...

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Customer centric and data driven are front and center in the Social Security Administration’s soon-to-be released new IT strategic plan.

While the concepts are not necessarily new to SSA, or for that matter any agency, SSA is trying to drive customer centricity and data driven decision making through all of its IT modernization initiatives that serve the public and frontline employees.

Patrick Newbold, the deputy chief information officer at SSA, said the new plan will build on the progress and concepts from the 2017 to 2022 strategy.

Patrick Newbold is the assistant deputy commissioner and deputy chief information officer at the Social Security Administration.

“We want to make more digital service options for the public available. What I mean by that is, we want to expand our digital channels to enable more options to for the public to electronically transit transact with us. That is what the public is telling us they want as they want to be able to do more services online,” Newbold said on Ask the CIO. “We want to convert our paper-based information into digital formats. We want to reduce internal paper processes as much as possible. We also want to improve the employee experience. We know that the frontline employees, we need to make sure they have the data they need for the 360 degree view of the customer they need and assistance they need to support our customers.”

Data is at center of all of those goals and plans.

Newbold said the CIO’s office is working with the chief data officer to improve the overall data quality, availability, security and usability.

Rob King, the chief data officer at SSA, said to help the agency meet these lofty goals, he’s working on creating the “data pipelines” to feed the technology systems.

“It starts with having high confident data that can be utilized to inform decision makers, to inform strategy and to inform service delivery. We are very much now focused on developing those pipelines to ensure that as we develop applications, we are exposing the data, ensuring that then it is rationalized and standardized and it is of high quality, so that we can then further position it,” King said. “We’re working on things like an enterprise data governance platform with the business community, with stakeholders and with policy folks to ensure that we understand our data and that our data is as we call it ‘apples-to-apples.’ We’re defining our data with the metadata so we know where our data lives and on what systems. We know how it feeds business processes and then we can bring it together to have that ‘apples-to-apples’ data. Then we can put it into the various pipelines that we can then use to feed the digital strategy as well as advanced decision making and unified decision making and reporting.”

API-first strategy

SSA recently bought a commercial enterprise data governance platform and is in the middle of implementation that includes creating an enterprise data catalog that has business glossaries and catalogs needed to build a data governance program.

King said SSA will test out these concepts through several of the administration priority initiatives including improving customer experience and equity and equality.

From the technology side, Newbold said the expanded use of data means taking a hard look at SSA’s applications programming interface (API) strategy.

“We believe that if we can make data discoverable by leveraging API platforms, we can navigate the balance between legacy systems and new systems to provide that that experience that our customers and our users are asking for,” he said.

King added the API-first strategy is key to making the use of advanced analytics easier. He said exposing data at the application level will help push SSA faster toward digital modernization.

“We will start to expose our data at the application level in a way that we have event driven architectures tied to an API first strategy lower down. We can propagate that data in a business and a transactional manner to drive efficiencies in how we conduct our operations, while also giving a better experience for our technicians and our customers,” he said. “That’s next generation. That’s the one I say we’re building the data pipelines. We want to build those data pipelines to full fuel the API engines of the future as we move into digital modernization.”

Priorities for 2023

At the same time, SSA is trying to build data literacy and competencies across the workforce. King said the initial focus around the workforce on specific business intelligence and management information applications.

“We’ve been seeing a lot of positive reactions to the platform we’re driving because they’re seeing the immediate value of some of the costs tools we have and how seamlessly they can be adopted to publish data quickly. We can show lineage to that data,” he said. “The capabilities of these tools are phenomenal and they can expose decision making processes, deep analytics at the strategic level, while also giving those drill-down capabilities.”

The data tools and capabilities are part of the foundation Newbold, King and SSA technology leaders have been putting down over the past few years.

Newbold said the CIO shop’s priorities for 2023 and beyond include providing more online capabilities to the public, including scheduling appointments to obtain a new social security card and uploading documents and forms.

“These are two things that the public has mentioned that will make their life a little easier, transacting business with us. We are making these a focus on new digital services coming up,” Newbold said. “We’re continuing modernizing our backend for our benefits information systems. So we want to look on ways to accelerate that modernization, as you know that is a lot of COBOL code, so we’re focusing to get that modernized, and at the same time modernizing the user interfaces.”

As far as the CDO’s office, King said he is planning some proof of concepts to show the power of data and robotic processing automation (RPA) as a way to further improve efficiencies and operational delivery.

“We’re going to start looking at as we mature, the data has to have high higher quality and higher confidence. How do we then take those pipelines, put them into feed capabilities, and advanced analytical capabilities that drive mission delivery?” he said.

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