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Micah Fairchild Benefits Administration Takes Top Billing at SHRM’s 2012 Conference

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 By Micah Fairchild

Benefits Admin Rules the Day at SHRM Annual Conference & Expo

Yesterday (June 27, 2012) concluded the four-day Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Annual Conference & Exposition in Atlanta, GA. With 15,000+ attendees (up from just 7,000 a few years ago) the event was easily the largest gathering of HR professionals in the world and featured some impressive keynotes from Condoleezza Rice, Jim Collins, Malcolm Gladwell, and Tom Brokaw. Given the high-profile nature of the event, it was somewhat surprising that more announcements about newer Payroll and HR software offerings weren’t broadcast. In fact, only a handful of vendors even paraded out anything new for the public to engage with. Here are of the few standouts that caught our eye.

SHRM’s HR Software Announcements

  • Epicor announced its latest version of its flagship solution, Epicor HCM version 5.7—expanding its global framework and adding the capability to configure location-specific data fields. Though hardly a drastic feature set addition, this new framework does usher in a new era for Epicor, and allows the company to compete better on a global scale by giving users the ability to translate field labels, field content, and reports in English, French-Canadian and Spanish.
  • Halogen Software announced enhancements to their flagship in the form of Halogen Feedback Central. New functionality offers the ability to crowd-source feedback—making assessments possible for multiple talent processes through multiple streams. While not drastically removed from more advanced 360-degree evaluations, Feedback Central does provide Halogen customers with cutting-edge feedback capabilities—a feature set that was decidedly lacking before.
  • SilkRoad Technology continued their domination of user-experience focused talent management applications, by announcing the general availability of their social solution Point. This latest addition to the Silk Road arsenal is one of only a handful of applications to close the gap between social networking and talent management—increasing collaboration and connections for sharing links, files, questions, photos, polls, announcements, learning and feedback across the organization.

Benefits and Wellness Administration: The SHRM 2012 Conference's Secret Theme

The above messages aside, there was a specific theme (whether intended or not) of employee benefits administration and wellness programs bubbling just below the surface. Indeed, while only 26 concurrent sessions were dedicated to benefits and wellness (compared with 36, 46, and 50 respectively for Business Strategy, Compliance, and Talent Management) the conference’s main announcements and research were focused on this area (and subsequently managed to breathe some new life into this subject through several standout elements).

  1. Abenity, Inc. (a provider of private employee perks and discount programs) announced the launch of Abenity Wellness Rewards; the company’s all-in-one technology solution for incentive-based employee wellness programs. Featuring hundreds of healthy recipes, expert wellness videos, and wellness tips, Wellness Rewards is a full service platform designed to help organizations reduce healthcare expenditures through healthy choices and incentive based programs. While obviously any solution designed to improve employee health is positive, the main highlight of this tool is the program’s Challenges—a modular-type feature that allows customers to host virtual, incentive based contests, track results, and reward success, through one web-based platform.
  2. Nurtur launched a new, comprehensive suite of employee wellness programs. Featuring built-in incentive administration and communication tools, Nurtur Compass serves as the starting point for this wellness solution; with Nurtur Navigator and Nurtur Sherpa building on that functionality for more advanced wellness administration delivery. While certainly a timely offering that taps into the recent healthcare zeitgeist, Nurtur’s solution tiers seem artificially constructed (i.e. Nurtur Navigator’s only upgrade from Compass is customized online tools and social supports). Nurtur Sherpa on the other hand is where most organizations seeking this type of benefits offering should look—especially considering it offers one of the industry’s most comprehensive wellness programs; including personalized health advising and proactive outreach for disease management.
  3. Benefitfocus announced their newly-formed strategic partnership with Mayo Clinic—a solution that gives employers the ability to manage the entire benefits lifecycle via a single source by providing access to over 3,500 articles; a 24/7 nurse line (staffed by RNs); and the Mayo Clinic’s EmbodyHealth portal.
  4. Basing products off their significant research efforts into employee health and well-being, Big Sky Growth & Wellness launched the Triple Wellness System—a new line of integrated workplace wellness products and services designed for the SMB market. Essentially, the company’s studies found that employers seeking wellness programs typically need help getting the program off the ground; help getting the program right; providing something to bundle into their service offer for multiple worksites or clients; or helping to make their programs more comprehensive with the latest tools and techniques. While driven by more of a consulting services model than technology, Triple Wellness does have some innovative email-based programs to offer as well as program customizations that can be leveraged.
  5. Viridian Health Management announced the release of its new MAESTRO modular solution that integrates multiple data sources and applies research-supported analytics to document the performance of employers’ worksite health programs. Driven off of a data platform which includes numerous integrated modules (supporting lifestyle and clinical care management; data integration and reporting; and incentive tracking and fulfillment), MAESTRO Rewards and MAESTRO Coach are providing an industry-first option that can regularly track the success of employer-specific biometrics, health assessments, medical conditions, program participation and completion, referrals, third-party outcomes, and incentive options.

Hands down though, the show-stealer from this conference goes to benefits-focused research from SHRM, The Standard Insurance Company, and Aflac

Citing recent studies by the Journal of Occupational Environmental Medicine, Mercer, and Kronos software, Standards research showcased that an enormous cost differential is going largely unnoticed by employers—equaling lost productivity figures that are three times as high as medical care and drug costs. Essentially what this means is that only 30% of the total employer financial burden of poor employee health can actually be associated with medical/pharmaceutical costs—a key reason why benefits and wellness administration appears to be back on the table for organizations. Likewise, SHRM’s Annual Benefits Survey found that 73 percent of HR professionals reported the economic downturn had negatively impacted employee benefit offerings; while at the same time a marked increase in benefits that reward employees for improving their health was seen—jumping from 33% of organizations in 2008 to 45% in 2012. The paradigm shift that these figures highlight signals that many employers have shifted to a model of placing primary responsibility and control for benefits onto the employee—a fact that will not only affect workplace culture, but will also result in a sizeable impact to the benefits administration software industry as a whole. And for good reason, according to Aflac’s new research with 6K+ employees, fully 49% of them were cited as saying “improve my benefits” in order to retain them—a direction that could create an insurmountable hurdle for benefits departments that have not automated or outsourced any of their processes.

Final Thoughts on SHRM’s 2012 Annual Conference & Exposition

The major takeaways that we got from SHRM’s annual industry event can be paired down to essentially 3 major areas. For one, niche vendors are continuing to dominate the innovation arena and provide the next generation of talent management products. Two, more focused research is emerging that can truly provide an accurate financial picture for core HR and Payroll processes—a fact that could finally yield ROI statistics that support additional software and/or outsourcing purchases. And finally, an increased focus on the transactional elements of employee benefits and wellness could well signify a sea change in core HR and Payroll solutions over the near-term as more organizations recognize the financial and cultural impact that software offerings and outsourced services can bring. End

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Citing recent studies by the Journal of Occupational Environmental Medicine, Mercer, and Kronos, Standards research showcased that an enormous cost differential is going largely unnoticed by employers—equaling lost productivity figures that are three times as high as medical care and drug costs."



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