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Author's profile photo Hein Keijzer

Intelligent social welfare


Organised annually by the European Social Network (ESN), the European Social Services Conference (ESSC) brings together all those with an interest in social welfare to exchange knowledge on contemporary social policy and practice. This year it was the 26th edition of the ESSC entitled ‘Invest – Innovate – Transform: Empowering people and communities‘ and was organised for the first time in association with the Regional Ministry of Equality and Social Policies of the Regional Government of Andalusia, Spain. The conference was held in the beautiful city of Seville. It was a world-class conference; well-organised, great speakers, and a fantastic program.


How important is ICT in Social Security? Well, ICT often makes the difference between what can or can’t be done in terms of policies and service delivery. Failure to establish adequate ICT strategies and capacity can impact the government’s ability to meet public expectations, and this can have political implications. Gone are the days when Social Security agencies worked with paper-based forms, and caseworkers took decisions only after all the forms had been completed. Throughout the conference, various organisations from all sectors hosted workshops showcasing the latest good practice examples from across Europe.  Within the overarching theme for 2018, improve services by empowering the people and communities which are at the heart of social welfare, the ESSC featured innovative initiatives on the following four streams:

  • INVESTING in people-centred services
  • INVESTING in new forms of partnerships
  • INVESTING in the social service workforce
  • INVESTING in technology

One of the good examples I heard last week was about voice recognition in Andalusia. Instead of making notes after a visit or consultation caseworkers can with use of technology record their notes. Based on research voice recording is less error-prone in comparison with typing the same notes. Voice is growing in importance as illustrated in this article.

SAP was invited by the ESN to participate in their conference too – something to be proud of! SAP’s involvement was spearheaded by it’s think tank for Public Sector, the SAP Institute for Digital Government (SIDG), which aims to create value for government by leveraging digital technology to meet the needs of citizens and consumers of government services. The SIDG has been especially focused in the area of Dynamic Social Security. For example, the Institute published a paper together with the Australian National University on ‘The Digital Nudge in Social Security Administration’, explaining how predictive analytics could help drive behavioral change for better social and economic outcomes.

In preparation for this Conference, the SIDG published four articles exploring the application of digital technologies to enable Data-driven Government:

SAP was invited to run a workshop, in which we explored the application of Predictive Analytics, Machine Learning and Real-time Computing to Social Services policy and practice. The session included a video of a machine learning prototype, developed by Queensland Office of State Revenue. In addition, SAP presented a draft Maturity Model for Data-driven Government, and encouraged real-time contributions from the ESN members and delegates. Once finalized, the model will enable agencies and governments to self-assess their preparedness for data-driven transformation. After the workshop a lot of questions were raised mainly about the use (and the training) of Machine Learning capabilities as illustrated in the abovementioned video.

Machine Learning enables algorithms to “learn” from existing data and achieve the best possible outcomes without being explicitly programmed. Once the algorithm is trained, it can then predict future outcomes based on new data. Advances in machine learning are enabling algorithms to become highly accurate in natural language understanding and in image and speech recognition.

Advanced Analytics: The integration of advanced analytics capabilities into applications enables business users to analyze data on the fly and drives better decision making. Empowered users, benefiting from embedded analytics in business processes, can get real-time visibility into their changing environment, simulate the impact of business decisions, and achieve better outcomes.

The Intelligent Organisation

The global economic growth of the last nine years has been powered largely by technology. Record corporate profits and new business models can all be tied to technology-driven innovation. Barriers to entry have been brought down due to technology and there is fierce competition everywhere. On average, an S&P 500 company is now being replaced once every two weeks and this “tumble rate” is accelerating – with the difference between winners and losers tied to their ability to embrace digital technologies. The next decade will see even more tectonic shifts. The era of the Intelligent Enterprise will be powered by machine learning, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and advanced analytics. We’ve been hearing these phrases a lot in lately but to now organisations have built the systems for gathering huge troves of data, but they haven’t yet learned much from it. The answer: Embed these technologies across the organisation.

Why is this significant? Computers have gotten good at interpreting and understanding new sources of data, like the voices on a phone call, the text of an email, and the content in video and photographs. As computer capabilities keep maturing, they’ll act on information gleaned from those data sources, applying insight and learning to improve along the way. Human workers will be freed up from repetitive tasks and will spend more time on creative and strategic work that a computer can’t do.

And that answers the ‘Why’. Caseworkers and everybody who’s working in the social services or welfare space is focused on the well-being of the ones in need: people with disabilities, elderly persons, young children: vulnerable people. Let modern technology be of assistance in a way the staff can pay more attention to the people who needs their attention.

Visibility, Focus and Agility

Organisations will accomplish more with less, giving their “customers” better experiences, and find new ways and sources of needed attention and care.

There’s a lot to unpack in all that but here’s some specifics that could be expected as organisations evolve into Intelligent Organisations:

  • Visibility –They’ll collect and connect previously siloed data recognize unseen patterns.
  • Focus – Use those patterns to run predictive models to prioritize, set strategy and allocate resources.
  • Agility – Politics are dynamic and conditions can shift suddenly. Business processes will adapt along with them.


Intelligent Social Welfare is something I had to think of during the conference with a theme as “Invest, Innovate and Transform”. Innovation in a sector who’s looking after vulnerable people might sound scary or even impolite but in the end, it’s the way to enter the next era which is called “Intelligent” and were technology shall help us. Why shouldn’t we have a try? The company I work for has a mission and a purpose. SAP technology helps to improve people’s lives through innovation. Let’s work on improving vulnerable people’s lives with the use of ‘intelligent’ technologies to help the world run better.

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