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Now that most large organizations have automated benefits administration, human resource managers are trying to apply the same automation strategies to other areas, such as employee hiring, firing and promotions.

The new manager self-service systems give mangers the ability to handle tasks such as granting pay raises, transferring employees and filing employee evaluation reports through the Web.

The MSS movement is giving HR executives and their benefits advisors new tools for cutting employers HR costs and increasing managers flexibility.

Experts say MSS is taking root today because the Web has done so much to streamline benefits administration. Whats more, Web technology itself has improved.

Today, finally, the HR systems are ready and capable of delivering efficient and effective manager self-service, says Thomas Keebler, a human resources and technology consultant in the Philadelphia office of Towers Perrin Inc.

Players in the manager self-service market include giant software companies such as SAP A.G., Walldorf, Germany, and Oracle Corp., Redwood Shores, Calif., and benefits technology specialists such as Employease Inc., Norcross, Ga., and Workscape Inc., Framingham, Mass. Workscape, for example, recently introduced the OneForce family of employee management products.

Employers are looking into MSS technology partly because the benefits administration technology companies already have succeeded at transforming most big employer benefits operations. More than 90% of 250 large employers that Towers Perrin surveyed earlier this year say they already offer Web-based, employee self-service benefits administration systems.

Of course, plenty of smaller companies still need to replace manual benefits administration systems, and many employers need to update existing automated systems.

But because penetration of Web-based employee self-service benefits administration systems is so high, employers are especially interested in manager self-service systems.

One example of an issue that crosses the line between benefits administration and manager self-service is improving the systems that calculate and update benefits contribution percentages and dollar amounts for employers and employees, according to David Freund, president of Common Census Inc., Westbrook, Maine.

A good system should make sure that employees dont exceed their total benefits package allotments, and a system also should link easily with a variety of payroll systems, Freund says.

Believe me, ADP is not the same as Paychex, which is not the same as Lawson, Freund says.

For now, though, at many employers, we find that the tools the managers have are inadequate to their needs, says Michael Tomback, a vice president in the consulting services unit at Aon Corp., Chicago.

Brokers

Brokers and other benefits advisors can set themselves apart in conversations about manager self-service by knowing something about how MSS systems interact with traditional benefits administration systems and traditional payroll systemswhen, for example, an increase in wages may lead to changes in employee and employer benefits contributions.

Typically most brokers dont want to venture beyond the benefits area, Keebler says.

But Tomback says he thinks many benefits brokers are aware of the MSS strategy because it represents a natural evolution in HR thinking. More and more organizations are familiar with benefits tech, Tomback says. They are looking for what I would call the bells and whistles, and one of these tools would be technology we can put into the hands of managers.

In addition to basic knowledge about the MSS concept, brokers and other benefits advisors who want to participate in discussions about employee management technology strategy should have a good ear for clients values and internal politics.

There are some clients who will embrace all aspects of technology in a relatively short period of time and others who will go a little bit slower, says Patti Muller, a vice president at Hibernia Insurance, New Orleans.

Benefits advisors also need to understand what different executives within a client company think about outsourcing employee management technology programs, experts say.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, April 15, 2005. Copyright 2005 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.