Confessions of a benefits manager: Candid reviews benefits technology

ConfessionsIt has been a few years since we looked at our benefits system, so it’s time for a review.

I have wanted to change it since we first signed up because I never wanted the wretched thing in the first place. Big Bad Boss overruled my judgement and went with the one with the biggest client entertainment budget. Now there are a lot of new systems on the market and I might have the chance to get one that actually works.

Big Bad Boss, having long forgotten the nice lunches and the golf day, is now open to looking around at other suppliers. Together we draw up a shopping list. Big Bad Boss wants a nice interface for our users. Our employees are not the brightest sparks and the Higher Beings are positively doddering when it comes to anything online.

Naturally, cost is crucial because we can’t really afford to spend any more. In fact, we need to demonstrate some sort of administrative savings to justify any additional cost.

Robust market data

My concern is to get a proper database with robust market data so I can do a regular market review without  spending hours on it. The system we have purports to do that, but in practice it simply loads all its reports as documents. The data is online all right, but it is no more useful for analysis than a printed report on my desk.  I also want something that isn’t going to take a lifetime to implement in data conversion as I have much better things to do. Like shopping.

We will talk to our current supplier because I see it has a new, cloud-based version on the market, and we will ask Smarmy Consulting, which advises on our pensions, to show us what it has. We also select a couple of smaller, independent suppliers that seem to have a new slant on the technology.

Big Bad Boss wants me to put together a request for proposal (RFP) and I confess this fills me with dread. The truth is, I’m not really sure what questions to ask, and I don’t want to look like an idiot. I am quite confident about most of the things I do but I have a kind of irrational fear of RFPs. I think it is because I once heard the people from Smarmy Consulting sneering about the ridiculousness of the questions they are asked. Why do I worry so much about what they might think? I ring around some friends in the industry and someone is good enough to send me a template. If the RFP is good enough for her company, a household name, it is probably good enough for mine. Phew.

After getting the RFP responses I schedule a beauty parade for the suppliers to demonstrate their portal. Now all benefit systems are all called portals, which makes it sound quite sci-fi. I am looking forward to being beamed up to another planet as part of the demo. Thinking of going up, I book the conference room on the third floor so I can enjoy the special coffee machine the Higher Beings keep tucked away for themselves. It is important to build small pleasures into an otherwise dull day.

Conducting a beauty parade

Beauty day arrives and the first set of presenters, from Smarmy Consulting, file in. One of the guys is extremely good-looking so he gets my special vote. I make a note to ask who would be working with us on implementation. Sadly, his, erm, tool is singularly unimpressive. The ‘portal’ hangs in the middle of the demo and I can see it has the same approach to market data as our current database.

The second presenter is from one of the smaller firms and there is a marked difference when they walk in. Smarmy were suited and booted but these guys are in jeans and hoodies. I like their cool nonchalance but I know it won’t go down well with Big Bad Boss, who is decidedly old-school. I can see him shooting his cuffs and fiddling with his cufflinks, which is a very bad sign.

In fact, the newbies’ technology is very slick and elegant. I love the interface, which is intuitive for even the dumbest of employees, but I am not convinced its hierarchy would cope with the complexity of our benefits. The system seems to have been designed for the US market and doesn’t really adapt itself fully for global plan differences. Such a shame, because the guys were rather cute too.

Cloud-based portal

Finally, we see our current supplier, Mercenary Brokers. Its new portal is cloud-based and has a fancy new user interface. However, I can see it is essentially the same toy in a different wrapper. It is not going to help me with my benefits analysis, so why bother? It doesn’t really offer anything more for our employees other than the fact that the screens look quite pretty.

Unfortunately, I can see Big Bad Boss is taken in. He doesn’t care how much time I have to spend on tasks as long as I get them done. But he does care what the Higher Beings think, and for sure they will also be seduced by the fancy new interface.

The result, of course, is inevitable. Mercenary whisks Big Bad Boss out for a champagne cocktail after work and its pitch is won. The only good thing to come out of the whole process is that I don’t have to recapture any data – it will simply be migrated from the old system. Hurrah.

Next time… Candid segments the workforce