How to ensure HR and benefits technology work together

Many human resource leaders have a conflicted relationship with HR and benefits technology. And it’s only growing more complicated as employees demand easy-to-use technology and a personalized experience, and telecommuting and the gig economy gain popularity. Companies must also cope with the threat of cybertheft, and a surge of new vendors and products that touch every facet of the employer-employee interaction.

In light of these developments, the strategic management of HR and benefits technology has become essential.

Smart Business spoke with Gallagher’s Joe Roberts, area vice president of Benefits & HR Consulting, and Rhonda Marcucci, vice president of HR & Benefits Technology Consulting, about how to blend HR and technology.

What are the key workforce trends?

Employees are increasingly working from home and elsewhere. They expect HR systems and processes to accommodate their demands, and many want applications to be easy to use and personalized at a level that’s similar to smartphones. That’s especially true of millennials. Also, employers that participate in the emerging gig economy may hire temporary or part-time employees, even for core enterprise functions. To make sure these workers don’t cross eligibility thresholds for mandated benefits, employers must track contractors’ availability, schedule their work and support time-keeping.

How should employers navigate the proliferation of HR and benefits technology?

When salespeople push innovative products, employers must keep their underlying business objectives in mind. Advanced tools that streamline and enhance processes can certainly help engage, support and manage employees, from hire to retire. However, staying current on new capabilities and their potential value for HR operations is difficult. One risk is vendor updates to installed systems (often automatic) that deliver new and unknown functionality. This can lead to underutilized or duplicated capabilities.

Integration remains a challenge with no right answers — just trade-offs that should be carefully weighed. Even best-in-class solutions with better functionality may bring integration complications. Employers are purchasing an ongoing relationship with their service providers. Getting to know the company and its support philosophy — before committing — is a sound approach.

What can be done to protect employee data?

HR information systems are vulnerable to cyberthreats, and unfortunately no employer is free of this risk. Data loss can range from a misaddressed email that exposes one person’s information to breaches affecting thousands.

Investing in enterprise-wide technology is critical to identifying and stopping cyberattacks, but it’s just as important for HR leaders to work with corporate IT on safeguards. They should have clear sight into how data is collected, held and classified, who has access and which laws apply. In many cases, the greatest vulnerability is the HR team itself. Highly sophisticated phishing and other social engineering techniques may trick unwary employees into divulging information that enables access to sensitive data. One of the best protections is continual and thorough training.

If there’s a breach, a forensic analysis will determine its nature and extent. Companies may be reluctant to inform employees, but an apparent lack of transparency can be damaging when rumors circulate. To minimize fallout, employers need to engage a cybersecurity lawyer who is an expert on personnel data breaches.

What are the steps to better align technology with strategy?

Before decision-makers can align HR and benefits technology with the organization’s human capital management strategy, they need to clearly define that strategy. Next, they should window-shop to understand the range of available technology options. The last step is creating an HR technology governance committee to maintain the strategy, which includes staying on top of current technology releases.

Employers should also implement cybersecurity and incident response plans. These will train HR staff on phishing tactics and other risks, lay out the required internal responsibilities and sequence of necessary actions, and identify external management experts and their roles.

Insights Employee Benefits is brought to you by Gallagher