What’s keeping your company from bringing on a new benefits administration platform? If the answer is implementation, you’re not alone. Frequently, the number one reason companies hesitate to invest in a new ben admin system isn’t the cost — a manageable variable which can be offset with carrier subsidies and long-term savings — but instead fear of the implementation process.

That’s understandable. Implementation is often the big unknown. And companies which have gone through troubled roll-outs of new programs in the past will be wary of touching that hot burner again.

But is the fear of a time-consuming and difficult implementation well-founded? Implementation of a new benefits administration platform doesn’t have to hurt. In fact, Web Benefits Design has gone the extra mile to provide companies with a painless approach to implementation — one which takes the bite out of upgrading your ben admin.

In this white paper, we’ll dig into how the implementation process of benefits administration programs can affect the long-term happiness of a client/vendor relationship. From asking the right questions to providing the correct files to carriers, the focus should be on saving time, money, and resources — on both sides of the relationship.

Speaking with us on the topic is Steve Herman, WBD’s Chief Revenue Officer, and Hillary Harris, VP of Client Experience.

Implementation: It Starts Before The Contract is Signed

For every company, a smooth transition to a new ben admin platform is the key to a long-term, happy relationship. Clarity is essential as the details are worked out before a sale. Otherwise, clients may find themselves counting down the days until a contract runs out.

It’s for that reason that Web Benefits Design works to ensure solid relationships begin early in the sales process. To help WBD to produce a successful long-term partnership, the company works to ensure the client understands that implementation is where the real work begins, and provides blueprints which showcase exactly what is needed in terms of resources and time investment.

A key, early action that leads to a smooth implementation is WBD’s own research and fact-finding. Discovering a company’s needs, pain-points, and the current landscape of their programs helps WBD provide actionable data to their potential clients. This goes beyond sales: this data will later contribute to the custom build and training process.

Steve Herman explains this initial discovery process as an important helper in understanding the client’s objectives. “What are the specific outcomes that the customer is looking for?” he asks. “We make sure we can fulfill those desires once they come on as a customer.”

Once the contracts are signed and the client is ready to begin implementation, WBD’s team makes good use of the objectives and data they’ve gathered during the sales process. “Taking the knowledge we’ve acquired through the sales process, and communicating it to the implementation and service team, is an important component,” Herman explains.

The Implementation Process: Project Planning

What does it take to implement a new benefits admin platform? Although every company’s needs are different, WBD has finessed the project planning segment into a simple, straightforward collection of milestones — each one with their own requirements. WBD’s vice president of Client Experience, Hillary Harris, leads a team who have worked to create plan templates which populate dates for these milestones along the way.

With these templates, the entire project’s milestones are laid out, complete with required input from the client’s team. Harris shares, “We use smartsheets to create project plans and user acceptance plans. That allows [everyone] to sign off and comment, so it’s interactive and everyone can see what is happening.”

With multiple stakeholders and departments needed to push through the information needed for implementation, collaborative data-gathering is the name of the game.

Herman explains the milestones along the way: “The first milestone will be the project launch date,” he says, “and then [the smartsheet] fills in all of the timeline before and after the launch date.”

The smartsheet contains the estimated time for each phase of implementation, as well as roles and responsibilities—helping clients see when and how different members of their company will be tapped into assist with implementation. This allows clients to book their various departments’ calendars early in the process.

Advance warning for every department is important, Herman stresses, because if a client’s platform is a week from system launch and the client’s team have just realized they need their IT department’s input, they may find their IT team is already tied up elsewhere — which could stall down the entire process and delay delivery.

The Implementation Process: Information Gathering

The information required to build a platform includes client-specific benefit information, such as rates, eligibility, and plan documents. This could include a range of benefits, from medical to voluntary offerings. This data is the cornerstone of the platform’s build. Large companies might have a significant number of departments or outside vendors contributing to this data collection; at the very least, it requires input from HR, benefits and compensation, payroll, IT, and benefits vendors.

With all of these contributors and so much information required, WBD’s client experience team recognized that data-gathering in the benefits admin industry was in serious need of an upgrade. The industry standard is a behemoth of a workbook, Herman explains. “Most implementations are supported through a multi-tab Excel worksheet. This worksheet provides every possible scenario for any group that would possibly implement on that solution.”

The worksheet method is an inefficient process for several reasons. One, as Herman points out, is that not every situation covered is relevant to every client. Situations with accident or hospital insurance, among others, “may not even apply to that customer because they don’t offer those benefits. It causes some dissonance between the customer and the process. ‘Why do I have to do this, it’s not something that applies to me?’ “

In addition to overwhelming clients with paperwork which doesn’t apply to their business, the worksheet model also has a fatal flaw which could cause massive problems down the line: the threat of multiple versions.

Herman shares the likely scenario: “There’s more than one individual and more than one party involved in the implementation process, so this Excel doc is shared across multiple groups…now there are different versions swimming out there.”

If developers begin work with the wrong version of a spreadsheet, the system could be configured wrong. Outdated or incorrect data will cause user and liability issues from the moment the new platform goes live. Worse, bad eligibility data could create liability issues for the developer and the client.

WBD replaces the overwhelming and potentially chaotic spreadsheet system with their own, web-based solution: InSite. Data gathering becomes a matter of input, with customized fields for each client. No irrelevant requests, no question of outdated information.

“What we have done is create a better mousetrap,” Herman says of InSite. “We have this web-based implementation tool that allows us to customize this experience — so benefit offerings or business rules that we don’t need to collect for a customer are removed from the tool.” And with the issue of multiple versions eliminated, Herman explains, “What’s delivered to the implementation team is the latest and greatest information.”

InSite also eliminates delays caused by incomplete data. Harris points out that when they’re not bound by missing sequential data holding up the process, the implementation team can build with what they’ve got. “It enable us to build as we go…we can build module by module. So if [the client] has made some decisions, but not all decisions, we can go in, populate, and start the build earlier — as opposed to waiting for a spreadsheet.”

The Implementation Process: Configuration and Testing

The system’s construction proceeds as quickly as the data can be fed to WDB’s developers. The build includes items like content, branding, price comparison tables, and engagement tools for employees; internal system configuration to sort out the rules and classifications for employees and eligibility; and initiation of carrier feeds and payroll integrations.

After internal quality checks, clients are asked to step in and begin to test the platform. In this, WBD has once again improved upon older, less efficient practices. Herman describes the testing system: “User Acceptance Testing [UAT] is a guided process that basically explains to the customer: ‘Here’s what this phase of the implementation process entails, this is what we need you to do, and these are the scenarios that we want you to evaluate.’ “

The guidance is important, he points out, because clients can’t necessarily just go in and play with a test environment without knowing for the issues they should be looking for. WBD gives clients specific scenarios to test on the platform, saving everyone time.

The Implementation Process: Training & Employee Communication

Once the system is ready to go, WBD provides multiple, custom training sessions. Working one-on-one with employees to make sure they can train their teams, WBD helps each client learn how to leverage the tools to meet their company’s specific needs.

Now, all the data gathered in the implementation process helps inform the training. “It’s custom,” Herman says, “because we gained all of this institutional knowledge during the implementation. So we can talk specifically about these elements in our system. It’s not just a one-size-fits-all. We talk different scenarios and events, and provide ongoing support.”

With the team trained, it’s time to invite the employees to engage with their new benefits tools. WBD supports clients in the roll-out of communications to help employees understand and interact with the new platform.

And there may be other services to set up as well. WBD’s suite of high-touch services, such as call center hosting, may have other custom requirements. Herman explains, “Each process has its own documentation to work with the customer directly, so we can be sure we’re communicating with the employees as they want, and we abide by their rules — as if they were doing the work themselves.”

What’s Stopping Your Company From Upgrading?

If the fear of the unknown — a lengthy, confusing implementation process — has been slowing your company from having the upgrade conversation, it’s time to deal with a company which puts the customer experience first. WBD’s experienced team guides clients through the process, removing fear from the equation. Their personable approach to implementation is based upon the highest standards of customer service.

Implementation is a necessary part of improving your company’s benefits administration. Luckily, you can get the best possible experience with Web Benefits Design.