Technology has altered how we communicate in virtually every aspect of our world. Many of us communicate (and over-communicate) via social media sites. I am forever grateful for “Blocking” and “Un-Following” as the overload of updates and “selfies” fill my newsfeeds. In a professional setting it would be deemed inappropriate to follow these same tactics, yet it occurs far too frequently. The lack of communication among professionals boggles my mind.
The HR World is currently finishing up Open Enrollment! This means everyone is busy: inboxes are over-flowing, voice mails are full and to-do lists are never-ending. It’s all part of the gig; it’s the same thing every fall, and at times, some of our colleagues in Benefits Administration choose the ostrich approach. A recent example jumps to mind. As a member of the HR Technology & Outsourcing Practice, our job is to assist our clients and our Lockton Account Teams. Our combined experience has put many of us on the vendor side and on the user side, in short . . . . “we get it!”
So when rumblings became quite loud on an Open Enrollment with a 12/1/2013 start date and communication was lacking from the vendor, I knew it was a job for the TOP Team! Seriously, it’s about time we get our own Bat Signal, right? We started to dig around and ask questions and learned the OE ended in October and our Account Team had not heard from the Benefits Administration vendor for almost a month. In fact, the last message was from the client to Lockton, a cc to the vendor, with an email thread a couple weeks old asking if their vendor contact still worked there. The response: “Hello, yes I am still here but just swamped. I will try to address your issues tomorrow morning. Please contact me directly if you have any questions or concerns.”
Let’s dissect this, shall we? Swamped─ Yes, that is understood based on the lack of replies for the past several weeks. Trying to address the issues the next day─ In technology, we geeks look to Yoda and realize there is no TRY only DO, which may mean seeking out additional resources when things pile up. And the generic closing sentence about contacting them directly is a little redundant, since an email is a form of direct contact. (Or did something shift in how professionals communicate without letting me know?) Customer Service is ongoing and often most important during the busy periods. It’s a challenge and a requirement in our field. Look at the big picture: we are responsible for hundreds of thousands of employees having access to their benefits on the specified plan year start date and if that data does not get to the carriers, there could be delays in getting medical attention or a prescription filled. That’s the bottom line; people are relying on what happens behind the scenes of the enrollment process to make everything work smoothly when they access their benefits. If the communication ceases, so does the process.
We escalated the issue to one of our main contacts at the vendor and things started happening quickly. The Account Team asked what we did because suddenly they were getting emails after not hearing from the vendor in almost a month. It was discovered the new medical plan structure for our client had not been set up and no file had been sent. This means 800-900 employees and their dependents were without medical/prescription coverage as of 12/1/2013, and we didn’t discover it until December 2nd. This scenario chills the blood of an HR Manager. We facilitated communication with the right people. Mind you, this process involved a lot of rerouting of emails and forwards to different people at the carrier and the vendor. Each email was cringe-worthy as it seemed no one was taking accountability; email threads were growing exponentially and we needed resolution weeks ago! It was decided the vendor could pull an enrollment census and the carrier graciously agreed to load it via a manual process. All was good in the world again and we could now let our client know what had happened, how it would be resolved and when. A day later, we received an email from the vendor stating they would update the plan structure and it would go on the electronic file scheduled for December 4th. Then we had a call with the client, who was notified that the plan of action had changed. Despite the ping pong match of emails and phone calls attempting to finalize the resolution, we sadly sat and listened to the sound of crickets as the clock ticked closer to our follow-up call with the client. This situation was embarrassing to us and should have been embarrassing to the vendor as well─ it’s truly hard to know since communication went offline for almost six hours and we did not hear back until well after close of business.
At this moment, we are back on track, emails from weeks ago are getting responses, the client is up to speed and the eligibility file will be with the carrier today. Heart rates were raised, bad words were uttered, phones were slammed down and nerves were frayed. There will certainly be some staffing changes on the vendor side per the client’s request—a cause-and-effect in motion.
We are all tethered to technology in one or several forms. If you are running late to a meeting you can call, text, email, Tweet, Instagram the traffic or post on Facebook – the days of “not being able to find a pay phone” are long gone. In the technology arena, just dropping off the grid when clients and employees are depending on you is unacceptable and certainly not good for future business. As I sit here blowing off steam from a situation which could have been avoided, I get a call from a vendor I spoke with over two weeks ago. He was returning my call on some questions I had regarding his product. He came across my original message and was getting back to me, again. I let him know we had already spoken I currently had all I needed and he had even emailed me additional data following our discussion. We both had a good laugh over it and he said he would update his notes. I thanked him numerous times for getting back to me . . . . twice! Over-communication trumps no communication every day, in every way.
From the moment I wake up in the morning until I lay my head down on the pillow at night, I am faced with choices. These choices sometimes scratch that, almost always come with consequences. Should I hit Snooze one more time and risk being late for work? Should I wear the red stripe tie or the blue one? My wife prefers the red one… which means I’m going blue! (Ha! just kidding!)
It all relates back to the economic concept of Opportunity Cost and Trade-offs. Is the cost of what I want of greater value than that which I am willing to give up in order to obtain it? By hitting the Snooze button, I get nine extra minutes of precious, glorious, warm, luxurious, dream-filled sleep, but it would also mean that I would leave the house later and hit rush hour traffic. (Can you tell we have a teething 10-month old at home? Uninterrupted sleep is almost as precious as my next breath.)
This Opportunity Cost concept transforms slightly when brought into our HR Technology world. It becomes a maxim that undergirds all of our conversations with employer clients, co-workers and vendors. On our team, we call this “the Triangle.” There are three aspects of service: quality, price and speed. Since an employer’s HR Tech project is rarely awarded an unlimited budget, there are assuredly not enough resources to fully satisfy all three aspects at the same time. Therefore, one aspect — the one of lesser value to the customer — will be sacrificed.
We all long for the magic wand that enables all three to be achieved simultaneously – but if I had that in my back pocket, we’d have seen the KC Royals in the World Series for the last decade.
We’ve found that a lot of first time buyers want a new HR system up and running fast and for as little money as possible, thus leaving the quality of the implementation or the on-going system operation to suffer. For instance, one of the short-notice projects mentioned a few posts earlier, experienced this dilemma. Because of their shortened time frame and their budget, they had fewer solutions to choose from. Not every vendor has implementation resources able to deploy on a short timeframe – and even fewer have proven they can do it successfully.
Quality in this conversation can refer to two different aspects of the process. First, there is implementation quality. Is the system set up correctly? Were all the sales promises delivered in the final product? Is the data transferring in and out of the system error-free? The second aspect of quality refers to the level of complexity the system will support. If we need utmost support for complexity, often in means a custom-programmed solution but few employers have the budget or patience for this. The Software as a Service (SaaS) vendors offer less complexity support, but exchange this for a lower cost and shorter timeframes. Tradeoffs abound around every corner of these discussions. This is one of the reasons we focus so much of our efforts on our Discovery process: We have to ensure that everyone’s on the same page about expectations and trade-offs.
A different opportunity cost happens when an employer doesn’t have the complexity or business requirements that require the top-shelf, high quality solutions. Some projects may only require an “out of the box” solution to plug in. In that regard, a fast and lower cost service fits best which we call our Targeted Technologies. With projects that require more high touch, customized features, but at an affordable price, time is the sacrificed factor. These projects require more time, which is why we’re always encouraging employers to start as early as possible (translation: Now!) for a new, high quality benefits administration solution for their 2014 fall Open Enrollment event. The earlier we start, the more time we have and that leads to greater quality and lower solution cost.
As my paycheck always reminds me, “You can’t have it all!” Which I guess is true with HR technology as well. It is important to keep in mind your main concerns and desires when going forward with a new technology system. What are your goals based on? Time? Cost? Quality? Are you having the internal conversations with your executives and/or stakeholders as to what trade-offs might need to be made for success?
What would be most important to you in an HRIS project? How would you go about determining which points of “The Triangle” you would use? Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment by clicking the comment link above or sending me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Okay, what did I even talk about before the advent of Healthcare Reform and the ACA? Every day delivers an HR Tech headline in an unprecedented spurt of relevance my career is having to everyday life.
The latest is a great ad from Wellmark – a Blue Cross / Blue Shield carrier in the upper Midwest. (Read news coverage about the ad.)
When I saw this ad, I imagined some C-Suite member in the boardroom where they approved this ad to run feeling the cold shadow of a low-flying government drone at the back of his or her neck. I know we’re nowhere close to Big Brother’s Oceania, but openly mocking the government roll-out of Healthcare.gov certainly reminds me of why the freedom of speech rights we cherish in America are so rare in the world. But as we know all too well in HR, who I am highly influenced the scenario I just dreamed up.
Since a key provision in the Affordable Care Act is to get young, healthy people participating and buying insurance to subsidize the premiums of their older counterparts, it makes sense that we’re seeing marketing aimed at the younger generations. If you didn’t see our last post and are a GenXer or a Baby Boomer, you’re going to be surprised by what that can look like.
So how can I say that this Wellmark add is aimed right at my demographic, as a GenXer?
Courtney, a Project Coordinator on our team, found an article talking about some of the generational differences in how they perceive the government and/or authority in a recent copy of Leader’s Edge: Generations Don’t See Eye to Eye on I Spy. This article was connected to another about Edward Snowden’s disclosure of the National Security Agency surveillance programs.
Since our team has large cohorts from the three different generations, we’re always chatting about the differences. As an employer, we are an authority in our employee and co-worker’s lives. Do these same generational perceptions apply to how they view our HR messages?
- Baby Boomers tend to have a distrust for the government stemming from events like Watergate and lies about Vietnam.
- Generation Xers believe that government and other authorities are incompetent, not so much untrusting of it. “Institutions are not evil as much as not functioning…”
- Millennials have a completely different view of authority and it’s positive, stemming from increased parental involvement in youth. There is less skepticism and more trust. “They are what they are, they do what they do, and they don’t have a worldview of evil.”
- Millennials have also grown up with no concept of personal privacy thanks to social media and constant “oversharing” and therefore have no problem with the idea that government might be accessing their personal information. Privacy is more of a Baby Boomer issue.
So, as an employer, who handles the critical payroll, HR and benefits information of our employees, should our messages change based upon the composition of our workforce? If I have a law firm filled with senior litigators, should I be emphasizing trust in my Annual Enrollment messages? Alternatively, would my young-gun marketing firm messaging have less of a “prove-it” hurdle for me to overcome?
To tie this back to HR Tech, (come on, you know that everything in my world ties to HR Tech right?!) this should become an expectation of the systems we buy. Can our systems support targeted messaging to different generations in the workforce? Can your HRIS solution marry data queries to your e-mail system? (If this was a drunken party, would we send ReportSmith into a closet for 7 minutes with Outlook Exchange?)
Select All Associates
Where EE_DOB_Year = > 1946, but < 1964
Create Email, Subject = Your PHI is OK, we’re trustworthy
Send High Priority
Smoke a cigarette
If perceptions are reality in how folks receive information, our technology must accommodate. If you’re curious to know more, I would recommend the books of Don Tapscott (@dtapscott). Over the last decade or so I’ve seen him speak several times; he was responsible for opening my eyes to the wildly differing perceptions among our fellow travelers in this HR journey. What generational perceptions have you seen in your workforce? How are you targeting your messaging to the different generations? Please click on the “Comment” link at the top of this article and let us know or send me a tweet @HRTechKaiser. We’d love to hear from you!
Ah – it’s good to be busy! But, then again, when I’m running around the country lining up new HR Tech engagements for our team to tackle, it’s so easy to accidently neglect this little blog. I miss keeping up with you all and sharing our stories. I can’t tell you how great it is to get the comments and e-mails from folks as they follow along from their workplaces and smartphones.
So, now that I’m unpacked from the sandy shores of San Diego, let’s talk about some HR Headlines.
Sexy Healthcare Reform –
I have to really tip the hat to one of our readers, Ed F., for the best HR Tech find of the year. In this space, you’ve listened as we’ve chronicled the misadventures of Healthcare.gov which is the federal stand-in for those states that chose not to erect an insurance marketplace as required by the Affordable Care Act (PPACA).
But what about those states who accepted federal grant money (our tax money) to erect an exchange for their state? First off, they’re certainly working better than Healthcare.gov at the moment, as they’ve generated the majority of the enrollments received so far. But more interesting to this blog is the marketing programs some states have thrown up around their new insurance marketplaces. Check out Colorado’s ad below. Can you imagine this as an employer ad for Open Enrollment? Are we headed for a Jerry Springer-esque culture and discourse? This is a real site! Grammarians–avert your eyes: www.DoYouGotInsurance.com
Now Hiring: Project Managers
We’ve got a couple open spots on our team we’d love your help with. Do you love HR Tech like we do? Can you be vendor-neutral and support your employer clients with amazing service? Please call our recruiter, Soheyla Noorani at 816.960.9468 or email@example.com.
Here’s the job posting on Lockton.com
Open Enrollment Season Draws to a Close
The sigh of relief has been felt as HR professionals around the nation close their Annual Enrollment events and begin the massive data clean-up necessary before sending the data to the carriers. This is a subject we’ll spend some time on in future postings, as it’s an area where the right application of HR Technology can really make an impact.
I, personally, was living the stereotype well – enrolling on the closing day of Lockton’s OE window! Since we’ve done a full replacement of our medical options with a single HDHP it’s certainly removed the majority of the math and research that the annual decision process used to require. However, since Jen and I added a beautiful baby this year, the added difficulty in the insurance section quickly consumed any time savings I was enjoying. Now for the required medical reviews! (Double groan!)
Do any of our HR Practitioners out there have some great Open Enrollment stories to share in the comment field below? I know there must be some good ones out there, as I have two employers who just hired us this week after starting our conversation with the phrase “We are never doing Enrollment on that system again! We must change now.” Let’s get some good storytelling going!
We’ve all heard the saying, “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” (Yes, Mom, this blog post is dedicated to your worthy wisdom!) With all of the hustle and bustle of the coming holiday season, it can be easy to “put off” the things that can wait until tomorrow (or next year!). The same is true for the world of HR Technology. Around this time of year we always breathe a sigh of relief as we finally finish up the handful of last minute Benefits Administration requests that needed to be addressed by Open Enrollment, crushing through our typical timelines.
This year has been no exception.
Over the last few months, several stressed out employer clients and internal account teams have come to us with hopes of our swooping in and “saving the day.” Questions like: “How fast can we get a Benefits Admin system up?” and “What do you need from us to get this moving as soon as possible?” tip us off to quicker than normal expectations. While we recommend to our clients and account teams that there is a preferred timeline, we always “Live Service” – which means stepping in and lending a hand in these dire situations. ‘Tis the season, after all.
For our team, a typical vendor selection and implementation process runs about 6-8 months, from the initial request to system go-live. Projects tend to start in the first or second quarter of the year after the employer’s HR teams have sobered up from the previous year’s open enrollment event, most of which fall between October – November. This OE window gives time enough for the carriers to have cards delivered to participants by January 1st. According to our suggested timeline, this means a Benefits Administration vendor selection and implementation should start around February – March. However, Murphy’s Law guarantees that sometimes clients come to us in need of a new system…with go-live in less than three months—that’s less than half of the average project time!
Not possible, you think. There’s no way can this be done. Alas, some of our greatest success stories have come from projects like these. Call it a Christmas miracle, but we’ve made it happen. Most recently, a few of my teammates have been working with a client to stand up a new HR technology system by the start of 2014. Things get rushed and a bit chaotic, but it gives an interesting end to our year.
When situations come up that leave your team in a “minute to win it” scenario, it can make your team stronger. Even if things don’t succeed the way you might have liked, the effort you go through to help someone in a situation like this can go a long way. We have learned so much from completing speedy implementations; we thought we’d share our favorite lessons of the 2013 season:
- There is a possibility for carrier file feed issues with a short turnaround.
- If a client is going to all new carriers, there could be added issues and ID cards might not be ready on time. Data conversion needs to be addressed right away.
- From the project management viewpoint, it is important to make sure that all parties are committed to the project. The right resources need to be in place and ready.
- Expectations should be set from the beginning so that the client, account team and vendors realize the things that might be sacrificed or expected because of a shortened timeline.
- And most importantly, “stick to your guns” when dealing with vendors, says Maureen, a Project Manager on one of our current short turnaround projects.
Although putting off until tomorrow isn’t the best resolution for your HR Technology system, know that we can help. But if you’re seeking the best HR Tech Karma for your critical project, you might start thinking about how to kick off your Benefits Administration Vendor Selection project sooner, rather than later.
For oh so many reasons, this is my favorite time of year! It’s not just because we’re on countdown to Turkey Day with all forty plus members of the family crowded into my cousin’s basement with fourteen pies to divide. Fall is wonderful and vibrant. The air is crisp, the leaves represent the full range of the Crayola universe, comfort food and tailgating await every weekend. I went running through our neighborhood last weekend and was mesmerized by the trees, whose entire canopy of leaves were the smoldering coals of a campfire brilliant against the black of the bark.
But then I remember that there are those among us who look to the end of October and the beginning of November with dread each year. You couldn’t tell just by looking at them – they appear normal (at most, a little sleep deprived or caffeine jittery). We’re not talking about football haters or pumpkin-phobics, they are the HR Practitioners responsible for standing up their company’s Annual Enrollment event.
For those of you outside of benefits or HRIS, I cannot describe to you the ultimate visibility and absolute career damaging potential of this once a year event. Not only do we have employees making their most significant financial decision of the year (unless they’ve bought a house or a car, this is not hyperbole – this stuff matters!) but it’s often the one event a year where all employees are hitting one website where salary, HR and organizational data must all co-exist peacefully! It’s amazing we ever left behind the world of paper forms.
If it’s any consolation to those answering enrollment and eligibility questions right now, just remember we could be back in the days of IVR (Interactive Voice Response). Do you remember how difficult it was to use the keypad buttons to spell out your beneficiary’s full name? Kaiser was never too bad, but it would suck if there were too many letters or Qs, Zs or (gasp) hyphens!
For those of you in the midst of OE Hell, here are three items to keep in mind:
1) Targeted Reporting & Proactive Calls
The best systems will provide you with an ad-hoc reporting engine that will let you filter out those employees likely to get caught in a post-enrollment issue such as a HDHP (High Deductible Health Plan) election without taking the company HSA (Health Savings Account.) It could happen – but with a little bit of predictive worrying you can diffuse a later crisis by a quick call to confirm they fully understand what they’ve elected. This is also an amazing tool if it can show you those who have yet to enroll so you can send extra “nasty-grams” their way.
2) Financial Planning
The Benefits season is such a great time to introduce the idea of financial or retirement planning. So much of our consumer society is focused on immediate consumption; we don’t want to miss an opportunity to engage our co-workers on some long-term thinking. Some Benefits Administration/HRIS systems can insert “extra benefit screens” into the election process to highlight company provided benefits or other messaging an employer wants to share with their employees. This is a great opportunity to alert employees to EAP, Financial Planning (401(k), Dave Ramsey, etc.) and other resources they may have forgotten about.
3) Encourage Early Elections
Our benefit consultants are often asked how long an enrollment period should last. What’s funny is that our vendors tell us it doesn’t really matter since everyone’s going to enroll on the last day anyway! There are some great charts out there showing the huge spikes in traffic that occur on the last day (or sometimes the day after) an announced enrollment window. If you know this to be your company’s pattern, there is certainly value in seeing if you can encourage early enrollment through HR communication within your company. I’ve seen a campaign that highlights the “elect early and you can come back and change it if you want” or prize drawings taken from early entries. (Just think how much your IT organization will love you if you can spread out the traffic over the full two-week enrollment window!)
Do you have any Open Enrollment tips or wisdom to share? How about a horrifying story from running Annual Enrollments before the online systems we rely on so much? We’d love to hear. Please use the comment field below to share with us your stories or ask any questions we can research for you. We are here for your HR Tech needs – including therapy – so holler out and let’s get some great discussions going.
If you like piña coladas and getting caught in the rain; If you’re not into yoga, if you have half a brain…
Okay, so maybe that’s not exactly what we are looking for in the next member of our team (well, maybe the half a brain part).
We are currently searching for another brave human willing to tackle the world of HR Technology consulting with us. Three positions make up our team: Solutions Consultants, Project Managers and Project Coordinators. The Solution Consultants are responsible for Relationships and making sure we’re solving the right problems while our Project Managers are the one’s closest to the vendors and are responsible for Results as the problem solvers. The Project Coordinators provide logistic, marketing and administrative support when they’re not sabotaging our office décor.
Our folks live all across the country and have HR technology experience ranging from HR Practitioners to vendor implementers and industry analysts. Our subject matter knowledge covers Benefits Administration, HR/Payroll, Leave Administration, Talent Management, ACA, self-service and more!
At the moment, we have a Solutions Consultant position that needs to be filled, but we are always on the lookout for great talent!
To be the next member of our team you must:
-Have some experience and knowledge in the HR technology space
-Be willing to work as a part of a team (an awesome team, if I do say so myself!)
-Be professional in dealing with vendors, clients and co-workers
-Have a winning attitude
-Have a willingness to learn (This industry is constantly changing!)
-Be ready to take initiative
-Be fun and ready to have fun (Seriously, we have a lot of it here!)
-Live in a city with an existing Lockton office (For a list of Lockton’s U.S. locations click here.)
If the above is actually your bio, apply here.
In case you need some more convincing, here are our 5 reasons you should work for Lockton’s HR Tech team (from our current team members themselves):
- We have a lot of fun learning and being innovative (and being ourselves)
- Pretty much every other day is some kind of a treat day
- We put out…good technology solutions
- There is a lot of free alcohol
- We are slowly taking over the world and you are either with us or against us
I swear, if I am ever called to Capital Hill – as some of my Lockton teammates have been to get our insight into the employer impacts of Healthcare Reform– I am soooo calling in sick. I may be a big, badass blogger filled with fire and fury, but I’m not sure I have the chutzpah to tell the United States of America the failed Open Enrollment go-live was all their fault! Can’t they still hang folks in the public square?
Well, if you weren’t invited, let me fill you in on some great conflict between the contractors and our congress that happened Thursday. Basically, the contractors laid the blame at the feet of the government, particularly the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS). If you’d like to learn more about the testimony and requisite partisan bickering, check out some of the news coverage. For anyone in our industry though, it’s imperative to learn the vendor management lessons way too many of our tax dollars have laid bare. We’ll expand on these topics in future postings, but here are some highlights:
1) Vendor Management is Vital
There’s a saying in football from Skip Bayless: “When you have two quarterbacks, you have none.” Our version of this should to be: When you have multiple vendors owning the implementation, you have NO vendor owning the implementation.
There were several separate companies all working together to erect the website for enrollment into Obamacare. Of course, each said their company and their portion of the installation was well done. But somehow when the parts became a whole, the whole thing fell apart. (Side note: that last sentence has to be the best I have ever written! I am so calling Mizzou’s J-School to brag.)
We believe strongly that “go-lives” work just like building a house. There can be multiple contractors, but there has to be only one, truly accountable General Contractor, who then manages the multiple Sub-Contractors.
We manage our HR Technology practice using a project management tool called a “RACI.” It stands for Responsible, Accountable, Consult and Inform. One of the rules we follow is that only one person on our team can be accountable – otherwise, there’s no accountability as pointing fingers and he said/she said immediately become options.
2) Limit Last Minute Meddling
If you’re a betting person, I have a “tell” to watch for that will lead to 100% accuracy as to which implementations fail: Last minute changes.
It sounds as if CMS ordered a change to how our fellow citizens registered to the site within two weeks of the go-live launch! (!^@#$@%@%) There has to be a sign-off line past which no changes are made. That gives the vendor time and space to do their work. The client can always add changes to later iterations – actually this is becoming the norm in the software development industry – but not trying to take out the chocolate chips from the cookies right before they’re supposed to come out of the oven!
There’s an arrogance on display here. It’s easy for bureaucrats – and truth be told, business leaders like me are also super susceptible to this as well – to order changes when we don’t have to feel the impact of our requests. I talk to HR leaders every week who confide in me how their executives have no idea how difficult it is to produce the data they request. Our profession masks effort from those who request it, which teaches them that changes are possible at any time!
3) Practice as you’ll Perform
It appears – according to testimony by at least two of the contractors – that the testing was performed with no where close to the volume that the production system was forced to handle on the first day. It’s so crucial to build (and test) systems as they’ll actually work in the real world – not some sanitized, safe sandbox where nothing goes bump in the night.
Chad Murray, the poor soul who’s trying to teach me how to play the piano, is always pushing me to practice my lessons at – or past – the speed at which I’ll eventually perform them at. His logic – which fully transfers to our industry – is that if I can handle the rhythm, notes and fingerings at 120%, I can always dial it back down safely.
I have no idea if someone didn’t estimate the response to the Affordable Care Act – but knowing that it offered health insurance to 47 million Americans or so who had not had access to it in the past – it is incompetent to say that 500,000 folks hitting the site in the first couple weeks is “higher volume than expected.” You’re telling me that someone didn’t think that folks with a pre-existing condition who’ve had to face medical bills naked for the last however many years are going to decide on their own to peacefully wait a couple weeks before signing up for budget-saving insurance. Sure we all know the plans don’t go into effect until the next plan year, but no one’s going to be thinking – “hey, I’ll wait a while before signing up.”
Volumes have to be estimated well in advance. If you’re picking implementers for your project, please learn a lesson from the government – find the most conservative, pessimistic, realistic, tried-and-true implementation experts. This is a business where experience matters. Take whatever volumes you estimate and double them for testing! Failure of these mission-critical platforms is too risky and too public to leave to chance or second-rate implementation help.
Ok, I’ll wrap this morning’s missive up. I’ve already worn off the ink on my keyboard keys trying to type fast enough to make my 9:30 am staff meeting. We’ll have some more of our implementation insights to share with you early next week. This will not be resolved quickly – or peacefully. Core support systems such as payroll or benefits administration are so complex by their very nature and importance. Implementations must be protected and nurtured with the best possible resources brought to bear when it’s an employer’s system – or otherwise – it will certainly not be CMS that faces the backlash.
Anything else you‘ve noticed from Healthcare.gov’s debacle?
If there was ever a more public HR Technology debacle, my poor public schooling in history is drawing a blank. When the Health and Human Services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, and President Obama are publicly giving interviews about website malfunctions, I think we can officially declare the low-point for Benefits Administration.
I don’t think there is a single HR Tech vendor or employer client who is shocked by the revelations arriving from Washington, DC. Anyone who has attempted to move the mountain of automating annual enrollment knows how complex that process can be and how delicate technology can be. Can you imagine being the poor slob who is project managing this go-live event (and clean-up)? There is not enough Johnny Walker in the world to ease that pain.
But if we’re witnesses to this particularly cruel history, let’s at least look to learn some valuable lessons:
1) Demand the best implementation teams – and check references
During an interview with CNN, Sebelius said “We (had) hoped that they had their ‘A-team’ on the table” from the start. As anyone who’s has a background knows:
Hope is not a strategy
2) Listen to your testers – and never push through problems
Due to the massive nature of Obamacare – and the huge political resistance to it – they felt they had to make a decision no employer would ever make. The folks my co-workers know in the HHS organization said this “had to launch, come hell or high water.” The fallout of a bad launch would be less than the political pain of delay or no launch whatsoever.
All I can say – thank the Lord that this level of politics has been absent from the employer projects we’ve worked. Of course, as soon as I type that last sentence, I remember too many projects that an executive or c-suite member pushed against our recommendations due to pride, ego or ignorance. Once materials are printed or commitments are made to the board, it is very hard to repeal those decisions. Too often emotions and politics can complicate decisions about the right thing to do for the employees and the organization as a whole.
Sanity should not be a precious resource
3) Communicate problems to project sponsors as early as possible
In the interview referenced above, Sebelius said the President “didn’t hear that there may be problems … until it went live on October 1.” I don’t know about your organization, but in my company – and with the employers I work for – that statement is usually the last words of someone who needs to update their LinkedIn profile!
Not keeping key sponsors in the loop and up to date is an EPIC FAIL! (Millenials, please correct my usage if I’m not keeping up with the lingo!) Too often folks feel they can push through or mask issues. Having been in both roles – the Project Sponsor and as the person responsible for delivery of the project – I can only advocate as strongly as possible for early consistent communication. What was the old Chicago political admonition? “Vote early and often.” Well for HR Tech it should be:
Communicate project status (and especially issues) early and often
Alright, back to watching the slow motion train wreck as Sen. Max Baucus (chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and key sponsor of the ACA) called it with amazing foresight. There are lessons here for us all.
Did you see any other lessons to be learned? Do you have any implementation stories to share?
“What a great day for HR Tech,” I said to myself as I settled into the office this morning. “Never before has Benefits Administration been the cover story of the news outlets. Not only is it the lead, but the President of the United States himself is getting ready to give a press conference. What could be more grand for our industry? We are finally getting the attention we deserve as the engine that runs business.”
“I’ll just click on this link and see what the story is about… oh, crap. He’s saying ‘no sugarcoating’ problems with HealthCare.gov?”
“Ok, quickly moving on, did you see the Kansas City Chiefs are 7-0?”
Well, so it’s not such a great day for smoothly operating Benefits Administration from the perspective of the Obama administration. But if you’re a routinely glass-half-full type (as I’ve been known to be at times), at least the importance of technologically sound, well-working HR Technology has never had higher visibility.
Leaving all politics aside – which I fully know is riling at least half of the readers who are just frothing to get into an “access is a right”/free market/fiscal health/insert-topic-of-day-here debate – never before has the importance of well-run Benefits Administration been so visible. Having sat through countless go-live events over the years, our team is acutely aware of how difficult the programming, data loads and carrier feeds can be. I cannot begin to imagine the size of the project plan we’d build for this – “let’s enroll America” event.
While technology will certainly be the solution for the future ─ I’ve found it often remains just that: a solution for the future, and rarely a solution for the present. As a concerning illustration: the administration says nearly 500,000 people have filled out applications online – while about 1.2 million calls have been processed. So we’re going a little old-school here with a call center. Left behind are complex decision support and online avatars. Instead, The Benefits Administration of the Free World is… “Hello, my name is Betty. How can I help you?”
Our industry has so much more to offer – to both employers and Americans.
By the way – for a quick smile to get your week started off well – please check out my favorite of all time ACA headline. It comes from that bastion of news integrity…The Onion:
Man Who Understands 8% Of Obamacare Vigorously Defends It From Man Who Understands 5%