from digital televisions to cellular phones. This is not to say that the SSA will need to be at the forefront in developing these services. Other private-sector industries will undoubtedly lead the way. The agency will need to be mindful of these and related technologies and how they are being deployed and used, and it will need to be prepared to take advantage of them for its own beneficiaries and users when appropriate.

Deep broadband penetration will provide the opportunity for the SSA’s users to interact with the agency using technologies such as text chat or Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). For example, when filling out a form, a user might click a help link connecting the user to a live help desk using VoIP or chat (as some online retailers do today). Alternatively, a “stuck” user might click on a context-aware help link that would bring up a segment of video demonstrating how to continue filling out a troublesome part of the online application.48

SUMMARY

Like virtually all other organizations inside or outside the government, the SSA must carefully and regularly examine information technology trends. The agency simply could not perform its functions without the use of technology, and its current reliance on technology will inevitably grow as its workload grows and its access to support resources inevitably fails to keep pace. Thus, it is incumbent on the SSA to keep close track of changes and advances in technology. In some areas, notably security and privacy, the SSA seems to be doing a good job of tracking technology and incorporating current best practices into its processes. In other areas, notably databases, the SSA is not on par with technological advances. Ensuring that the SSA is able to keep pace with technology is not only a technological issue but is also an organizational issue. There are other organizational issues that have a direct bearing on the SSA’s ability to roll out needed electronic services in coming years. These are addressed in Chapter 4.

48

There are also technologies known as Rich Internet Applications, such as Flash, Asynchronous Java Script and XML (AJAX), and others that allow Web developers to develop richer client-side applications by migrating pieces of an application from the server to the client browser. See, for example, Jesse James Garrett, “AJAX: A New Approach to Web Applications,” Feb. 18, 2005, available at http://www.adaptivepath.com/publications/essays/archives/000385.php, accessed June 20, 2007. The most familiar example of AJAX technology is probably Google maps (http://maps.google.com), which provides the user the ability to “scroll” the map by dragging it with the mouse. This scrolling occurs locally, with the AJAX application asynchronously requesting additional map segments and/or satellite imagery from the Google server. In addition to providing a richer user experience, applications written using AJAX technology reduce the load on the server. On the other hand, such approaches can conflict with the desire to let the user employ “thin clients” to access services.



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