When it comes to adopting new technology, simple is better than complex. Steve Jobs and Apple went to great lengths to make their products intuitive and easy to use. Current technology trends continue the move towards simplicity with the advent of artificial intelligence and personal assistants like Amazon’s Echo and the Google Home. Before you know it, these tools will enter the benefits world. The question is, who is going to be first and best? Also, if I am a benefit broker, what is the impact to my business?

While many brokers are aware of the vendors who call on them or have tradeshow booths at industry conferences, the benefits technology race is going to heat up with new players entering the market. These new competitors see the market opportunity to automate large segments of our economy including health insurance and health care. You may have heard of some of these companies like Microsoft, Google, Salesforce.com, and Apple. This would be in addition to current leaders like ADP and Paychex. The stakes of the game will change and the price of entry, from an investment standpoint, is in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Those with the capital will quickly outpace those with less capital.

Bloomberg/file photo

Don't be surprised when you start to see major mergers and acquisitions in the HR and Benefits space. Could Microsoft buy Ultimate Software? Why not? They already purchased LinkedIn and recently hinted at getting deeper into the HR space.

When looking at Amazon Echo and Google Home I see products that have very quickly grabbed market share with high rates of adoption. My wife, who is not an early adopter of technology, quickly became a user of Google Home. Why? Because it is easy. Would she have a better understanding of her health insurance if she could simply ask Google? Absolutely.

Benefits technology, on the other hand, has not had broad adoption by employees. Yes, employers have bought systems or brokers have given them away, but when you look at utilization on the employee side, the adoption rates are abysmal. I believe the reason for this is because there is not enough value as a stand-alone solution to generate broad adoption. Keep in mind that most people hardly use their health care in a given year so there is little need to access such a system. I can hardly remember the login to my computer, never mind something I may not use for six months.

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The push for everyday value
The next generation of technology in the HR and Benefits area is going to have broader and everyday value, while being much easier to use. Market leading vendors, especially those with a great deal of capital, will invest in the latest technologies to try and win the technology race and gain more customers. And before you know it you will be saying the following:

“Siri, is Dr. John Smith from Boston in the Blue Cross network?”
“Ok Google, request Friday off from work.”
“Alexa, what is the balance of my 401(k)?”

The advancement of technology and artificial intelligence has enabled many to have more personalized user experiences. Your Amazon Echo will "get to know you," in other words. Perhaps in the near future, your doctor will get to know you a little better too.

Many benefits brokers have chosen some technology vendor with a mission of putting as many clients on the system as possible. This is a risky position competitively as more advanced solutions from highly capitalized companies come along. I don't know many sales people or business owners in any industry who like running around with the 8th best product. Even more so when it is not necessary. The market and your customers do not care if you have invested thousands of dollars on some technology that may quickly fall out of favor.

One should take the advice of Jack Welch, ex- CEO of General Electric, who once said, “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.”

People who have purchased the Amazon Echo or Google Home don't have to look far to see that the outside world is changing faster than the inside. The health insurance and healthcare industries often feel like they’re moving at a snail’s pace. Private exchanges were lauded as change when they really are a reincarnation of cafeteria plans from the 1980s.

With the Trump administration, changes in health insurance legislation may create a shift that empowers the consumer. The industry may need an army of people on the front lines to help the industry move to a whole new paradigm. The vendors will need help and the employers and employees will need it too.

The technology is there. Alexa is ready. Are you?

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Joe Markland

Joe Markland

Markland is president and founder of HR Technology Advisors. HRT is a leading HR and benefits technology consulting and solution provider. Since 2001. HRT consults benefits brokers and their customers on how to leverage technology to simplify HR and benefits administration.