November 04, 2010

Cruise firm Carnival UK deploys Protouch kiosks at sea

Employee kiosks for Carnival crew members. Crew can deposit cash and add value to their card.

Cruise firm Carnival UK deploys Protouch kiosks at sea | kioskmarketplace.com

Carnival UK, the British arm of a large cruise ship operator, said it is piloting Protouch kiosks at sea. Starting on the Cunard brand, the global cruise company is deploying the kiosks across its cruise ships where they will initially be used to run a cash depositing system for crew members to administer on board accounts, and provide an information portal.

Carnival is looking to reduce or eliminate the use of cash by staff on board its fleet of 11 UK ships and 96 ships globally. With the new automatic system, crew members will be able to use the kiosks to top up their accounts without the need for staff assistance.

"The business response towards the kiosks has been very positive with the kiosks taking £40,000 in the first 3 weeks at sea. We are very pleased to continue our relationship with Protouch across our iconic Cunard and P&O Cruise Ships for further rollouts, and hope to extend the functionality of these kiosks in the future,” said Julian Banasiewicz, IT projects manager at Carnival UK.

Protouch said it is providing hardware, software and a managed service with support and maintenance. Carnival UK elected for Xen X4 kiosks featuring note acceptors, 80mm receipt printers and magnetic stripe card readers. Crew members insert their Personalised Crew cards to check their card balance, top up their account, check currency crew exchange rates and also view personal details.

The kiosks were launched on the new ship Queen Elizabeth for its maiden voyage on October 12th. A successful trial will see Carnival UK rollout out the kiosks across its high profile P&O Cruises and Cunard brands. Future initiatives include a review of passenger facing functions to extend the use of Protouch kiosks technology.


Cruise firm Carnival UK deploys Protouch kiosks at sea | kioskmarketplace.com

Posted by staff at 06:42 AM

March 18, 2009

Hoteling - A better approach to managing facilities

Real estate is typically the second largest corporate expense after personnel, so why do so many organizations remain unchanged in the way they manage their facilities? Shouldn’t they, and you, start to look at alternative workspace solutions? This is 37 minute webcast headlined by Gartner on "scheduling facilities". Reducing real estate costs and carbon footprint. And kiosks.

Join leading experts from featured analyst firm, Gartner, Inc., and industry leaders from PeopleCube and York Telecom Corporation, as they discuss an improved approach to facilities management.

Go now.
http://www.accelacomm.com/jaw/peoplecube/0/50310882/

In this program you will hear Jack Heine, Research VP at Gartner, John Anderson, President and CEO of PeopleCube and Judd Cain, Vice President at York Telecom discuss the factors driving the shift towards alternative workspaces. These experts will talk about workplace optimization, the benefits of the alternative workplace, and the systems and processes you need to have in place to make this work in your organization.

Additionally, you will learn how to:

• Reduce your real estate costs and carbon footprint with efficient facilities management
• Overcome today’s most common facility and real estate challenges
• Determine if flexible workspace or office hoteling is right for you

And you will learn about scheduling software that manages space utilization and energy consumption more efficiently to help you reduce real estate and energy costs. See for yourself. Check out this new program and learn more about a better alternative to facilities management.

Go now.
http://www.accelacomm.com/jaw/peoplecube/0/50310882/

This exclusive program is produced by Accela Communications and is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. But why wait? Watch now.
http://www.accelacomm.com/jaw/peoplecube/0/50310882/

All trademarks, service marks and product names mentioned herein are the property of PeopleCube or their respective owners.

Gartner is an impartial, independent analyst of the information technology industry. In no way should information contained in this webcast program be construed as a Gartner endorsement of PeopleCube products or services.

Posted by staff at 02:35 PM

November 17, 2008

JobView Employment Kiosks Come To Missouri

Employment kiosk in Missouri. In worsening or tough economic times, companies historically look to ways to work with employees and also potential employees in the most cost-efficient and effective manner.

With system, finding a job a touch away

JobView a user-friendly computer kiosk that lists available jobs across Missouri.

"If only I would have had this service 30 years ago," commented a retired patron as he watched Manager Jim Miller show a young job-seeker how to navigate JobView, a new touch-screen kiosk housed in the reading room on the main floor of the Midtown Carnegie Branch Library.

Certainly there are plenty of area men and women who will make good use of JobView now, said Kathy Shatto of the Missouri Career Center.

She says about 2,500 people in the Ozarks region have been laid off, downsized or have lost their jobs due to company closings in the past six months.

This project, the first JobView kiosk in a Missouri library, was funded through a Community Block Development grant using federal, state and local money.

"This is a demonstration project that we hope to expand to other libraries in the state," said Shatto. "Public libraries are the ideal location to access employment information and I am so pleased at how staff at the Springfield-Greene County Library District enthusiastically embraced the idea of a job kiosk."

JobView is designed to be simple to use for those with limited knowledge of computers.

"The touch screen makes the big difference. Everything is right in front of you," said Miller.

"You hit Missouri on the map and a list of cities comes up. Touch Springfield and you will find 20 or 30 categories, such as food service, medical, technology, construction, listed.

"Choose a category and a list of jobs in the Springfield area comes up. Touch the job that interests you and you can print out the job description and information about where you can apply.

"If you can read, you can do it."

Jobs are updated daily, there's no registration or log-in procedure, and the kiosk complements the more extensive Missouri Career Center's Web site, missouricareersource.com.

You can also reach MissouriCareerSource through thelibrary.org.

Click on Infolink, link to Employment on the left side of the page and scroll down to the site.

Posted by staff at 10:38 AM

June 24, 2008

PeopleCube and KIOSK Information Systems Partner to Deliver Innovative Reservation Kiosk Solutions

FRAMINGHAM, Mass. & LOUISVILLE, Colo.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--PeopleCube, provider of intelligent workplace, resource and energy management technology, today announced an alliance partnership with KIOSK Information Systems, a designer and manufacturer of indoor and outdoor kiosks, public Internet stations and other electronic self-service informational terminals. This partnership allows both companies to meet the needs of organizations large and small to reduce real estate and energy costs by implementing an on-site shared workspace and room reservation solution.


source link on BusinessWire

Resource Scheduler is the leading web-based workspace, resource and energy management solution that allows users to quickly and easily schedule and manage flexible workspace and other shared resources with just a few simple clicks. KIOSK Information Systems is the established leader in the design and manufacturing of self-service kiosks, having produced thousands of kiosks for over 15 years. Through this complementary relationship, PeopleCube is able to recommend a leading vendor in kiosk technology to customers in need of an on-site reservation kiosk system. Conversely, KIOSK Information Systems can suggest Resource Scheduler to kiosk customers looking to maximize shared workspace utilization by implementing an office hoteling work environment. Using a KIOSK Information System reservation kiosk and Resource Scheduler, mobile and remote workers are able to check-in and out of existing reservations, or search for and reserve available shared workspace upon entering the building using the self-service kiosk.

“Reducing real estate and related costs is becoming increasingly important, especially in a time of economic uncertainty. As a result, many companies are turning to flexible workspace programs as a way to save money and attract top talent because it allows them to maximize workspace utilization and provide much-desired flexibility to their mobile workforce,” said Abe Zelkin, vice president of business development at PeopleCube. “By partnering with KIOSK Information Systems, customers are able to leverage the expertise of two leading vendors to implement a complete on-site workspace management solution, helping them to achieve both their economic and talent retention goals.”

“As an innovation leader in the self-service kiosk marketplace, it is essential that we partner with proven winners in their respective industries to support the needs of our customers,” explained Tom Weaver, chief marketing officer of KIOSK Information Systems. “We’re very excited about partnering with PeopleCube, as they have been at the forefront of office hoteling technology and are well-versed in how it can help our customers offset the soaring prices of gas and corporate real estate.”

About PeopleCube

PeopleCube provides intelligent on-demand workplace, resource, and energy management solutions that help customers run sustainable, cost-effective workplaces. Through its corporate headquarters in Framingham, Massachusetts, and offices throughout the world, PeopleCube supports 7,500 customers in small, medium, and large enterprises. More information is available at www.peoplecube.com.

About KIOSK Information Systems

KIOSK is a world leader in design, manufacturing, service and support of standard and custom self-service terminals. KIOSK is the OEM manufacturer of self-service terminals for WalMart, USPS, Sony Photo, CitiBank, US Transportation Security Administration, and many other Fortune 500 clients. KIOSK solutions can be found in virtually every self-service vertical market, and are among the most recognized deployments in the world. http://www.kiosk.com.

Contacts

PeopleCube
Ward Russell, 781-530-2629
wrussell@peoplecube.com

KIOSK Information Systems
Craig Keefner, 303-661-1659
sales@kiosk.com

Posted by staff at 12:43 PM

November 26, 2006

Self-service Kiosk Reviews -- Airline Check-in

It must be that we are seasoned self-service check-in and check-out experts but it definitely can be annoying when employees invite themselves into a process in order to explain it (and perform it) for us. The person below suffers that fate.

At the airport. Again. (Again.) - Letters home


At the airport. Again. (Again.)

* Nov 26, 2006 at 3:05 PM

I'm heading back to DC after a few days at home for the holiday. Twas a very nice visit ... more on that later.

But here I am, back at the airport. And apparently, I look like a yougin' who's never flown before. I was checking myself in at the kiosk, getting my boarding pass, etc. I've flown quite a bit in the last several months. I've got this down pat.

But this time, a woman working for the airline came over to help me part-way through.

I thought she was friendly at first, but I found myself flustered and annoyed with her by the end of our exchange. She proclaimed that I needed to select my seat, and before I had a chance to tell her I'd already done so, she'd punched this and that and navigated the screen to the seat selection feature. "Where do you want to sit?" I pointed to the green seat and said, "Isn't that me?"

From there, it was just amusing. Turns out, I have to check in with a different airline when I get into Philly, since I'm flying the first leg on U.S. Airways and the second on United. That's perfectly fine. I have a two-hour layover. No problem. But after she checked -- repeatedly -- with another woman working behind the counter, she proceeded to explain to me -- repeatedly -- that I'll need to check in with United in Philadelphia. I really wanted to say, "Yes, I caught that about 5 mintues ago." (Subtext: "Thank you, I'm not deaf. Or 12.")

She finally turned me loose, and I was on my way.

I guess I look terribly incompetent today. I'm wearing jeans, tennis shoes, and a sweatshirt. Hmm.

Posted by staff at 07:45 PM

September 20, 2004

Recruitment Kiosk

Call center unveils automated recruitment kiosk

Updated 08:29pm (Mla time) Sept 19, 2004
By Alexander F. Villafania
INQ7.net -- the Philippines


CALL CENTER operator PeopleSupport said it is putting up automated recruitment kiosks in shopping malls as a way to speed up its hiring process.
The kiosks, known as e-Stations, will display application forms, as well as interactive multimedia content. They will also have voice recording systems that PeopleSupport will use to determine the working capacity of the prospective applicant.

The e-Stations will be connected to PeopleSupports recruitment database to streamline the processing of application forms and to prevent repeat applicants.

The first three kiosks will be put up in Alabang Town Center, SM Megamall and Robinsons Place Manila.

A fourth kiosk will be placed in a Cebu City mall.

Over a million pesos were spent for the four kiosks, the bundled software, maintenance and Internet connectivity., PeopleSupport officials said.

Mark Lloyd Vera, human resource and communications associate of PeopleSupport said malls have among the highest traffic of potential call center applicants, which is why the firm was introducing the kiosks in malls.

Vera also said they are planning to put up another kiosk in Davao City.

The kiosks would decongest the company's HR office and ease the processing of applications, which normally takes several days, he said.

An average of 50 applicants were processed per day during a pilot test in Alabang three months ago, Vera said.

It was a commercial success though we only took three months. But with the opening of the four facilities we hope to process in a day close to double the amount of the first try, Vera said.

Posted by Craig at 02:03 PM

August 04, 2004

Job Kiosks

Boston Globe: More employers turn to tech to find, hire
hourly workers

More employers opt for automated process to build roster of applicants, reduce turnover

By John P. Mello Jr., Globe Correspondent, 8/1/04


Globe Staff Photo/Pat Greenhouse
Shift leader Mariah Reid stacks shelves at the Blockbuster Video store on Massachusetts Avenue in Boston. She used the chain's automated system (rear) to apply for a job eight months ago.


Globe Staff Photo/Pat Greenhouse
Some retail chains, such as this Blockbuster Video store on Massachusetts Avenue in Boston, use computers for the application and screening process.

Technology has transformed much of the hiring process in recent years but one area that's lagged is the hiring of hourly workers.

Although such workers represent nearly 60 percent of the nation's labor force, employment technology has tended to focus on salaried employees. But that's changing as technology vendors turn their sights on automating the hiring of hourly workers, and as employers recognize that improving the quality of these workers can give them a competitive advantage in their markets.

''The most important contact place in any organization happens normally with your hourly employees, be it a retail situation, a call center, or a restaurant,'' said Mel Kleiman, president of Humetrics, the research division of Deploy Solutions, a Westwood maker of software for the selection and recruitment of hourly workers.

Automated systems offer employers a number of benefits over traditional paper applications, especially for those who utilize in-store kiosks or workstations. Companies can use them to screen for the best candidates and reduce turnover. They can also help an employer quickly build a roster of potential candidates.

Interviewing via computer is a relatively new phenomenon, according to Charles A. Handler, president and founder of Rocket-Hire, a New Orleans online screening and assessment consulting firm. ''In the last five years, I think it's grown tremendously,'' he said.

Larger organizations that make a lot of hiring decisions appear to be most attracted to automated systems for hiring hourly workers. ''Big-box retailers use this quite a bit,'' said Handler. Locally, companies such as The Sports Authority, Sunoco, Casual Male, Uno's, Best Buy, Circuit City, and CVS use the systems to screen job hunters.

Handler said the systems can help companies cut down on employee turnover, which can affect productivity and customer satisfaction. But a recent survey suggests the jury is still out on whether they improve worker retention. The survey by the Aberdeen Group, a technology research firm in Boston, found that 49 percent of the respondents using automated hiring systems said those systems had no impact on turnover.

Hourly employees typically apply for a job on-site. That presents problems for employers trying to build a talent pool from which to hire.

''People would leave our stores with paper applications and only 5 to 10 percent would come back,'' explained Randy Hargrove, a spokesman for Blockbuster Inc. The Dallas video rental chain has used the kiosks for the past two years in its stores nationwide.

''By using the employment kiosk, about 85 percent of the people completing an application get an interview,'' he said. That suggests that qualified candidates who walked out the door with paper applications they never returned are now being hired because they are captured by the automated system, he said.

The system also adds a degree of specificity that can't be found in a paper application, noted Michael DiBattista, manager of a Blockbuster store in East Boston. ''Everything's broken out for you: an applicant's availability, follow-up questions to ask, positive strengths,'' he said.

And applying via computer provides job seekers with an added benefit: quick response time. ''In the past, it took two to three weeks to complete the hiring process,'' Hargrove noted. ''With the kiosk, it's been cut down to about 72 hours.''

That kind of quick response is important when trying to attract the best candidates for hourly jobs, according to Deploy's chief executive and founder, Nicole Stata. ''The hourly candidate is looking for convenience,'' she said. ''They need immediate feedback about whether they're a good fit for a job and they want immediate decisions. If they don't get that, they can go right down the street to a competitor and find a job.''

Not only do the systems accelerate the hiring process, but their assessment questions can ensure that hiring managers are talking to the right people for a job. For example, Blockbuster asks candidates if they can work nights and weekends. ''If an applicant answered that they could not work weekends, then that might be a signal that this was not the job for them,'' Hargrove said.

''Many employers use these assessments to identify people who want to give eight hours' work for eight hours' pay,'' observed Bob Gately, owner of Gately Consulting, an assessment consulting firm in Hopedale. ''Believe it or not, there are some people who don't believe in that. They want eight hours' pay for two hours' work.''

Outside Massachusetts, the assessments can also be used to test honesty, he added. Massachusetts law prohibits honesty testing of job applicants.

The systems can also help companies screen for problem applicants. Katherine Jones, director of Aberdeen's human capital management research practice, recalled what happened at a Michigan supermarket chain that bucked what its automated assessment told it about the honesty of a potential hire.

A manager at the company was enthusiastic about hiring a former employee of a failed competitor. The worker's response to some assessment questions on stealing and reporting theft to an employer flagged the candidate as a high-risk employee. Despite the assessment results, the manager, who felt hiring familiar faces from the defunct store would attract its customers to his store, insisted on the hire. Human resources bowed to the manager's wishes but stipulated that the employee could not be in a position where money was handled. So they put the worker in the deli.

''Lo and behold, she ran off with about $400 in food,'' Jones said. ''And they caught her because she was preparing her lunch one day without any plans for paying for it.''

Not only do some systems screen out incompatible candidates, they also assist managers in conducting face-to-face interviews.

''What I like about these systems is that they provide questions for managers for the in-person interview,'' noted Dianne Durkin, president of the Loyalty Factor, a job satisfaction and workplace productivity consulting firm in Portsmouth, N.H. ''A lot of managers don't know how to do in-person interviews.''

While these systems can streamline the hiring process, do they depersonalize it as well?

''One of the things that we stress is that the purpose of this is not to take people out of the hiring process,'' observed Steve Hunt, chief scientist at Unicru, the Beaverton, Ore., company that makes the technology used by Blockbuster. ''Recruiters and hiring managers should still spend the same amount of time they've always had bringing talent into the organization, but they should spend it with the best talent.''

The technology does not make hiring decisions, he explained. It enables more efficient matching between hiring managers and recruiters and the people they should be talking to who are a good fit with the job.

''At the end of the day,'' he said, ''the worst thing that can happen for everyone is to get the wrong person in the wrong job.''

While bringing technology to bear on the task of hiring hourly workers may have lagged in the past, that won't be the case in the future, according to Jeff Weekley, a researcher with Kenexa, a maker of employee acquisition and management software based in Wayne, Pa.

''This area will continue to grow,'' he said. ''Assessments aren't going to be delivered in any other way too much further into the future. There are just too many compelling advantages to providing assessments online.''

John P. Mello Jr. is a freelance writer. He can be reached at jpmello@cox.net


BostonWorks - Jobs, Events, and Information from The Boston Globe

Posted by Craig at 06:14 PM

January 09, 2004

Payroll Cards

Meijer to Debut Electronic Pay Card

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (January 8, 2004) - Looking to lower HR and overhead costs, supermarket retailer Meijer plans to introduce a paperless payroll system that allows employees to load their weekly earnings onto electronic cards.

The new pay card allows Meijer to provide our team members with a simple solution to getting paid while significantly reducing costs, said John Zimmerman, director of community relations at the company here. The solution, he continued, assists in our continuing transformation efforts by simplifying processes, reducing overhead which allows us to lower prices.

Employees have the option to cash out their cards at the Meijer Guest Service desk, or to use them like a debit card at the ATM machine or at applicable stores. The company expects that by mid-February all Meijer employees will either be signed up for the card service or will use direct deposit.

http://www.executivetechnology.com/ViewStories.cfm#7023

Posted by Craig at 06:26 PM

January 06, 2004

From Paycheck to Plastic

More Companies Opt for Cards as Cheaper, Paperless Process

story link
By Caroline E. Mayer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 6, 2004; Page E01

Payday used to be a logistical challenge for Anthony Barnes. With no bank account, the 20-year-old U-Haul employee couldn't have his pay electronically deposited overnight to his own account. So he'd wait four extra days to get a paycheck -- and then pay high fees to get it cashed at a nearby store. Sometimes, to avoid the fees, he'd deposit his check in his mother's bank account. But then he'd have to wait another week for the check to clear before he could get the cash.

Today, however, payday has become the pleasurable experience it is supposed to be, after Barnes's decision to take advantage of an innovation that is growing in popularity with companies and workers: the payroll card. U-Haul electronically credits his pay to a special debit account and Barnes then uses a plastic card to gain immediate access to his funds -- either withdrawing cash at automated teller machines or paying for goods at store checkouts, swiping his card like any other debit or credit card.

"I use it every way I can; I love it," said Barnes, who is general manager of U-Haul Storage Intown at Fifth Street and Rhode Island Avenue NE. In fact, Barnes loves it so much, he has persuaded all the other store employees to use the card as well. "I have 11 staff members and everybody has a pay card."

Introduced in the late 1990s, payroll cards have taken off in the past two years, especially as the two major credit card companies, Visa and MasterCard, started offering their own branded versions. That enabled workers to cash their pay wherever major credit and debit cards are accepted.

Payroll cards are just one of the many ways employers are now trying to turn the entire pay system into a completely paperless process. And most of the growth has been prompted by companies eager to trim payroll costs, not by workers' demand.

Currently, about 2.2 million payroll cards are in use, double the number in circulation a year ago, according to Aaron F. McPherson, research manager at Financial Insights, a Massachusetts market research firm. By next year, McPherson estimates, there will be 3.5 million cards in use, and he expects that number to double by 2006. The list of companies offering payroll cards includes such well-known corporate names as United Parcel Service Inc.; Blockbuster Inc.; Sears, Roebuck and Co.; Coca-Cola Co.; McDonald's Corp.; and Domino's Inc.

The card is primarily designed for what the financial services industry likes to call the "unbanked" -- those nearly 14 million households that don't have bank accounts. And as such consumers have become increasingly accustomed to using plastic gift cards, the acceptance of plastic payroll cards has become more widespread, industry officials say.

"We're in the infancy of the way these cards can be used," said Michael Brewer, spokesman for Comdata Corp., one of the nation's largest providers of gift and payroll cards. Companies are also using plastic to reward commissions, pay upfront for travel and relocation expenses, and issue royalties or year-end bonuses.

As use of the cards grows, so do concerns about the lack of consumer protections that go with them, because the cards are completely unregulated. "Payroll cards offer all the problems of a bank account without the benefits -- all the fees and costs without the opportunity to save and build wealth," said Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director for the consumer advocacy group U.S. PIRG.

For companies, the opportunity to save money makes the cards attractive. The cost of writing a check ranges from $1 to $2, while the cost of making an electronic payment -- either to a bank account through direct deposit or to a payroll card -- runs about 20 cents.

U-Haul spokeswoman Joanne Fried said that 3,000 of the company's 17,500 employees have payroll cards; the rest are on direct deposit -- a move that in total saves the company about $500,000 a year.

Amazon.com Inc. began its paperless conversion in March and figures it will save $150,000 to $200,000 a year by eliminating paper checks. "We save on time, administrative costs -- and especially overnight mail" charges that have to be paid to deliver a new check if an employee's pay is incorrect, said Douglas Houser, Amazon's treasury analyst. Houser figures it costs about 80 cents to adjust an employee's payroll card or bank account (through direct deposit) but about $5 to process and write a check and an additional $15 to $20 for express mail.

Selling the card to employees was not easy, Houser added. "I got a lot of opposition initially," he said, and most employees opted for direct deposit. The first week the program went into effect in March 2003, Houser got about 180 calls, many complaints about bank tellers who wouldn't cash the card for its total value. Houser said that was because tellers were unfamiliar with the card -- and because employees did not realize they did not need to cash out the entire value at once. The second week, calls dwindled to 18 and the next week, only three. "Over time, employees started using the card as it was supposed to be used -- as a debit card," withdrawing a little at a time.

Houser said 523 of Amazon's 5,200 employees have payroll cards; almost everyone else has direct deposit.

Some financial institutions that issue pay cards to companies charge employees a monthly maintenance fee, ranging from $1.50 to $4, although the fee is often waived for the first year. Many firms set up the cards to also allow employees one free ATM transaction per pay period, with regular ATM fees charged for each additional withdrawal. And some employees also incur a small fee, from 25 to 50 cents, every time they use the card at a store checkout.

Sometimes, the fees can total more than it would cost to have a bank account, or even cash a check at a store -- a concern of consumer advocates and state regulators.

"There are no controls on how these cards operate," added Ronald A. Reiter, a supervising deputy attorney general in California and chairman of the Federal Reserve Board's Consumer Advisory Council. Reiter has no doubts that these cards can benefit employees, by cutting the time and expense of getting paychecks cashed and often making it easier for immigrants to transfer money abroad.

But because financial firms are marketing these programs to employers as a way to reduce costs, companies may tend to exclude consumer-protection provisions that add to those costs, Reiter said. As a result, he worries that some programs may have high fees, limited access to funds and inadequate disclosure -- particularly to workers who do not speak English. Additionally, with no state or federal regulations, it is also unclear what happens to an employee's money if the card is lost or stolen. "It's all so unregulated that anything can happen," he said in a telephone interview.

Reiter has urged the Fed to make it clear that electronic-banking rules that apply to bank and debit cards also cover payroll cards. So far, the Fed has not done so.

It is not just the regular paycheck that is being converted to plastic. Employers are also using the cards to issue awards to key employees.

Mazda Motor Corp., for example, uses plastic to reward car salesmen for selling certain models. Depending on production and sales, the carmaker sometimes will offer salespeople a $75 to $100 incentive for every Protege sold in December, for example, or for every MPV minivan sold in January. It used to take the company about two months to write and mail a bonus check, which "was not very motivating, especially when salesmen would get upset when they didn't get the check in time," said Eric Johnston, Mazda's marketing director.

Michael Johnson, sales manager of Brown's Mazda of Alexandria, said he now gets his reward money within a few weeks. In the old days, he said, "you cash a check, spend it and forget you got paid so you'd bug the accounting office to try to track it down, only to have them tell me I got paid two weeks ago. Now, I can go to a restaurant, flip the card out and feel like Mazda is taking care of dinner. It makes you feel more important . . . and builds loyalty as well."

To some companies, the payroll card is the first step to eliminating paper pay stubs. American Greetings Corp. has already eliminated pay stubs, saving about $20 annually for each of the company's 32,000 employees, who can gain access to their payroll account either on the Internet or over the phone.

"I had anticipated a lot of resistance, about 2,000 to 3,000 calls the first month, but I got fewer than 100 calls," said Mark Hopton, director of the company's payroll system. Sears, which has already gotten 83 percent of its workforce to accept direct deposit or the payroll card, said it hopes to eliminate even the paper stubs these employees receive in the next two years.

But acceptance is not universal. Hilton Hotels Corp., for instance, decided against the payroll card after a survey of employees showed overwhelming opposition. "The consensus was it cost them too much" because of the fees, said Hilton spokeswoman Kathy Shepard. FedEx Corp. made a similar decision two years ago.

Although most payroll cards do not let employees get in debt by withdrawing more than is on their account, some consumer advocates worry that employees will treat their card like a credit card, building little in savings. But Visa said that is not what it has found. "We're seeing cardholders leave balances on their cards," said Nizam Antoo, Visa USA's product director.

U-Haul's Barnes agrees. "I would spend more if I had cash in my pocket. It's easier to save with my card."

Posted by Craig at 05:10 PM

December 31, 2003

Employee Benefit Cost Highlights

Numbers regarding employee benefits
link

Posted by Craig at 05:12 PM

Everyday errand service fosters work-life balance

Concierge services that promised to relieve overworked office drones from the hassles of picking up the dry cleaning, getting the car detailed and scoring choice concert tickets enjoyed a brief heyday during the height of the dot-com era, but most of these benefit vendors flamed out as quickly as their high-tech sponsors.

story
But even as the high-tech driven labor market was peaking, an "everyday errands" service dubbed dock3 was founded in San Diego on the premise that employees could maintain higher productivity and a better work-life balance if their employer would take care of the laundry, car maintenance and similar chores for them.

Three years after its launch, dock3 is winning high praise from employers as diverse as Bristol Myers Squibb, Cincinnati Children's Hospital, National Geographic Magazine, Raytheon, Computer Associates, Perot Systems and the University of California San Diego.

dock3 serves some 30 employer locations with more than 100,000 employees, providing dry cleaning and shoe repair services, digital film processing, car cleaning, maintenance and repair services, and a shipping center combined with online sales from leading Internet retailers, according to company president/CEO Howard Katkov.

"This is a mass market concierge service. We concentrate on errands that everyday families do on a weekly basis. It's not dog walking at $40 an hour," Katkov explains. "Our objective is to beat the prices employees pay on the street for the services."

dock3 customers can also order and pay for discounted tickets to movie theaters, Broadway shows, plays and sporting events. The company has even created its own distribution network for DVD rentals and sales, allowing clients to order online and pickup their movie choice in 24 hours or less. Customer requests have also resulted in new teeth whitening services, Katkov reports.

The company is also working to introduce such personal services as haircuts and manicures in response to customer demand. All ordering and payment is conducted online, via the Internet, company intranets, and dock3-built kiosks.

"What dock3 does is allow you to take care of those things that you would normally do on the weekends and in the evenings. This saves time for employees, and helps build morale and appreciation for the employer," Katkov says. "Over 60% of our customers access dock3 services from home, after they put the kids to bed. Lots of eBay traders use our services to ship and receive their merchandise."

Turnkey solution

General Electric Aircraft Engines (GEAE) introduced the dock3 service to its headquarters in Evandale, Ohio, last summer, according to Cheryl Brantmeier, manager of recruitment and placement. Employee response has been very favorable, and GEAE is considering introducing the benefit to other locations following this year's pilot.

"dock3 came in with a great turnkey infrastructure that allows us to deliver these services quickly at a low cost. Having these services available helps employees maintain balance and productivity," Brantmeier explains.

dock3 installs a kiosk at each location that is staffed by the plan sponsor, and signs up local retailers and national business partners to provide services. Costs to the plan sponsor range from $25,000 to $50,000 per year, depending on the number of employees at the location.

"It's the little things that help you handle the errands everybody tries to run out and do during the day," says Brantmeier, who uses the service frequently. "Employee satisfaction and feedback about dock3 services has been very positive."

dock3 also works in partnership with Sodexo, a food service company that operates employee cafeterias, and hopes to introduce meal services that allow employees to pick up dinner from the kiosk on their way home. dock3 services help employers demonstrate their commitment to employee satisfaction, Katkov says.

"In a three-month period, our average utilization is 40% of the population, unique visitors," Katkov states. "It's very high utilization compared to other benefits." - C.G.

Posted by Craig at 04:58 PM

Embracing technology

Brokers need to get with the program on self-service, administrative technology

Like all good business people, brokers put a premium on their relationships with clients. But in the Internet age, the sharpest also realize that even with a good product, a smile and a firm handshake, you need something more to close a deal.

Many experts believe that something more can be found in technology that makes life easier and more efficient for both the employer and the broker. And if brokers have not caught on to the benefits, they need to do so now, or they are not going to survive.

Information flows fast and furious between clients, insurance carriers and producers, observes Michael Wojcik, senior vice president of the Chicago broker firm The Horton Group. The new technology allows us to accomplish a lot more in a shorter period of time.

Brokers that are technology-challenged right now will have a harder time keeping up.

Quick, efficient, valuable

The debate over how much of the sales and administration process to automate is not new. Ever since high technology invaded the benefits world, brokers have wavered between the efficiency of self-service and the relationships bred from face-to-face interaction, coming to rest somewhere in the middle. But now, although in-person exchanges are still important, brokers are realizing that it is more vital to handle their clients benefits issues quickly, efficiently and with as much value as possible. In fact, some believe it is necessary to facilitate face-to-face relationships.

With advances in self-service technology, clients can handle basic administration without having to call in the insurance broker, so now they can talk about more strategic things such as the future direction of the employee benefit programs, says Alan Cohen, CEO of OnlineBenefits, a broker partner that provides technological solutions. Face-to-face interaction is still critical, and on a strategic level, you will always need it.

It is just that there are other issues that will not necessarily be solved by talking things through. As Wojcik points out, information flows much faster now than it used to. That means employers and carriers expect to get what they need sooner than ever.

If you do business with 10 or 11 organizations that require you to provide census data on eligibility, you have to provide it to them, says Richard Travers, managing partner of the New York broker firm Travers Okeefe.

In fact, say Wojcik and Cohen, insurance carriers, not always among the most rapid companies to adopt new benefits technology, have started considering certain capabilities a given when it comes to broker relationships. Many of them, for instance, only will accept RFPs over the Web.

Moreover, employee-consumers are more comfortable researching and buying insurance products over the Web, and they have neither the time nor the patience to attend meetings when they can get the information via computer.

People skim the Net; they dont surf it anymore, comments Michael Hope, a sales consultant at Spindustry, a technology solutions firm that works extensively with brokers. Research is big. HR people arent just taking the agents word for it anymore. Theyre looking around.

Theres an overall comfort with the net, period. Five years ago, people probably didnt want to buy CDs and books over the Web, but they do now.

story

Posted by Craig at 04:50 PM

November 28, 2003

JCPenney saves $12 million by shifting training initiatives to OneTouch interactive solution

Since the rollout began in 1996, JCPenney has been able to save more than $12 million in travel and lodging costs alone. Other benefits include an acceleration in the time required to deploy new systems and procedures, and a consistency of messaging.

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Distance Learning Makes the Grade

JCPenney saves $12 million by shifting training initiatives to OneTouch interactive solution

By Susan Reda

Deborah Masten remembers when JCPenney flew its new managers to the companys Plano, Texas, headquarters for training. While training was held two or three times each year, the company promoted individuals to manager positions throughout the year. It was conceivable that someone promoted in April didnt attend a workshop for five months.

By the time we got them here for training, some had already picked up practices that were not in keeping with our policies. The processes and procedures that they were not doing correctly had to be unlearned or relearned, recalls Masten, the retailers vice president and director of human resources communication and development. Over and over again, wed hear a chorus of I needed this back when ...

With more than 1,000 stores and tens of thousands of employees, it was impossible to train 100 percent of the retailers staff each year. New systems and programs were often launched before associates company wide could be trained.

In late 1995, an interactive distance learning (IDL) program supplied by San Jose based OneTouch Systems caught Mastens eye. Billed as a training solution that supports timely, cost effective corporate learning and allows an organization to simultaneously reach, train, communicate and collaborate with employees across the enterprise, Masten quickly recognized its potential value for JCPenney.

With a direct broadcast satellite network already in place throughout the chain, testing the OneTouch solution was relatively painless. After just a few months, Masten was convinced that it would work for JCPenney. By cutting out travel expenses and eliminating the need to print and distribute reams of materials, the company was able to pay for needed equipment and begin the transformation to IDL. It took just 15 months for JCPenney to achieve a return on its investment.

Since the rollout began in 1996, JCPenney has been able to save more than $12 million in travel and lodging costs alone. Other benefits include an acceleration in the time required to deploy new systems and procedures, and a consistency of messaging.

The hallmark of the OneTouch solution is that its just down the hall, just in time and just enough, says Masten. Using OneTouch allows us to take a modularized approach to training. Associates learn what they need to improve their specific job skills, but they dont have to be away from their jobs to train.

SIGNIFICANT SAVINGS
Dennis Bertken, chairman and CEO of OneTouch Systems, notes that JCPenneys experience is in step with the results reported by other retailers that have deployed the solution, including Safeway, Albertsons, Walgreen and Kmart.

OneTouch can effectively address a retailers need to connect large groups of individuals across the country or throughout the world, for that matter who need to interact with an individual instructor during a training session or corporate presentation, Bertken says, calling attention to the systems scalability. IDL provides a more cost effective and efficient means for delivering custom content to remote employees at all levels. He claims that other solutions, such as video conferencing and web meetings, are not as well suited for training.

Because the OneTouch system is interactive, it models face to face training, Bertken explains. Companies have expanded its use beyond training. Theyre using it to launch major marketing and service programs, communicate new procedures, share best practices and enhance store level execution across the organization. The ability to take action at the corporate level and rapidly achieve the desired effect in the stores delivers significant cost savings for large retailers.

Bertken maintains that prior to OneTouch, it took most large retailers three to four months to roll out a new program. The lions share of that time was spent training one large group of individuals, then flying them to various stores or regional locations to spread the news. Using OneTouch, retailers can train associates across the enterprise in just a few weeks, according to Bertken.

Retailers can move from rolling out three or four new initiatives per year to introducing as many as 13 or 14 new programs, depending on how quickly associates can assimilate new information, says Bertken. It gives retailers the ability to respond to market conditions and implement new procedures more rapidly than in the past. In addition, eliminating the multiple steps that were once needed to communicate a new procedure vastly improves the consistency of messaging.

REAL TIME INTERACTION
The OneTouch solution combines full motion video, full duplex audio and two way data interaction, allowing companies like JCPenney to simultaneously reach employees in a networked classroom or at a desktop PC from a single broadband network location using a single server. The solution provides for real time interaction and collaboration between instructors and students using interactive touch pads. Those accessing the learning program by means of a desktop PC interact using the keyboard.

Earlier this year OneTouch introduced a new service called On Demand to the retail industry. On Demand allows retailers to capture live content and cost effectively re purpose that content in a dynamic, on demand environment.

It allows them to turn what was a live presentation or training class into an asset that can be accessed by any employee at his convenience, Bertken explains. In a retail setting, its almost impossible to take all the managers off the selling floor at once for them to hear a live broadcast. On Demand allows these managers to participate in that broadcast at a time that makes sense. The questioning and test results from the On Demand sessions are sent back to the corporate training group for evaluation, just as in a live event.

A majority of the sessions produced by JCPenney originate from a studio at the retailers headquarters. Store associates can watch the instructors live on a classroom TV and interact by keying a Yes/No or A B C D response into the touch pad, which facilitates two way audio and data exchange between participants and instructors. The system allows Masten and her team to measure the effectiveness of the sessions and establishes accountability among associates.

There were some growing pains in the beginning, according to Masten, who recalls senior managers voicing concern that television was too passive a medium and that encouraging interaction would be difficult. That concern quickly diminished, and today Masten reports that the HR department is now viewed as a business partner, helping the various business segments, backing the brands and supporting systems training.

The OneTouch system has helped JCPenney to save money, but well trained associates and managers help the company meet its performance goals. This is not something that is operated separately from the business. Its part of it, she adds. Currently the solution is being used in all stores and by every business group, from telemarketing to catalog to logistics.

TAKING STOCK
Masten has collected numerous examples of the OneTouch systems value. At one point, JCPenney was in the throes of instituting a new pricing change. Masten conducted a pre test and a post test to evaluate the effectiveness of the session.

Of the 1,000 associates who participated, it was clear from the post test that 40 managers had missed the point. We reconnected with those 40, emphasizing the key points we were trying to communicate, recalls Masten. Once those 40 were on board, those stores alone reported savings in excess of $20,000.

About a year ago, JCPenney made what Masten describes as a fundamental change to the retailers catalog business. In that instance, the OneTouch solution was used to reach some 2,000 people with two instructors conducting the session.

We had scheduled for one hour of time, but as we neared the 60 minute mark, we had 300 people who wanted to ask a question, recalls Masten. We told those associates to e mail their questions and we would get back to them. Once we consolidated the questions, we scheduled a follow up meeting. Its a flexible approach that allows interactive learning while managing employees productivity.

Not all distance learning sessions are mandatory, but time and again the retailer has found that training yields results. For example, Masten and her team developed a program to coincide with this years annual mens Shopping Spree. The instructor covered product know how and trends and discussed selling behavior. Much to her disappointment, however, only 200 store associates signed on for the training.

After the event, Masten compared sales at the stores that had a participant in the session against those that didnt. Stores that took part in the distance learning had a 5.6 percent sales gain, exceeding the company average.

Having used the OneTouch system for nearly eight years now, JCPenney managers have become quite creative at coming up with unique ways to explore its potential. There are times when our regional managers will go into studios and conduct a business meeting for the stores in their region. Theyve become very self sufficient. Its just a matter of our instructors turning on the lights, cameras, and so forth, and we help design, develop and construct their own presentations, explains Masten. When a regional session is conducted, the company can isolate the broadcast exclusively to the intended stores and tune others out.

This year, JCPenney developed its own version of virtual TV. Masten and her team visit stores where the company has identified a top performing sales associate in a particular product category. Using a video camera that sits inside a special handbag, we pretend to be a customer and approach the top sales associate, explains Masten.

We let her go through the whole sales pitch. Then, when its all over, we bring the store manager and the sales associate in on the charade. With the employees permission, we interview her on tape, letting her explain her thought process and why she adopted a certain approach. Its been well received, and weve seen measurable results, she says. Associates respond to seeing how another colleague successfully handles a sale.

When a course is completed, the OneTouch system is configured to write it to the employees training transcript. Now when business managers visit a store, they can quickly determine how many associates have completed a certain training program.

Having a training transcript is somewhat unique, and we feel it positions us as a leader among Fortune 500 companies, says Masten. JCPenney doesnt link the training transcript to merit increases, yet Masten is convinced that the OneTouch solution has enhanced associates performance and increased retention.

Posted by Craig at 04:25 PM

November 24, 2003

HR Trends towards Techonology

Online platforms for employee self-service and benefits communication have become the norm at most corporations. Firms that haven't already rolled out such services are planning implementations now.

Benefits 4-1-1: Technology proves successful for benefits communication, but ...
Jill Elswick
Employee Benefit News � September 15, 2003


Online platforms for employee self-service and benefits communication have become the norm at most corporations. Firms that haven't already rolled out such services are planning implementations now.

Fully 75% of U.S. companies use the Web for human resource communications, and another 18% plan to do so, according to the Cedar 2002 Human Resources Self Service/Portal Survey. Online health and welfare benefits management is available at 55% of companies, with another 34% soon following suit.

Yet as the march toward benefits automation continues to reshape the benefits profession, employers are reaching for ways to balance "high tech" with "high touch." Self-service can easily dish out the 411, but the "911" situations still require personalized service.

Aggression pays

Firms that are most "aggressive" in their self-service implementations reap the greatest rewards, according to a recent report on client experiences from Hewitt Associates.

"To be an aggressive implementer of Web services, you make a strong statement to your employees that We expect you to use the Web for your employee benefits,'" explains Wendy Rhodes, head of total benefits administration communication for Hewitt.

Ninety to 99% of these firms have migrated health care annual enrollment transactions to the Web, compared to an average of 72%. Web use is similarly high for 401(k) transactions, pension estimates, and other benefit activities, even at firms where more than half of employees do not have Web access at work.

Aggressive implementers have witnessed a 50% to 80% reduction in printed communications. Thirty-six percent no longer provide health care annual enrollment worksheets, and 72% don't even mail enrollment confirmation statements. Employees appear to accept the change: Just 3% to 10% requested printed communication materials when given the option, and their satisfaction with Web enrollment stands at 91%.

Call center employees at these firms no longer answer mundane benefits questions, says Rhodes. Instead, they show people how to find answers on the Web. They save their time for "emotional" inquiries requiring a personal approach: extreme benefit emergencies and complex situations involving retirement, job loss or death.

Sensitive issues

"It's going to be very difficult to replace the human touch as soon as you get into the more sensitive areas, where employees may want to know more than What's the policy?'" agrees Ed Jensen, partner in Accenture's human performance service line.

Many companies claim that they want their employees to feel like part of a corporate "family," says Jensen, but this ideal can be jeopardized by the "depersonalizing" approach associated with forcing employees to call a distant service center when they have an urgent need. HR's new business model has displaced many a "trusted advisor" who used to work in the office next door.

Employees also need a live human being, in person, to introduce complex changes in employee benefits, says Ron Hess, president of Motiv8 Communications: "People have a greater ability to get their minds around a new concept by hearing it explained to them in a focused, face-to-face setting, where they get a chance to ask questions."

"A lot of companies have relied solely on print and electronic media to explain things like dramatic jumps in employee health care contributions. That could be a mistake on such a sensitive issue," cautions Hess.

One area that will never be automated, experts concur, is employee relations. "That's not something we would expect to see: Click here if you think you've been unjustly looked over for a promotion' or Click here if you think you've been harassed in the workplace,'" says David Link, eWorkplace vice president for Cedar Consulting.

But in general, Link says, HR professionals ought to be more available to discuss meaty issues, such as the adequacy of the benefits plan - now that they're no longer answering 30 phone calls a day from employees who want to know whether the day after Thanksgiving is a paid holiday.

Chipping away

Employers report mixed success with moving to automated benefits communications, but progress appears to be steady.

Lee Enterprises Inc., a 6,700-employee publishing company based in Davenport, Iowa, implemented benefits communications and enrollment modules from ProAct Technologies this year. The company has opened an HR call center and is in the process of downsizing its HR department from 43 people to 28, a move expected to save $750,000 annually.

"This whole concept works well with HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), because we're talking to our HR managers in the field about how you can't get involved with employees' medical questions any more," says Kim Mann, director of human resources.

Instead of fielding benefits questions, HR managers at Lee Enterprises are beginning to focus on high-touch issues like employee relations, training and development, performance feedback, and hiring and recruiting. The switch is happening gradually, says Mann.

"You chip away at it one person at a time. When somebody comes up to our HR managers and asks a question, one by one, they say, You know, you can look that up online. Let me show you how.'"

Brenda Byron joined Edina, Minn.-based aerospace and defense company Alliant Techsystems (ATK) three years ago to help the company build a shared services center for HR administration. Her goal was to eliminate redundant benefits activities at multiple locations through technology, eliminating up to 20 positions in the process.

ATK employees have access to an Authoria-powered knowledgebase online. If they can't find their answer, or don't feel comfortable with the technology, they can call the shared services center. Yet some employees at remote sites have resisted the change, says Byron.

"The HR professional there is someone they know and trust, who they've been working with for a long time. They're comfortable going to the HR person. They're not as comfortable contacting the service center because they feel that corporate doesn't know them."

HR professionals find it hard to say no because it's part of their professional identity to help people, says Byron. But the new business model for HR requires them to find more valuable ways to help employees or risk losing their jobs. Meanwhile, the jobs of call center representatives are becoming more sophisticated as employees increasingly turn to the shared service center for help.

"We're finding that you need college-educated people, almost benefits professionals, to get on these calls now because our employees have become very knowledgeable about benefits since we gave them information online," says Byron.

"Yoda" exiled

American Family Insurance, based in Madison, Wis., did away with all of its HR generalists - roughly 20 positions - after implementing Authoria-based online benefits communication and providing a call center for its 8,000 employees. The shift began in 2000 and was completed last year.

"We got some pushback initially because it was a big culture change," says Russ Evansen, human resource brand and content manager. "We did hear from some people, particularly in the outlying offices, where HR might have been one person. For them, this one person down the hall was the Yoda' of HR. People really relied on that individual. So when those individuals were pulled out, we did hear some complaining."

Employees still need a lot of face-to-face hand holding for certain benefits issues, like preparing to retire from the company, says Evansen. But the new service delivery model is working well in most cases, he says, and it's expected by new hires.

"Some people really miss that human contact," concludes Evansen. "There are always people who say, Technology's too cold, it's too impersonal.' But if you look at it objectively, it is superior because it's available when you want it. What happens if you need the person down the hall when they're on vacation or they're out sick or they quit?"

"You no longer have to think about those things. The information is there for employees when they need it. They can go get it themselves. They're not dependent on someone else to bring it to them." - J.E.

Posted by Craig at 02:39 PM

Embracing self-service technology

Brokers need to get with the program on self-service, administrative technology

Embracing technology - Brokers need to get with the program on self-service, administrative technology
Karen Lee
Employee Benefit News September 1, 2003


Like all good business people, brokers put a premium on their relationships with clients. But in the Internet age, the sharpest also realize that even with a good product, a smile and a firm handshake, you need something more to close a deal.

Many experts believe that something more can be found in technology that makes life easier and more efficient for both the employer and the broker. And if brokers have not caught on to the benefits, they need to do so now, or they are not going to survive.

Information flows fast and furious between clients, insurance carriers and producers, observes Michael Wojcik, senior vice president of the Chicago broker firm The Horton Group. The new technology allows us to accomplish a lot more in a shorter period of time.

Brokers that are technology-challenged right now will have a harder time keeping up.

Quick, efficient, valuable

The debate over how much of the sales and administration process to automate is not new. Ever since high technology invaded the benefits world, brokers have wavered between the efficiency of self-service and the relationships bred from face-to-face interaction, coming to rest somewhere in the middle. But now, although in-person exchanges are still important, brokers are realizing that it is more vital to handle their clients benefits issues quickly, efficiently and with as much value as possible. In fact, some believe it is necessary to facilitate face-to-face relationships.

With advances in self-service technology, clients can handle basic administration without having to call in the insurance broker, so now they can talk about more strategic things such as the future direction of the employee benefit programs, says Alan Cohen, CEO of OnlineBenefits, a broker partner that provides technological solutions. Face-to-face interaction is still critical, and on a strategic level, you will always need it.

It is just that there are other issues that will not necessarily be solved by talking things through. As Wojcik points out, information flows much faster now than it used to. That means employers and carriers expect to get what they need sooner than ever.

If you do business with 10 or 11 organizations that require you to provide census data on eligibility, you have to provide it to them, says Richard Travers, managing partner of the New York broker firm Travers Okeefe.

In fact, say Wojcik and Cohen, insurance carriers, not always among the most rapid companies to adopt new benefits technology, have started considering certain capabilities a given when it comes to broker relationships. Many of them, for instance, only will accept RFPs over the Web.

Moreover, employee-consumers are more comfortable researching and buying insurance products over the Web, and they have neither the time nor the patience to attend meetings when they can get the information via computer.

People skim the Net; they dont surf it anymore, comments Michael Hope, a sales consultant at Spindustry, a technology solutions firm that works extensively with brokers. Research is big. HR people arent just taking the agents word for it anymore. Theyre looking around.

Theres an overall comfort with the net, period. Five years ago, people probably didnt want to buy CDs and books over the Web, but they do now.

Needed technology

So what kind of technology does a broker need to survive Well, that depends on the broker. Some feel they only need to put certain forms online. Others have made their offices entirely paperless. But the experts say that every little bit helps.

I talked with a broker who is looking at building a Web site with us, Hope says. He is starting small by including PDFs of forms from the carriers. That, in and of itself, is a huge step.

Meanwhile, Travers notes that his membership in the broker consortium United Benefit Advisers, which shares best practices and technology platforms, gives him the ability to do things he would not be able to afford otherwise, such as video conferencing.

Wojcik says he runs a paperless office. Most brokers, however, do not go quite that far, emphasizing slightly more affordable, but no less effective, solutions.

Dick Harlow, president of The Harlow Group, a Reston, Va.-based broker firm, believes that brokers need to get up to snuff in enrollments on Web sites. Thats something companies have been making available to large clients for a long time, and they now have to make it available to smaller clients.

Cohen breaks down technology needs into three parts: broker, client and clients employees. For their own businesses, brokers should have some type of client management system that helps them keep track of the companies with which they are working and how much those companies should be paying them. Carrier interfaces that allow producers and carriers to send reports and renewals back and forth also help a great deal.

Client needs, meanwhile, include the ability to administer the benefits relatively easily, leaving them time to do more important things. Those necessities tend to coincide with their employees needs, who now are more receptive to online customer service and transactions.

But many brokers agree that technology is most crucial when it comes to employee education.

High education

There have been questions about whether the computer eventually will supplant the need for in-person educational and enrollment meetings. Some, like Harlow, do not believe many employees, particularly those at small, blue-collar firms, are comfortable enough with the computer to rely on it for all their information.

People will have questions and will want to talk to somebody, Harlow says. Are we going to be doing more electronic enrollment Yes. Will it all be that way I dont think so.

Others, including Cohen, think the need for face-to-face meetings will diminish as employees come to accept self-service technology as an integral part of their benefits.

People think [self-service] is just a form online with nothing behind it, but its not, Cohen insists. The enrollment part is the least important thing. You can get decision support and learn what the products can do. It is critical for employers and [brokers] to educate the employees to give them the comfort and ability to make the right decisions. We can do that in an interactive setting.

Still others preach a more even combination of online technology and brick-and-mortar tools. The Horton Group, for example, still runs onsite, hands-on seminars but also conducts Web seminars and other Web-based communication tactics.

There will always be a market for traditional brick-and-mortar meetings Not everybody adapts to technology, Wojcik says. The trick is to try to get them all together. Im a big supporter of client and employee education I think technology will be key in having employees engaged in health plan changes. If those arent there, concepts like consumer-driven health wont take hold.

Educating employees will be the biggest need and use of technology in the future.

Posted by Craig at 02:38 PM