Analytics and Game Technologies Reshape Employee Benefits


By Dinah Brin July 6, 2016

Employers are applying data analytics and other technologies to improve employee physical and financial well-being, engagement, organizational diversity and workplace culture.

For instance, using technology to analyze data from employee medical claims, biometric screenings and health assessments, Lockton Benefits Group of Kansas City, Mo., aims to help its employer-clients identify workforce health trends and ways to improve health outcomes and restrain costs.

Lockton’s InfoLock data intelligence platform includes new predictive analyses from Connecticut-based SCIO Health Analytics. “We are able to track an extremely large set of variables,” showing employers the conditions most affecting their staff; year-over-year spending changes; care gaps; and comparison to benchmarks in areas such as ER visits, diabetes rates and hospitalizations, said Ronald Leopold, M.D., Lockton’s chief medical officer.

“We’re looking to bend the cost trend,” generally aiming to cut 1 or 2 percentage points off health inflation, which has been up 5 percent to 6 percent recently, he told SHRM Online. Some of the firm’s more than 750 clients have reduced real costs, he noted. (For another view on technology and health promotion, see SHRM Online’s article Next-Step Analytics: Promoting Health with Fitness Trackers.)

Bye Bye, Dumb Databases

Data analysis is becoming more of the norm in HR, according to technology analyst and Tincup & Co. CEO William Tincup of Dallas.

“The databases we’ve used in HR, like benefits, have long since been dumb databases that act as repositories. Now, with technology advancements and our changing expectations, we expect more from the databases. They need to be predictive. They need to be reflective. They need to tell us things we wouldn't normally see,” Tincup told SHRM Online.

“In benefits and all across the [human capital management] software landscape, dumb databases will be completely eradicated within a decade, and we’ll see more and more of what Lockton is doing,” he said. The newer technology terms for HR to pay attention to are machine learning, artificial intelligence and bot technology, he added.

Given the availability of close to 21,000 HR technology products worldwide, Tincup recently recommended that HR professionals keep abreast of the market by looking at three or four demos a week.

Among the numerous companies Tincup is watching is Atlanta-based Benevate, which aims to help employers “attract and retain Millennial talent” through financial well-being benefits such as house down payment, student loan and college savings assistance, administered through cloud-based software. Another is San Francisco-based Whil, an on-demand mindfulness-meditation session provider.

“These technologies help HR as they engage employees in a different way. By making employees’ lives better, it makes the company stronger and thus reduces the problems HR has to deal with,” he said.

Some of the newer benefits technology offerings reflect the influx of Millennial employees and the even-younger Generation Z now entering the workforce, and many seek to address employees’ emotional well-being.

Among technology companies focused on employee financial well-being is venture-backed located in Santa Monica, Calif. It allows employers to make contributions to help employees pay down student loans, a benefit the company markets as a way to attract and retain talent and achieve HR goals and business cost savings.

Another startup, PTO Exchange of Woodinville, Wash., allows employees to exchange earned paid time off for goods, services or experiences, including retirement-fund contributions, student loan payments and charitable donations.

One company, Connecticut-based Mindyra, is planning an online tool to help employers screen workers for mental health conditions and learning disabilities, to improve diagnosis and treatment.

Addressing Physical, Financial, Emotional Wellness

Last fall, Xerox HR Services and the National Business Group on Health surveyed more than 200 large employers to understand the use and effectiveness of emerging technology to engage workers in improving their physical and financial well-being:

  • Nearly 80 percent had strategies to address employees’ physical and emotional health and 70 percent to improve workers’ financial security.

  • Half of employers were using mobile technology, and more than 30 percent of these used wearable sensors, social networking or media, or engaged in gamification.

Xerox noted at the time that employers were willing to invest in emerging technologies to improve employee wellness, despite difficulties in measuring their effectiveness and return on investment.

Indianapolis-based Springbuk, another population health analytics firm, notes on its blog that “advanced analytics and health intelligence platforms are putting actionable tools in the hands of employers, consultants and wellness vendors.” Just as data and analytics have changed marketing, logistics and finance, employers today seek the same innovation from their HR and wellness teams, the company says.

In a survey of more than 4,000 employers, including 72 of the Fortune 100, Springbuk found that 41 percent are investing in mobile apps, 27 percent are investing in wearables, 75 percent plan to use health analytics tools to stratify the risks in their population, and 12 percent are considering location-based technology, said Phil Daniels, Springbuk co-founder and vice president, in an interview with SHRM Online.

“Analytics at the aggregate level are incredibly powerful. By seeing areas and trends with the most risk, employers can … spend in a targeted fashion to address the largest risks, instead of [using] shotgun programs that hope to hit someone in need,” Daniels said.

Meanwhile, a survey from HR software research company GetApp of 500 small and medium-sized businesses found that product features, such as payroll and scheduling, are the most important considerations for nearly 39 percent of respondents when considering HR software. Security of employee data was the most important consideration for almost 30 percent of respondents.

“While business intelligence capabilities are nothing new within HR and benefits administration solutions, the kind of functionality available is being ramped up. Real-time advanced analytics are now being used in areas to allow companies … to better evaluate and design plans, during implementation, and to keep track of how their plan is performing throughout the year,” said Karen McCandless, GetApp’s HR technology researcher and editor.

With younger people making up a larger percentage of the workforce, she said, self-service portals that allow employees to manage their own details—and that provide real-time analytics for workers and their managers—are becoming more popular.

Dinah Wisenberg Brin is a freelance reporter and writer based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.


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