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CHAPTER IV Human Factors The Social Security Administration employs 86,000 people and deals in one way or another with everyone in the country. Clearly, therefore, human factors permeate today's SSA process. As SSA attempts to increase efficiency, improve responsiveness, and apply automation, human factors considerations will become even more pervasive and critical in the future SSA process than in the present one. The basic question is how can the discipline of human factors engineering, and such behavioral sciences as psychology and sociology make significant contributions to the design, development, and imple- mentation of the future SSA process? Moreover, have human factors been taken sufficiently into account and provided for appropriately in SSA planning? The panel is aware that in relation to the future SSA process, the problem-solving power of the social and behavioral sciences may be lower than that of computer and communication science and engineering. Yet, the sheer weight of the human factors problems in the future SSA process makes this a sticky area. The product of the power-to-solve and the need-for~solution (the quantity that should be Considered in allocating effort among areas) is quite high in the human factors equation. If the panel had only the formal SSA planning documents to judge by, it would have to conclude that human factors were being relatively though by no means wholly neglected. However, numerous informal panel discussions with SSA employees have revealed a keen awareness within the SSA of the importance of human factors in the future SSA process. Moreover, the SSA has i ssued a Request for Proposals for a human factors test and evaluation facility, which spells out several such problems in full and clearly anticipates marry others. On the basis of all that is known to it ~ the panel concludes that human factors are likely to get much more nearly an appropriate amount of attention than usually happens in large information system developments. The proposed e ffort in the test and evaluation of human factors is weighted heave ly toward mar-machine interaction. In view of the heavy emphasis on the exploitation of computers in the future SSA process, T.~e~ghting in that direction is appropriate. Even so, somewhat more Phases should be placed on such psychological and psychosocial questions as: What factors basically determine the attitudes of clients 44
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45 toward the SSA? How can clients be led to appreciate what significant benefits they are getting? What are the truly critical problems affecting promptness in the delivery of services? How can the attitudes of SSA employees be developed to foster efficiency, enter into a produc- tive relationship with computer technology, and guard against internal malfeasance and fraud? What factors will determine the acceptance or rejection of the new systems and processes by field personnel? The success of the human factors test and evaluation facility will depend critically upon selecting an outstanding contractor and upon integrating the work done in the facility into the mainstream of the future SSA process. The contractor must have advanced expertise in human factors and software engineering. These are hard requirements to meet. It may be necessary to create a team of vendors to handle the job. The problem is especially acute for software because, if the impression given by the REP is accurate, the facility, in effect, will be defining the software for the district and branch offices. The panel knows, however, that considerations of human factors in large system development projects tend to operate off to one side and not to be viewed as central or dominant by hardware and software developers. The SSA needs to consider whether the facility should be promoted from a "human factors test and evaluation facility" to something like "field office system development, test, and evaluation facility." Training today's SSA personnel to use the new tools and techniques and merging these employees into the process will be very difficult undertakings. It appears that thus far the planned personnel allocation is only 6 man-years per year for training--as contrasted with a peak of 474 for programming. The panel recommends that SSA take early steps in the planning process to get an adequate training program underway. The panel supports the SSA intention to use computer-assisted instruction and related computer-based techniques to train and tutor the users; but the panel doubts that the computer will turn out to be so effective that only a handful of teachers, under the current plan, will be able to train 40,000 to 50,000 employees. Some concern has been expressed by the panel about the prospect of a terminal on every desk in the district and branch offices. Would the presence of the terminal--a symbol of cold technology--have a bad effect upon a significant number of clients? It is likely that this concern will be shared by others outside the panel, probably by many others, and unlikely that the question will go away until either there is a plan not to have a terminal on every desk or there is convincing evidence that terminals will not have adverse effects upon SSA clients. The catch is that it will be very difficult to formulate any kind of experiment, short of a major field trial, that will change the conviction of anyone who is already convinced about the answer to the question. The mix of tasks previously performed by man or machine will be carried out more effectively and efficiently in the future by an evolving combination of the two. The right balance between the combined involvement of man and machine in system functions can only be determined after systematic studies of human factors. The significant issues to be
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46 addressed include client-employee acceptability, privacy/security, accur- acy, complexity, speed, and accountability. There is more to human factors as they pertain to the future SSA process than is formalized in any discipline. A large body of pertinent experience exists within the SSA, and the SSA has undertaken a study of the application of human factors to its proposed data processing system. A significant amount of the SSA's experience still remains to be chan- neled into the program of the test and evaluation facility and, indeed, into all sectors of the development of the future SSA process. Wherever possible, human factors experts and other behavioral scientists in the process of influencing design or implementation should be brought into discussion with experienced SSA personnel.