Social Security's Internet Ordering System Can Benefit Other Agencies

Social Security's Internet Ordering System Can Benefit Other Agencies

By Jennifer Freer, Staff Writer

An employee for the Social Security Administration's Seattle office goes online to order 3,000 forms for obtaining Social Security cards. In a matter of minutes, the employee finds out that the forms are available and completes the order.

At an agency warehouse in Maryland, an employee receives the order from the Internet and pulls out a handheld wireless device, scans the bar code for the documents and prints out a shipping label. The forms are mailed the next day.

This new wireless Internet ordering system has decreased the time it takes Social Security to process and ship orders, reducing backlog and saving the agency more than $620,000 a year, with the potential to do the same for other agencies, officials said.

"Other government agencies and the private sector can easily replicate SSA's warehouse program," said Gary Orem, computer specialist with Social Security. The agency's Program Service Center and the Office of Hearing and Appeals are planning to implement the system, he said.

Social Security uses the new $634,000 system for ordering special agency documents, toner cartridges, paper and other office supplies that are stored in agency warehouses and sent out to field offices throughout the country. The agency does not go to retail office supply stores, because these stores would not be able to handle the massive volume of orders, Orem said.

Under the old manual ordering system, Social Security had backlogs of 10,000 to 12,000 items that could take up to 45 days to process, Orem said.

Moreover, it could take up to three weeks to locate supplies if they were moved, and redundant orders were placed because of the unreliability of the process and delivery problems.

Under the new system, orders are shipped within one to two days.

The system, which went live in the spring, was put in place through a contract to help shift the agency to a paperless ordering system, Orem said.

Intermec Government Marketing, a division of Intermec Technologies Corp., Everett, Wash., provides the hardware for the system.

The company supplies handheld wireless devices to collect data and uses a bar code to process orders, said Bill Crumpecker, senior account executive for Intermec Government Marketing. Intermec won the contract in late 1999 and finished implementation this spring.

Radio Beacon, a subcontractor on the work and a developer of management software in Toronto, helps with the choreography in the warehouse with software that makes the wireless technology work, said Tom Berend, director of technical services of Radio Beacon.

The Social Security Administration is the first and only government customer for Radio Beacon, but the company hopes to do more work with the U.S. federal government.

Orem expects to see other organizations use the new system to order Social Security documents. For example, funeral homes, nursing homes and other senior citizen organizations and attorney offices can use the system to order large amounts of the forms to pass along to customers.

There are no other government customers using the system, but other agencies are examining the technology for their use, Orem said.

The U.S. Postal Service, for instance, has expressed interest in a similar system, not for the warehousing but for the bar code and tracking system for tracking packages.

The Health Care and Financing Administration, the Navy and the Patent and Trademark Office are interested in the tracking equipment, Orem said.

Federal agencies are learning from each other and sharing information about information technology innovations that can improve government operations, said Jeremy Sharrard, a research associate with Forrester, a market research firm in Cambridge, Mass.

"The government is beginning to see the benefits of offering services online, both to citizens and businesses. The third step is using the Internet to streamline their own internal processes," Sharrard said.

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