500 billion euros! That's the colossal sum handled every year by the information system at ACOSS*, the central social security agency in charge of France's URSSAF network, which collects contributions from employees and employers to finance social security benefits and state health insurance. And over the years, the role of these organisations has expanded to include collections for various unemployment and retirement programmes as well.
The ACOSS information system is like a bank's — critical, complex and constantly being upgraded. The agency is considered an essential service provider (Opérateur de Service Essentiel – OSE), so its IT department needs to be on the leading edge of information technology to guarantee robust performance and system resilience.
With calls to modernise France's public services, and in line with its efforts to build trust in digital transactions between employers and the URSSAF, ACOSS has launched a far-reaching transformation project aimed at offering top-quality digital services to its network and the organisations, individuals and self-employed workers who pay into these government programmes.
The agency decided it needed a dedicated "digital factory" to lead its innovation projects, and selected Thales, based on its credentials as a trusted partner for critical systems transformation, to put the plan into action.
Thales had three months to draw up a roadmap to guide ACOSS through its future transformation. The Group has been providing technology consulting and software development services to ACOSS for the last five years, so this wasn't the first time Thales had worked with the agency's IT teams.
Rethinking the applications
The end result of the transformation at ACOSS will be a complete set of up-to-date, interoperable digital services for users. The whole user experience is being redesigned to make the services more attractive and easier to use, and the applications themselves are being rebuilt from the ground up to encourage employers to go digital and also to help fight fraud and undeclared work.
And when it comes to IT, the agency has some serious credentials of its own — the IT department accounts for more than two-thirds of the ACOSS workforce of 1,500 people.
Persuade and reassure
ACOSS sees its digital factory as a hotbed of innovation, an engine of creativity where dozens of new applications can be quickly put together and tested on users. Some of them will go live, others will not. The agency is adopting "agile" working methods to harvest new ideas, test new applications as quickly as possible and then release incremental improvements based on user feedback.
Working with the URSSAF lab set up by the agency's Innovation & Digital Technology department, the new entity is set to become a full-scale digital hub and an incubator for new ideas and innovation projects.
The whole idea is user-oriented. End users play a key role in a "co-design" process specially engineered to respond to their needs and expectations in every detail.
With IT teams, operational staff, employers and outside partners all working together, the digital hub offers a unique environment for ACOSS and URSSAF staff to develop new skills and propose modern, efficient new services for users.
The human factor is of paramount importance in digital transformation projects by organisations like ACOSS. Thales consultants are well aware that people can be afraid to change their habits and need reassurance at every step of the transformation process. For the ACOSS project, a whole series of information sessions and meetings were needed to address employees' concerns about how their roles could be impacted by the digital factory project.
In terms of technology, Thales recommended using a public cloud infrastructure to develop and test new use cases. There was some initial reticence about the idea — not surprisingly, for an organisation that manages vast sums of money and has a vested interest in transaction and data security. But in the end, it was an opportunity for ACOSS to take a long, hard look at its cloud strategy (internal and external) and opt for the development of a digital platform that could be used both inside the organisation and with outside parties.
Between January and March 2019, Thales consultants hammered out the organisational and operational details of the digital factory. They worked with the different players at the IT department to reach a consensus on the approach to adopt, and the agency has followed this digital transformation blueprint ever since.
The ACOSS digital factory will have played an instrumental role in the agency's transformation. New skills and working methods will progressively take root at every level of the IT department, and when that process is complete, the digital factory will have accomplished its mission and may no longer be needed.
In the meantime, however, there's every chance it will help to unleash the agency's potential for innovation and creativity for quite a while!
* ACOSS: Agence Centrale des Organismes de Sécurité Sociale