At the National YMCA Employee Benefits Plan (NYEBP) in Chicago, the time had come to shop for a new benefits administration and employee self-service solution. The trick was finding a sophisticated yet easy-to-use system that would handle online enrollment, save time and be more responsive to the needs of 360 corporate Ys serving 13,000 disparate employee populations across the U.S.
Witness Systems, a suburban Atlanta software company, had a similar objective. It desired a paperless solution that was cost-effective, easy to use and convenient for approximately 500 employees in 12 different countries. The company's international presence, coupled with a recent growth spurt, meant there was also a pressing need to track salaries and bonus schedules in various currencies from a centralized data source.
Both organizations enlisted the help of Employease, Inc., the leading provider of on-demand HR and benefits administration solutions whose applications have won numerous industry awards. Capabilities include a full-featured HRIS as well as modules for benefits administration, employee and manager self-service, leave management, performance management, recruitment, and superior connectivity to internal systems and multiple service providers.
Fewer growing pains
A true test of the Employease platform unfolded between February and March 2003 when Witness Systems HR manager Robyn Smith announced an aggressive implementation schedule that left just six weeks to get the system up and running at a time the company faced serious growing pains.
"Not only were we having to upgrade and get all the data into the system," Smith reports, "we also were embarking on our first online open enrollment and doubled the organization's size through a major acquisition - all in the same month.
Employease enabled Witness Systems to customize and build out historical data, quickly upload reports and verify the accuracy of information. Moreover, annual enrollment was cut to just five days from three weeks and now can be closely tracked to ensure the process is completed in a timely manner.
The ability to electronically connect with multiple vendors has produced such a significant operational efficiency that the amount of time the HR department saved on benefits administration chores equals one full-time staff position. This, in turn, has enabled Smith and her colleagues to devote more time and attention to their international counterparts and provide better service to employees.
Having done numerous implementations on other systems throughout her 17-year HR career, Smith was impressed by Employease's considerable firepower, service, support and willingness to incorporate customer comments into system upgrades. "It was a breeze and so user-friendly," she says. "Employease was right there to help us through the process if we had any questions. My only regret is not pursuing this action a year earlier."
Smith's reaction was shared by Steve Gustavson, director of the nonprofit National YMCA Employee Benefits Plan, which purchases and manages benefits on behalf of member YMCAs.
Gustavson was won over last August by the Employease platform's ability to report data across multiple administrative structures, accommodate open enrollment and benefit waiting periods that differed from one Y to the next, print benefit statements and run customized reports that now track prior month's adjustments.
Training proved to be a snap for YMCA personnel based on a daylong session at the NYEBP office, as well as a four-hour Webcast for some of the larger Ys. "They couldn't believe how much access they had to their data and all they could do on the system," notes Melissa Maloney, the organization's associate director of strategic services.
She says Employease accomplished in just a few months what the Y's previous service provider couldn't deliver in three years. The former vendor also proposed a significant fee increase reflecting the cost of its labor-intensive services.
Maloney is thrilled with the integrity of the information that the Employease system facilitates. "The system supports our multiple business processes including serving smaller locations," she says. "The improved quality of our data will maximize eligibility timeliness of new hires and terminations. This will produce corresponding savings based on a $35 million annual benefits budget."
Soft-dollar savings also have been identified in terms of fewer frazzled nerves among YMCA benefit professionals who can be redeployed to play a more strategic role and improve employee service.
"Now we can focus more on strategic issues including the area of new plan designs like a high-deductible plan coupled with a Health Savings Account rather than spending time just trying to get benefits eligibility and invoicing requirements working," Gustavson enthuses. He says the new arrangement also enables local YMCAs to bolster the 153-year-old U.S.-based organization's mission of "building strong kids, strong families and strong communities."
Bruce Shutan, former managing editor of Employee Benefit News, is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.