Help Me Rhonda!

Rhonda Marcucci, principal at Gruppo Marcucci, offers advice on the Benefits and HR Technology & Outsourcing Industry. Read the 'Help Me Rhonda!' questions and answers below, or use our contact form to submit your question to Rhonda.

 


The Gruppo Marcucci team of consultants is on hand to assist employers, broker/consultants, service providers and other industry stakeholders with questions about today's fast-changing Benefits and HR Technology & Outsourcing Industry.

Rhonda MarcucciMarti, if a service provider isn’t enthusiastic about a particular process or protocol, then, yes…it may be a red flag, but not necessarily one that should concern you about the service provider. First, the service provider may be correct—it may not be a best practice and the provider wants to ensure your company is using the most current industry standards.

Beyond that, it’s also possible the protocol in question is outside the scope of the service provider’s expertise, and this is their way of telling you that. One of my top “lessons learned” is to not encourage service providers to deliver on technology or services beyond their area of expertise just because a client wants it.

These folks want to be responsive and to make you happy, but if you push them into areas for which they are not well-suited, you may be inviting problems or a service decline in other areas as they scramble to effectively support an area that falls outside the core functionality (or the service provider’s core competencies).

My suggestion is to discuss in detail the services you want with the service provider and be open to alternative approaches. Ask for an honest assessment of how the desired services can best be delivered. Depending on the system (and the desired process), a third-party product may effectively be integrated into the platform. Ultimately, you’ll have to determine how important it is to mirror your existing protocol and also if you want to proceed with a provider that may be delivering services outside the scope of their expertise, or if you need to look at another provider.

Read more about this and other “lessons learned” from GruppoMarcucci that can be useful to human resource managers overseeing the outsourcing or implementation of employee benefits systems in the article Managing Expectations, published by Human Resource Executive Online.

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If your company is planning to bring in a new service provider to manage your online benefit enrollment system, Rhonda Marcucci and her team of industry specialists are available to assist with any or all phases of the project—from needs assessment to product selection and implementation support. Contact Rhonda at Rhonda@gruppomarcucci-usa.com or call GruppoMarcucci at 1.312.690.2690.


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Rhonda MarcucciSam, your question is a good one as a well-planned RFP is critical to an informed selection. There are several things you can do upfront to help guarantee a productive and cost-effective RFP process.

First, meet with the various stakeholders in the company to assess their needs and thoughts about the current system. What works; what doesn’t? What is the minimum functionality; what’s their “blue sky” wish? Don’t forget to include end-users—the employees! There are many systems out there that dazzle HR or IT staff, but the employee, not so much.

Ask for sample RFP from several different service providers and take the best elements from each. These folks are not the enemy; they want to help you make a decision that is mutually beneficial. Similarly, check with like-organizations that have gone through a recent selection process and ask if they will share their RFP (invite them to strip out propriety information).

Include in your RFP an “Additional Information” section that invites service providers to share relevant information not specifically requested. Service providers are often subjected to processes that constrain them from providing advice to make the decision-making fair and simple. You may get great information and insight by simply allowing them to tell you what they think.

Finally, consider hiring a consultant to assist in the process. There are hundreds of service providers in the market but only a small percentage will adequately meet your specific needs. A consultant can quickly narrow the pool so you engage with only a handful of qualified providers, and also help to ensure your RFP will return the information needed to make a decision. While you may choose to limit a consultant’s role to assist with RFP development and distribution, a consultant can also help you assess RFP responses and assist you with final selection and implementation, if desired.

The selection and introduction of a new HRIS/Benefits Administration system is no small undertaking and often involves a great deal of emotion. A well-planned and managed RFP process can limit much of the stress that accompanies this process and deliver a “best fit” servicer provider.

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If your company is planning to bring in a new service provider to manage your online benefit enrollment system, Rhonda Marcucci and her team of industry specialists are available to assist with any or all phases of the project—from needs assessment to product selection and implementation support. Contact Rhonda at Rhonda@gruppomarcucci-usa.com or call GruppoMarcucci at 1.312.690.2690.


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Rhonda MarcucciGlad you asked Sandra! You’re about to make a major commitment regarding the management of your employee’s data, so you want to be sure the term of the contract is beneficial and fair. I recommend an initial term of three years with an annual renewal option. Given that you typically need to begin researching a service provider a year or more before you go live with a new system, any term less than three years would barely provide time for the new system to be in place beyond the first full enrollment cycle before you’d need to consider the decision to stay with that provider. An average notice for non-renewal is 60 to 90 days. Introducing a new system is a complex process; you need to allow a little time for you and the service provider to adjust to one another and implement changes to the system to accommodate your needs.

Longer than three years, however, creates the potential for you to be locked into a relationship that is not working and can’t be fixed. While I never recommend casually walking away from a service provider (you’ve invested in that relationship so you want to give it time and care to try and make it work), there are times where it’s just not the right fit and you need to move on. After a year or so you should know if there are problems and you then have time to work on the problems and/or explore alternative service provider options before you must make a decision regarding contract renewal.

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If your company is planning to bring in a new service provider to manage your online benefit enrollment system, Rhonda Marcucci and her team of industry specialists are available to assist with any or all phases of the project—from needs assessment to product selection and implementation support. Contact Rhonda at Rhonda@gruppomarcucci-usa.com or call GruppoMarcucci at 1.312.690.2690.


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Rhonda MarcucciGreat question Jerry! There’s no shortage of systems available, and many offer some very attractive bells and whistles. Consequently, some companies end up buying the sizzle, but don’t get the steak. Here are some tips to help you evaluate your options and ensure the best product for your company.

When it comes to online benefit enrollment systems, my experience from working with employer groups is that many don’t really understand what they are buying and, given the newness and complexity of the market, that’s understandable. My analogy of the steak and the sizzle is apt, but let me offer another one we commonly use in my business: Buying sex without reproduction.

Although bit tongue in cheek, it illustrates the issue. The sex may be great, but unless you really understand how reproduction works (and works for you), you may be unsatisfied with the relationship. In this scenario, “sex” is the bells and whistles that can make a system very attractive to a buyer. “Reproduction” is all the inner workings and functionalities of a system—much of which may be behind the scenes and not very sexy—but critical for end success.

Presumably your RFP was detailed enough that any unique requirements for your company were identified and you’ve narrowed the pool of service providers down to three or four finalists that all appear be able to technically meet your needs. More than that will be very time consuming selection process and it can be hard to keep focus on the details of each.

Begin by asking for a web demo of each system, ideally in a live controlled environment (as opposed to demo environment that may have functionality that will not be in production for six months). You want to be able to see the system operate, and experience first-hand its specific functionalities. Ideally, the service provider will supply a login and password that lets you play around in a demo environment, but don’t discount a provider who fails to make this available; it’s not a standard practice.

Your demo should address the system’s set-up or configuration screens so you can see and discuss how your specific plan rules—particularly unique plan rules or unique data management needs—will be set up. Again, you won’t be able to effectively evaluate the overall product unless you can see, first-hand, how the system will function for your environment—not the service provider’s sale presentation environment, where it’s easy to be distracted by all the cool stuff the system offers which may or may not add any real value for the end user.

Involve key stakeholders in the demos, and don’t forget to include end-users. (Your HR data entry clerk and the new hire in marketing bring a valuable perspective that senior management won’t likely have.) Depending on how many people you enroll in the demo/review process, develop a simple evaluation form so you can collect and compare feedback. Some examples of features to evaluate include*:

  • Ease of employee use
  • Ease of benefit administrator set-up
  • Progress monitoring
  • Information control
  • Ability to customize with company info and company brand
  • Data integration
  • Data security
  • Reporting
  • Service support

*List is not all-inclusive and not all stakeholders will be in a position to evaluate all features

When evolving multiple stakeholders in the demo review process, you may want to prioritize stakeholder input up front. What I mean by that is that various stakeholders will likely have different opinions because they come with different interests. For example, employees may rank highest a system that offers the friendliest user experience (again…the sexy part), but your IT folks may tell you the interface of that same system with your employee database may be troublesome. In this case, the IT opinion is likely to outweigh the employee opinion.

If the new system will be integrated with existing components/software, give careful attention to this situation. Ask how the integration will take place, and consider the risk and impact of integration failure and plans to address related problems that arise.

Finally, I noted data security as a possible checklist item. While data security warrants its own “Help Me Rhonda” column, suffice it to say that this is an extremely important consideration and you may want to have a third-party expert evaluate the system on the basis of security. The added time and expense pale compared to the cost (and pain) of stolen employee data.

With through planning and a strong review process you increase the likelihood of selecting a good system that’s right for your organization. That said, you may have a few post-purchase surprises. Recognize this as the nature of the beast, but minimize the pain of these surprises by including in your assessment the process and cost for post-implementation system alterations.

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If your company is planning to implement a new online benefit enrollment system, Rhonda Marcucci and her team of industry specialists are available to assist with any or all phases of the project—from needs assessment to product selection and implementation support. Contact Rhonda at Rhonda@gruppomarcucci-usa.com or call GruppoMarcucci at 1.312.690.2690.


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Rhonda MarcucciDear Tamara,
Even the most sophisticated data protection systems aren’t 100% full proof. And while a good system may deter most hackers, many data breaches stem from inadvertent actions. Having a well-thought out response plan ready is critical and can save much time and headache down the road.

The key question is: What and when do you tell to whom? If you wait until there’s a breach, it’s likely to be chaotic as things gets sorted out. Familiarize yourself with the HIPPA and HITECH regulatory guidance on notification: who needs to be notified (the employee, the media, Health & Human Services), when (without delay, no later than 60 days) and how (email, in writing, by phone). Depending on the type of data and number of individuals affected, the notification process can be complex and costly.

Speaking of cost, I recommend you contact your risk manager to find out if (and what kind of) insurance is in place. Many companies purchase insurance to lessen the financial impact of a data breach.

If you are using a third party service provider to manage your benefits data, talk to them about their responsibilities—legal, contractual and regulatory. A good provider will have their own plan, but it worth confirming this and also to understand the data protections they have in place.

Beyond the legal and regulatory aspects, the goal of any good plan is to avoid panic. A plan that lays out who convenes a response team, who’s on the team, and a clear outline of obligations to your employees will usually suffice. The plan should be specific, however. “Convene a response team” is not good enough. Spell out who’s on the team and their roles and responsibilities. You might want to consider a “first-response” team to deal with the regulatory/contractual issues, and a second team to handle media and PR issues. Again, the nature of the breach will determine the extent to which a response is needed.

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If your company is planning to bring in a new service provider to manage your online benefit enrollment system, Rhonda Marcucci and her team of industry specialists are available to assist with any or all phases of the project—from needs assessment to product selection and implementation support. Contact Rhonda at Rhonda@gruppomarcucci-usa.com or call GruppoMarcucci at 1.312.690.2690.


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Rhonda MarcucciTom, there’s no clear right or wrong here. While it might initially seem preferable to deal with a single company that provides solutions for 100% of your service needs, you may find that just because a company offers soups to nuts doesn’t mean the whole meal tastes good. Some companies limit their services to one or two core competencies and strive to be better at those than anyone else.

With today’s data integration capabilities, multiple systems can effectively be combined. On the flip side, there may be added cost to do so and, depending on the relationship of the various providers involved, you could find that you need to dedicate more resources to manage the relationships. Conversely, going with the simplest or cheapest approach may not provide the quality of service you want. So what’s a HR director to do?

I recommend you begin by listing all the services you want in an online enrollment system and then categorize them as “must haves” versus “would like.” Engage all stakeholders in the dialog. (Your IT folks likely view things differently than your benefits administration staff.) Next, itemize (and prioritize) these needs in an RFP and ask that respondents specifically outline how they will provide these services, e.g., directly or via third-party alliances, and to identify their partners.

While it can create more work on the front end, this information lets you follow up with specific questions about data integration, their partnership model(s), and also allow you to research the partnering companies directly, if you choose. Ideally, you want to have the same confidence in third-party providers as you do in your primary provider.

One of the main areas of interest with multiple service providers is data management. Are the various systems fully integrated or are file feeds required and, if so, for how many systems and what effort will be required to execute data exchanges?

A fully integrated system allows for the seamless transfer of data and a “one-touch” experience based on a single database. Many service providers say they are a fully integrated system although there may technically be two or three separate databases. So long as data flows between the databases without manual intervention, you can consider this a fully integrated system and expect real time information updates, thereby enhancing the user experience.

As for off-shoring, in today’s telecommuter world, concerns with off-shoring are lessened unless you have concerns with a specific location due to security, regulatory or other country-specific issues. Off-shoring can provide additional benefits such as 24/7 call centers and technical support at a more competitive price. Ultimately the decision to off-shore (or not) will likely be based on your business environment/culture and personal comfort zone.

Whatever route you take in selecting an online enrollment system, most important related to third-party providers is to fully understand how your system is designed to function, the role of the primary service provider as it relates to third-party services, and who has responsibility for problem resolution—both the problem “fix” and any associated liabilities. Your goal should be “no surprises” if and when an issue arises due to third-party provider.

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If your company is planning to bring in a new service provider to manage your online benefit enrollment system, Rhonda Marcucci and her team of industry specialists are available to assist with any or all phases of the project—from needs assessment to product selection and implementation support. Contact Rhonda at Rhonda@gruppomarcucci-usa.com or call GruppoMarcucci at 1.312.690.2690.


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About Gruppo Marcucci

Gruppo Marcucci (GPM), a division of Gallagher Benefit Services, Inc., provides outsourcing intelligence and associated consulting to stakeholders in the Benefits and HR Technology & Outsourcing industry. Our in-depth understanding of the service provider market and our vast experience sourcing and implementing solutions is key to our clients achieving full operational success.

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October 25, 2017
Thank you @HRTechWorld for an amazing 2 day conference - looking forward to implementing insights for all of our HRBT clients! #HRTechWorld

Thank you @HRTechWorld for an amazing 2 day conference - looking forward to implementing insights for all of our HRBT clients!

October 25, 2017
“New #HRTech is good but implementing it well will free us. We must stay human.” - @scharfe closing out #HRTechWorld

“New is good but implementing it well will free us. We must stay human.” - closing out

October 25, 2017
“We need to accept that there is no one system and figure out how to aggregate the #HRTech data” - @Josh_Bersin at #HRTechWorld

“We need to accept that there is no one system and figure out how to aggregate the data” - at

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