Social Security Systems
Thursday, March 25, 2004
Benefits or Social Security are given as a form of financial aid that is claimed in the U.K. they can range from Pensions, Child Support, Housing, and Disability and Unemployment benefits etc.
In the UK, systems that are in place have been in use for many years and are only recently beginning to see efforts of improvement and upgrade. The systems currently deployed have remained nearly the same despite the upsurge in terms of demands in efficiency and population growth in the country.
The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), was formerly known as the Department of Social Security (the DSS), and are currently struggling to meet the demands of more claims being made on a daily and weekly basis. The system did not work to reflect the changes in the social and political environment, such as an influx of immigrants and those seeking political asylum, that are receiving benefits and aid from the government.
Applicants for Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) are expected to visit centres called Jobcentre Plus (JCP) fortnightly to sign a declaration form to officially state that they are readily available and seeking employment and make up the majority of visitors. All claimants including those seeking JSA seeking to make a new or continue an existing claim also attend the same centre. In recent enquiries and interviews that have made with JCP’s in the country , several employees at the Job Centres agree that centres are often understaffed, applicants are also expected to receive help and seek advice from people working at the Job Centres, but they often do not have the time to help them since there are usually too many applicants and they can expect to queue for long periods of time to ‘sign on’ (i.e., claim for benefits), sometimes waiting up to 90 minutes.
The that introduction of an online system whereby applicants can apply, and subsequently claim for selected benefits online would be very beneficial to cutting waiting times and administration costs. But it is not an objective to replace the current system itself, it’s purpose will merely be serve to relieve a proportion of the workload and prevent further administration backlog. The current government has already devised means to help jobseekers by implementing a system called ‘Jobs Plus’ that will help jobseekers find work in job centres and via the Internet. It would be important to define at this early stage of the project that Jobseekers and other claimants (i.e. Income benefit, Disability and Pensions etc.), are different categories of claim. Other claims, after the initial application process, do not need to visit the JCP’s every fortnight unlike JSA claimants who do, to sign the job availability declaration.
We will be looking towards how we can develop and evaluate feasible ideas to see how automation through the use of interactive web based tools and application processing can be integrated into the current system to aid and cut waiting times and administration costs by migrating selected applications and processes that take place in a physical office to a virtual one. As the feasibility conditions of this development are met, an option for job seekers who are claiming a benefit allowance will also be introduced as part of the online system.
Furthermore, we will be looking at a discussion of some current and foreseeable conflicts within the system, including issues of government policies, computer literacy, system usability and fraud. An estimated £2 billion is lost to benefit fraud every year, the security and anti-fraud factors remain a crucial and important aspect An implementation of a web based system should allow benefit claimers to claim more efficiently over the Internet whilst also maintaining a high level of security and integrity.
Since 1979, Social Security benefits in the U.K. have grown from £53 billion to £102 billion within 20 years. Evidently the population of the U.K. has also grown as well. Although the rate of unemployment has dropped since 1986, from 3.1 million persons to approximately 1.4 million in 2001, this can only account for a minority of percentages of social benefits claims made in the U.K., the other claims consist of the following:
Child benefit Unemployment benefit
Families receiving benefit Jobseeker’s allowance
Family Credit Sickness and Invalidity
Income Support Incapacity benefit
Housing Benefit and Attendance allowance
Council Tax Benefit: Mobility allowance
Rent rebate Disability living allowance
Rent allowance Guardians’ allowances
Community charge benefit Widows’ benefits
Council tax benefit National Insurance
War pensions Retirement pensions
As we can see form fig.1 Benefit types are wide ranged and varied. As part of the findings and observations reached through interfacing with real claimants in real situations, it has been acknowledged that the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) is not bearing well under pressure as all benefit claims over time, they are having to adapt to constant complex changes in guidelines and data processing procedures and the number of claimants and applications are growing in number, subsequently increasing administration. The claimants themselves are also under considerable strain as applications and subsequent claims are taking long periods to process and as the centres are often understaffed and not efficiently run. The poor state of the now outdated system operating in 6 different database environments contribute to the root of the problem and there are many bureaucratic reasons that point to just why this is happening, which will be discussed in detail later.
The types of benefits this system would best support under the introduction of an online system would be incapacity, disability and pension benefits as claimants who are rarely required to attend visits to the DWP, many of their circumstances and requirements can be attended to more efficiently online. Jobseekers claiming Jobseeker’s allowance, are more difficult to cater to online, there are aspects and conditions of their claim that could cause severe problems, mainly relating to fraud, and it may not be possible to implement in the current systems environment. However, the proposed changes in this project, the staff as well as claimants would great benefit.
In a recent white paper publication, ‘Modernising Government’ (7) the Cabinet stated their intentions to improve the technological environment the country is working in by creating a new objective called ‘e-government’ whereby, they hope to establish 25% of the government sectors and services to be made available to the public online by 2005, and 100% of all government sources by 2008. They are seeking to provide these services with a proposed £28 billion budget, and delivered through a variety of electronic mediums, the Internet, broadband carriers such as digital channels, and Sky Digital Interactive.
Under the current stage of re-modernisation the DWP have devised and put in place electronic tools to help jobseekers to find work. Only until early 2002, there were only ‘job boards’ available in the Job Centres, whereby employment description were printed onto paper cards and were lined in notice boards, ordered chronologically and by profession. If a jobseeker expressed interest in a position, they would take the card to a ‘DWP employee’ who would help that individual apply for that position, through a process to telephone calling and sending out C.V.s. Since March 2002, the DWP by implementing a new affiliation called ‘Jobs Centre Plus’ that will help jobseekers find work by encompassing the help of modern e-tools such as interactive touch screen machines and on the DWP websites via the Internet, both of which are available at the Jobs Centre Plus centre itself, in the form of terminals that are at the disposal of the jobseekers when they attend the centres, the structure and processes of the DWP organisation, will be discussed later in more detail.
In order to make the system restructuring successful, the government are hoping to integrate and share the data they current hold, separately in different government department bodies and sectors. They plan to create a cohesive and uniform database network collaborated with HM Customs & Excise, the Inland Revenue, Department of Work and Pensions, Department of Social Services and the Department of health, to name a few. To produce as the government can foresee, that will contain public sector
The proposal for web based unemployment benefits allowance claims is intrinsically an information systems management based project, a proposal to build an online application processing system. The additional advantages to this proposed system include, encouraging more people to gain more skills through using the Internet for seeking work as they apply for benefits online. The methods employed in this project to collate information has been gained through a wide range published journals and texts, information and collected online through the Internet, government publication, and with from a great deal of assistance from the DWP staff, who have been very accommodating in participating in telephone and face to face interviews , and the claimants who actively contributed to answering questionnaires.
The Current DWP System
From April 2002, the DSS will no longer exist as the sole Benefits and Employment Service it will be replaced by two new businesses Jobcentre Plus (JCP) and The Pension Service, which will represent the new face of the DWP. Over time, these new businesses will offer as according to part of their mission statement:
“Improved services better tailored to the needs of different customers”.
The DWP stands for the Department for Work and Pensions - a merger of the former Department of Social Security (DSS) and the former Department for Education and Employment. It was created in conjunction with the Government’s ‘welfare to work’ strategy. This merger works with the purpose of taking the unskilled and unemployed, and training them back into work, thus making these people more marketable in the employment market. As a result, ‘Learn Direct’ was the campaign launched to the U.K. public where learning courses, are made freely available to every person who needed wanted to learn and increase their skills.
The DWP employs 125,000 staff and is responsible for expenditure of approximately £100 billion per year. Unlike the U.S.’s SSA (Social Security Administration) or the Australian’s Centrelink agencies, the U.K. operates on a dual social insurance and social assistance system rather than on a single means of benefits aid, which means that not only does the DWP pay out social benefits, it also helps and encourages claimants to get themselves back some means of employment where possible.
The Department for Work and Pensions is a big business. It also recognises itself as a ’business’, similar to the American model, (see case study A) and operates itself as such. It has become an industry with the purposes to create social balances between finding unemployed people work, and giving them financial payments through the designation of social security funds until they find work, and become tax-payers. The DWP are also responsible for funding the sick and disabled who cannot work and the pensions of the retired. However, the major difference between their business and one commercial, corporate business, is that it does not generate funding for itself, it is allocated to them by the government budget, which means that any failure on their part to deliver an effective result, (whereby, more people remain non-tax paying and are in effect still receiving social benefits), then the ‘business’ would have the entire tax-paying population to answer to.
This business affects a large proportion of the U.K. population, it employs around 125,000 staff, and it amounts to a quarter of the Civil Service. It also has over 2,000 locations across the country. Every working day, it attempt the tasks of:
· Taking 10,000 job vacancies from employers and placing 5,000 unemployed people into work; there are up to 300,000 vacancies stored in their databases at any one time;
· Making 3 million benefit payments, worth some £360 million;
· Dealing with over a million personal contacts (consisting of callers to offices, letters, telephone calls and visits) and;
· Processing around 1,000 appeals on decisions concerning benefit payments and other issues.
As stated in their DWP website, their key objectives are:
· “To sustain a higher proportion of people in work than ever before, while providing security for those who cannot work;
· To halve child poverty within a decade, on the way to eliminating it in a generation;
· To tackle pensioner poverty by helping ensure a decent income for all pensioners; and
· To modernise our services to improve access and accessibility” (5)
The need for improvement through modernisation stems from the past performances of the DSS (Department of Social Security) where the processing of claimant applications were slow and subsequent payouts were made without being thoroughly examined for instances in the event of changes in the claimant’s circumstances, and aspects of changes in the U.K. social situation such as the influx if immigrants and fraud, which will be examined in more detail in other parts of this project.
Jobcentre Plus (JCP) is part of the DWP’s new refit, and is the first point of contact for people looking for work and for all new applications for new and repeat claims when people are looking for help from the social security fund. Which include:
§ Jobseekers Allowance (JSA)- those people who are available and seeking employment.
§ Income Support- people who have dependents and/or need additional income support.
§ Incapacity Benefit- people who are unable to work due to an illness or circumstance whereby they unable to work, usually temporary.
§ Severe Disablement Allowance – people who are permanently unable to work due to a medical condition, sickness or disability.
§ Bereavement benefits – where the main income contributor dies and the widow/er needs additional financial aid.
§ Invalid Care Allowance – where a person is a caregiver to an ill or disabled person for more than 37 hours per week and therefore needs financial support.
Although these claims are not all job seeking related, they are a declaration of the inability to work for a valid reason and are therefore stating needs for social benefit funding. In incidences of claims made for housing and council tax benefits, local councils are the ones held responsible for it.
2.1 THE CURRENT APPLICATION PROCEDURE
Applicants who are seeking to claim from the social security benefits system, can do so through some mandatory steps that are used to determine a) what claims are appropriate to the unique circumstances of a particular claimant and b) validation of the information of the information provided by the claimant by a financial assessor (FA) based at offices in Belfast Ireland. If circumstances require it, the necessary form of proof to support their claim must be provided.
The detailed steps are as follows:
1. The applicants contact Employment Services Direct, a call centre that have trained advisors that goes through a pre-scripted interview over the phone and helps them determine what benefits are they eligible for.
2. During the phone call, the advisor will collate details relevant to the applicant’s claim, such as their National Insurance Number (NINO), and any child support needs they might have.
3. An appointment is made for them at their local JCP, telling them when they are expected to have their application details completed and ready.
4. The relevant form is sent to the claimant informing them of any additional details they are required to provide, e.g. mortgage details, medical letter, wage slips or a home office letter etc.
5. On the date of the appointment, the completed forms are taken to the JCP, Personal Advisor, (PA). A thorough check of their application is undertaken, and their job criterion is also established.
6. The form is then sent to an assessment office in Belfast and the details assessed by a financial assessor (FA) to determine the eligibility of the claim.
7. Should the claim it be successful, it will be processed with their first payment instalment sent within 7-10 days to their requested method, preferable by direct debit. Payment can be in the form of a giro that can be cashed at a bank or post office. The claimant will then receive a letter of confirmation, explaining the remittance details and details of their claim.
8. JSA claimants are subject to a mandatory 13-week set interview that must take place at their assigned JCP, followed by 6 month and 1 year, periodic reviews.
This is now a compulsory procedure that is now mandatory at all JCP centres from April 2002, unless, it has not as yet been put into effect due to delays in the reform process, the procedures remain as they did prior to this effect.
Employment Services Direct has been made the point of call for persons wishing to make enquiries for a new claim and VANTIVE is the system that has been employed by the DWP to do this. VANTIVE is an American innovation, which is a system comprised of remote call centres; the DWP call centre is located in Sheffield. Steps 1-4 of the application procedure are the processes that the system carries out. It advises claimants of their claims eligibility status and schedules appointments for the claimants’ at their local JCP via a networked access to a centralised database. The details of the appointment are immediately acknowledged by the claimants’ nearest JCP.
The UK has a diverse mix of ethnic nationalities and over 100 languages spoken by employees of the job centre reflecting the ethnic culture of the country. If an interpreter is required, this can normally be provided almost immediately over the telephone, or requested in advance if an interpreter is required to be there in person.
2.2 Before the Reforms
Previously, before these new reform changes were made, applicants visited a local branch office of the DSS and stated their wish to make a benefits claim. The claims advisor was there to take down their details in person and explain the claims they were eligible to. An application form was then given to the claimant to complete.
In the form, the applicant was expected to provide some mandatory details such as their National Insurance Number (NINO), or in the case of students, a letter from their college or university stating the end of their course, depending on the requirement relating to the type of claim. If required details or supporting documents were not provided, their application could not be taken further. The claimant was obligated to attend again at a later date when their claims form had been completed, an appointment was not necessary, as the claimant simply waited and queued until an advisor was made available. The advisor would revise the completed form, should he/she find any details lacking in the form, the claimant would have to provide the insufficient details and repeat the procedure of waiting and seeing an advisor, usually not the same advisor as on the previous occasion.
The process caused a degree of uncertainty for the claimant and a waste of productive time on behalf of both the claimant and staff. Back claiming had to be made possible by the DWP in anticipation of prolonged difficulties for claimants to complete their application forms and delays in processing administration. The payment was backdated to date of the claimants’ first visit to the JCP to state their wish to claim.
Once a claim is accepted and finalised, the details need to be entered into a computerised database by the JCP employees. Particularly in instances of Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), the signed declarations made every fortnight by every claimant also need to be acknowledged into the database. Changes in claimant details or circumstances are also form based, thus creating a constantly large amount of manually filed records and data entry into the DWP database. The DWP’s records of claimants are held on six separate databases, which often result in frequent duplication of data.
Since subsequent fortnightly claims are required to be dealt with at these centres, these claims occupy a large proportion of claims made at the centres, as well as the time and administration efforts of the centres’ staff. Up to 20 persons can be expected to wait in a queue, sometimes up to an hour or more.
In light of this problem, the system Jobseeker’s Attendance Band System (JABS) was implemented as a system to help cut waiting times designating appointment times to claimants chronologically in order of their surnames. Which reportedly has not been as effective as they hoped, for as according to some employees, the problem stemmed from incidences where there might be fewer claimants with surnames beginning U-Z but an influx of people L-P attending, which did not create an ideal solution.
The Labour Market System (LMS) (7) is the heart of the DWP’s internal system. It is a system devised to meet office automation requirements, such as communication between department personnel, and finance requirements. The DWP currently operate within 6 different database environments, which they are planning to integrate and replace with a new centralised Oracle database, running on Windows NT. Their Intranet is called the INTRALINK that is used to communicate internal e-mails and circulating internal news.
2.3 THE CURRENT JOBSEEKING PROCEDURE
JCP’s aims are to deliver opportunities for employment as well as advice and support to everyone of working age (16-60). The customers of JCP will contact them to make claims for benefits that they are entitled to and also seek help from ‘job seeking advisors’ to find them the right kind of job position, full-time or part-time, permanent or temporary, similar to an employment agency. These employment advisors are available at the JCP offices as well as at Employment Services Direct; the same call centre that deals with claims enquiries also helps jobseekers find employment. ‘Pathfinder Offices’ have been introduced with the Jobcentre Plus offices and are based at most JCP offices. There are now 17 ‘pathfinder offices’ in the U.K. that offer:
§ Touch screen ‘Job points’, interactive touch screen machines where jobseekers can look for available job vacancies.
§ An Internet website at www.jobcentreplus.gov.uk, where jobseekers can surf, to find job vacancies.
§ A telephone service, Employment Services Direct, where jobseekers can seek a more personal aid in seeking work provided by a centralised call centre based in Sheffield.
Those jobseekers that do not have a pathfinder office in their area, services remain the same until further changes are implemented. The benefits agency and the employment services will no longer be operating separately from April 2002.
Jobseekers can use the Internet website from their local pathfinder offices to look for work or work related opportunities using computer terminals at the offices, which is provided by an external server provided by ISP UK Online (26), and user Internet restrictions are applied whereby they cannot use the computers to use the Internet for non-work related or illicit information.
2.4 A Rich Picture Model of the Current System
Appendix A is a rich picture representation of the current system. A Rich picture is a pictorial caricature of an organisation that stemmed from Check land’s ‘Soft Systems Methodology’ (28) and explains what the organisation is about clearly and unambiguously. It includes the entities within the system, which in this instance include the managers, claimants, administrators etc. and reflects the conflicts within relationships if any. The views of entities within the organisation is expressed (rather abstractly), through the use of thought clouds revealing what they are thinking such as any anxieties or concerns regarding their position in the working environment, reflecting the processes The diagram also illustrates the way related socio-environmental factors influence the way the internal system works. In this model, the examples include the Inland Revenue, HM Customs & Excise, government treasury, prospective employers, etc. which are symbolised by a watchful eyes which represent the omnipresence of different government sectors and the influences they lend to the system.
RICH PICTURE PAGE LEAVE BLANK
2.5 JOBCENTRE PLUS WEMBLEY, NORTH LONDON.
The current system at the Pathfinder Offices is evidently geared towards a more customer-oriented system than the system that pre-ceded it. Claiming state benefits was often stigmatised with the images of drab dingy offices full of long queues of unemployed people standing in what was known colloquially as a ‘dole queue’. People claiming unemployment benefits claimed for long periods of time and were considered by the working tax-paying society as idle individuals who did not care or want to work, but only wanted to live off the benefit funds provided by the tax-paying public.
In effort of alleviating these stigmatised attitudes, the government is encompassing a more sprightly image and getting more people back to work by refitting the former ’Job Centre’ offices (formerly under the DSS), and now transforming them to be more customer friendly with the renamed, Jobcentre Plus ‘Pathfinder’ offices. These offices are all open planned, informal and brightly lit. There are rows of computer terminals and touch screen machines called ‘Jobpoints’ that allow interactive job finding. There are also sometimes, desks of free newspapers, detailing local employment. There are now also interview rooms provided, where local businesses can conduct face-to-face interviews with prospective employees, providing better opportunities for jobseekers through an improved, less stigmatised environment.
Although the new offices have been welcome by claimants and employees of the Jobcentre Plus offices, the process of waiting and queuing at benefits offices however, have not yet proven to be reduced by a significant rate.
In a recent visit to a major London Jobcentre Plus office, based in Wembley, North London, a structured interview was conducted with a senior manager whose responsibilities include ensuring operations within the centre works efficiently on a day-to-day basis. There is a distinct sense that the centres work on a horizontal management structure rather than in a vertical hierarchy, she assists with customer enquiries and answering the telephone even when the staff she supervises is unavailable. She is responsible for reporting to the centre manager of relevant developments regarding the way all the staff are working and bringing to their attention any difficulties faced by staff and customers. The working environment has also altered for the staff at the centres; its structure is less hierarchically structured, with relationships between staff kept to an informal basis. The refurbishment encompassed the branch office in Neasden and the local office at Wembley under one umbrella and no longer existed as separate entities.
To the general onlooker, the sight of so many busy employees and customers is encouraging; the layout of the centre was modern and newly refurbished and brightly lit and informal, quite similar at other branches across throughout the U.K.
§ The Ground floor consisted of: Reception, Jobseekers facilities, touch screen and computer terminals, open plan with partitions for fortnightly signings and job reviews.
§ First floor: New claims, restarts, there are series of interviews for these job reviews and also for employees to come in and use it as an interview room.
The first impressions gained from entering this Job Centre Plus, Pathfinder office, are the number of busy of staff and claimants and jobseekers (customers). The reception and desks (there were two) were well manned, with many staff at hand to assist the customers. However, many customers were waiting in many, busy and ill-defined queues (although they were signposted), and overflowing into confusingly different queues. Enthusiastically, many jobseekers crowded around the six available touch screen ‘Jobpoints’, and out of six available PC terminals, three people accessed the centre’s job seeking website. There were also many people seated, browsing through a desk full of newspapers.
The centre here and in other boroughs in the U.K. have, or in the process of being regulated to share the similar or same identity and processes, uniformity and homogeneity. Claimants it seems, including the jobseekers, are evidently open to welcoming changes to the current system in various ways
Part 3 - CASE STUDIES
This section of the report concentrates on 2 main case studies, the first is the Social Security Administration (SSA) in the Unites States, and the Australian’s Centrelink benefits agency. Both of these benefits agencies operate under a social insurance policy, which means that their purposes are to provide only benefit funding, but not to assist them to find employment. Each Case Study will concentrate their stages of development, and exemplify features of the system that can either assist the development of the U.K. benefit system or forewarn it of problems it might face.
3.1. Case Study A U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA)
Below is an illustration of the Online Services index page from the SSA website (8). It lists the types of online services that the SSA offers to the public such as applying for social security benefits online, and requesting a social security statement.
The SSA is the American government benefit administration services sector. They have to date, managed to bring disability and pensions benefit application and administration services available online.
The customers in this government administration, can apply online for Pensions and Disability benefits by filling out a series of brief yes or no questions in a case based reasoning program built into the website, to determine their eligibility status. If the candidate finds that he or she is not eligible, then they are directed to visit a SSA centre in person to determine what claims they should be making.
· The eligibility determinant page is conducted under a secure link, to ensure integrity of information, and before the questionnaire is loaded, a page describing mandatory clauses for rights of representation; which is when a claimant wishes an attorney, or lawyer to act of their behalf in the claims procedure.
When these considerations are established, there are three optional links on the same page, the first offering the option to apply for benefits pertaining to retirement, disability and spouses benefit, claims. The second and third consecutive links gives the user the options to continue and complete a current application or to check your claim status. The form for making a claim appears as follows:
If as above, according to this example, the form was filled, using the selected answers, the claim would be denied and the below sample page would appear:
The application to register online was rejected because the selection requirements were not met. The structured prerequisites to a successful claim, was found through a series of experimentally rotated answers, the following was deciphered. The claimant must be:
· At least 60 years old
· A person who has NOT been convicted of crimes against the government (i.e. some one with a criminal record)
· Living in the U.S. or one of it’s commonwealth territories
· Agreeing to receive payments via direct debit
· And you must have a printer attached and working with the computer that is in use.
When a request to claim has been accepted, the claimant must comply with the following steps:
· Enter the information requested, which consists of:
i. Social Security Number (similar to NINO in the U.K.)
ii. Your date and place of birth
iii. Your bank account number so the money can be deposited electronically into the account
iv. Declaration of earnings within the last year.
v. The name and address of each employer for this year and last year;
vi. The beginning and ending dates for each period of U.S. public or military services
vii. Name of spouse, if applicable and their personal details including, Social Security Number and date of birth, the date and place of marriage and, if appropriate, the date and place the marriage ended.
§ The information must then be sent via the Internet to the SSA assessors.
§ And the application must be printed, signed and mailed or taken to a centre
Included with the signed application, the following must be provided:
i. Birth certificate or passport;
ii. Proof of citizenship;
iii. Proof of serving in the public services or military;
iv. Your employment forms, such as a P45 and if self employed, tax returns for last year.
This service offered is a progressive step towards re-modernising the benefits system, which similarly with the U.K. has become vastly subscribed over the recent years, and required some desperate changes, this however has cost the American government $1 billion over 10 years to change.(9)
3.1.1 - THE SSA SYSTEM
The Social Security Administration services in the U.S. annually, issues $170 billion in benefit payments and 10 million new social security cards. There are 65,000 employees located in 13,000 field offices with 10 regional offices administering to 260 million account names, 240 million earnings records. They also issue 7.5 million new claims, in changes of benefits status and 380 million job postings by employers to register. The administration of all data types are processed at 7 processing centres and 4 data operation centres in the U.S., with the head office located in Baltimore. For approximately each employee, there are 4,000 accounts per employee to manage.
The SSA had been a leading innovator in implementing information technology developments in the U.S., since its inception in 1935. By 1982, their computerised administration systems were nearing collapse, through the enormous number of mounting applications and additional changes made to benefits in terms of claimant status and benefit types. This could be blamed on the changes in social- economic factors, such as increased immigration, population, and economy effecting employment rates.
In 1982, SSA announced it’s Systems Modernisation Plan (SMP), which cost the American government $1 billion pounds and 10 years to implement, followed by another 10 years to create a technologically modern system which encompassed aspects of electronic and distributed technology such as Internet interaction. The initial projected period of the SMP was 5 years at a cost of $500,000, which ballooned to a cost of $1 billion, which resulted in it being one of the most expensive information systems projects in history.
The SSA was operating in 4 different machine environments and a study into systems requirements has never been conducted prior to these changes, and the system typical in many private organisations only made very incremental changes over a period of many years.
The first stage of the SMP project, was to create a stable hard and soft environment to ensure its robustness in anticipation of increased workloads in the future, they embarked on transferring 500,000 reels of magnetic tape to a modern database platform called Master Data Access Method (MADAM) which would handle online and batch processing.
The second stage comprised the Software Engineering Program (SEP), which was designed to upgrade the existing software and retain as much of it as possible, so an entirely new code was not necessary. A top down approach was used, in effort to provide the framework for the redesign of SSA’s total system by determining the requirements from the existing software.
SMP was conceded by the SSA management to have failed in reaching it’s target objective, although it did manage to successfully achieve a 25% increase in productivity with 17,000 fewer employees, but was deemed to be over budget and too far behind schedule, it was therefore closed to give way to the launch of ASP, (Agency Strategic Plan) in 1988, followed by the Information Systems Plan (ISP) in 1991 to support its progress. The ISP represented a primary support for the ASP and long term planning for managing information systems. And work ultimately towards establishing a paperless agency with a significant decrease in administration costs and keeping employee numbers low.
The government increasing pressed the struggling SSA to reduce staffing levels by 20,000 workers and by the end of 1988; the SA staff had been reduced to 66,000 from 83,000. These reductions were made in anticipation of a sharp increase in productivity brought on by the SMP modernisation plan, and the SSA were heavily economising on workforce. They predicted that workload would increase by 26% between 1999 and 2005, and there would be limited funding for new initiatives coupled with public demands for higher levels of service.
Political interference also lent to the shortcomings of the system; the way which the white house was held responsible by the OTA for the pressure on prematurely reducing staffing numbers before the new system was enforced and for failure to support senior management and failing to understand the long term complexity of implementing such a change and how changes and procurement in laws can effect the development of the new system.
The government has, under the commendation of the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), gave the SSA funding to undertake pilot schemes to deliver projects such as EDI (electronic data interchange), direct debit payments, frequent news bulletins to be posted on the SSA web site.
3.2 CASE STUDY B - CENTRELINK AUSTRALIA (10)
Unlike the SSA, the Australian benefits agency, does not offer benefits signing online like the SSA, but it does make a greater incentive to utilise the types of collaborative and interactive tools than the SSA, such as creating email accounts for the claimants, and access to a job seeking database, but unlike the DWP, it doesn’t offer as much monitoring or assistance in job seeking, but rather leaves it up to the individual to handle.
The above fig. 1 is the online services homepage illustrating the online services that are available. (10)
The agency’s work has aided government policy advisers in future to create better, more targeted policies that will improve the outcomes for the Australian public. The challenges facing project teams were enhanced by the tight time frame they were working on and the rigid nature of the legislative deadline. The changes to the existing system were great and a complete rewrite was required. In the website a member of their development team stated;
"We needed to build a system that is highly responsive to change, with very fast processing, highly customisable deliveries and easily maintained and upgraded and with the design and products chosen, we have achieved our aims. The output is far superior to anything that we have delivered in the past, the processing time has been dramatically reduced and the ongoing maintenance cost has been halved. In addition, any future legislative changes will be able to be implemented quicker and cheaper than similar changes in older systems."
Internally, CentreNet is Centrelink's corporate Intranet delivering information and interactive services to around 22,000 Centrelink staff located in 417 locations across Australia. Although the scale of CentreNet is not as great as in the U.S. or U.K., it makes it one of the largest public or private Intranets in operation in Australia.
Centrelink’s Remote Access Service system: provides a computing infrastructure to allow staff in remote and rural locations to access the Centrelink mainframe to provide a better service to Centrelink customers in these areas. This service has been extremely valuable in supporting communities experiencing natural disasters and the remote-computing infrastructure allows authorised staff to access the mainframe by using a modem, mobile phone or a satellite connection. Although the U.K. does not experience many natural disasters, the remote access architecture, could be useful for those JCP centres, which are located on offshore islands and more remote areas.
Conscientious initiatives were made by the agency to improve customer enquiry service for busy parents. Their telephone service for families extended to 8:00pm in October 1999. Centrelink staff will be made available to talk to families by phone in the evenings and customers receiving family and child care payments will be able to call Centrelink to access the full range of services from 8.00am to 8.00pm Monday to Friday. The Centrelink national manager, reported that:
"Customer surveys throughout Australia identified Family Payment customers as those who would be the most likely people to use the extended telephone service…. "Many families will be able to benefit from being able to telephone Centrelink about payments and services outside standard business hours."
This is a positive initiative that Centrelink has implemented in response to customer-oriented management. They anticipated that 50 per cent of existing families customers would be interested in using the extended phone hours to do business with Centrelink and made steps to ensure staff will be at-hand to cater for additional calls.
Centrelink has been involved in a number of pilots and trials most of which have been in aid of furthering technological development, which have enabled them to better prepare for multiple channel service delivery. Customers that wanted to use the services were required to authenticate and register to use the service. The way in which a customer would access the service was by using 2 forms of unique identifiers, their Customer Reference Number (CRN) which is assigned to them by the centre and a Personal Identification Number (PIN), possibly similar to U.K. National Insurance Numbers (NINOs)
These services included:
§ 3.2.1 - The Web Post Office
WebPO project trailed an alternative, more efficient way for Centrelink to communicate with its customers by delivering letters using the Internet. Customers participating in the trial have the benefit of:
i. Letters being available to them within hours of being written;
ii. Access points (right across Australia) to obtain and read their letters;
iii. Improved privacy - only authorised persons can open their private mail; and
iv. Less chance of letters being lost due to incorrect addresses.
The objective of this project was to develop a facility to provide an alternative communication channel to regular paper postage. The Web Post Office project is the electronic version of the post office box. Users could expect to access their mail using a unique identifier and a Personal Identification Number (PIN), *the alternative would be the NINO in the U.K.)
§ 3.2.2 - Payment Details Interactive Voice Response (IVR):
In late May 1999, the Call Centre Group opened the first telephony self-service product for Centrelink to a controlled group of customers in Western Australia. Centrelink used a self-selection process to register customers for the product. Currently there are approximately 4000 customers registered for the service. The product, called Payment Details, provides registered customers with direct access to their Centrelink Payment Details. Customers can choose to hear scheduled or past payment information for all payments they receive that are delivered by Centrelink. The information contained includes gross and net amounts of payments and detailed break up of the payment, as well as the option for the customer to hear their receipt number for the call. This subconscious action had to be translated for the IVR to speak. Centrelink now has a plain English library of over 500 payment related codes.
According to their press office findings from this trial were positive, in terms of customer reaction and in terms of the non-realisation of possible threats identified at the outset of the project. Customer research regarding trial participation reported an overwhelmingly positive reaction from users of this service despite prior to the trial.
The recommendation was to implement the service on a production basis, subject to a costing of developing a system suitable for large-scale application and also business considerations including client agency endorsement.
A recurring and damaging problem faced by all Centrelink, SSA and the DWP systems are fraudulent claims that are made deliberately against the system. Centrelink attempts to recover incorrect payments in a variety of ways including:
§ Public Informants- The public has always been a valuable source of information about alleged fraud. Members of the public can contact Centrelink with information about people they think are getting a payment from Centrelink they should not be getting.
§ Regular Payment Checks - Centrelink can regularly check whether a customer continues to be eligible for the payment they are getting.
§ Data Matching - Centrelink can detect incorrect payments by matching data with a number of other government agencies, such as the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), Department of Veterans' Affairs, Department of Immigration & Multicultural Affairs, Department of Corrective Services and the Registrar-General's Office.
THE PROPOSED SYSTEM
Part 5 - THE PROPOSED SYSTEM
From Case Study A and B, we can establish that the SSA model, were faced with recreating a new working environment and improving the old for current employees and the public. The SSA system dated back to 1935, it was a vast undertaking that resulted in various mistakes and failures that caused significant setbacks in the development process. The old system was severely outdated and struggling under the pressure of supporting a growing society that increased its burden on the system through demands of a better more consistent and efficient service. But in its current state they have managed to offer the public a service that does not perhaps handle all benefits claims online, but it’s online pension and disability applications, are examples of using feasible online application processing and system automation to a good potential. Furthermore, the SSA’s outdated sluggish systems of old, coupled with a system that is heavily influenced by government bureaucracy, paints a similar picture of the U.K. DSS system that was only recently refitted as the DWP.
Centrelink, the Australian system, has innovated ways in which automating available technologies can be adapted to enhance the quality of services. They have also market tested these methods through extensive piloting in their ‘Action Plan - Pilots and Trials’, offer quick and efficient methods of correspondence processing, such as through Web Post Office, sending letters directly and immediately to the claimants’ email accounts with details of customer claims, confirmations of claims and prompt response to enquiries etc. Voice recognition software, such as their Payment Details Interactive Voice Response (IVR); have enabled claimants to receive details of their payment deposit accounts over the phone using the IVR automated response system.
The Australian unlike the U.K. and U.S. systems, allow the claimants to access their own details at most times of the day time, via the Internet or via voice automated telephone services. This gives the claimant a greater sense of independence and knowledge of what the details the agency holds on them, because the government has allowed the public access to their own records. This also creates a deeper sense of trust between the public and the Centrelink government services, which is an incredibly important determinant factor for the success of the system. So in this respect, Centrelink has commendably, made progressive efforts to look after the interests of the public.
In the U.K. for a claimant to access their personal details, they must specify their enquiry and make the request days ahead, as the response needs to be filtered and authorised, and even a simple enquiry, until only April 2002, had to be made in person or over the telephone, even then, it still required a great deal of waiting and patience. Centrelink was offering this service in 1999. Consequently the U.K. would certainly benefit by adapting similar systems features and development methods as seen from both SSA and Centrelink and incorporating it into their current strategies to advance their project incentives and to ultimately fulfil a promise it has made to the public; ensuring that the U.K. does not,
“drag behind in the development of new technologies”.
Cabinet Office Minister (21)
4.1 Disability/ Incapacity/ Pensions/ Benefit Online Applications.
The current online services available on the DWP website and affiliate JCP websites are solely informative, mainly consisting of bulletin boards and detailing claimants and applicant enquiries of the latest developments on the site, and the most recent government promotion statements. But there is not however an online facility that allows Pensions and Disability or Incapacity benefits to take place online. These categories of benefits claims would be the most feasible options that would benefit from online automation. Claimants under these categories are not required to visit the JCP centres regularly and are often also the most immobile particularly in the case of incapacitated, sick or disabled. Pension claimants are permitted to live abroad if they wished, (for not more than 182 days per year) and continue to receive benefits.
Following in the steps of the SSA model, the online application procedure as seen on the SSA website (8) can be deployed as part of the DWP online services, whereby the applicant goes through a series of case based Q & A, (using yes/no answers), which is assessed as part the claims eligibility determinant,
In one of the many benefits guide to claiming at the JCP (11) it describes the arrangements the DWP can make to have a representative physically visiting a incapacitated or disabled claimant at their homes to validate and have their applications processed, (contacted through a preliminary call to the JCP and application forms have been sent and filled).
An introduction of an online facility to apply under this category would certainly be able to cancel out in some cases (depending on the availability of Internet connection), the need for a visit from a DWP representative to validate a claim. By the use of a case based reasoning expert system (like the SSA), the applicant for a new claim, can find out if they are eligible to make the claim, what document support they need to provide. The application can then be signed and posted to the DWP processing centre in Belfast instead of visiting a centre or having a representative visit their homes.
In cases of pensions retirement, the claimant can still claim benefits, which work on a credit basis that comes from their previous National Insurance contributions, even if they are living abroad, but only for 182 days or less. This option is certainly viable when there are always going to be people who are moving into retirement at any given time, and the online option might be more appealing to them, as they can access this service remotely anywhere and at any time. And with the government stating their determination to create more integrated public services, the DWP can use that incentive to work in closer affiliation with the Department of Pension, which is gradually becoming the same entity the DWP.
4.2 CREATING PERSONAL ACCOUNTS
Access to the Claimants own personal details accounts, as exemplified by Case Study B, would work on a similar basis to Centrelink. Claimants can access their own personal details through an assigned JCP account, tailored to their type of claim. The features of this personal online account should include all aspects of the following:
1. Claim Details: The claimant should be able to have access to details of their claim, when it was made, validated and when the first deposit was made;
2. Request a Benefit Statement: The claimant should be able to find out when deposits of benefit payments were made to their accounts.
3. Change of Personal Details: The claimant should be able to make amendments to changes in personal details, such as address changes (this facility is available, but on separate government website). This feature would not include changes to personal circumstance that may affect their claim.
4. Job Bank: A feature inspired by an Internet based employment agency, the Monster.co.uk website, that has not been deployed by the SSA or Centrelink. This feature should provide tools where jobseekers can enter their job preferences and store their C.V. online. The user can also return to it at any time to make adjustments to their C.V. personal or occupational details or preferences;
5. Similarly with the SSA online application, the application for a claim does not need to be filled in it’s entirety, but can be stored for later completion, or if needed, after an email enquiry to an JCP advisor;
6. And the option to use a JCP assigned e-mail account (or their own), where (referenced) enquiries to and from JCP employees can be handled, preferable within the same day, regarding problems or question about their claims, thus reducing the need to telephone or visit a centre. An e-mail acknowledgement of their email with a reference number should be sent to the claimant, followed by the answered response itself, (a simple and mandatory process that is carried out by both SSA and Centrelink);
7. An automated acknowledgement, validation of a claim, should be conducted under a secure link, as a matter of personal privacy, referenced, and communicated by the JCP to the benefits applicant, as soon as it has been received;
8. Details of the latest developments at the DWP, such as JCP pilot schemes (such as new job seeking tools) can be notified and promoted via e-mail, including training and work schemes that are being run etc.
4.3 Automated Job seeking
The JCP spends a great deal of time and man-hours to input up to 300,000 job vacancies, into their job search database. As discussed in Part 2, the database is accessed though ‘Jobpoints’ (touch screen machines), located at every JCP Pathfinder centre around the country. In addition to this, job seekers can also enquire into job vacancies, with the help of Employment Services Direct, the same call centres that assist people with application for benefits and general enquiries.
Employment Services Direct extended their services in accordance to the needs of customers to be available between 9am to 6pm on weekdays, and 9am to 1pm on Saturdays. Responses from questionnaires with claimants and interviews with JCP employees provide proof that some job seekers do manage to find employment with the help of the JCP. Although these tools have only been fully implemented in April 2002, they were piloted earlier in the year. However most job seekers that were consulted in the questionnaires do not have knowledge of the services. Out of 10 people that took part in the questionnaire, only 20% expressed knowledge of them. An equal proportion of people were successful and non-successful when finding a job through the JCP. If an emailing facility were made available, the latest news of such developments could be e-mailed to all JCP customers, the project pilot would produce more effective results and many more jobseekers with Internet access would certainly know about the new services.
In terms of availability and assistance offered by the DWP, the government have made commendable efforts to meeting their promises as a ‘welfare to work’ strategy. But the results from the questionnaires conducted as part of this project, posed further questions such as: How effective is the JCP at helping jobseekers find a job? 80% from the questionnaires answered that not only were they not aware of the available tools, they did not find work through the JCP after or prior to the introduction of this new system .
This therefore begs the further question as to whether the 300,000 job vacancies that the JCP claim to hold on their databases and the millions of unemployed persons in the country, are being correctly placed in the employment they want. Employers are placing vacancies with the JCP staff, but the staff efficient or skilled enough in placing the right people to the right jobs?
International recruitment firm Adecco claims to be the ‘no.1’ leading recruitment firm with 5,000 recruitment firms in 58 countries (13) around the world. www.adecco.co.uk is the website for the firm in the U.K. A recruitment firm as large as Adecco, chooses not to rely entirely on it’s own database of job vacancies online, rather, it has made another very established online recruitment firm, Monster.co.uk, its’ online affiliate. Monster supplies the necessary web based tools such as registering for job searches and when the correct matches to a position is found, notification via email to the customer is made immediately. They also provide a C.V. bank, where registered jobseekers enter their C.V. details into a template form. Users can store, access and alter the C.V. at any time as they wish. The site also allows its users to formulate up to 3 different work profiles, which can be alternated to be used according to the users preference and circumstances, i.e. working part time in Manchester as opposed to permanently in London.
The posting of vacancies are made by the employers themselves or other agencies, once companies register with Monster, it is free to post to the site. Monster and Adecco have established themselves as international online recruitment firms, having built relationships with other recruitment affiliates all over the world, holding up to a million job vacancies on it’s database
Employment Services Direct and web services such as jobcentreplus.co.uk could greatly benefits from automating job searches and taking them online and providing the similar web tools that are available on the Adecco and Monster websites. The effectiveness of the JCP tools and staff has been reputed to be less effective as they should be. Employment Services Direct must remain an option for those jobseekers that do not have Internet access to find work. Staffing efforts to input jobs into the database may not be as necessary if other online recruitment agencies are made affiliates to the JCP website. In effect, the sharing data with the established agencies will provide the necessary online tools for JCP, thus enabling all parties involved to provide in an even greater capacity to recruit and help to place more people in work. Especially since the DWP have the largest database of the customers that recruitment agencies are looking for.
4.4 Interactive Voice Response
Using voice recognition software, the JCP should be able to provide an automated response enquiry service available most hours of the day, 7 days a week.
In the 1990’s Abbey National (14) piloted and subsequently launched their ‘Tele-banking’ service of making banking over telephony a standard possibility. They believed that there was a need to automate call reception using a system that would manage standard enquiries and services such as fund transfers, payments and requests for statements. The Tele-banking operation was also integrated with the company's automated teller network and existing interactive voice response (IVR) systems, which was similar technology deployed by Centrelink.
Other considerations Abbey National made included the need for automated services to be available to all customers and not just those with touch-tone phones. Abbey National made it clear to Vocalis; the company who innovated this voice recognition software that the solution would need to be robust and have proven voice-response capabilities. Since the service had to be available to all its customers, the design would have to be kept simple, easy and scalable.
In the interest of DWP’s customers who do not have Internet access and are seeking information and advice, providing a 24 Hour enquiry and information support service with the DWP a voice automated system would prove ideal. It would relieve the burden from staff particularly at Employment Services Direct call centres during the day, and callers would not have to wait on a switchboard. A different telephone number could be provided from the voice automation process which would answer all types of frequently asked questions (FAQs), and should the caller have any further enquiries, the option to consult an advisor from Employment Services Direct is always available during the working days. DWP could greatly improve customer relations by providing this additional form of information support to the public.
4.5 JSA Applications Online- A future development
If the government succeeds in implementing an integrated, stable and robust platform of change by 2008 to delivering 100% of government services electronically, claims for Unemployment Benefits should also be delivered in via that medium made as well.
Jobseekers Allowance, second to Income benefits are the most popular benefit claimed in the U.K., however it is also believed to be the benefit most associated with benefit fraud, (which will be discussed further in Part 5). For the claimant to receive benefits they normally must attend a JCP every 2 weeks to sign a declaration that he/she has been seeking work in the last fortnight. The JCP advisor as a mandatory duty must enquire whether the claimant has been actively seeking employment during that time, to essentially validate their claim. However this does not always happen, as centres are often short staffed, and there are not enough advisors available. Therefore waiting times for claimants are often long and the queues are arduous.
An online system would propose the following steps:
1) Login - The claimant logs on to the JSA online ‘Signing On’ centre and enters an assigned User I.D, which will be assigned by the JCP after their application has been accepted. Their NINO (national insurance number) would act as their secondary identifier. It is crucial that both identifiers must be authenticated for them to continue.
3) Proof of Actively Seeking Work - The claimant must check the (provided) acceptance box, in order to continue to the next secure level where they are asked to fill in a minimum of three fields of data. In each field they will be required to fill a full description of a job vacancy they have applied for within the fortnight, providing a total minimum of three. This procedure can be saved to their personal accounts, and then continued later, but it must be completed within the fortnight.
4) Some categories within the fields will be mandatory (marked with an *. They will include:
i. Position applied for*
ii. Where did you see the position* (JCP, newspaper, which is why it is good for them to keep more affiliates, such as recruitment agencies)
iii. Job reference number (if applicable)
iv. Person or department contacted*
v. Contact email
vi. Telephone no.*
vii. Address of the employer*
viii. When was the application for this position sent*
ix. How was the application sent (via email, post, etc.)?
5) JCP Check-Up - Within 3-4 weeks of the 3 applications that the claimant, has made, a JCP or an Employment Services Direct representative, will randomly call or notify at least one of those employers stated on the online JSA claims the claimant has made after the fortnight. Employers as part of the Data Protection Act must keep applicant’s work applications filed for 12 months, which would provide a large time limit for these checks (22). Ideally, the employers should be a JCP affiliate, i.e. having posted it directly to the JCP website, or one belonging to an associated Website to the JCP’s knowledge)
6) Validate - If the JCP or Employment Services Direct representative, finds that one randomly selected employer confirms that the claimant did apply, then the JCP can be satisfied that the claimant did attempt to apply for a job vacancy, and payments to their deposit accounts will continue to be debited;
7) Enquiry - However if the first call is not confirmed by an employer, the second and/or third must also be called to confirm this. If none of the job applications are confirmed within 3-5 working days, then an email notification will be sent to the claimants email account, requesting them to get in touch, electronically or by visiting a JCP centre, within 5 working days, or benefits will be stopped.
8) Failure to Fulfil Requirements - The claimant must not fail to perform these tasks on a fortnightly basis, or they will face a stop to their JSA payments, or penalties and an investigation into suspected fraud. If the claimant wishes instead to sign on in person at the JCP they must make that known to a JCP advisor.
The procedures that have been described may perhaps be considered to be quite arduous. But it must be remembered, that this procedure would be implemented in a way that would reduce the burden of JSA claimants and paper administration on a daily basis as well as ensuring the jobseekers are making a conscientious effort to find work. A result of less work burdens, the JCP centre staff also have time to conduct a mandatory questioning into whether a JSA claimant has been seeking work that fortnight, and the claimant should provide proof that they were. This system can be done most hours of the day, 7 days a week, to their convenience. For security reasons there may be a few restricted hours where the users cannot use the website, due to security and backup maintenance, this should also be informed to the claimant. Overall, claimants no longer need to wait in queues or attend the JCP unless they prefer to.
The JCP currently requires periodic interviews with jobseekers, to see how their job searches are progressing, this happens on a 6, and 13 months basis. In the case of an online system it would be recommended to continue perhaps on a slightly more frequent basis, to keep in direct contact with the claimant and as a precautionary measure that the claimants are still active in their search for employment and to assist them with any problems they may have. These requests to interview a claimant should be communicated by email and by post, with a scheduled appointment.
AN ANALYSIS OF PROBLEMS FACING
THE PROPOSED SYSTEM
PART - 6
An Analysis of Possible Problems Faced by the Proposed System
The Data Protection Registrar commented on the current Data Protection Act (1998); stating her views on ‘better systems design’ to combat acts of fraud; it would be worthwhile to discuss various aspects of the necessary online web based security and usability aspects that an automated interactive online website with application processing facilities would require.
6.1 INFORMATION SECURITY
An online system whereby a claimant can apply for Disability, Pensions, Incapacity as well as Jobseekers allowance will be exchanged personal details between the individual claimants and the DWP from the outset. Various stages include:
§ Enquiry stage – disclosure of personal circumstance, requirements, personal details, including NINO’s and address, email address etc.
§ Application stage– Full disclosure of personal information including the above, and supporting information including details of earnings, medical and tax details support, signed declaration. Etc.
§ Validation Stage – when the claim was accepted or successful, details of when the first payment will be made claim reference number. Etc.
§ Creating Internet Account- Registration details, user number, password, etc.
§ Job Bank – C.V.’s employment details, job search requirements, as well as results and appointment for interviews, salary details. Etc.
The Information includes (10).
§ Entry and exit pages;
§ How often the site was used;
§ The time of day the site was accessed;
§ The length of time spent on the site;
§ How much information was downloaded;
§ If the visit is from a company or an individual;
§ If you are browsing from Australia or Overseas;
§ What browser types are being used?
Personal information that is collected is protected by the Australian Privacy Act 1988 and Centrelink administers the confidentiality provisions contained in the legislation.
The agency states as a clause in their website, that the information collected is for statistical analysis use only and no attempt will made by them to identify the user or their browsing activities.
As discussed in Part 3.2, Centrelink relies on public informants for invaluable information about alleged fraud as well as regular payment checks. The agency also undertakes methods of data matching, which the U.K. government is also hoping to implement as a security measure against fraud, which will be discussed in more details in 6.3 of this chapter.
Cookies are pieces of information that a website can transfer to an individual’s computer hard drive. The information remains on the computer even after the Internet session until an expiry time. Most Internet browsers are pre-set to accept cookies. As part of the proposed online benefits fortnightly claiming procedure, it was discussed that the user’s browsers should have active cookies and accept cookies before the claiming procedures can continue. Instructions must be provided on the website on how to do this if the cookies have been disabled. Many people prefer to disable their cookies to prevent illicit tracking of their Internet activities or to avoid excessive advertisement banners.
A cookie could be used in the following three ways on the online system (10):
§ It can determine whether your computer has support for cookies turned on, to advise the user that they need to enable cookies to be able to use the service.
§ It can be used to manage the maximum time to complete a transaction. It contains the start time of your transaction.
§ It can be used to contain the session identifier to enable the DWP web server to manage the session
It would be in the interest of the DWP as well as the user to have their activities logged, in online systems such as online banking for instance, cookies are used in order to authenticate the user, and for security purposes, to know where they are logging on from, how long the sessions last and in order enhance for customer services, what the customer wants from the site. The proposed system must allow the claimants to use the site to view their own personal details and those details will include information about benefit payment instalments, which is data that must be kept secure.
It should be proposed in the DWP online system, that cookies SHOULD be allowed to track the activities of the claimant, in order to determine when and more importantly where they are logging on to their account from. This proposed aspect is not anticipated to be a popular feature of the system, but it is an important suggestion to put forward to the government, if they want to successfully migrate 100% of their government services, securely online.
To prevent fraudulent practice, using cookies as a determinant for fraud in supporting evidence would be important to feature, since the online service will not require the claimant to attend the JCP to sign a work declaration unless they need to attend a periodic review with the JCP advisors. This form of fraud preventions measures must be communicated to the claimant that their activities will be tracked. Including details of the location they are logging on from, whether they are, (if they are out of the country), or logging on from a business or organisation (unless its is an Internet Café), Library or other public service. Prosecution should liable if it is proven that the user is constantly logging on from a suspicious location; thus acting as a deterrent to commit benefit fraud.
6.1.2 Security statements (16) are an essential and crucial aspect of the information included, and some of the more important disclosures of these statements would include those that state that the user’s personal information is protected by law. To ensure that the public user who has agreed to disclose all their personal details to be accessed on the web, and that it will be protected by the integrity of the DWP, but in the same essence, the DWP has gained the consent of the user to take action against them if required, under accordance with the law, to investigate fraudulent intentions. If these statements are illustrated clearly from the outset, they should fulfil the objective of being a comfort to legitimate users as well as a deterrent to benefit fraud.
6.1.3 Encryption (16) would be mandatory when disclosure of any personal details via the online system is made. All messages between the browser running on your PC and DWP’s will be encrypted and notified to the user by a Secure Message prompt. The encryption process should use Secure Socket Layer (SSL) encryption. Available browsers that support SSL, are freely available and information about downloads updates for browsers should be offered via a website link.
While the system should endeavour to provide a secure Internet environment, users should be notified that there are inherent risks associated with transmission of information via the Internet. There is still some apprehension by Internet users to disclose personal details to an online service, for example, Centrelink provides alternative ways to obtain and provide information for those who do not wish to use public networks such as the Internet. In these instances direct contact to Employment Services Direct should be still made available, as well as telephone, facsimile or post.
A system can also sometimes face problems when the user downloads malicious files and the web server executes it. Fortunately, in this case, because the user will input their data directly into a fixed template, it won’t require or allow them to upload their C.V. in a word or text document, which might involve malicious files. Data entered straight into a centralised database and recorded in fixed fields, would cause less administerial mistakes and enhance accuracy in data. Web based restrictions should be applied, such as restrictions in variable character numbers and include drop down lists where possible.
In Amrit Tiwana’s, Web Security (16), he discusses how security is not an activity that is over once it has been implemented the first time, rather it is an iterative process, and improving what has already been done. In section 4.2.of this project, creation of personal accounts was discussed. In order to maintain the integrity of claimant details, the personal accounts would not be available 24 hours a day, but will have restriction to access, given the sensitive nature of the information. For example, the service will be unavailable between 12am – 4am. During these restricted periods security measures can be run and the system backed up. This procedure is similar to the security measures used by online banking. (17)
The process of this involves analysis of risks, known as risk analysis, which determined what data needs to be protected and how to protect it, ranked through levels of system severity and the importance of the data. From a process of risk analysis, a cost-effective solution can also be found. The basic goals of security as described by Tiwana are:
Security implementation needs continual refinement; routers and administration of database networks are essential to ensuring recovery in instances of failure. Figure11. (Below) Is a diagram illustrating the ‘Security Implementation Lifecycle’. It defines the DWP system in the middle, the rotating arrows, shows the way in which security constantly repeats on itself, in constant and repetitive assessment and reassessment, enhancement and re-enhancement.
Enhancement Network (re) Planning
Assessment Security (re) Implementation
Auditing and Logging Deployment
Appropriate Use Policy (AUP) guidelines specify what users can and cannot do on various components of the system. Problems that can face a system include the way security goals can conflict with goals of the software vendors and developers. In some instances, the way in which the software developers might envisage the security issues facing a system, may not work in consistence with the way the users engage with the system, such as in database issues. The access to the database by administrators can result in duplication of data, a common occurrence particularly in the case of the DWP’s (4), working on differing machine environments may cause this.
The people involved to bring about the broadest policy of acceptance would include administrators and staff members of user groups and departments within the organisation; stakeholders, managers (who are responsible for the budgetary and policy authorisation), and technical staff members who are the most familiar with system requirements and acceptability.
Tiwana, also expresses his concern in the issues of ease versus security, where often the case is, to “The easier the system is to use the less secure it is”, and the possible solution would be that it would “make more sense to eliminate the service rather than to secure it”
Which refers now to issues of usability, where the proposed system; although it should allow the easiest usability for the range of users that it will cater to, it must also ensure the integrity of usability as well as security.
The percentage of homes in the UK with Internet access currently stands at 38%, with 51% of adults having accessed the Internet at home, work or a public access point. And Internet usage is higher in the UK than almost anywhere else in Europe.
The issue of usability is hugely important when the range of different users and varied types of claims are taken into consideration. The demographic that the online system include men and women, aged 16-60, the sick and disabled, those with dependent and those without, which is nearly every member of the U.K. population. With that in mind, the online website should be as user friendly as possible, without compromising on security, effectiveness and efficiency. The JCPs’ have attempted to solve issues of demographic usability through the introduction of ‘Jobpoints’ touch screen machines which have proved to be highly popular as a replacement to the old ‘job cards’. They are interactive and easy to use; the jobseekers at the JCPs have welcomed them as a new alternative, which is an encouraging sign that the public are open to new methods of automated administration in the employment services.
The diagram below (23) illustrates the level of Internet literacy in the U.K., it measures the proportions of people who are not using the Internet and why. Interestingly the largest proportion of the chart is 26% that represent the people who simply not interested. The majority of the charts are users who feel that they simply do not have the skills or confidence to use the Internet or express little interest in it. The British government are attempting to make the majority (90%) of the British population computer literate by 2005. Projects such as Learn Direct teach basic computer skills and are free and available to British citizens in attempt to get people skilled and back in employment as soon as possible. So if those people who feel that they have no access to it, or feel that they do not have the skills or confidence to use it would be encouraged to know that the government is not only encouraging them to do so, but also that they will receive government funding if they wish to do so.
Interestingly, during the questionnaire conducted with claimants at the JCP’s most of the claimants who took part were encouragingly open to the idea of an online benefits claiming system, and were not worried about the technical or usability issues, their major concern regarded fraud as the main problem. The older claimants that were approached to take part declined to. Some declined when they didn’t even know what the questionnaire was about, and those who did, declined as well, many stating that, “I don’t want to know”. There was considerable effort made to include the views of a senior claimant, but they simply did not want to take part. The assumption that can be made form this finding is that the older claimants feel that the idea of such a system would prove to challenging with regards to the competency of their Internet skills and experience, not really to do with their age, as the pie diagram indicates, only 6% of the people in the U.K. feel that they are too old to use the Internet.
However pensioners and seniors are one of the fastest growing demographics on the Web. In the United States it estimated 4.2 million Internet users (24) were over the age of 65. In developed and industrialized countries, they often have large, and consistent populations of senior citizens. Although they are typically retired, seniors reportedly lead very active lives and increasingly express interest in modern technologies such as the Internet, which gives them another medium to communicate and stay informed. Senior citizens use email as the main Internet application, others include, news, tracking investments, researching medication and medical conditions.
On Usability regarding the 60 and over age group, Jakob Nielson researched on the usability of websites for seniors and Pensioners, and discovered the way some aspects of Internet websites were not so user friendly for seniors. He states,
”The Internet enriches many seniors' lives, but most websites violate usability guidelines, making the sites difficult for seniors to use. Current websites are twice as hard to use for seniors than for non-seniors.” (24)
Nielson discusses how many websites tend to be produced by young designers, who often assume that all users have ‘perfect vision and motor control’, and therefore know everything about the Web. These assumptions rarely hold to all demographic users let alone the elderly. The physical attributes of the elderly that are most detrimentally affected include are eyesight, precision of movement, and memory.
Most elderly have retired without having used computers and the Internet extensively during their working careers. However it would be reasonable to assume that within the near future, there will be increasingly more retired people who are already computer and web literate that are going to adapt much more quickly to an electronic environment such as the proposed benefits system.
Nielson suggests how certain features of the website could be incorporated to make it more usable not only for the experienced users, but also for the old but also for young and inexperienced.
§ Large text for example is especially important for two reasons (24). Firstly, designers must ensure readability of website components;
§ Secondly the website should include more prominent targets for clicking. Most people today are PC users and are used to clicking targets such as links and buttons.
Pull-down menus, would be more advantageous for all users, as are hierarchical walking menus, as they will not be required to type specific requirements into text fields. Particularly in cases where restricted choices must be available for the confidence of the users, these providing visible options would be better for the claimant. In certain instances the application procedure would depend on the type of claims, or the place where they live, which borough etc. that should also be available from a drop down list.
It would perhaps seem presumptuous to say that usability based on the preferences of the elderly can act as a determinant for usability of all user, however it is worth bearing in mind that elderly users can also help to define the classes of users who are less familiar and knowledgeable about the Internet. The elderly as well as inexperienced users are would naturally be less cognitively quick than more experienced users. Therefore the system’s interfaces and usability must be kept simple, and familiar as possible to the ‘paper’ version of a form. In fact many paper forms are very complex to fill in, and online forms would be an even better alternative because:
§ Online forms are more legible than hand written forms
§ It allows room for correcting errors,
§ The data fields can be restricted (Data won’t be placed in incorrect fields)
§ The font is larger (for the elderly).
In light of the recent government objectives to reduce the old administration to methods of a new technologically enhanced ‘paperless’ environment, it will prove demanding on the older generation of users, their acceptance of new technology in the U.K. is not as encouraging as the elderly in the U.S. However, if the government manages to fulfil its objective to provide the necessary training to pensioners and the elderly, the DWP might see its administration for this claimant category reduced significantly, by migrating paper forms to a usable automated online application procedures.
With regards to the younger claimants as prospective users, a senior manager interviewed at Wembley JCP, stated with great emphasis the high level of computer and Internet literacy particularly amongst the young and many jobseekers. She did not believe that Internet literacy was barrier of difficulty in the present situation. Even if there are difficulties, it will be to an even lesser extent in the future; her only main concern was the element of fraud in respect of false claims.
The proposal of the system will evidently raise concerns over security issues and issues of personal privacy as well as prevalent concerns regarding fraudulent activities relating to the online application of such a system. The main areas of fraud relate to Jobseeker’s Allowance and Income support benefits. Fraud targeting the benefits system can be defined as: ‘continuing to claim benefits whilst still working and receiving ‘undeclared earnings’ or when 2 recipients of JSA benefits are cohabiting, and continue to claim as if living separately’ (2). In comparison, fraud retirement pensions, and child benefit as well as incapacity benefits are extremely low.
The government 1998 green paper, ‘Beating Fraud in Everyone’s Business: Securing the Future’, was part of an ongoing campaign in 2000-1, which was advertised on billboards and television advertisements all across the country, the paper informed that:
“Our budget is under attack from two quite different directions:
§ From a large number of individuals, finding ways to commit fraud among the plethora of detailed rules governing the benefits; and
§ From organised attempts at major fraud each involving enormous sums of money”(2)
The DWP has estimated the level of fraud throughout the social security system to be between £2 and £4 billion annually, but the figure of £7 billion has also been reported. The Social Security Minister at the time of publication of the green paper, Jeff Rooker, explained the following figures:
“The £2 billion is that we know about. Another £2 billion may be regarded with a high level of suspicion and there is a weak suspicion sometimes, no more than a hunch about another £3 billion, which is how the figure of £7 billion came into the public domain” (20)
From the statements made, we can assume that there is no definite figure of how much benefit fraud costs taxpayers in this country. But fraud was estimated by the DSS to be committed by up to 10.5% of JSA claimants and 5.7% of income support claimants.
The definition of what constitutes fraud, and ultimately the confusion of who is committing fraud should be discussed. An example of this was stated in aforementioned Green Paper; it presents a situation where a claimant stated he was working for a charity, but he was in fact only volunteering for a charity. His claim was put under dispute and he was suspected of benefit fraud. This case merely shows that fraud is may not always be what it seems, and individual cases must be treated subjectively. It also illustrates the problems that there simply aren’t enough guidelines or understanding within the DWP for the current socio-working environment.
In the House of Commons Research Paper, a Cabinet Minister (21) stated his views,
“…. The outdated” structure of the benefits system that fails to allow for modern working patters, where part-time, temporary and flexible jobs are becoming more common”
He points out that there are many new instances and conditions under which employment takes place, and under the old means of scrutiny, many more JSA claimant are put under unnecessary suspicion, which not only proves harmful to the individual, but can also cause severe ramifications upon the trust between the public and the government. The Minister also expresses his concern under the benefit rules whereby a claim is stopped because the claimant takes on a temporary job, and needs to reapply again when the temporary post ends. Such situations may act as a disincentive for claimants to declare a temporary return to work, because of the bureaucratic inconvenience it can cause.
There are serious conflicts when there is a lack of clarity as to what constitutes fraud or an attempted fraud, what constitutes evidence that might be presented to a court and what is mere suspicion.
The questionnaire conducted during the research for this project, a high majority of the JSA claimants expressed a great enthusiasm for a JSA online claims system but they became very sceptical when approached with the subject of fraud, many of them believed that fraud was nearly impossible to eradicated, and possibly provided a greater loophole of opportunity to create more incidences of fraud .
The Cabinet Minister also believes that public have a laissez-faire attitude to fraud, regarding as a petty offence which is committed out of need, and therefore has a less stigmatised image than a more grave offence.
“Public attitudes to fraud are equivocal; cases of greed are condemned, but some small scale fraud is almost condoned as relieving need”(21)
In response to the DSS green paper on Fraud (19), the Data Protection Registrar, makes a series of extensive comments with regards to the way in which she believes the 1998 Data Protection Act has affected the way benefit fraud in the U.K. has been successfully handled. Ultimately, her response is a call on the DSS to improve what she believes to be an administrative weakness on behalf of the government agencies.
The Registrar expresses her belief that the act of data matching should be preceded by a process of consultation and the lack of trust in fraud detection is a reality, and a belief that investigators used unfair methods was likely to militate against the encouragement of positive behaviour whether by claimants and recipients or by the DSS staff.
As mentioned earlier, an establishment of trust is what determines the success of a system for all concerned. The Registrar believes that the testing indicators should focus on the quality of investigations rather than simply measures of detection. To validate the quality of there findings rather than measures of detection rates to justify a breach of the benefits system.
She also makes an important and valid emphasis on the implementation of better system design and implementation to aid the elimination of opportunities to commit fraud, by maintaining and ensuring the accuracy and integrity of information at the outset. At a later date, if data is required in data matching, there can be a greater sense of confidence that the records used in the data matching are correct and accurate, thus making investigations into fraud more lawful and fair.
Grainne McKeever’s (25) views concurs with many points made by Registrar France in her comments and she can contribute that the existing systems are not sufficiently secure to prevent fraud, it was not implemented, as France also believed, ‘from the outset’. McKeever describes the existing information as being:
“Patchy information on what fraud is occurring where, and how. Little attention to security issues in both policy design and operational delivery- too often fraud work is an afterthought. Patchy application of controls on the procedures for benefit processing, exacerbated by conflicting requirements for accuracy and speed of processing and little financial incentive to invest in prevention rather than detection (25)”
This is certainly true of the current system, whereby, the majority if not all the systems that were first implemented, were put in place without any forward looking safeguards that could have anticipated this huge level of inaccuracy, duplicated data and fraud, not dissimilar to the case model of the U.S.’SSA, which experienced similar difficulties, and managed to resolve much of it at a great cost.
Furthermore, the data that is processed and stored about the claimants are run on up to 6 separate databases and in different machine environments. And furthermore, as discussed earlier in this report, the government agencies such as the Inland Revenue, HM C&E (Her Majesty’s Custom’s and Excise), and various Home Office agencies are operating as separate entities, and under the statute expressed in the 1998 Data Protection Act, the act prevents the sharing of data between government agencies for the purposes of fraud investigation and therefore poses an obstacle to more effective fraud prevention. Despite the government’s incentive to create a more ‘joined-up government’ (4), they can only use the benefits of a more integrated government to provide a quicker and efficient public service, but are not at the present time used as a means to validate fraud suspicions or other crimes.
The NINO, (national insurance number), is used as wide spread all purpose identifier, Registrar France strongly recommends that it should no longer be designated as a general identifier and that an order should specify that it must not be used outside the context of the tax and benefit systems. Because the NINO is so widespread, it has for that reason earned a greater risk of being used to abuse the benefits system particularly when the integrity of the NINO has been considered inaccurate in the past. Therefore any unlawful acts that are committed in association with the NINO cannot be regarded as being prosecutable.
In the longer term she recommends the consideration of more effective safeguards, through deployments of technology, such as using biometrics or other ‘Privacy Enhancing Technologies’, for example, the introduction of smart card technologies or finger print biometrics. A professional lady, who was in her late forties, seeking employments in the PR and marketing sector, who took part in this report’s research questionnaire , wanted her view included, and put forward a suggestion that she wanted to see social security card put in use that could allow claimants like herself, who does not use the job seeking facilities of the JCP, because she claims that they simply do not have any jobs matching her requirements. She wants to be able to ‘swipe’ instead of ‘signing on’. For further identifying proof, providing a fingerprint for biometric identification; as an alternative declaration to state her availability for employment. She believed that such a system should be implemented as an alternative to queuing for long periods to sign a declaration that was manually handled and filed before entered into a database.
This lady’s suggestions are feasible and represent the public’s interest to the technological developments of the country, and perhaps, also their openness to accepting new ideas that can benefit them. The idea of smart cards to be introduced in the U.K. has raised varied reactions, some of approval and some of concern. People who approve of the idea believe that it helps to safeguard against anti-social activities, such as organised crime, illegal immigration and fraud. Others are concerned and suspicious that it can be an invasion of personal privacy, that their every activity is being watched and their every move recorded, more than that, they are concerned that their recorded activities would be used against them.
At the moment, there is not as yet a statutory code to enforce convictable acts of benefit fraud against the DWP proven through the use of data sharing and matching. But the Registrar has called for a statutory code of practice to be introduced to regulate the data matching and data sharing between government agencies, a code that received a significant support from ministers and opposition parties. But as yet, (from the time of the submission of the Registrar’s comments), there are no proposals in the Green Paper (19), to extend the DSS code to deal with the disclosure of information by the Inland Revenue, HM C&E and the Home Office agencies to the DWP or to develop other similar codes. As a minimum, the Registrar would like to recommend that any fresh legislation should specify that data matching should only take place once a statutory a code of practice has been put in place.
It is important in relation to the discussion of the comments made by Registrar France to distinguish that the purpose of the Data Protection Act is not to sanction or prohibit disclosures of data. The Act is an attempt to regulate that all processing of personal data should be ‘fair and lawful’.
COMMENDATIONS TO THE GOVERNMENT,
7.1 A Summary of Findings
The questionnaires and conversations conducted with the job-seeking claimants concluded that their reactions to accessing services on this type of proposal for online claiming was extremely positive. One of the key benefits that they gave was the element of "convenience" resulting from:
i. Not having to queue;
ii. Saving significant amounts of time;
iii. Eliminating the need to personally visit a office;
Other valuable learning gained from the research into this project included:
i. Usability and customer acceptance of service is critical to the success of delivering services via online channels;
ii. Information needed to be tailored to particular delivery channels taking into account the various constraints of a particular channel;
iii. Workflow processes within the DWP are critical to the success of establishing a consistent service delivery to the public;
iv. System Processes must to be developed which maintain the accuracy, concurrency and consistency of information content across so many varied channels or electronic delivery;
v. Localisation and personalisation of content/services will provide a more welcoming and effective service for claimants,
vi. It makes sense to work with other content providers, such as recruitment organisations who have similar customer groups, and other government agencies.
Within an organisation, the information system constitutes the essential infrastructure of the business organisation. The managerial, organisational and technological aspects will ultimately determine the organisations’ success or failure.
In a statement released by the OECD in the U.K. government’s White Paper, it illustrates the importance of the emergence of the ‘knowledge based economy’ and why industry ‘s dependence of their commodity of knowledge and data today and the way they utilise it constitutes their success as an organisation.
".... The emergence of knowledge based economies.... has profound implications for the determinants of growth, the organisation of production and its effect on employment and skill requirements and may call for new orientations in industry-related policies." (30) OECD (1998a)
This statement reflects the way in which the knowledge structure has changed within the employment services, for instance the DWP replaced the DSS to manage nearly all functions within the employment and benefit services sectors. The department mergers were necessary in order for the Government to implement their plans to integrate public sector databases. To ensure the success of an organisation such as the DWP, knowledge must be viewed as a commodity, utilised as such.
Information Systems are very much formulated according to the institutional environment that it aims to help. And in this project the findings that were established were achieved through a combination of:
§ Interactions with the end users (claimants), establishing their requirements of the system’s outputs;
§ The internal environment of the DWP system, such as the staff and managers, establishing what their roles were, how they fulfilled them and what was preventing them from proving a more efficient service;
§ The ‘external’ factors that influenced as well as restricting the way the system was progressing and determining why. These factors mainly included, political and social influences and changes.
In conclusion, the U.K. Government it seems, have strong objectives to making progressive steps to recoup the image of Social Benefit Services by investing substantially into developing better information systems, and better facilities in the DWP to improve it’s delivery to the public.
The justification to implement the system proposed in this project is a very feasible one. The introduction of online Pensions, Disability and Incapacity benefits, has a greater likelihood to be implemented into the current system than online claims for the Job Seekers Allowance. This is mainly due to the nature and conditions of Pensions and Disability benefits, as claimants do rarely need to attend visits at the JCPs because in most incidents these claimants are less mobile. The JSA online claiming option, however, can only be implemented if the overall structure of the system has been improved to a greater extent and reviews in changes to the Government Data Protection guidelines are established. In order to ensure DWP data can be used in conjunction with other Government agencies to undertake methods of data matching and data sharing to be used as action against benefit fraud.
Finally, although the overall efficiency of the newly introduced services are still in its infancy, it appears that future Government developments in the area of online automation for the U.K. benefits agency looks progressively closer and promising.
7.2 Commendations to the Government
The Office of the e-Envoy was set up in September 1999 as part of the Cabinet Office, and it will be leading the objectives get the majority of the UK online by 2005. There are three core objectives (18):
1. To ensure that everyone who wants it has access to the Internet by 2005;
2. To make the UK the best environment in the world for e-commerce by 2002; and
3. To make all public services available electronically by 2005.
In relation to the proposals outlined in this project, these objectives outlines, enhances the overall feasibility of offering (in accordance to the Government’s technological aims), an automated social security system that provides online application, benefits claiming and job seeking tools for claimants over the Internet.
However in accordance to the comments made by the Data Protection Registrar, improvements to the information systems designs must be established as an initial stage before implementation. If this condition is not met, then the system has a greater possibility of failure. The following commendations should be met before the proposed system should be implemented:
(1) A stable and robust foundation for the system must be laid before further steps for improvement can be made. These would include a successful migration of data from the old social security systems’ databases to their new networked, centralised Oracle database. Thus creating a database environment that is secure, consistent and accurate.
(2) Integration of all government sources. In order to combat fraud, data sharing is essential, but relies firstly on the implementation of accurate data sources (Step 1), before accurate data matching can be deployed to support the prosecution of offenders.
Creating a better relationship between benefit claimants and the Government systems is vital to the success of the system. Features such as allowing claimants’ access would establish that. However, should the Government want to implement that facility, it would probably find that it will not be able to, particularly in the current state of the system and unreliability of its data records.
The Government must also bear in mind the crucial aspect of project failure. A study by Standish Group International Inc. found that 28 percent of all corporate software development projects are cancelled before completion and 46 percent are behind schedule or over budget (9). In nearly every organisation, information systems projects take much more time and money to implement than originally anticipated (i.e. SSA). And often, the end result may be that the completed system may not work properly. Some of these problems are caused by poor information systems technology planning, but many can be attributed as well, to managerial and organisational factors. Implementing an information system is a process of organisational change, and these are factors that are important to recognise at the outset. (9)
It is important to recognise that when it comes to achieving effective results, re-modernising a very vast and somewhat antiquated information system in the public sector, are commonly restricted within many factors. These include, budgetary restrictions, government inter-political conflicts, and inadequate consultancy by agencies that have little or no knowledge of the information system at hand. Public sentiment about the development of such a system may be indifferent; finally leading to the usability of the system itself, for usability is a crucial determinant of the success of a system. If the public doesn’t want to use it, the system has failed.
The subject matter of this thesis was not difficult to research in terms finding the information. There was an abundant amount of information to be found on the Internet, published texts and journals, and also at the Job Centre Plus offices as well.
However, the concept of fully automating a social security system has not as yet been established in the U.K. or in the U.S. and that proved to be a very challenging task. I had to attempt to evolve means to automate a service which has never been implemented before. It is also a precarious area where fraud is rife and personal details are placed at the utmost integrity. Understanding the system was absolutely essential, to determine how the system operates, where the flaws are, why and how is the proposed system to over come them.
Initially the thesis was only meant to concentrate on studying the feasibility of automating unemployment claims online. As the research progressed, and organisations such as Centerlink were discovered, I gradually realised the extent of the developments that this project could take. The possibilities for the benefits system were very extensive and I began to find it difficult to focus on the target areas that were outlined in the project proposal. And I believe that certain areas of the thesis do reflect that lack of focus.
In respects of researching data on the U.K.’s system, I found it was easier to attain more comprehensive information about the SSA and Centrelink, which were documented and available in text and website form. As a result I believe that the project does not define the technological environments of the DWP in enough detail as with the foreign case studies, thus making the U.K. system seem patchy and more in disarray. I have attempted to remain impartial to bias attitudes towards the U.K., but I found myself becoming more cynical about the U.K. benefits system. I believe that the U.K. benefits system is extremely inadequate to cater to the huge demands that are made upon it, and nor do I believe that the steps that the government have made are sufficient. I have found it difficult to remain impartial and subjective to the system and I also believe that this is also reflected in the project.
I conclusion, I found this project fascinating and challenging, unfortunately I feel that I have not explores the feasibility aspects of the system as extensively or remained as focussed to the goal as I would have preferred. The benefits system consists of a vast array of different systems and operations. Possibly other government sectors are similarly also in desperate need for re-structuring.