Integration Technology 101: Master the Basics for a Better Leave Experience
By Megan Holstein, Head, Absence Management, The Hartford; Nikki Cleves, Director, Platform Partnership, The Hartford
Human resources (HR) staff members are masters of multitasking in many organizations. They manage recruiting, hiring, training, compensation, benefits, leave, and more while helping companies stay competitive and compliant with leave laws. Their ability to juggle and adapt to changes in order to care for employees was never more apparent than in the last two to three years.
HR professionals continue to be on the front lines of incredible change. Employee benefits have moved beyond HR and compensation strategies to include a technology strategy. As a result, the HR technology industry is booming.1
Modern technology, designed to ease administration, can be overwhelming. Becoming a “technologist” isn’t required to embrace employee benefit and leave technology tools, but it is important to understand the lingo and the basic principles of integration, resources, and benefits.
Understanding the language used can ease the technology journey. For example, is the technology in the cloud or on site? Can it integrate with other tools? And if so, how is the information shared — with application programming interfaces (APIs), file feeds, or manual entry? Here is a quick starter-pack glossary:
- Cloud: Software hosted on a vendor’s internet server and accessed via a web browser instead of on a computer hard drive.
- On site: Software installed on an organization’s computer hard drives and servers.
- API: A technology that allows two software elements to talk to each other in real time and move small amounts of data frequently.
- Electronic data interchange (EDI): File feeds that transfer large batches of data from one organization to another.
- Systems integrator (SI): Companies that specialize in bringing together component subsystems into a whole and ensuring that those subsystems function together.
It’s important to recognize the advantages and limitations to some technology, specifically EDI vs API. For example:
- When using API, employers can configure return-to-work rules to automatically trigger a worker’s computer access, remote work, and pay, and employers don’t have to manually enter updated information in the system. In comparison, EDI doesn’t run in real time, so there can be a lag of a week or more for those activities.
- The EDI or file feed is useful for sending leave information when an employer’s human capital management (HCM) system or human resource information system (HRIS) doesn’t have an API integration.
There are many moving parts to managing employees’ time away from work, including notifying payroll, ensuring supervisors have available workforce information, and paying income replacement benefits. Accuracy is critical in reporting to all stakeholders, including employers, employees, state agencies, and brokers. Employers need to understand the data to gain insight into trends and the effects of employee absences on their organizations.
Lost time is lost time whether an absence stems from workers’ compensation, short-term disability, or sick leave, and integration can bring the overall picture into focus. For example, does adding wellness and mental health support programs shorten leave durations? Data can tell a story.
To assess success, determine which integration method is being used and for what reason. Then, determine if the method is sufficient. For example, a file feed likely suffices for sending bulk historical employee leave information to benefit carriers or benefit administrators, but an API is necessary for providing return-to-work information in real time.
Resources and Budget
The next step is to understand what is possible in terms of budget and people-hours. A few questions to get started:
- Who will do the absence integration work?
- Is the work within budget?
- Is custom software needed or can the system be configured to adapt?
- Is it more efficient and effective to store data in the cloud or on site?
Once these variables are understood, employers need to determine if they have the right skills and technology resources in-house. If not, research technology vendors and consider whether to hire a third-party SI or consultant to help integrate systems.
Whoever facilitates the integration should have experience working with employers’ benefits carriers or administrators to capitalize on different approaches and reporting to make things easier.
It’s helpful to understand the basics before creating an employee benefits and leave management strategy to ensure a modern and effective approach.
- Human Resource Executive. The HR Tech Start-Up Market is Booming. What That Means for HR. September 2021. Retrieved from https://hrexecutive.com/the-hr-tech-startup-market-is-booming-what-that-means-for-hr