In recent years, coordinating service delivery has emerged as an important strategic priority for social security institutions and members of the International Social Security Association (ISSA) have made impressive gains in service quality enabled through information and communication technologies (ICTs). This article builds on good practices of ISSA members from Asia and the Pacific.
Given the diversity of actors involved in social security administration, lack of coordination, or fragmentation, has been a long-standing challenge. Empowered by developments in ICTs, institutions are moving toward integrated or coordinated systems for delivering multiple programmes rather than operating separate systems for each programme. This shift is further accelerated by strategic pressures around delivering value while managing budget constraints. The core objectives are “to enhance the effectiveness of the enacted social policies and to prevent their fragmentation (i.e. prevent the advent of silo situations, wherein programmes, processes or services work in isolation)”.
In practice, coordination can span different levels: Policy, operational (programmes, organizational, plans, ICT capacity), and service delivery (ILO et al., 2021). In addition, coordination may involve processes in one or more institutions (i.e. intra and inter-institutional coordination). This article focuses on ICT-enabled approaches to operational integration. While integration models are still emerging with evolutions in technology and policy, administrative integration across social security programmes could happen at the front-office (client-facing functions) or back-offices or both (TRANSFORM, 2017). In practice, ICT-enabled integration models can be quite varied along this spectrum. Ruggia-Frick (2016) provides a useful organizing framework to delineate the different models for comparative analysis and learning. The coordinated and integrated approaches can be seen in terms of the elements they share (Figure 1). This includes:
Figure 1: Different models of implemented coordinated and integrated approaches to service delivery
- Coordinated processes: Consists of independent systems with processes that exchange data and/or perform cross-institution Internet-based service executions (e.g. through Web Service invocation)
- Common front-end: Consists of independent systems delivering client services by means of a common portal. It enables the implementation of one-stop-shop e-services
- Shared information system: Consists of independent systems sharing an information system with relevant data, such as a registry of beneficiaries
- Common software application: Consists of a business software application implementing social security functions that is shared by the coordinating entities
- Common operational platform: Consists of a common operational platform in which are executed joint business processes implementing functions of the coordinated programme
Source: Ruggia-Frick (2016)
Depending on the elements involved, service and process integration between the back and front office can produce positive outcomes for the client. It can create the conditions for services to provide a comprehensive person-centred approach and respond more quickly and effectively to clients’ needs. Services integration between front and back offices can avoid the duplication of tasks and share back-office tasks, such as human resources and technology solutions (TRANSFORM, 2017).
Good practices from Asia and the Pacific
Over the last decade, several ISSA member institutions have made impressive gains in service quality through ICT-enabled service integration and coordination. In making these strategic changes, institutions have applied the ISSA Guidelines on information and communication technology (ISSA, 2019a) and ISSA Guidelines on service quality (ISSA, 2019b), among others. A number of these experiences were showcased in a dedicated session on integrated service delivery at the Virtual Social Security Forum for the Asia Pacific 2022. Specific integration models across the globe have also been explored through analytical pieces and webinars. This article highlights the recent experiences of member institutions in Asia and the Pacific to identify regional lessons learnt and success factors.
Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, China
With 5,217,700 retirees by the end of 2020, and an expected 170,000 new retirees every year, the Shanghai Social Insurance Centre, under the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security (MOHRSS), China established an integrated online platform to deliver better coordinated and more efficient services (Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, 2021). The MoHRSS integrated several front-end and back-end functions to consolidate formerly separate processes for basic pensions, retirees’ medical insurance benefits, lump-sum family planning reward, housing provident fund entitlement, and hospitalization insurance plan benefit.
The key elements of the integration approach included: (a) cross-departmental data sharing to reduce information requirements, (b) an online single window for submission of all applications, (c) back-office coordination between departments for joint decision-making, (d) integrated decision notification for all schemes via the online single window, and (e) an all-in-one card that consolidates information requirements at application. Launched in September 2020, the integrated platform had benefitted around 102,000 people who applied for 309,000 services by March 2021. The uptake of the approach by retirees is steadily increasing, accounting for 80 per cent of the applications in January 2022.
Iranian Social Security Organization, Islamic Republic of Iran
In the case of the Iranian Social Security Organization (ISSO), the agency pursued vertical integration of the payment process, i.e. centralizing payments made to clients by its different insurance branches (Iranian Social Security Organization, 2021). Traditionally, the long-term benefits of the ISSO used to be paid regionally by each insurance branch separately – an approach that increased the risk of fraud and error, resulted in variable service quality across branches, and created challenges for timely and consistent statistical reporting. Under the integrated approach, the list of payees and amounts is prepared by insurance branches, approved at subsequent levels, and ultimately sent to the Financial Affairs Department at the ISSO headquarters. The department then deposits all pension amounts to the respective pensioners’ bank accounts, thereby ensuring timely and consistent delivery.
National Pension Service, Republic of Korea
The National Pension Service (NPS) in the Republic of Korea pursued integration to improve two processes: claims and payments (National Pension Service, 2021). By converting front-office functions into automated back-office processes, the approach aimed to reduce administrative burden for both administrators and clients.
Typically, to claim the national pension, applicants were required to access their family relations certificate from the Supreme Court and then submit it to the NPS. To eliminate this process, the NPS created mechanisms to directly access the family relations certificate as well as an expanded set of accessible documents. The NPS then automatically tested eligibility to notify eligible pensioners of their rights. Through this integrated approach, the NPS not only significantly reduced the inconvenience of citizens, but also reached pensioners who were hitherto unaware of their rights.
On payments, pensioners were earlier required to submit a copy of the bank account, which led to delays in pension pay-outs. To address this challenge, the NPS formed a committee of the four major public pension providers, including Government Employees Pension Service, Teachers’ Pension and Military Pension; continuously discussed with the Korea Financial Telecommunications and Clearings Institute that is responsible for building and managing joint financial network; and created an identification code for the dedicated pension account. As a result, 50,000 financially vulnerable pensioners a year who use the dedicated account can now receive pension in a timely manner without having to submit a bank account copy.
National Health Insurance Service (NHIS), Republic of Korea
Starting 2011, the National Health Insurance Service (NHIS) in the Republic of Korea consolidated the contribution collection process across five major insurances: workers’ compensation insurance, health insurance, national pension, employment insurance, and long-term care insurance. The objective of the integrated collection system was to eliminate work inefficiencies caused by overlapping administrative tasks and to offer better social insurance services (National Health Insurance Service, 2021).
The shift, which is recommended by the ISSA Guidelines on contribution collection and compliance (ISSA, 2019c), towards an integrated service platform involved three main measures. First, legal amendments were made to allow for the consolidated collection. Second, business processes, standards and forms were re-designed to reflect the integrated approach. Appropriate rearrangement of employees who transferred to NHIS from other agencies was made, while guidance was provided for remaining employees taking on new service tasks. Third, an integrated collection information system was set up, after a six-month pilot and two pre-rehearsals. By unifying the collection, notification and default management through these measures, the integrated approach substantially reduced processing costs while enhancing client convenience.
Social Security Organisation, Malaysia
To reduce the duplication of benefits caused by a fragmented social security system, the Social Security Organisation in Malaysia (SOCSO) established the Social Synergy Programme (SSP) as a one-stop centre for social security in the country (Social Security Organisation, 2021). An ICT platform called “MySynergy System” was developed to integrate all social security benefits provided to SSP members. The centralized data management system underlying this one-stop centre in turn facilitated the prevention of overlapping benefits. Further, the system also generated business intelligence for strategic planning and reporting. The system was developed in-house, resulting savings of 1.5 million Malaysian Ringgits (MYR) in terms of development costs as compared to engaging the services of external system developers. In 2021, a total of 53 agencies in Malaysia were using the MySynergy System.
Civil Service Employees Pension Fund, Oman
The Civil Service Employees Pension Fund (CSEPF) of Oman took a system-wide approach to back-office integration and sought to connect its core pension information system with other government entities (Civil Services Employee Pension Fund, 2021). The main objectives of the integrated approach were to control fraud and error resulting from lack of updates as a result of death, duplication of records, and duplication of benefits. The PIS was connected to six other entitles: (a) National Registry Status for personal information based on the civil number, (b) Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Civil Service for automatic import of payroll data and calculation of contributions, (c) Public Authority Social Insurance for inter funds functions, and (d) Ministry of Manpower and Ministry of Social Development for rationalization of benefits.
Table 1 summarises the key outcomes achieved by member institutions through integrated service delivery approaches.
|Institution||Results achieved||Model of coordination and integration||Scope of data exchange|
|Coordinated processes||Common front-end||Shared information system||Common sofwatre application||Common operational platform|
|SSO,Islamic Republic of Iran||
|NPS, Republic of Korea||
|NHIS, Republic of Korea||
Critical success factors
Irrespective of the type of coordination and integration strategies pursued, a number of factors emerge as crucial across member institutions.
The strategic objectives and the scope of integration must be agreed upon by participating institutions. The NPS in the Republic of Korea organized several consultations towards this; consensus‑building was particularly important as the changes proposed required legal amendments. Similarly, the NHIS in the Republic of Korea emphasized the need to reach a tripartite (labour, management and government) agreement of ministries and institutions involved before the consolidation of contribution collection processes.
Regardless of the integration strategy, effective collaboration is key to joined-up services. This is an even stronger requirement when system-wide integration is sought, going beyond the remit of a single agency. The NPS in the Republic of Korea set up designated committees and taskforces to continuously build consensus and avoid delays arising due to conflicting or competing priorities of participating entities. The SOCSO in Malaysia was especially aware of the perceived loss of autonomy among agencies participating on the one-stop platform, and therefore, designed a non-binding approach which allowed them to retain their existing policies and procedures. To further incentivize agencies to participate, the SOCSO provided free continuous training to coordinators from participating entities on social security and the benefits of the platform.
While front-office integration can be implemented through physical or digital interfaces, many countries have used it as an opportunity transition towards digital single windows to maximize efficiencies. being aware of the risk of leaving the digitally excluded behind, the MoHRSS in China has increased its emphasis on wider outreach and communications to raise awareness of the integrated online platform among pensioners.
Standards-based interoperability is crucial for back-office data integration. Interoperability is the ability of diverse systems and organizations to work together to exchange data. Research across countries in the region shows that interoperability standards, which provide a common language for system-to-system communication, are among the core building blocks of government-wide integration (ESCWA, 2017). When systems are built in silos, they typically lack interoperability, making it challenging and more expensive to share data. The CSEPF in Oman encountered this bottleneck due to technology variances between entities in terms of technology, database types, network devices, etc. This issue is likely to be streamlined substantially with as an ongoing project by the Information Technology Authority of Oman to develop national, cross-government standards for ICT ramp ups.
Back-office integration and coordination with other systems can be a double-edged sword, as the system performance, in terms of data quality, uptime, timeliness, and so on, becomes linked to the performance of shared systems. Initiatives linking administrative records for social security delivery in other regions caution about the need to mitigate this risk from the start (Bartholo, Mustafa and Osorio, 2018). The CSEPF in Oman has mitigated these risks created by creating an interface database that hosts the data and keeps it updated on regular basis.
Integration approaches across countries have invariably led to data centralization and increased data exchange, increasing concerns around data security and privacy. There is growing recognition of the need to rethink data exchange and delivery models to ultimately protect the rights of the clients who are the data principals (Bedi and Sinha, 2021). In implementing integrated approaches, many member institutions have been frontrunners in ensuring privacy by design. The NPS in the Republic of Korea set up a 24/7 monitoring system to pre-empt and resolve any data breaches. Similarly, the massive collection of personal data by the NHIS in the Republic of Korea required strengthening governance and technical systems in place to manage risks posed by potential security lapses.
Coordinating social security programmes across administrative levels (vertical coordination) and across agencies (horizontal coordination) has both policy and operational advantages (Barca, 2017; Lindert et al., 2020). From a policy perspective, integrated approaches can help policymakers equitably prioritize objectives, programmes and population groups while catering to the multi-dimensional needs of the vulnerable through an appropriate mix of programmes (ILO et al, 2021).
From an operational perspective, consolidating delivery systems and business processes can eliminate administrative duplication and vastly enhance client convenience. Potentially, the greater the level of the integration the greater the gains in efficiency and effectiveness of service delivery. However, several challenges and risks emerge when embarking on integrated service delivery models. Safeguards against increasing complexity, greater risks to data privacy and security, and blind spots of digital exclusion must be explicitly built by social security institutions as they make deeper in-roads into service integration. Furthermore, the challenges of agreeing on common approaches between different institutions should not be underestimated. Institutions’ administrative capacity, notably ICT and business process orientation, constitutes a key factor in achieving successful coordinated and integrated service delivery.
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