Benefits and HR Technology Integrations
Whether a system integrates and how it integrates is a crucial part of what healthcare brokers and HR managers look for when it comes to benefits and HR software.
Benefits and HR Technology Integrations
The world of human resources is currently facing an unprecedented rate of change—much of which can be attributed to the exponential growth in human resources technology. In fact, between the years of 2012 and 2017, over $14 billion in venture capital investments were made in the HR tech industry alone.
In response to this growth, HR tech vendors are racing to participate in this expanding market. However, because so many solutions exist, employers have started to accumulate numerous systems to accommodate the full HR gamut.
For instance, many companies have a payroll system, a benefits administration system and a time management system. All three separate platforms accomplish the tasks they were purchased to do, however all each task requires separate logins and duplicate data entry. In order to save time and reduce error, employers are looking to integrations to sync data between systems.
What is an Integration?
An integration is a connector that allows information to be exchanged between separate databases. In the world of HR and benefits technology, integrations are typically used by payroll providers and insurance carriers in order to pull benefits deduction and eligibility data from the user’s system of record.
But, what is a database?
A database is a location in which data is stored. While all databases store information, they are not all constructed the same, which makes transferring data between databases especially difficult. Let’s compare an integration to a puzzle. Below you can see there are two different puzzle pieces labeled “database A” and “database B.”
These are both puzzle pieces, but that doesn’t mean they automatically fit together. Connecting the two would be like putting a square peg in a round hole—it wouldn’t work. That’s where the concept of integration comes in. The integration serves as the bridge between the two unique databases. In the case of a puzzle, an integration would the piece that connects to both database A and database B. With this third piece, database A and database B finally fit together.
MYTH: Integrations means passing information between devices
The misunderstanding of integrations relates to the concept of databases. Many people operate with the perspective that when information moves between devices, an integration occurs. However, that’s not exactly right. Think of your Apple devices for example. When you take a picture with your iPhone, the photo appears on your iPad. While it does involve the transfer of information, it doesn’t involve the transfer of information between two databases. Both the iPhone and iPad draw from the same database and therefore don’t need the connector piece—the integration.
Understanding integrations is an important consideration in software comparisons. Because the word integration is often used to describe different functions, the meaning of the word has become fluid—even though an integration takes considerably more effort to orchestrate than simply moving information between devices.
When making a buying decision, you should understand the nature of the integration so that you understand the full value of the system. When comparing two platforms based on integration abilities, you want to make sure that you are comparing apples to apples—integrations to integrations. Be sure to investigate each software’s use of the term “integration”, in order to make the best software purchase decision.
Types of Integrations
If you’ve ever looked into software vendors, you’ve probably heard the acronyms EDI and API thrown around. At a basic level, both EDIs and APIs are types of integrations that transmit data from one system’s database to another. So what’s the difference between EDIs and APIs?
What is an EDI integration?
EDI, electronic data interchange, integrations offer the ability to push data from one database to another. Essentially this means that the information from one system can be transferred to another in file feed fashion. It’s common to see EDI integrations with larger organizations such as insurance carriers.
Yes EDI feeds will get your information to the right place, but they certainly are not your best integration option. Setting up an EDI file with a carrier typically takes months and carriers typically only integrate with companies with more than 100 employees. However, in part due to pressures and circumstances of other parts of their businesses, file feed technology is the best integration that most insurance and payroll companies can offer. That said, some insurance, payroll, and other benefits-related organizations have made investments that allow them to do better.
API integrations are a more advanced integration type. Whether you know it or not, you interact with APIs every day on the web. Essentially, APIs are what makes it possible to move data between various programs quickly. Do you ever wonder how you can use your Facebook ID to log in to websites you’ve never been to before? You can thank APIs for that.
What is an API integration?
An API integration is probably your best option. API integrations, application program interface integrations, are the most advanced integration option. An API integration is unique because it allows data to be synced across two databases in real time. This means no lag in either database—once a change has been made in BerniePortal, that change is automatically synced to your carrier or payroll provider’s database. Rest at ease that your most recent data is getting to the proper location without lifting a finger.
How do API integrations work?
APIs are created by companies leaving parts of their software “open” so other softwares can easily integrate with them and request information. You may be wondering how this relates to the insurance industry.
APIs are capable of syncing with partners whenever there is a change in benefits. That said, some partners only offer instant syncing for certain actions. For example, Allstate Benefits has instant syncing for employee enrollments, but terminations require a file feed or can be done directly on the bill. It’s important to understand when the sync is instant and when it is not.
The impact of API technology
While the insurance industry continues to lag behind other industries in technology, the use of API integrations is a step towards modernization. As more insurance, payroll, and other benefits-related organizations begin offering API integrations, we will begin to see faster and more accurate transmissions of data between various parties.
Integrations can be a huge time saver for employers, administrators and employees. This can occur for a variety of reasons including: industry, amount of data being transferred and when the system was built. But just because you can’t integrate doesn’t mean you can’t find a simpler way to get information from point A to point B. Here are the alternatives to integrations:
A common solution for unsupported integrations is form mapping. Form mapping is a technology that transfers information hosted by software onto official forms—in short, the software fills out forms for you. You will typically see form mapping when transferring benefits data to a carrier or when filling out regulated forms such as W-4s and I-9s.
One of the primary reasons employers need their benefits platform to integrate with their carrier’s database is because the carrier needs to issue bills using the data hosted in your benefits platform. A billing solution like BernieBill allows carriers to issue bills via the benefits platform, which means you don’t need an integration at all!
Integration “Red Flags”
If you’re in the market for a benefits administration platform, integrations have come up often. This is a popular subject, and every vendor has a different approach to integrations. However, with these approaches are several red flags you should watch out for to make sure you don’t end up with an integration nightmare on your hands. Look out for these signs from potential vendors in your integration conversations:
RED FLAG: Vendors that say they can do it all
When was the last time that a product that marketed itself as being able to “do it all” actually came through with that guarantee? Investing in a benefits administration platform shouldn’t be like watching an infomercial for a blender that can do it all. When it comes to an integration, vendors should be upfront with you about what they can and can’t do. If a vendor says they can integrate with everyone (every carrier, payroll providers, the IRS), ask them how they integrate. Chances are you’re going to uncover there are some holes in their story.
RED FLAG: Vendor’s that don’t mention when it isn’t worth doing an integration
Selecting a benefits administration platform should be a partnership, and that means honesty. Your vendor of choice should be communicating to you what situations would not be worth having an integration. For example, if all of your groups are under 100 or if a group over 100 has very few additions and terminations per year it would not be worth the time or money to set up file feeds. If a potential vendor is not asking these questions regarding your groups, or mentioning that sometimes integrations aren’t worth the time or money, they are probably just trying to collect your money to set up the integration.
RED FLAG: Vendors who don’t have API capabilities
Furthermore, if a vendor does not have API capabilities, there are most likely some underlying issues. You can uncover this by asking how their integrations are set up. They will tell you EDIs or APIs, and hopefully both. If a vendor tells you that they do not have APIs, this could actually be a sign of underlying issues with their code. These issues in code could cause you further issues down the line unrelated to integrations.uring demos, you will especially want to ask vendors what this step will look like. With BerniePortal, our Client Success team handles all buildouts, whether you’re new to benefits software or switching to our platform. The first step is developing a transition plan with our team, prioritizing clients who need to be moved first and how many need to be moved total. Our team then pulls the information from your existing platform and loads it into BerniePortal.
RED FLAG: Vendors that outsource EDIs
Did you know that some vendors actually outsource their EDI (file feeds)? Outsourcing the management of their own EDIs can cause all kinds of issues, just like adding a middleman does in most situations. A vendor that does this is probably the same vendor that tells you they can integrate with anyone.
You can uncover this by asking if they outsource their file feeds or if they’re handled internally. Asking this simple question can save you down the road from issues, delays and even breaches in data security.
RED FLAG: Vendors that outsource federal reporting (1094-C /1095-C)
Similar to outsourcing EDIs, many vendors have chosen to outsource their 1094-C/1095-Cs. Just like EDIs, this can cause many issues with sensitive information. To uncover this practice, ask if their reporting is native to their application.
In the end, vendors should simply be upfront with you about what they can and can’t do. Chances are that you are not going to find a vendor with every feature you need, but as long as you select a vendor that’s constantly adapting, you’ll get pretty close. Integrations are confusing, but we hope we’ve steered you in the right direction for your conversations with vendors.
Moving Beyond Integrations
In our increasingly interconnected world, there is no denying the growing need for integrations between different HR solutions. While integrations solve the multiple-system problem employers face, some software vendors are removing the need for integrations at all.
How exactly are vendors doing this? More and more vendors have started to create solutions that encompass HR needs for the full employee lifecycle. These all-in-one HR platforms, known as a Human Resources Information Systems (HRIS), store all important employee information from the hiring process all the way to offboarding and COBRA administration and significantly reduce time spent on transactional administrative tasks.