Top Three Considerations When Implementing a New Benefits System

March 14, 2017

There are many things to consider when thinking about implementing a new benefits system. Maybe the motivation is different: going from paper to electronic, wanting to streamline and centralize processes, and/or simply wanting something that’s more user friendly to the participant. Whatever the reasons are, there are many similar considerations to be aware of before pulling the trigger.

Once you sign on that dotted line, the timer is set and decisions must be made quickly to meet the Go Live deadline. Here are a few things that are helpful to know when deciding to make the leap to a new benefits system. Most of these are also applicable to other types of systems.

Top Three: What I wish someone would have told me about implementing a new benefits system

  1. A clear understanding of how the legacy system works, and what has been purchased with the new system.
  • Do you know all of your company’s rules and how they are supported today (the good, bad, and ugly)? Discuss the current rules early, even during the sales process, so that there is a clear expectation of what your company is trying to accomplish by implementing this new system. Additionally, many probing questions will be asked during the time sensitive Discovery process. To meet critical deadlines on completing system requirements, there should be one or two key subject matter experts that understand all the intricacies, and also the shared company goal of the outcome.

An implementation is a great time to update current, “old school” processes, but to do that, there needs to be an understanding of how everything works today.  Sharing “lessons learned” with your implementation team and open communication of what has worked well in the past, versus what has been a constant challenge is key to a successful transition.  Due diligence in making sure the key SMEs in your organization have all the facts and are prepared to discuss them is crucial.

  • Do you know if the legacy system is providing additional services that your new system may not?

Identify all services being provided by your current vendor (i.e., file integrations with other vendors/carriers, billing, manual updates, benefits advisement, HSA/FSA account management, severance, leaves of absence, government reporting, etc.), and then plan how you expect to support the process post-implementation.  Be sure to vet this expectation during the sales process, and then hold the new vendor accountable for the services they have agreed on supporting. For anything they cannot provide, another solution should be identified prior to starting the implementation. This is to be sure there are not downstream impacts to other processes outside of benefits to consider, and that you have covered your bases for Go Live. One of the hardest things about implementing new systems is buy-in from the outside world, so having a solid and proactive action plan gives a sense of comfort and security to those whom would may not be as receptive to change.

  • Are you going from a manual (i.e., “custom”) hands on system to a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model?

SaaS models are popular because they are frequently updated with the latest technology, and all clients are using the same version, providing streamlined, process driven solutions. However, not every current function will be scalable to SaaS models.  It’s a best practice for “one off” and “grandfathered” rules to be handled outside of this model instead of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, so to speak.  It’s also important that there are not any new, custom processes developed without first consulting with your implementation consultant to ensure the rules can be streamlined instead of focused on a small population.

  1. Take your implementation consultant and project manager’s advice about best practices to heart: they want you to succeed, and they are the experts
  • When you are the one leading the charge on implementing a new system for your company, it can seem like all eyes are on you when making key strategy decisions.

You can expect to feel pressure from your colleagues, CEOs, executives, and employees to make decisions that may conflict with the advice that your consultant team has given. It is highly recommended that when your consultant and/or project manager advises on best practices for ensuring a smooth transition, that their advice is taken. They have seen it all – from the best, smoothest implementations to the worst, unimaginable situations. They are on your side, and have plenty of reasons for suggesting certain directions.  If you are in a sticky spot, with pressure on both sides, this is a great opportunity to suggest an onsite visit and have a round table discussion with all parties.  This builds relationships and allows the necessary face time to agree upon a mutually acceptable, forward thinking strategy.

  • Do not load current data when going live into Open Enrollment.

Without question, it is never advisable to load current enrollment data for Open Enrollment. A lot of companies think that if they usually do a passive Open Enrollment, then why burden the participants with having to adapt to a new system during this critical time. It would be easier to simply roll over their elections from one system to another. What isn’t always understood is that transitioning from one system to another is never simple, and there are a lot of moving pieces.  Inevitably, things will surface during and after an implementation that were not thought of or considered during the project (which is perfectly normal and even expected). Do not bite off more than you can chew and work to minimize risks to data.  Data integrity is paramount to a successful transition, and having fresh data in your new system is the best way to reflect that.

  • Have the roll out method(s) already outlined before the implementation starts, then ask for best practices and a review from your consultant.

Someone inside of your organization should be tasked with coming up with an action plan and leading the charge on communication regarding the new system. Examples of this communication could include physical mailers and emails, notices placed on virtual or physical bulletin boards, messages on paychecks, clear instructions outlined in the OE benefits guide and new hire paperwork. What works for one won’t work for all. When deciding internally to transition systems, coming up with a clearly defined action plan on the roll out is crucial and someone should be assigned to see this completely through, from top to bottom in the organization. If there’s a similar company you know of that has gone through a similar implementation, it might be worth it to reach out and ask them for tips on what worked and what did not. Also, leverage your implementation consultant- they can certainly share best practices and connect you to other resources if needed after learning more about your company.

  1. Understand the role that your in-house team needs to play and hold them accountable. Look outside your organization, when needed, to fulfill certain roles.
  • When tasked with implementing a new system, first understand the resources you will need to successfully complete the project.

Plan, plan, plan in advance!  After understanding the need for the system transition (or maybe just going from paper to a system for the first time), you need to identify the actions expected of your team from the new vendor.  Ask for a Project Plan to be delivered to you before the actual project gets underway. As soon as the vendor understands your company’s goals and objectives and a strategy is decided, they should provide a detailed plan on every single action needed with a scheduled deadline to meet your Go Live date.  For every action on the project plan, there needs to be someone assigned to deliver that action.

Take the plan and fully digest it. Look within your organization ahead of time to see who the experts are (data, benefits knowledge, payroll, interfaces), and the time they can commit to the project outside of their primary role. Typically, most experts are being fully utilized and cannot commit to the amount of time a full implementation will demand. In this case, hire a consultant team to lead the charge for you. It’s worth the investment to feel confident that the right people are in the right places and that no one is rushing through things just to get them done.  Whoever is assigned to each action needs to understand that the bandwidth commitment and accountability to deadlines is highly critical to the overall success of a project. Delays in even one action can create a domino effect that can quickly throw an entire implementation off track and create risk to the Go Live date.

I hope I didn’t scare you into not implementing a new system.  That is, of course, not my objective.  It is wonderful to introduce new technology to your employees.  Really… if you are still using paper, it is highly recommended that you reach out for a consultation, to see what is available out there to suit your needs.  There is something for everyone, no matter how big or small your company is, and it can take hours of manual work away from you and your staff, so you can focus on the important things rather than trying to de-crypt a paper beneficiary form.  Put in the time and effort ahead of time to plan accordingly, so that you can sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor afterward and be that superhero at your workplace.

HRchitect provides a full-range of consulting services which can assure the best use of your Human Capital Management (HCM) technology.  We can provide both Project Management, Implementation, Change Management, and staff augmentation services when implementing any new technology, and can also assist you in evaluating and selecting the best technology for your organization’s needs.