Thought leaders 2010: The year ahead: SBC Systems insight: Brave new world still beckons for benefits

Benefits management has been lagging behind in adopting the latest technology, but there are moves to bring it up to speed, says James Markham, managing director of SBC Systems

Global climate change is the headline topic of today, and technology will no doubt help to find a solution. In the area of benefits, we are still struggling in a business climate that is not using technology to real advantage. With the right technology, benefits could be transformed from a back-office administrative burden into part of management’s strategic toolkit.

To make technology work for you in the year ahead, it is important to have a vision of what you want it to do. We live in a time when we can access bank account data on a mobile phone, track airline flights online in real time and go shopping on the internet, yet much of benefits management languishes in a world where selecting perks online once a year is still considered advanced technology. Benefits need to embrace the bigger vision in the next 12 months.

So what is an achievable vision for benefits management?

Firstly, meaningful decision support and benefits intelligence, providing management teams with the strategic decision-making tools and reports to truly generate employee engagement – reporting, for example, benefits usage and costs, as well as an indication of which benefits staff really value.

Secondly, touch-free administration, which eliminates the need for manual intervention and frees time for employee support.

Thirdly, self-service tools to enable employees to view, at any time, the value of the full range of their rewards and current wealth (or, at least, pension balance), and to model the effect of any possible changes to those items (a total reward and wealth portal).

Fourthly, a pick ‘n’ mix range of benefits services – including management information, total reward, total wealth, pension, shares, flex, and so on – integrated onto a robust platform, which allows for services to be replaced, updated, and added easily and cost-effectively at any time.

And finally, scaleable, low-maintenance technology with straight-through, near real-time processing to and from other company technology.

Achieving the vision

Surprisingly, achieving this kind of vision would only put the benefits function on a par with its finance and sales counterparts. So the good news is, this vision is achievable technologically, and is already a reality in some markets.

So what would the new benefits technology platform (or hub) look like?

Such a platform would include an employee user portal rich in the functionality we already find on leading-edge websites. A management console would enable state-of-the-art business intelligence monitoring and control across the business by country, service line, function and grade. The platform would manage all the workflow and business processes associated with administering these activities within the organisation. It would also integrate with all manner of best-of-breed application and service providers relevant to the full range of employee services, not just benefits. Technical maintenance, administrative monitoring and employee help-desk services could be provided through a tailored interface.

Is this new world affordable? Amazingly, such projects can pay for themselves in about two years. For most organisations, reward and other employee services form both their largest and least managed cost element. The right technology will provide the ability to manage costs while delivering greatly increased value.

The future looks encouraging. Benefits managers are working with management and technology colleagues at all levels to enable more powerful and cost-effective benefits delivery in the year ahead.

Read more articles from Thought leaders: The year ahead