SSA aims to improve management of e-mail queries

The agency is looking for a commercial e-mail system that enables them to call on experts agencywide to answer questions from the public.

The Social Security Administration is looking for a commercial e-mail system that makes it easier to use the expertise of agency employees to answer customer queries.

SSA currently uses a system developed in-house to manage e-mail from the public. But the system is accessible only to a small number of employees, who must find the answers or the people who know the answers.

According to a notice published Sept. 13 on the Federal Business Opportunities Web site, SSA officials would like to expand the system to include agents in offices nationwide.

"This enterprisewide e-mail solution would allow for the distribution of work to multiple components across the agency so that the available customer service capacity and expertise could be used to the greatest advantage," according to the notice.

SSA receives a steady flow of e-mails. For example, between October 2005 and August 2006, the agency received more than half a million e-mails from the public, an SSA spokeswoman said.

One challenge is getting e-mail messages to the right experts. SSA would like to know if software is available that could analyze messages to determine the nature of a question and direct the e-mail to the appropriate contact.

The agency also wants to integrate the e-mail management system with other systems to manage queries arriving via other avenues.

"Ultimately SSA is looking to integrate all service delivery channels, including e-mail, phone and chat," the notice states. If a customer sends an e-mail message, for example, but would like to switch to chat or telephone, the agency would like that change to be as seamless as possible.

E-mail messages sent to SSA might include sensitive information, such as Social Security numbers and birth dates, so security is a prime concern. Scalability is also important because the agency has more than 20,000 employees who could be involved in dealing with queries. A centralized database is needed to track inquiries and their outcomes.

Finally, SSA officials are also looking for an automated system to keep the messages flowing. For example, they would like to have a system that can suggest potential responses to e-mail messages based on content.