I have recently pondered the question of what technology has transformed social protection the most. Surprisingly, I believe the answer is the humble database and, more specifically, the relational database introduced in the 1970s.
Why do I put database technology ahead of smart phones, the internet and large-scale transaction processing? Quite simply, these other technologies depend on database technology. We talk a lot about data, but the future is dependent on how, where and why data is stored, aggregated and distributed.
I recently attended the 15th ISSA International Conference on Information and Communication Technology in Social Security in Morocco, with over 370 delegates from 90 countries. A recurring theme was the use of personal data in social security administration, followed closely by the protection of personal data. I was pleased to see the convergence of thinking on the importance of leveraging digital data for the delivery of quality services and better social outcomes.
We also focused on the commensurate risks of data use. Gaining and maintaining public trust in how personal data is used was high on peoples’ minds. But unlike previous gatherings, where these risks were almost inalienable, there was an emerging and common understanding that these risks can be addressed. From a technology viewpoint, the database is where it all matters.
Data transparency was the common response to addressing what is effectively a public trust issue. People’s attitudes toward how their data is used are changing at different rates around the world. Keeping people informed of what, how and why their data is used and the value proposition for giving up some privacy rights is critical to addressing the trust equation.
This matter of data protection and privacy is a circular factor in terms of customer experience. More data leads to more targeted and differential experiences based on need and context while getting access to data is a function of people’s experience with the system. If the experience is poor, then trust falls and people will withdraw consent to share and aggregate their data.
I will soon attend the OECD Social Policy Forum, where I will participate in a panel discussion titled, “There’s an App for That: New Tools for Social Policy.” I expect a prominent theme to be how to leverage data while managing risks. Participants will be asked to share experiences of how new technology is changing the design, targeting, delivery, and evaluation of key social programmes, with a focus on efficient and inclusive service delivery to groups with complex challenges.
In preparing for this event, I have pondered being asked to identify the technology that has significantly transformed social policy and service delivery. Database technology has enabled entire populations to be registered to receive social benefits. Policymakers and administrators use data collected and stored on databases to identify new policy and service interventions. It is the repository for historical data for longitudinal analysis and for current data for transaction processing. It also provides the platform for prescriptive analytics.
More than just a filing system for information, database technology enables differential service responses, macro and micro policy development and real-time social programme evaluation. Provided that emerging risks are managed, database technology will power the future of social protection policy and service delivery for all countries, irrespective of their position in the economic and social development cycle.
So as we continue to see the advancement of technology and the ability to harness data, the question remains, how well is your agency prepared to manage risks and improve digital trust?
To find out how Accenture can help you to balance the benefits and risks of digitalisation in a social protection context, visit us at Accenture.com or contact me directly.