Technology Integration: The Missing Link
By Andy Hanson
Account Executive, Total Absence Management
The Partners Group
To serve our on-demand culture and create a better employee experience with leave management, the call centers and fax machines of yore have been replaced by texting, email, online self-service, and live chat. But whether companies are using human resource (HR) information systems, human capital management systems, time and attendance systems, benefits platforms, or absence software, ensuring a smooth and simple employee experience isn’t always as easy as keeping up with the latest technology.
Many employers partner with multiple technology vendors and third-party administrators (TPAs) to best manage their employees’ HR needs. This pattern has become the norm, but will advanced technology ever be enough if vendor and partner technologies can’t integrate with one another? If HR technology partners continue to update their platforms without regard to potential integration with other solutions, employees will become (and may already be) dizzy and frustrated from using multiple systems to report leave, select benefits, confirm pay, and so on.
Can we, as HR professionals, not only do more for our employees, but also require more from our technology partners?
Let’s consider the experience of an employee, Jamie, whose employer outsources leave and disability administration to a TPA:
- Jamie has a surprise medical event requiring a 12-week leave. Upon release from the hospital, Jamie speaks with HR to confirm the process for requesting leave with the TPA.
- Jamie’s employer sends an eligibility file containing all necessary demographic information to the TPA, which allows Jamie to create an online account with the TPA and file for a leave.
- During intake, the TPA representative can’t help Jamie figure out how to supplement the STD elimination period with sick or vacation time. The TPA does not administer these payments.
- So, Jamie logs into the employer’s time and attendance system to see his balances and update applicable timecards.
- When Jamie’s next paycheck comes, it is much lower than expected, so Jamie calls the TPA. Unfortunately, the TPA representative can’t help since Jamie’s employer issues the pay.
- Jamie hangs up and logs in to the payroll system to review benefit amount, taxes, and benefit deductions. Unfortunately, Jamie is unable to understand all the deductions taken, so Jamie opens a ticket with HR to investigate. HR calls back within 24 hours and explains each deduction and why the benefit amount is lower than expected.
- When annual enrollment starts, halfway through the leave, Jamie logs in to the benefits administration system to enroll. There are multiple benefit options, and Jamie has been too busy with his health issue to research them. Luckily, Jamie’s company has a web-based decision support system to assist. Jamie opens a new browser tab to access the system. Afterward, Jamie returns to the benefits administration webpage and completes enrollment.
- Ready to return from leave, Jamie reports a return-to-work (RTW) date to the TPA through the online portal and then must also send a copy of the doctor’s note to HR.
In case you got lost along the way: Jamie’s leave required the use of five different systems. Even in an ideal situation, say if Jamie had ample time to prepare for the leave, it would still be necessary to navigate five different websites, create five different accounts, and remember the login and password to five different websites/portals. Now, imagine if an employee or their partner were pregnant and needed to add the child to their benefits or if the employee was hospitalized and had limited means to access these multitude of systems. What would happen then?
As HR professionals, we have accepted this reality, but should we? In short, no! We don’t need to advocate for fewer systems or for current technology vendors and TPAs to create all-in-one systems. Instead, we need to advocate for more and better integration capabilities within the systems already in place.
For example, in Jamie’s example above, even something as simple as the use of vacation or sick time during an elimination period required the involvement of multiple parties. Why couldn’t the TPA’s system interact with the employer’s time and attendance or payroll systems to automatically add available time to the employee’s timecard or send available balances to the TPA? If we create a portal that acts as an interface to our different HR vendors, we create a seamless experience for our employees, which makes everybody’s job easier.
You’re probably wondering, “How would this portal differ from my current HR intranet, where my employees already have links to each vendor?” Instead of linking an employee to different sites, this portal would bring those sites to the employee.
Each individual vendor would “plug in” to the portal, which would act as the conduit between vendors. When an employee logs in to the portal, they’d be able to see all benefit information, enroll in benefits, request time off, request a leave of absence, see payroll information, and speak with HR without having to leave the website or worry about forgetting a step in the process.
Leave Process Reimagined
In this situation, the employee can perform all HR functions on one unified system. However, behind the scenes, we would see several different technologies functioning independently and cohesively. To better visualize, let’s revisit Jamie’s leave request again, but this time, let’s assume Jamie’s employer has technology integration.
- Jamie logs in to the portal system to file a leave of absence. Jamie clicks the “Request a Leave” button, and the portal, pulling the intake questions from the TPA’s system, walks Jamie through the leave request.
- Once Jamie hits “Submit,” the TPA’s system sends data back to the portal, which the portal then exports to the employer’s time and attendance and HRIS systems. Using the data and accrual balances available as of the date of submission, the employee is placed on leave in both systems. If Jamie’s balances are readily available on this portal, they are automatically added to Jamie’s timecard, so there is no need for additional steps by the employee or HR. In some cases, payroll data may lag behind, creating a need to insert a manual correction. In situations where the accrual balances are not sufficient to cover the entire period, a notification will be sent by the portal to the payroll administrator to review.
- Upon claim approval by the TPA, approval data is sent to the portal and is imported to the payroll system to issue payment. The paycheck can be viewed on the portal, and Jamie can communicate with HR from there if he has any questions.
- Halfway through the leave, Jamie logs into the portal to enroll in benefits. The portal coordinates the interaction between the benefits administration system and the decision support software.
- Ready to return from leave, Jamie logs into the portal and completes an RTW form, then uploads it for HR to review.
With integration, we have changed the employee experience drastically. The employee logs into one system versus five. Additionally, HR involvement is reduced as the system automates the transfer of data from one vendor to the other, freeing up time and reducing the risk of errors.
We believe technology is the future of our industry. Each vendor has its own unique technology and processing solutions available; it’s up to you and your company to decide which vendor is the right partner for you. With so many excellent options to choose from, we recommend choosing a partner that understands the possibilities integration can offer and the benefits of working together to solve the ultimate goal of a superior user experience.