Social Security's VoIP and UC Future

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INNUA Global Connect 2008, Grapevine, TX - Tom Hughes, CIO of the Social Security Administration (SSA) and one of Nortel's most important customers, said the agency is moving into a future that it doesn't fully understand given the rapidity of technology changes expected in the coming 10 to 15 years.

As the government agency entrusted with distributing 45 million checks per month and $700 billion annually to retirees, widows, and children, SSA currently has an aging telecommunications infrastructure incorporating a mix of TDM technologies from four different vendors. It is also adding new customers at the rate of 365 per hour with an expected 80 million people to receive social security in 2030. The agency has 1,600 offices spread around the country and moves about 150 offices a year.

Long term, SSA is moving to consolidate all their communications to IP, including voice, fax, email, video conferencing, and mobile devices, as well as better managing the network infrastructure. Understanding unified communications within this context is a challenge given the types of information the agency has to work with, such as collecting 1.5 million medical records a day with over 2 billion records on file.

The biggest challenge for SSA is IT security. The agency gets high scores for security practices, but Hughes freely admits that you can't plan for all possible risks in an IT environment now that's its IP-based. VoIP will be carried on an intranet, but further challenges come when third parties outside of SSA need to access data.

"We can't predict all the answers, so we want to start with success," said Hughes, indicating the need to start with steps that are easy to implement and then moving to more difficult challenges. "Once it's up, it is 'Can you do a little more? I want more stuff through this environment.'" Podcasting is one potential area where the technology pieces will enable better service.

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