Social Security’s eCAT Tool

SSA’s Electronic Claims Analysis Tool (eCAT): A Model of Innovation

The cross-component Electronic Claims Analysis Tool (eCAT) Team, considered by many to be a model of innovative collaboration, has evolved over the past five years. The Team functions, as much as is possible, outside the limitations of most traditional governmental organizational structures and diverges from the traditional ‘silo-structure’ of SSA systems projects. Although the Team follows the SSA “lifecycle,” they are often able to provide increased functionality earlier in the process, which enables the team to implement some requests prior to expectations. This formulation has led to increased openness to new ideas, more flexibility, as well as increased job satisfaction.

Our cross-component team features representatives from the Disability Systems component working side-by-side with our Disability Policy component. While policy requirements have traditionally driven systems development of applications, never before have the two worked as a single entity. These two components combined into one integral group as a cohesive unit dedicated to maximizing the efficiency of traditionally “siloed” components. In addition to Systems and Policy working together logistically as a discrete organizational unit, we utilized the operational units throughout the lifecycle of the application development. Using this new streamlined approach, the eCAT Team sought the assistance of subject matter experts from the user community across the county. Developing the tool with all parties present ensured that we were capturing the intended requirements and that the tool met the needs of the users. Additionally, by including the users, this increased their ownership in the tool and assisted in training and marketing of the application.

The eCAT Team presented their approach at a Future Systems Technology Advisory Panel (FSTAP) meeting in May 2010, which included not only the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration and numerous SSA Senior Executive Staff, but also VIPs from industries such as Amazon, Craigslist, AARP, Pitney Bowes, IRS, and T. Rowe Price. The Team received extremely positive feedback from the panel members with one individual remarking, “SSA had gotten it right this time” in the way that they developed this tool.

The eCAT Team, often referred to as the “Platinum Standard” of collaboration, has received numerous awards from several components, including a Commissioner’s Team Award, acknowledging the success of their collaborative approach. This Team was the first to utilize successfully an efficient, unique “marriage” between systems, policy, operations, and users to develop a product that clearly exceeds expectations for anything that could be built using a “fractured” approach. This Team has been so successful that the leadership has asked to expand the best practice to additional projects in the agency.

 

 

 

 

Debra Gardiner
Social Security Administration

From our best practice, we noted many efficiencies from reduced re-work of requirements and better communication.  Additionally, SSA employees – internal and external to the agency – have commented that this approach is far superior to the traditional route.   We have documented a large amount of positive anecdotal feedback.  However, we do not have “hard numbers” that compare the traditional/compartmentalized approach vs. the cohesive unit approach for this project.  We believe, however, that there has been a large savings in time and money.

More importantly, we have found that using this approach yields great benefits in terms of employee satisfaction, buy-in/ownership of the project, improvements in moving forward more quickly, and general knowledge transfer.  We have found that working so closely as a cohesive unit results in policy staff learning to “speak” systems and systems learning to “speak” policy. This has been such a positive experience for the entire team that it would be very difficult to go back to doing business the “old” way.

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