Can government tech compete with Uber and Netflix?

elements of customer satisfaction

The speed of technological change could soon outpace agencies' ability to make small adjustments to the IT that supports their public services, and transformational change might be necessary to meet the increasing expectations of citizens, according to one top federal IT manager.

Robert Klopp, CIO and deputy commissioner for systems at the Social Security Administration, said companies are realizing that taking incremental steps in their IT operations might no longer be possible and they must instead opt for continual transformational change.

"In 10 years, the technology curve will be so steep that even high-tech companies won't be able to keep up," Klopp said at an April 5 ACT-IAC Customer Experience Summit.

He joined SSA in 2015 with extensive experience in the private sector. Since then, he has been using agile and open-source methodologies to address nagging, expensive software problems and is in the midst of an IT modernization program at SSA.

He said the agency's leaders are taking a hard look at SSA's fundamental customer-facing mission and the technological demands to support it. Klopp added that officials want to better link data from a variety of sources via a more flexible, adaptable platform that can provide customers with tailored services.

For example, an insurance company would know if someone's spouse died, but the survivor might not know how to claim SSA benefits. The agency could access the pertinent claim information without the spouse having to make the initial contact with SSA.

The ability to proactively grab that data requires the agency to be more nimble with its thinking and technology, Klopp said.

Companies like Uber and Netflix were successful so quickly because they had no legacy systems weighing them down. "They jumped out with new technology," he added.

"It's not clear that [federal agencies] can make incremental steps to customer engagement," Klopp said. "It's not just thinking about process. Technological change is fundamental."

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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