“My company is preparing to implement a new online enrollment system and the response to our initial RFP was great, and all within our budget, so how do we make the best choice for our needs? Help me Rhonda!”
— Jerry H., HR Director
Great 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
Ability to customize with company info and company brand
*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.
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.
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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