Technology can play a key role in expanding social protections that improve people’s lives.
That’s according to Hans-Horst Konkolewsky, Secretary-General of the International Social Security Association (ISSA), who explained the key role of Information and Communication Technologies to expand social services, in a recent ITU video interview.
ISSA, which represents social security administrations, including pension funds and insurance companies from more than 150 countries, recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with ITU. This collaboration will focus on creating guidelines in areas including cybersecurity, digital identity, digital inclusion, and global communications infrastructure. And it is also expected to include collecting data for the ITU Global Cybersecurity Index, organizing events, and promoting good ICT practices for social security institutions.
As one of the leading consumers of technology, the social security sector stands to benefit from advancements in ICTs, Konkolewsky believes.
‘In the social security sector, in social security administration, technology plays a key role.’ – Hans-Horst Konkolewsky, Secretary-General, International Social Security Association (ISSA)
“It is really fantastic for us to discover the power of the ITU, its history and its capacities,” he says. “You have developed a fantastic network of both private and public partners in order to develop international standards and secure that technology really comes to the benefit of people.”
Technology is important to ISSA’s work in offering platforms for social security administrators to exchange information, as well as technical commissions that develop guidelines and best practices, Konkolewsky explains. It also helps the sector contribute to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by supporting efforts to expand social and health protections for all, he says.
“In the social security sector, in social security administration, technology plays a key role,” he says.
Technology can help social security administrators overcome some of the challenges the industry faces, such as the increasing prevalence of cyber risk, Konkolewsky says.
“Cybersecurity has become a critical issue,” he says. “We have had issues of ransomware in national health services in the U.K., and we had many other incidences, so this is one of the critical issues.”
Another challenge is that only half of the world’s population is covered by social security, Konkolewsky says. Mobile technologies can help expand access and make social security offerings more inclusive, he explains. Konkolewsky offers the example of Africa as a model for using mobile technologies to expand coverage to difficult-to-reach areas.
“In order to extend coverage also into remote areas, rural areas, in particular, mobile technology has shown to be fantastic, both as a means to collect the contributions for an insurance but also to do the payments,” he says.
In addition to an increase in mobile technology, interoperable information systems are important to expanding coverage, Konkolewsky explains.
For example, the Brazilian social assistance programme Bolsa Família is a conditional cash transfer system that supports single mothers on the condition that the children attend school and receive health coverage, Konkolewsky says.
“In order to focus this program, you need to have interoperable data systems to reach out to the right people and also to measure the impact of your programme,” he says.
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Another example are smart cards, which can be used for both banking and social security and help reduce transaction costs and organize the delivery of services, Konkolewsky says. China’s smart cards, for instance, have helped extend social services in the country, he adds.
“Much of the increase in the expansion of [social security] coverage over the past 10 years is simply because China’s government has really focused on this social extension issue,” he says.
Big data and big data analytics can also help support the social security sector, Konkolewsky says.
For example, the Republic of Korea uses data analytics systems to produce predictions that allow health providers to prioritize how they focus their resources, he says. In Europe, big data analytics are being used to fight error, evasion and fraud, he continues.
“Big data can help us to reduce that and improve the quality of services.”
Konkolewsky says he looks forward to collaborating with ITU to explore other emerging technologies, including Artificial Intelligence and machine learning, and to develop guidelines that minimize the challenges and optimize the opportunities of new technologies in the social security field.
“There are lots of possibilities of making use of technology to deliver our services in a more efficient, cost-effective way, and in particular with better governance and service quality.”