SSA faces a training challenge
- By Bill Murray
- Mar 09, 1998
Almost 10 years after the advent of Microsoft Windows, Social Security Administration
employees are getting client PCs with graphical user interfaces.
The agency has installed more than a third of the 1,742 LANs running Microsoft Windows
NT 4.0 through the Intelligent Workstation/LAN contract with Unisys Corp., said Tony
Urreta, vice president of operations for Social Security programs at Unisys' Federal
The IWS/LAN contractor is midway through three years of installing desktop PCs,
notebook computers and servers.
The $280 million, indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract has a four-year
service and support period following the installations.
The PCs replace IBM Corp. 3270 dumb terminals that SSA employees have used to access
data on IBM and plug-compatible mainframe computers. It's been a dramatic changeover,
particularly for the 1,500 field offices that process claims, said a legal compliance
manager at SSA headquarters in Baltimore.
Headquarters employees support the field work, so it was easier to begin the PC
installations with those users, agency and Unisys officials said.
Many headquarters employees have used Windows and MS-DOS for years on standalone
systems or networks running Novell NetWare, said Jerry Rieger, director of management
support in the Office of the Assistant Commissioner for Systems.
The big change has been using Microsoft Word instead of Corel WordPerfect and Microsoft
Excel instead of other spreadsheet applications, Rieger said.
Unisys plans to install Microsoft Office in August, Unisys spokesman Mark Root said.
Although headquarters employees handled the transition fairly smoothly, field employees
had a harder time achieving PC proficiency, Rieger said.
One factor in the culture shock was age, Unisys and SSA officials said. More than 86
percent of SSA's 65,500 employees work in the field, and the agency work force is
considerably older than the government average, according to SSA and Bureau of Labor
The wide disparity in PC knowledge among field users prompted SSA and Unisys officials
to design a special training program from CompUSA Inc. of Dallas, Urreta said.
"It's not the normal CompUSA training" corporate users would receive, Urreta
said. The CompUSA trainers first underwent instruction in SSA's business processes.
Each SSA field office designates a training coordinator, said Richard Finton, manager
of the SSA field office in Wheaton, Md.
The coordinator makes sure each employee receives training and sees that the office
remains fully staffed during training, he said.
Users who need additional LAN training go to classes with fewer students and more
one-on-one instruction, Urreta said. Basic training takes three to five days.
The office manager in each field office usually gets enough training to become a
part-time systems administrator who can add or delete users and change passwords, Urreta
Users might soon get computer-based training, Urreta said. Under the existing system,
the only way they can refresh their knowledge is to enroll in another class.
Electronic media would let them review what they learned at their convenience, he said.
Unisys has installed about 25,000 100-MHz Pentium PCs from Win Laboratories Ltd. of
Manassas, Va., Urreta said.
The standard configuration is 32M of RAM and a 1G hard drive running NT 4.0
Workstation. The average SSA LAN includes 35 desktop PCs supported by two Dell Computer
Corp. servers. One server handles files, and the second one supports printing and other
services, he said.
Until it deploys about 90 new client-server applications, SSA is using NS/Elite for
Mainframe Access terminal-emulation software from NetManage Inc. of Cupertino, Calif., to
tap into its mainframe apps.
SSA wanted to make sure work was not interrupted by the IWS/LAN installation, Urreta
To keep downtime to a minimum, Unisys installs the PC networks on weekends.