Benefit Solutions: Evaluate Cloud Vendors Part III

Benefit Solutions: How to Evaluate Vendors for the “The Cloud” Pt. III   

There are clouds ahead. Well, "The Cloud" anyway. 

More and more Benefits Administration Systems providers are selecting SaaS (Software as a Service) over traditional ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning). This gives Benefit Solutions providers the doubled-edged sword of less tedious administration but also significantly diminished control. 

This means we're left needing to rethink our risk frameworks. 

Luckily, the HR Aficionados have come to our rescue. 

 

The 4 Pivotal P's (Cont.)  

BusinesSolver joined brain cells with Employee Benefits News & Employee Benefits Advisor and asked several top-notch HR Executives to teach us their secrets of maneuvering this new cloud-based world.

Particularly, what are the key questions we should ask potential vendors?

Here's our big takeways from their insightful (57 minute) webinar.

In Part I we covered why HR teams are trading traditional ERP for SaaS solutions. In Part II we defined the essential criteria for reviewing Product and Provider. 

Below is Part III, what you need to know about evaluating potential Processes, and People - why company leadership is more important than might think.

 

Process: The 2 Essential Evaluators

Benefit Solutions: How to Evaluate Vendors for the “The Cloud” Pt. III Evaluators

Obviously, most of your shoppers/evaluators will be made up of key stakeholders such as your HR & IT teams. However, there are 2 additional, completely critical, people that you need to be sure to include in the testing and evaluation process.


#1 Legal

Matthew Kaiser, Benefits Solutions & HR Technology pro (Vice President, Director of Technology Solutions at Lockton Benefit) said if you want your vendor selection to run smoothly start to finish, you need to get your legal team in on the dialogue "as early as possible." 

No surprise there.

Depending on the size of the company and type of industry (ex. financial), evaluation can be incredibly complicated. And pulling in Legal too late in the game often results in having to go back to square 1 to make sure all the bases are covered (complicating things further). 

Including your Legal team from the get-go keeps things simple and ensures everyone is on the same page. 

 

#2. The Irritant 

Natural inclination dictates we avoid naysayers, but Kaiser argues that when it comes to testing out a potential process, you should actually make a point of including the cynic. 

He suggests finding a main user (a manager, etc.) who will actually use whatever solution you purchase, on a daily basis. They'll be highly motivated to help you "try before you buy," and find bugs and problems on the front-end (so they don't have to live with them). 

Find the "the irritant," he says, the nitpickier, the better. Then up the ante by creating the worst test environment possible:

"Get them to test the system on their cell phone, in traffic, in a tunnel on a train. Build us the most struggling use-case, so that we can then figure out how you’re going to try to use that system, and make sure we can secure that data, or that our vendors already thought of that use-case ahead of time," Kaiser says. 

Creating these types of "worst case scenarios" during trials will help you feel infinitely more confident when it comes time to make your selection.

Don't be afraid to stack the deck.

 

People: Look for Long-Haulers

People play a huge part in security as well. And while some company turnover in a potential vendor, is natural and to be expected, Kaiser advises investing in one with overall consistency:

“We want to see some consistency, some tenure in the leadership ranks, and in product management ranks, and in the customer service ranks, we wanna see some internal promotions from within. We want people who keep the knowledge and wisdom of the enterprise with them as they advance into other areas of the organization." 

He also advises seeing what kind of people are hired for service centers. Do they have the vocabulary, values, and commitment that you need? (Ex. employees right out of high school are more likely to leave and switch jobs faster, and more often). 

Kaiser also suggests sticking with providers that specify who (specifically) will be held responsible for your business and who have a defined process for their management: 

“I see a lot employers who spend months negotiating really tough service level agreements, and then don’t have the ability to measure and manage those as the relationship continues. The best vendors and organizations will offer up a person, maybe an executive sponsor, or someone who is accountable to that employer, to be the other side of that ledger. To say here’s how we’re handling your work, here’s how we’re doing.” 

Look for people that are in it for the long haul. 
 

 

Conclusion 

#1 Be holistic. 

The temptation is to cherry pick from these four criteria (Product & Provider, Process & People ), but effective evaluation means being holistic, and developing a process around all of them, and making that your "yardstick" for every prospect. 

#2 Plan for it, before you’re asked for it.

You might not be ready to trade your ERP system. But when it comes to SaaS and The Cloud, the rule is be ready before you need it. Think through what the switch would entail, consult with your executives, users, and legal departments, and come to an agreement on some basic requirements. 

You might need need it just yet, but better to be prepared then be scrambling. 

#3 Skate to where the puck will be.

Kaiser shared that one of his biggest mentality switches from his early consulting days, was moving from the belief that his job was “just finding the best technology,” to finding the best people. That now, when he's evaluating technology solutions, he pays much more attention to who is steering the ship, because it's they, that will decide where it will go. It's the leadership that determine the solution's relevance: 

Benefit Solutions: How to Evaluate Vendors for the “The Cloud” Pt. III Solutions

He compared this new mentality to the well-known Wayne Gretzky quote: “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been.” 

 

In order words: invest in your vendor relationships, invest in the future.
 
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*Image Credits: Anna Spady (via Canva)