Benefit administration systems put information at employees’ fingertips while freeing up HR staff to focus on strategic issues such as employee engagement and retention.

“Everything related to employee benefits and an employee’s life cycle can be stored in a technology solution and then used by both the employee and the HR department,” says Meghann Guentensberger, Director of HR Services at Benefitdecisions, Inc. “Medical, dental, vision, and even ancillary benefits like transportation and flex are all in one system that’s accessible to everyone.”

Smart Business spoke with Guentensberger about the advantages of automation using an online benefit administration tool and how to choose a system that fits your needs.

What can a such a tool do?

It automates the administration process through an employee’s life cycle from onboarding to termination. The system also handles annual benefits enrollments and life event changes. When someone gets married or has a baby, they can make health care enrollment changes through the system rather than filling out a 20-page application with an HR person.

The system can also be electronically connected to the insurance carriers, feeding information directly to them in real time. This ensures timely and accurate enrollments and terminations while also facilitating the billing reconciliation process, ensuring you’re not paying for someone inadvertently left on an insurance plan. Between savings generated from efficiency of staff and error reduction, a benefit administration system can save more than $19 per employee per month.

In addition to employee benefit information, many of the tools have Human Resources Information System components and can track compensation history, paid time off and leaves of absence. Skills and past performance history can also be tracked for succession planning purposes, which facilitates resource allocation. The tools empower employees to update their electronic personnel files and promote their skills by updating certifications, education or training.

How do you choose the right solution?

There are five advantages of a benefit administration system that should be considered when selecting the appropriate system: cost savings, productivity enhancements, increased communication, facilitation of employee retention and recruitment, and the ability to eliminate paper transactions.

But first, take a step back and document current processes so you know what you’re paying for your system and in HR time. This will help build perspective around the hard and soft costs of what you’re doing now versus what you could be doing. Then list what features and functions you want, so you can evaluate providers and do a direct comparison.

It’s also important to think about the solution globally rather than getting carried away by the presentation of a tool that takes current pain away. Develop a plan for where you’re going and how it fits in. Often, the tools provide scalable solutions that will allow you to add features as time goes on.

Adding a benefit administration system doesn’t mean you have to revamp everything. These tools interface with existing systems such as payroll, so you don’t have to overhaul what you have.

Have an independent third party ask questions and go through the process of how it will be used. When a vendor does a demonstration everything looks amazing, but you’re only seeing what they’re showing. A neutral third party can provide an unbiased perspective.

Who needs a benefit administration system?

Any company big or small  — the complexity of the system is dependent on the company’s size and needs. With health care reform, it will be more difficult to remain compliant using paper, both because regulations change so quickly and the required reporting. This system allows you to analyze your population and compute costs to ‘pay or play.’ You can pull the data and run models to make a decision that makes the most business sense.

For smaller companies without an HR department or just one HR person, this tool can really help them be more effective and efficient instead of being transactional.

Meghann Guentensberger is Director of HR Services at Benefitdecisions, Inc. Reach her at (312) 376-0449 or mguentensberger@benefitdecisions.com.

Insights Employee Benefits is brought to you by Benefitdecisions, Inc.

Published in Chicago
Monday, 10 October 2011 22:25

The Smart Business digital eMag

Take a look at our latest leap into the world of mobility, online publications and interactivity - the NEW Smart Business digital eMag!

Sponsored by Rea & Associates, this premiere edition allows you to interact directly with Smart Business, the people we write about and our advertisers.

Click here to experience the October edition of Smart Business Cleveland - in a digital format!

After you have a chance to virtually flip through this digital offering, please let us know what you think by sending your feedback to tsympson@sbnonline.com.

As always, thank you for your readership.

Published in Akron/Canton
Monday, 18 July 2011 06:26

Channel partners

Entrepreneurship arises from the strangest of places.

For Talia Mashiach, founder and CEO of Eved, her winding path began shortly after she accompanied her musician husband to a meeting at a hotel where he hoped to generate more referrals for his band.

“I have a technology background,” she says. “But I love thinking about business models. I had done some back-office work for his band, and he figured I could help with some ideas that would lead to more business.”

The meeting didn’t go as planned.

“I went with him and the hotel executive said, ‘Well, we don’t just want to offer bands. Our catering and event managers spend so much time manually handling logistics and dealing with these multiple suppliers that come in for an event, can you handle everything for us?’”

Mashiach didn’t know anything about the event business, but she did understand how to deploy technology-based solutions. “When I looked at the opportunity to aggregate all the individual suppliers and sell and manage them for the hotel, I really saw a supply chain play, which has been done in other industries, but not in Meetings & Events,” she says. “I couldn’t get over how manual and fragmented everything was, how many logistics between multiple supply chain members and how often things needed to change throughout an event. So we came up with this idea.”

Smart Business Publisher and Executive Editor Dustin S. Klein sat down with Mashiach, who was named to the 2009 class of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneurial Winning Women, and talked about the roots of innovation for her 30-plus employee organization.

What were the early applications you developed at Eved?

I saw a big opportunity for a global event portal in the long-run, but knew we needed to start with understanding the event industry, how the supply chain members worked together and what ultimately the client wanted. We needed to build our own service company to figure this out. We came up with a model in which we would put people in-house in the hotel, providing the client with a one stop shop when they came to a hotel.

We developed technology to communicate and transact between ourselves and the suppliers we bought from – florists, transportation companies, entertainers. We also created technology that enabled our sales people to view a catalogue of our suppliers’ products online and easily add items to a quick quote or proposal reducing the turnaround time to clients by an average minimum of 48 hours.  Automated purchase orders and change requests took out the manual back and forth, saving thousands of hours in labor from sales and operations to finance.

We were able to manage an average of 1,800 event orders to our suppliers per month with one finance person and 25 people in sales and operations.

The hotels had become channel partners, so when their clients came to the hotel and were looking for something, they’d say, ‘Anything you need outside of rooms and food or beverage you can work with the expert team from Eved, who is on-site and works closely with our catering and event manager to create a great event.’ This model proved that with the right technology, even small one-off orders, like a single sedan transfer or VIP floral bouquet, can be profitable. For the first time, it allowed a company to service the client for their large event needs and their very small ones. This was a key service the client was looking for.

I’m sure this was eye-opening. What did you learn from this?

Through this experience, I learned a tremendous amount about the industry. How the markets and supply chain members work together. What  clients are really looking for in an event service partner and the real inefficiencies that are experienced daily by this industry. We put a plan together to really scale this company. We created a global platform that would bring all the members of the event supply chain online to be able to communicate and transact through an online marketplace.

In 2010, we launched our global marketplace, Eved, and took the experience and technology and offered it to all members of the event supply chain to interact and transact online. Now anyone can sign up to automate their entire process – from proposal creation to purchase orders to transactions.

We are just finishing our beta and will offer online Event Galleries where event suppliers can create storefronts to sell their services online. Companies and individuals will be able to purchase all their small meeting needs online.

What do you offer in products and services for your clients today?

Eved is a B2B marketplace that allows members of the meeting and event supply chain to communicate and transact online. There’s about $150 billion spent on event services in the U.S. All of this is currently transacted offline by literally thousands of destination-specific small businesses that are involved in providing services for events – from ground transportation to restaurant reservations. Our cloud-based platform gives those businesses the ability to quickly and efficiently conduct business with each other. Whether a business is using our vendor management capabilities to search for a new supplier, or employing our online commerce tools to streamline the proposal, purchase order, invoice or payment process, The technology takes a lot of the manual labor out, significantly reducing the cost of sale. Eved is all about helping our clients grow, strengthen, and control their businesses.

How would you describe segments of clients?

We target all the members of the event supply chain – corporations and organizations that hold meetings or conferences,  third-party meeting planning companies that are hired by corporations, hotels, destination management and event companies, restaurants, suppliers such as florists, entertainers, décor companies and transportation companies. We believe that the meeting, incentive companies and destination managemetn companies play a major role in the future of events and ensuring events bring measurable results to a corporation. Our technology enables these companies to provide more cost effective and new services to their existing corporate clients.

We were fortunate enough to have some great clients come on early and clearly articulate how our technology can help them work with their suppliers. When we met their expectations, they invited their global suppliers to join them on Eved, providing value for both buyers and sellers. This also helped us quickly populate that segment of the supply chain globally. We have now provided valuable tools for these destination management and event companies to streamline how they work with their suppliers. This creates new opportunities for everyone. We have engaged all of our early adopters and clients to give us their input and continue to help us develop technology that enables all members of the supply chain to reduce costs and increase sales.  Perhaps most exciting about Eved is that you can streamline the way you do business with whoever you choose as long as both of you are on Eved. Eved creates the bridge.

What is an example of a business challenge that your organization faced and the solution you used?

What most people don’t realize is the magnitude of pioneering technology that will transform an industry. Many people assume that if they create the best technology, then people will use it. But it’s not just the technology. You have to understand and communicate how by using the technology your business can grow It’s not so much training – how to click, where to click and what to do within Eved – it’s much more about how you help these companies, especially small businesses, maximize the business opportunities Eved can create for them.  One comparison could be what businesses thought of having a website when the internet was in its early stage. Some people bought into the vision early and got their websites going and created new business models around having this new technology. Others waited and were pushed to create a website because their competition had one. The early adopters created a huge advantage for themselves. Our clients can see the Eved vision, but we need to continue to help them understand how it helps their business.  So it’s about reaching out personally, and working with them on how to use Eved to better change their business practices and grow their companies. Our future offerings will be continuing to introduce and evolve new technology that will help our clients grow their sales and cut their costs.

How do you consider yourself an innovative leader?

A lot of people realize the meeting and event industry is a good 15 years behind when it comes to technology. I think we are unique in our approach to incorporate the existing supply chain and enable them to better work with one another. I think the industry has embraced us because no one gets displaced. Everyone wins when they work with us.  What is being cut out is all the no value-add manual labor that can be reallocated to grow one’s business. I also think we have earned the respect of some of the industry leaders because they appreciate our deep industry knowledge and innovative approach.

We’re in a unique situation. Either technical people see an opportunity in the meetings industry and want to build technology to solve a problem without knowing the ins and outs of the space, or they are familiar with the meeting industry but don’t know a lot about technology. So they outsource it, with instructions on what they want it to do.

As the founder of Eved, I was a technologist that spent six years in the trenches building an actual business in the meeting and event space. I have a thorough understanding of the pains of all our clients. I also understand what it means to own and grow a business and how valuable technology can be to achieve those goals. As a technologist, I can translate those pains and develop technology to solve them.

From an organizational perspective, how do you employ innovation on a day-to-day basis to keep the company on the leading edge?

We continue to encourage that through creating a culture of innovation. Celebrate new ideas and encourage people to take some risks. We have something called an innovation box where if you come up with an idea, we are going to celebrate it. Based on how much it impacts the company, you can get a monetary award. We also have brain storming sessions twice a month where we bring everyone together just to talk about an idea.

Is there a management style you use to spur innovation?

I definitely think there is. A lot has to do with how you make people feel when they interact with you. Are you open to a discussion? How available do you make yourself to those that don’t report directly to you? How do you react when someone gives you a suggestion to improve something? Even if you don’t like it, you don’t want to say, ‘I don’t like your idea’ especially in front of other people, or they will never bring you their next idea. You want to at least think about and consider the ideas that are brought to you. You may want to give them direction and (say), ‘Ok, well think about it a little bit differently, have you thought about xyz and come back to me.’

One of our strategies to foster innovation between people was to create a small contest. Everyone was assigned to do an innovative project that could benefit the company. The team that scored the highest got a spa day. It encouraged people to work together to create something new for the company.

What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned and how do you apply that to how you run the company?

The greatest lesson I’ve probably learned is from a mentor who taught me that everything in life, but especially in business, revolves around your relationships with other people. Whether it’s managing people, building new sales, working with clients, or dealing with investors; it is crucial to take the time to understand the person as an individual, what is important to them and how do they get value from the relationship with you. I learned that focusing on the other person and adjusting my style for them is what will make me successful, instead of assuming that everyone else should adjust to me.

I have had the privilege over the last seven years to work with many different kinds of people; the hard working banquet staff at a hotel to a hotel general manager; CEOs of large corporations to owner-operated small businesses, strategic partners and investors. I have learned something different from all of them.

How do you think your organization makes an impact on the community?

We do a number of different things. As an entrepreneur you’ve got a limited amount of time, and the things I do, I want to be impactful. We have a philanthropy program in the company where we match donations. We also offer paid days off to volunteer. But personally, I am passionate about entrepreneurship and children’s education. I sit on the board of the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center – a great organization that fosters and support entrepreneurs in Chicago. I am also very involved with projects that involve innovating the way our children learn. It is also very exciting for me that Eved as a technology platform is impacting small businesses all over the world to help them grow their companies, add more jobs, cut costs and find new revenue streams.

What are your plans in terms of growth?

Eved is soley focused on technology. The event service company that we started as seven years ago is now called Access Chicago and a client of the Eved Platform. We need to stay very close to our clients and understand how we can continue to bring value to them. It is hard to transform the way you do business so we want to make the experience as easy as we can.

As a global event marketplace, we see tremendous growth opportunity. Event suppliers include tours, gift items, printing, signage, restaurants, special event locations, team building, concerts, and so much more. There are businesses that don’t even realize yet that they can sell into the event market. They just need a cost effective way to do it. Then you think about the fact that events happen all over the world.  There are literally hundreds of billions of dollars that we want to streamline and aggregate on Eved.

How to reach: Eved LLC, www.eved.com

Published in Akron/Canton