Previous Article Next Article Related posts:No related photos. Comments are closed. A framework for changeOn 24 Sep 2002 in Auto-enrolment, Personnel Today IT has come a long way since the days of green screens. But what part doestechnology play in the flexible benefits revolution?Technical innovation in IT shows no sign of abating: product lifecycles areshortening, and more technical demands are being placed on internal ITfunctions and external providers. As well as changes and development in technology, there are the paradigm shifts– step changes that revolutionise what we know and understand. And in IT thesesignificant changes occur frequently. Examples within the last few yearsinclude: the move from centralised mainframe ‘green screen’ systems todistributed PC-based systems; the advent of graphical user interfaces; and theadoption of the internet. Each has heralded major changes in computing andfresh demands on the user community and IT professional. Since the dotcom boom, demand has exploded for software solutions based oninternet and intranet technologies. The tools and architecture have becomeavailable to build such systems, many of which are immature in functionalityand architecture. The internet environment has been a serious constraint to thedeveloper, resulting in a restricted application, with a less rewarding userexperience when compared to client/server systems. The introduction of Microsoft’s .NET Framework, which includes new tools,architecture and languages, hopes to change this situation, providing a newmodel for application development and deployment. .NET is centred on the concept of web services – loosely coupled systemscollaborating to provide applications that ‘consume’ services provided byothers, all via the internet/intranet, utilising the power of the web in aprogrammatic way. Part of this change will also make way for a much more diverse range ofsmart devices, including mobile phones and Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs),for employees to interact with their HR data enabling anytime, anywhere accessand action. The future will see a mixed mode environment where some users will work withwireless mobile devices. New devices will emerge combining mobile phone and PDAfacilities, offering an array of differing form-factors and capabilities. Newapplications must seamlessly adapt to this mixed mode environment clientdevice, without the overhead of having to ‘code’ specific facilities in theapplication to support this variety. This forms the backdrop to the introduction of a new generation of flexiblebenefits software applications solutions. Using .NET, provider RebusHR, is ableto make its flexible benefits applications available as a hosted service or asoftware package for in-house deployment. Deployment Peaks in demand typically occur during the enrolment period when employeesare asked to register their flexible benefit choices. As this typically happensat set periods within the financial or calendar year, in the past it could haveimpacted the hosted service, as there can be many organisations withoverlapping enrolment periods and consequently times when there could be alarge number of active users. The .NET architecture allows the application to easily scale up and out ifrequired. As well as the database configuration options, the use of VisualStudio for Applications means that customer specific business rules can bewritten around organisations’ flexible benefits offering. .NET Remoting is usedfor communications between the front-end, where employees can select theirbenefits, and application servers, where the flex calculations are made,providing for scalable distributed systems. To ensure the integrity of information, customers have no direct access tothe database and all transactions must pass through the business rules withinthe application. However, to improve performance, there are separate databasesfor production and reporting. Ease of use Because of the technology used, RebusHR’s flexible benefits applications canbe web-browser-based, providing full web functionality and a familiar userinterface tailored to meet a company’s requirements. For employees, theapplication is essentially self-service and links directly to benefitproviders’ websites if further information is required in the decision-makingprocess. Policy and other documents are available online for ease of access andreview, and to speed the process of selecting benefits or making claims. Forthe administrators, the processes of data entry and deployment are simplified throughthe use of workflow. Administering flexible benefits in the workplaceThe introduction of flexible benefitshas been held back by fear of an administration avalanche. Developments ininformation-sharing technology mean these issues can be dealt with more easily,with automated systems of administration and web portals for employee access.RebusHR has developed a flexible benefits application using aworkflow system that automates all the processes involved in the flexiblebenefits calendar. The application encompasses benefit supplier details,benefit plans, options and coverage, eligibility rules, date-driven processesand premiums and benefit contributions for employees and employers. It uses thelatest Microsoft .NET technology to allow organisations to open up access topeople across their workforce, and to customise their ‘user interface’ to meetparticular needs.This is how a flexible benefits scheme would work. Theapplication evolves around the five stages in the lifecycle of a flexiblebenefits scheme: plan, contract, data, enrolment and review.Plan An organisation will decide on the range ofbenefits to be made available to employees and the parameters of the scheme,including the proportion of the overall remuneration package that can be spenton benefits, the administrative process and the timetable.Contract During the contract stage, the company willarrange deals with the organisations whose goods and services are availablewithin the flexible benefits scheme, negotiating group discount rates and otherterms and conditions.Data The application is populated both directly and viainteraction with existing systems that hold relevant data. This includesemployee data, which may be held in an existing HR application from RebusHR oranother supplier, employer data and benefits data. The application can alsoprovide access to information, such as claims procedures, stored elsewhere viathe internet.Enrolment Employees are invited to make their flexiblebenefits selections. This can be undertaken on a yearly basis and for specificad hoc instances such as new employees or a lifestyle change (such as marriageor childbirth). This is a self-service process whereby the employee researchesthe options and makes their choices via a web browser interface.The application allows employees to run ‘what-if’ scenarios sothat they can experiment with various combinations of choices. Thisfunctionality will be available via mobile devices such as PDAs enablingemployees to, for example, make the decision with consultation from theirpartners by using the application from home.Review The final review stage is an opportunity for thescheme administrators to evaluate and assess the scheme. This will provide themwith opportunities to, for example, renegotiate benefit provider rates based ontake-up levels from the previous year or address any common areas of confusionby modifying the way the scheme is communicated to employees accordingly.