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HR technology checklist

How to find the best technology to manage benefits

With most HR managers now spending 10 percent to 40 percent of their time in meetings and the rest dealing with strategic issues and managing paperwork and employee benefits changes, it's no wonder that they are seriously looking to, or are already using, technology to help manage day-to-day details.

Having a benefits management system in place means "less 'stickies' all around my computer," for Jennifer McCreight at Guidance Software, and many other HR professionals formerly required to "collect all of the forms, fax them to the broker and before that fax them to each carrier" and who can now click on an icon to get the same results. And according to Jan Coulman, benefits manager at UBISOFT, "Our HR department saves on average about two-and-a-half days per month by eliminating manual processing."

As software can cut the time required to execute many tedious tasks in half, it can be a great help to HR managers, but how do you know which solution to select to best meet the needs of your organization?

Flexibility and scalability: Given that you may be importing data from multiple Excel spreadsheets, databases and paper documents, the provider you partner with should be flexible -- able to interface with all kinds of systems and data. The software should also accommodate company-specific eligibility rules, employee classifications and company locations.

Ownership of the Data: Organizations should have full ownership of their data and be able to transport it to any ASP. If the data resides on a carrier's proprietary server, it is often not transportable without additional charges, should you decide to switch carriers.

Security: Established ASPs should have daily backups, backup servers, added protective layers and other systems and procedures in place to safeguard information from being lost or accessed by unauthorized personnel. You should have exclusive authority to decide who will be allowed access and to what degree.

Robustness of the eligibility engine: A truly capable enrollment engine will evaluate each enrollment activity and apply any necessary combination of rules, messages, prompts and options specifically designed to meet the exact eligibility requirements desired. You should not have to modify your eligibility rules to accommodate a piece of software. If you have a specific need, you have every right to expect software to accommodate it.

Self-service: Given the wide access to computers at home -- 70 percent of the population has home access -- and at work, the time and cost-savings possibilities and employee satisfaction at gaining access, enabling individuals to directly access and manage benefits online is a natural extension. "We no longer have to manually enroll employees, fax cost or reconcile invoices," said Linda Graham, HR manager for Encore Credit Corp. "Benefit enrollment is organized in a single location. Employees enroll themselves which saves processing time."

Reports: Software should offer multiple views, big picture assessment and the ability to drill down to enhance decision-making.

Linking with carriers: Connectivity should be judged not only by the number of carriers the software has relationships and can connect with, but by the type of connection that it enables. Many providers enable transmission of a generic ANSI 834 file, which may or may not be accepted by the carrier, a factor often influenced by the size of the group. HR managers should look for providers that offer clean, validated transfers -- ensuring the eligibility of the transaction -- customized to each carrier's needs to avoid issues.

Customer service: As you enter into a partnership with your ASP provider, you will want to know if you will quickly be able to talk to a human or become a prisoner in voicemail "jail." As a general guideline, HR managers should be able to expect a response to inquiries within 24 hours from a direct contact that can help.

Costs versus benefit: A slightly more expensive system may more than pay for the difference with features that enable employees to maintain their own records and offer greater convenience, time savings and accuracy.

In this day and age many new technology offers will come your way. With so many advances in computers and administrative technology, there is no reason for anyone to be shackled behind the fax machine or photocopying in triplicate while taming drawers full of files. Armed with the knowledge, you will be able to better find a solution to meet your company's needs.

Hawthorne is CEO of BeneTrac, a provider of Web-based electronic enrollment and employee benefits administration software based in Old Town and online at www.BeneTrac.com.>

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