Social security institutions in the region of Europe are fostering institutional maturity in governance and performance, and embracing information and communication technologies (ICT) to achieve service excellence in the programmes they administer.
Digital technologies are supporting the drive to provide the best social security services possible, with substantial gains in efficiency, in business operations as well as in cost savings, responsiveness and connectivity. Information culture and information use are the hallmarks of modern social security administration. Going digital simplifies, unlocks and makes more accessible the information stored in huge social security databases. It also facilitates inter‑institutional collaboration and allows a whole-of-government approach to public service. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the use of digital technologies, new working methods, and improved management practices at operational and institutional governance and service levels.
Social security institutions in the region are among the most agile and dynamic in management capacities and practices. Nonetheless, they continue to face challenges due to evolving client requirements arising from demographic ageing, globalization, climate change and labour market and technological changes. Positively, the region is simultaneously ensuring the digital inclusion of clients to make sure that social security services are available at the right time, at the right place and to the right client. The digital transformation of social security is going hand-in-hand with the upskilling and reskilling of staff to adapt to a hybrid environment, new functions and new working methods related to digitalization, data-driven approaches, and a collaborative workplace. Investment in staff capacities as well as in novel technologies and development methodologies are enabling innovations that combine human-and-digital solutions.
- Innovations in social security management practices reflect institutional governance capabilities based on leadership, communication, strategic planning and risk management, as well as inter-institutional collaboration to achieve smarter, more transparent and more responsive social security.
- Digital solutions in social security widen the opportunities for excellence in service delivery. Client-centric service means members and beneficiaries are at the centre of all innovations at all times. The offer of humanand- digital solutions requires anticipation and a deep appreciation of user needs. Understanding the digital capacities of clients, or their lack of these, ensures the best client service for everyone and leaves no one behind.
- Transitioning to a digital environment requires a clear vision of the goals to be achieved. Leadership, a strategic plan, and a whole-ofinstitution approach are key factors to enable a successful transition. Change management and staff capacity building are essential to ensure alignment and commitment amongst all stakeholders.
- The application of ICT solutions is a success factor that also involves new risks and challenges such as potential network fallouts, application (in) stability, system maintenance, security and privacy of personal data. This requires business continuity and risk management plans on both technical and operational levels, to mitigate service delivery disruptions and to ensure institutional resilience.
- Digital technologies enable the evolution towards data-driven social security. Data analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) can vastly improve institutional operations, better inform decisionmaking processes, and control compliance, error and fraud, among other things. Becoming a data-driven institution requires a comprehensive strategy on data governance and data management.
- The analytical power of digital technologies must be supported and balanced with qualitative data, clear and up-to-date regulatory decision rules, and human oversight. At all times, automated decisions require human oversight and accountability.
Facts & trends
Governance and strategy
Strengthening institutional excellence and compliance
Social security institutions in the region enhance excellence in performing their social security mandate through new and improved management practices. The application of ISO standards and the ISSA Guidelines on good governance, ISSA Guidelines on service quality and ISSA Guidelines on information and communication technology are among the references that provide guidance in the continuous improvement of social security administration at the operational and institutional governance and service levels.
In Spain, the National Social Security Institute (Instituto Nacional de la Seguridad Social – INSS) overcame reduced staff levels by automating the retirement pension procedure. This significantly lowered the need for staff intervention in the process, and contributed to the standardization of retirement files throughout the country, thus ensuring equal treatment for all citizens and the efficient reallocation of staff to other tasks. The INSS has also automated data communication to employers about benefits received by their employees, notably disability benefits, to facilitate employer compliance.
In the Principality of Monaco, a new law established Family Benefits services for the Self‑Employed, which offers access to family and prenatal allowances to the entire active population of the principality. The Monaco Social Security Funds (Caisses sociales de Monaco – CAMTI) facilitated the organization of the new scheme holistically through a “customer journey” based on the one-stop-shop principle that covered the governance aspect (monitoring, risk management, inter-institutional coordination and change management of staff) and the requisite documents for new and former members eligible for the new services.
The Social Insurance Fund of the Russian Federation (SIFRF) established a joint project with the Russian Railway and Federal Passenger Company to simplify the process for issuing travel documents and electronic tickets to citizens who are receiving a state service for free travel on long-distance trains to and from the place of medical treatment.
In Italy, the National Institute for Insurance against Accidents at Work (INAIL) established a working group that standardized the upper limb risk assessment process that compares and ensures the correct application of standardized risk assessment methodologies defined by ISO 11228-3:2007 and ISO/TR 12295:2014.
To improve its management of sustainability risks, the National Occupational Union for Employment in Industry and Commerce (Union nationale interprofessionnelle pour l’emploi dans l’industrie et le commerce – Unédic) of France uses returns from socially responsible investments in financial markets to supplement income when its revenues do not cover recurrent and project expenditures.
Delivering quality services
Guided by a client-centric service model to improve customer experience in the digital era, social security institutions in the region are innovating the day-to-day flow of information through IT solutions and infrastructure that manage claimants’ appeals and facilitate interoperability with other institutions to raise the bar of service excellence.
In the area of occupational health and safety (OSH), Italy’s INAIL created an information document on the risks workers at home could be exposed to in different working scenarios. This became the Government’s tool to enforce OSH compliance for workers, and improved the environment for the new ways of working. INAIL also launched innovative e-learning training modules for students, with interactive tools and case studies. The goal is to promote a culture of health and safety, and to raise awareness on the importance of risk awareness and safe behaviour. At the same time, INAIL installed in South Tyrol a project that provides young workers with on-site experience concerning OSH principles.
Another initiative on workplace OSH was that introduced by Germany’s Social Insurance of Agriculture, Forestry and Horticulture (Sozialversicherung für Landwirtschaft, Forsten und Gartenbau – SVLFG). It offers a multilingual web application for seasonal workers in the country, and the web app uses text, images and videos to provide information on relevant OSH issues.
Adapting systems, methodologies and service infrastructure
Contributing to a national programme on the digital economy of the Russian Federation, the Electronic Employment Record Book of the Pension Fund of the Russian Federation (PFRF) uses a new and more efficient format to record information on citizens’ employment, where employers only need to use an electronic work record for each employee to be submitted to the institution.
In Czechia, new legislation stipulates the obligation to issue sickness certificates in electronic form only, with effect from 1 January 2020. The Czech Social Security Administration (CSSA) therefore introduced the e-Sick Leave, replacing the circulation of paper forms amongst four entities (physician, insured person, employer and CSSA) with an electronic portal solution where each entity communicates separately with the CSSA ePortal. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the system successfully helped ensure fast processing of an increased number of notifications and eliminated face-to-face contacts between insured persons and physicians.
In Ireland, the Department of Social Protection (DSP) reformed the administration of the Working Family Payment scheme, which provides income support to low-income families in work, from an old legacy system to the DSP’s strategic IT platform. This allowed the service to re-use processing and database services that are already proven and scalable. It also enabled automated decision‑making, with the customer inputting information that can then be corroborated by other sources to add speed to its service delivery.
The Spanish General Social Security Treasury (Tesorería General de la Seguridad Social – TGSS) adapted its service vision and launched Importass to increase its digital offering to its customers through more inclusive and user-friendly services. The initiative, which has a total of 40 implemented services and a personal area for citizens to consult their social security accounts, implements the institution’s digital-by-default strategy, with the channel becoming the preferred means of communication between citizens and the institution. The TGSS applied innovative methodologies, such as focus groups, social research and usability tests with users to address the adequacy of the new services to the target population groups.
In Israel, the National Insurance Institute (NII) has undertaken legislative initiatives and policy changes to promote social security during the COVID-19 pandemic, and implement organizational adjustments relevant to the crisis, to promote optimal care for insured people. Changes include new online forms for the website section to claim unemployment and old-age grants; upgrading internal systems to improve clerical work; and the use of robots to manage unemployment claims. These improved service delivery and expanded the use of digitization as a tool for implementing solutions.
Digitalization of customer services
Digital transformation makes possible the diversification of institutional service channels. The aim is to provide a better and low-barrier customer service experience, increase customer satisfaction levels and reduce the need for face-to-face interactions and service amidst the pandemic, resulting in virtual social security assistance.
The Finnish Centre for Pensions (FCP) has designed an online service that provides information to handle the statutory social insurance contributions to be paid to various institutions for cross‑border workers. This significantly simplifies the administrative work for employers and facilitates company operations in international markets. Also in Finland, the Social Insurance Institution (KELA) recently deployed two chatbots to support clients in managing their affairs independently, notably to help discover and interpret information and to complete benefit applications.
In Belgium, the National Employment Office (Office national de l’emploi – ONEM) launched a chatbot in 2020 to better enable citizens to provide a copy of their tax forms. Since then, the chatbot has quickly and significantly evolved such that it is currently able to support citizens in complex searches for information, notably on career breaks and temporary unemployment. The chatbot also promotes the use of e-Box, a virtual mailbox through which citizens have access to services in managing their affairs with public agencies.
In Turkey, the Social Security Institution (SSI) provides an online application system that is accessible via various channels such as the Internet and mobile, to explain to pensioners legal deductions from their monthly pensions. This service avoids in-person interaction with SSI officers.
In France, the Central Agency of Social Security Bodies (Agence centrale des organismes de sécurité sociale – ACOSS) launched a specialized website for new employers that provides cross-functional and dynamic access to essential information on legal, tax, social and practical matters, including a tool to simulate social security contributions and estimate total costs for employer projects. Subsequently, the institution has made significant progress to simplify the fiscal and social framework for self-employed workers, allowing the institution to create a complete digital service for these workers. The free service is provided through a convenient mobile app, and facilitates the creation, management and declaration procedure.
The SIFRF of the Russian Federation launched a mobile app, the Social Navigator. It provides information about organizations and agencies that offer services in the social sphere, to build citizen awareness about these. It also serves as a repository for documents required to apply for benefits. The app also pre-calculates the amount of some types of benefits, tracks progress on all payments, and allows applying for new benefits. The personal account of Social Navigator is integrated with the Public Service Portal of the Russian Federation.
To support individuals at or near retirement, the Swedish Pensions Agency (SPA) has launched the Withdrawal Planner, allowing an easy and secure environment for individuals to familiarize and better understand their pensions and retirement choices. The solution was built in close collaboration with the Swedish pension industry, and is a successful example of private-public collaboration in the country.
In Latvia, the State Social Insurance Agency (SSIA) promoted the digital transformation of public services by creating an e-assistant on the public administration services portal. It promotes customer digital skills and reduces the administrative burden in dealing with the post-processing of applications received from local service centres.
To assess customer satisfaction levels for social security services in Azerbaijan, the Agency for Sustainable and Operational Social Security (DOST Agency) under the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection of the Population invested in the automation and digitalization of customer satisfaction surveys, data analyses and management processes. Based on the survey results, an electronic evaluation system called “Q-net” and a “DOST Survey” e-monitoring system to register citizen complaints were established to enable the switch from analogue to digital data processing and analysis processes.
Towards data-driven social security
Institutions increasingly recognize the value of becoming data-driven organizations. Social security institutions in the region have started to apply dashboards, big data, advanced analytics and AI to support management strategic and operational decisions (ISSA, 2019).
Italy’s INAIL launched a tool that allows the statistical analyses of exposure-response relationships to crystalline silica, based on the INAIL database. The tool studies the exposure profiles in different production sectors, develops good practices in the most critical ones and identifies workplace risk control measures. The initiative is also being considered as a support for epidemiological and toxicological studies.
In Belgium, the ONEM developed an open data platform as a strategic decision to innovate the institution’s statistical strategy. The initiative overcame the issue of data scattered across a multitude of databases by capturing the data landscape in detailed but highly useful monthly tables. The platform facilitates the treatment of statistical extractions, avoids the extraction of queries on mainframes, and reduces the inflow of ad hoc data requests. For the statistical and studies department, specific training was arranged to enable development and management of queries and reports. Through the online data platform, ONEM is improving the availability and interpretation of available data, while respecting privacy regulations and budgetary restrictions.
To increase efficiency in the implementation of information policy and the development of information resources, the Social Insurance Institution (ZUS) of Poland built the ZUS Statistical Portal. On this are posted publications, research and analysis results as well as a wide range of statistical data from ZUS statutory activities. The initiative takes advantage of the wide scope of ZUS’ statutory activities and enables numerous statistical surveys that allow crosssectional analysis of phenomena building on social insurance data for internal and external users such as researchers and ministries in Poland. A new initiative, the Interactive Data Platform, will further enable independent statistical analyses (data mining, creation of correlation tables by external users) and data visualization (maps, charts) based on the individual data collected by ZUS.
The German Social Accident Insurance (Deutsche Gesetzliche Unfallversicherung – DGUV) uses a comprehensive approach to accomplish improvements in the quality of care for patients who develop psychological disorders following a work accident. One of the project components is a diagnostic algorithm to enable the automatic collation and evaluation of clinical information to provide an efficient and reliable diagnosis and to suggest appropriate treatment options. As a result, cases are processed faster, enabling an earlier return to work. The quality of case management has significantly improved.
In Turkey, the SSI launched a project to prevent fraud by creating an analytical model with formulas and risk parameters to identify enterprise fraud with regard to social security and workplace declarations. The results were evaluated and shared with the Revenue Administration, to cross-check data with data from tax liabilities. The project aims to create an effective fraud prevention and inspection system by identifying potential cases early.
Investments in human resource management
Digital technologies create many opportunities for human resource (HR) management. Social security institutions in the region are taking various initiatives to innovate the HR function and strengthen staff capacities, the end-goal being to improve institutional performance and raise the bar of excellence.
In Lithuania, the State Social Insurance Fund Board under the Ministry of Social Security and Labour (SODRA) has launched a skill-up strategy for its best core business specialists. The aim is to ensure a sufficient level of knowledge in all of the software quality parameters in the software that provide services to the institution’s stakeholders. To raise IT competencies in the country’s public sector, improving competency management is a response to the current shortage of competent IT professionals.
In Belgium, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the complete digitization of the recruitment and training process at the NEO. The strategy has helped stabilize the workforce and minimize disruptions in the operational processes, and at the same time maintained service quality standards during the crisis.
In Poland, ZUS has facilitated the transformation of the Department of Employee Affairs into a Human Resources Management Department and pivoted its HR function to that of a strategic business partner in strategic decision-making. ZUS also fosters the development of staff competencies, including periodic employee evaluations to identify staff potential and a learning platform to respond to staff training needs. In addition, a policy was established to prevent mobbing, discrimination and other undesirable phenomena in interpersonal relations, and mediation was introduced to resolve conflict situations, the goal being to build positive relationships among staff in the institution.
Digital transformation strategies
To adapt to the changing needs of the covered population and social security staff, social security institutions have embraced the potential of digital technologies to improve effectiveness, performance and service excellence. Developing a clear vision on how to guide the digital transition is key for a successful transformation of operations, public services and staff roles.
In a three-year period, Azerbaijan’s DOST Agency realized an effective and comprehensive digital transition of all processes from the old management system, which by nature had a complex non-adaptive structure. To do so, the Agency established a strategic plan aiming to provide the population with smooth access to State Social Protection Services, eliminating bureaucratic impediments and improving customer satisfaction. The Agency fostered advanced technologies and methodologies to construct and expand the infrastructure for social service provision. This was combined with continuous HR development, more effective corporate management and improved ICT infrastructure and ICT resource management to establish efficient e-governance and deliver quality digital service provision.
The German Federal Pension Insurance (Deutsche Rentenversicherung Bund – DRV) is in the process of a comprehensive digital transformation. The DRV has appointed a Chief Digital Officer and a separate Unit for Digital Strategy and Digital Transformation. A Digital Strategy steers the DRV digital transition. It encompasses overarching guiding principles and strategic digital targets linked to focus areas based on the DRV’s business strategy, notably members, staff, performance, future orientation/innovation and its role in society/ policy, and associated operational digital targets.
Source: ISSA (2022).
Strengthening service quality through automation and control
Sweden’s Public Employment Service (PES) has made significant efforts to address greater consistency, effectiveness and rule of law in its processes, which control that jobseekers are active and meet the conditions to receive unemployment benefits. By introducing new regulations and by utilizing the ongoing digitalization to automate parts in the process, PES undertook a substantial change in the way the control of jobseekers is carried out. PES centralized the control procedure, creating a centralized unit responsible only for the tasks of controlling jobseekers. Specific training on the controlling tasks concerning jobseekers and the service delivered to them helps staff to perform their duties in a correct, homogenous and efficient manner. The performance of the centralized control units is followed up by a compliance team.
Another achievement in establishing improvement in the PES’ performance was to automatize the function to manage jobseekers’ activity reports. An Automatic and Risk-based Review of Activity Reports, a mechanism that sorts reports according to risk severity, identifies which reports the PES must act on. Low risks are automatically marked as reviewed, while high risk reports are filtered out for manual review. The solution strengthens control over the process and improves cost effectiveness.
Source: ISSA (2022).
ISSA. 2019. Applying emerging technologies in social security: Summary report 2017–2019. Geneva, International Social Security Association.
ISSA. 2022. ISSA Database of good practices. Geneva, International Social Security Association.
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UNDESA. 2020. E-government survey 2020: Digital government in the decade of action for sustainable development – with addendum on COVID-19 response. New York, NY, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.