What are the keys to selecting and deploying technology?
Educational & Institutional Insurance Administrators, a nonprofit organization that provides a range of benefit and insurance products to colleges and universities, implemented a little more than a year ago a new enrollment platform from ConnectedHealth (which was acquired last June by Connecture).
Doug Maher, executive director of employee benefits at EIIA, spoke at EBA’s Workplace Benefits Renaissance conference earlier this month about broker innovation. After his presentation, he talked with EBA Editorial Director John McCormick about the challenges of selecting and deploying new technology. This is an edited version of their discussion.
EBA: How big is the challenge of bringing in a new technology platform?
Maher: It’s fairly significant. There are a lot of concerns that you need to be aware of — not the least of which is privacy, making sure everything is encrypted.
You need to be able to ask the right questions and understand the answers. There are a lot of alternatives, so you want to make sure that when you do land on a partner that it’s a good fit. We spend a lot of time and energy vetting different partners.
EBA: What are some specific areas EIIA looked at when doing recent vendor evaluations?
Maher: One of the really critical points that we took into consideration was the vendor’s ability to customize and update their platform to accommodate the unique needs of every different client that we might work with. For instance, customizing a plan design, customizing funding methodologies, different tier structures, whatever the case might be. We didn’t want off-the-shelf; we wanted to be able to tailor the technology for different clients.
And you need to look at the vendor’s ability to be adaptable and to integrate with whatever carrier you happen to be working with.
Then, of course, you need to make sure that your privacy expert is comfortable with the vendor’s ability to encrypt and secure data because of the nature of the employee information being stored in the system.
EBA: And a technology’s feature set is also an important consideration.
Maher: Yes. And remember there are two users that you’re trying to help. You’re trying to help a member, or employee, during their benefit decision process and throughout the course of the year. And you’re trying to help the HR and benefit executives. When you look at features, you have to keep in mind what you’re trying to help the member accomplish and what you’re trying to help HR accomplish. You need to make sure that the functionality of the platform is able to help both of those users.
EBA: After choosing a vendor and a product, what about the actual implementation. What are the biggest deployment challenges?
Maher: I found that it’s incredibly important when deploying technology to be very thorough and careful when you’re initially setting it up because you want all the benefits to be displayed correctly, you want the benefits tied to payroll schedules correctly, and you want everything else to work correctly.
Because if it doesn’t go well the first year, it’s going be hard to get people’s buy-in the second year.
To the extent that you can make the first year a success, that builds word of mouth and people get more comfortable. So make sure you really think about the time and energy you need to get it up and running the first time correctly — with as few bugs as possible.
EBA: And what’s the key there? Making sure you’re working closely with your vendor?
Maher: Depending on the number of benefits that you have tied into a platform, you could be working with six or seven different carriers. So having a technology partner that not only has a strong working relationship with you but also has a very solid working relationship with the carriers — and can keep those carriers really engaged in the process and vested in making sure that it’s a success — is important. It’s not just setting up the EDI file transfer. It’s more than that.
EBA: For advisers or brokers now going through the technology decision and implementation process, what piece of advice could you give them?
Maher: Don’t underestimate implementation time.
And don’t forget to focus on how the technology will help HR and benefit professionals. You may think that the key to a good technology decision is how much the platform will help employees make plan choices and enroll. But much of the decision will be made on how well the technology helps the HR and benefit professionals. If you can get a tool that’s strong on the employee side as well as the admin side, that’s a good thing for everyone.