To some, the thought of a government agency anticipating the needs of its customers is Orwellian at best.
In the future, the Social Security Administration could use technology to predict exactly what customers want -- even before they do.
To some, the thought of a government agency anticipating the needs of its customers – and inherently its citizens – is Orwellian at best. Yet, retail companies like Amazon already do this in certain capacities, sending promotional emails to customers based on metrics like the length of time since a recent purchase of goods.
If government ignores these “transformative technologies,” it risks failing its customers and falling so far behind the technological curve, it becomes little more than a punch line of a service provider, according to Robert Klopp, the chief information officer and deputy commissioner for systems at SSA.
“We all have to start tracking how technology is going to change,” said Klopp, speaking April 5 at a summit held by the nonprofit group ACT-IAC. “We’re not like commercial industries; we won’t go out of business if someone jumps ahead of us in the curve. But we will become ridiculous.”
To Klopp, that means technologies that provide both a predictive look at customers’ lives and a proactive approach to service delivery will be on the table.
He cited how machine learning is being used in health care facilities to improve medical diagnoses as just one example where a potentially invasive technology is being used to improve lives. In the near future, Klopp said Social Security might use similar technologies to improve its “touch point” interactions with customers.
“Customer engagement is going to be more proactive in five years,” Klopp said.
It won’t be about asking customers exactly what they want, but collecting data proactively to anticipate their needs “and then telling them, ‘This is probably something you’ll be interested in,’” he said. “We can proactively get the data we’re talking about and make a decision in an automated way using machine-learning technology available. That’s the world we’re staring into.”
As Klopp noted, early iterations of those technologies exist today and are employed by companies like Google and Amazon. Also, people tend to willingly and publicly share the kinds of data a tech-savvy SSA might want to collect on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter or with other government agencies, like the Internal Revenue Service or the Census Bureau.
To ease Big Brother-like fears, the agency would likely have some kind of “opt-in clause,” though Klopp acknowledged the seemingly limitless tech evolution could undoubtedly provide challenging circumstances.
Imagine a scenario in which a Web-connected watch detects its user is pregnant, triggering an early set of interactions with Social Security regarding the future baby, Klopp said.
Federal agencies won’t be the only organizations struggling with these sorts of policy and tech challenge, he said.
“The technology adoption curve becomes so steep, even the best companies in the world won’t be able to keep up,” Klopp said. “The challenge is to think about where we’re going in a world where that adoption accelerates. The way we’ll interact with customers in the future will be driven so much by technology that we have to start thinking about something fundamental and transformative.”