Evaluating service providers for online enrollment systems.

“I’m charged with evaluating service providers for online enrollment systems. Some directly provide a wide range of services (COBRA, verification, spending accounts, call center, etc.) while others partner with third-party service providers, and still others don’t offer some optional services at all and we’d need to identify our own partner. Which approach is best and should I be concerned with off-shoring?”
–Tom, HR Director


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.

...

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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