As with any industry, the impact of technology is being felt acutely across the employer provided benefits and pensions landscape. This raises a conundrum for employers of how to distinguish admin-cutting technology which facilitates streamlined best practice, from flash-in-the-pan gimmicks that will soon be superseded by more efficient innovation. Being an early adopter allows you to get ahead of the curve, but there are inherent risks – both operational and reputational – if you choose to take the first leap before industry precedents have been set.
The proliferation of technology throughout and across an organisation shows no signs of abating, with 70% of respondents to LCP’s ‘Thinking Smarter’ HR survey looking to incorporate new technology as part of their overall offering to employees. This will allow for better HR efficiencies and increased employee engagement if deployed correctly.
The four most pertinent technology trends relating to employee benefits, rewards and pensions for the coming 12 months are Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), people analytics, data aggregation and HR people applications. Each of these is arguably still at the ‘early adopter’ phase for HR, organisations and their people.
Software-as-a-Service – or ‘HR in the Cloud’ – involves a third-party provider hosting and fully managing applications and making them available to customers over the internet. Off-premises HR technology is becoming more and more appealing, with organisations shrinking their operational departments such as IT.
Analytics seem to crop up a lot in terms of ‘what’s hot’ in HR right now. Part of the reason for this is that tracking analytics allows HR to understand their people in a more detailed or granular way and, as a result, to offer solutions that better meet their needs.
People are living and working for longer, which has implications for employers' retirement age strategies. Many employers are now looking at systems which aggregate an employee’s personal and work related financial products and services in one place. These holistic systems allow employees to be better informed about workplace benefits and pensions and how they interact with their personal arrangements.
HR people apps
Apps seem to be the natural progression in terms of being the most suitable platform to support the trends above. While mobile HR systems have often relied on web browsers to access cloud and SaaS software, the platform of choice is rapidly becoming the app, with 41% of respondents to LCP’s ‘Thinking Smarter’ HR survey report saying they are ‘very likely’ to soon adopt mobile or tablet-based applications.
Whether early adoption is right or not comes down to cultural considerations and decision-makers must do what is right for their organisation and employees.
What’s changed is that developers are now focussing on the user interface to make it more appealing to employees and in line with the applications they have access to on a personal basis outside of the workplace. Technology developers are increasingly recognising the demand for ease-of-use improvements, with 87% of our survey respondents saying that improving the user experience is a current or future priority.
Examples of increasing app usage include employees managing their healthcare plans and costs, while at the same time accessing tutorials on, for example, mindfulness and healthy eating.
Advantages of early adoption
Early adoption enables an employer to establish greater provider support and collaboration. The opportunity to liaise around constructive feedback and process improvement also abounds, allowing an early adopter to influence technological development in line with their specific needs. This ultimately provides for a more tailored tech solution.
If an organisation engages at an early stage, it will also benefit from greater creative freedom to experiment and revolutionise before the technology becomes mainstream, by which point its development will already be established and embedded.
A further advantage is that the proactive adopter has a chance to become the case study that is referenced as ‘ground-breaking’ and ‘innovative’ at conferences, in articles and among the sector press. This helps to raise the profile of your organisation and build towards establishing (or cementing) a market-leading reputation.
Reservations and pitfalls
Caution must, however, be exercised before your organisation dives in at the deep-end and signs up to every new technology going.
While early adopters have the chance to be an influence at the stage of genesis or infancy, this means they carry all of the risk associated with investing resources (time and cost) on a product. Similarly, the early adopter bears the brunt of dealing with many of the ‘teething’ issues associated with new technologies. Again, the investment of time and energy here should be considered more of a risk when compared to implementing a tried-and-tested product.
At the pre-mainstream stage, it is also difficult to accurately assess exactly what it is that you are getting when you take on a new tech product. While you may have some idea, there is no way to ensure that what you are buying is what you think you are getting. Once a product is more concretely established and there are known test cases out there in the market, it’s more difficult for a product salesperson to use artistic licence or creative closing techniques to secure a sale.
The largest concern with any process change decision is that it fails to deliver on the objectives it set out to hit. This will be a costly mistake which also runs the risk of disengaging the Board and employees. Credibility can be damaged both externally and internally, and getting sufficient buy-in for the next technology update may prove to be a struggle.
Developers are now focussing on the user interface [of HR technology] to make it more appealing to employees.
Even if the technology delivers to an extent, a further risk is that your chosen product is usurped by a newer, more efficient model. You don’t want to find yourself tied into using an inferior program – it can wreak havoc with internal processes, particularly if a U-turn is ultimately required to correct the mistake, while it is clearly not a ‘good look’ from a reputational standpoint, either.
The disruptive impact of implementing technological changes is often not accounted for by providers, or is an afterthought when delivering new technology in the workplace. Even if the decision to adopt ultimately bears fruit, initial disruption is likely to occur as organisations are required to update existing systems and processes to accommodate the new technology.
The path ahead
The top benefits, reward and pensions tech trends identified here cannot be used effectively in isolation. For implementation to be successful, these trends must form part of a broader move toward a system of business intelligence which combines information from apps, wearables, the cloud and analytics. Connecting these all together is the next big challenge coming HR’s way.
Ultimately, company culture is key. Whether early adoption is right or not comes down to cultural considerations and decision-makers must do what is right for their organisation and employees.
If your company values and culture embrace ‘new’ change, and quickly, then early adoption is right for you. However, if your culture is one of ‘steady eddy’, waiting for someone else to take the risk associated with early adoption may be more prudent.
Knowing your organisation and taking a realistic, not idealistic, approach to recognising ‘change readiness’ is central to answering the question of whether to adopt or not to adopt.
Dipa Mistry Kandola is head of flexible benefits services at Lane Clark & Peacock.
Based in the firm’s London office, Dipa helps employers with their benefit packages, including salary sacrifice, specifically in relation to strategy (including stakeholder buy-in), design and developing a coherent communication plan. Technology will play an increasing role in the delivery of employee benefits and pensions and Dipa can help you find the right solution for your business and people.