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“The most expensive software you’ll ever purchase is the software that no one uses.” Anyone who has ever purchased software
Selecting software and technology tools is a difficult task, especially when your options are limited. The employee benefits space is no different from other industries; they have complex needs, specific toolsets, and unique goals for their technology stacks. Data warehouse evaluations can be especially tough because many self-insured employers access benefits analytics through a benefits broker or consultant. Others may have an in-house data analyst, but it’s still a challenge to find the right benefits analytics software for your company’s goals and strategies.
Your time is already limited, so you can’t afford to make this decision lightly. A good data partnership will empower an organization to make decisions and improve the overall health and wellness of both the organization and the employees; a poor partnership will be cumbersome, ineffective, and ultimately hamper decision-making capabilities.
There are a number of considerations that employers and their broker/consultant partners should keep in mind when evaluating a data warehouse. Here are a few that we often hear from our partners:
So while those are some criteria to look for, it’s time to address specific questions that you should include in your benefits analytics software evaluation. We believe these 12 questions are crucial for inclusion on a data warehouse RFP. They get to the heart of how a benefits analytics tool works for employers, how they approach data management, what they offer for services, and how they will engage with your partnership.
1. How does your data warehouse show us not only what is going on with benefits data, but also why it is happening?
This question gets to the heart of why benefits data is so important. It’s not just about seeing trends, tracking costs, or evaluating the current state of employee health. It’s about finding out why these trends and costs are happening, and what you can do about it. A great data warehouse or benefits analytics software will come equipped with tools and services to help you track what’s happening, understand why it’s happening, and take quick action to improve employee benefits.
2. What common analyses would require additional professional service engagements and costs? How long would a standard analysis like this take to turn around to us?
Asking about both standard reporting capabilities and custom reporting fees will help illuminate how a benefits analytics tool will be able to fulfill your needs. If every custom report requires 4 weeks and $50,000, the baseline cost of the data warehouse should reflect the inconvenience and extra expense. Look for a tool that not only provides a number of included service hours, but also one that will allow you to quickly and easily answer your own custom reporting questions.
You’ll also want a data warehouse that offers fast query speeds and ease of use. If you can create a custom report on a hot benefits topic like musculoskeletal trends, opioid addiction, COVID-19 costs, or behavioral health claims in an hour, you’ll save a lot of time and money on professional service engagements.
3. What experience do we need to use and get benefit out of your tool? (e.g. analysts background, actuarial background, etc.)
When it’s time to issue an RFP, most employers and benefits advisors will have seen a demonstration of the benefits analytics software. However, it’s still good practice to include a question on ease of use, experience, and background when preparing a data warehouse RFP. Find out if the average benefits manager, HR leader, or even CFO can log in to the benefits analytics software, find key information quickly, and share it with stakeholders. Ideally, a data warehouse should allow anyone to access standard reports with key metrics, regardless of their data analytics background.
4. What training do you provide? How long does it take to get comfortable using your data warehouse?
You’ll want to find out how a benefits analytics solution will train your benefits team, your broker partner, or your consultant on how to use their data analytics platform. This will not only illuminate their customer service philosophy, but will also give you an idea of how easy or difficult it will be to use their software. If their training program is detailed, clear, and meets your team’s needs, you’ll know your entering into a great data partnership.
Some data warehouses do virtual training, in-person training, or a combination of both, depending on client needs. Asking this question on an evaluation or RFP will help you find out how adaptable and flexible the data warehouse will be.
5. How do you price for annual access and ongoing services? What are the implementation costs for your services?
Pricing for data warehouses can be confusing. There are generally a number of different fee structures depending on how many employees/members you’ll be integrating into the platform, how many data feeds you have, implementation costs, how many users you’ll have for the software, and possibly ongoing service agreements. You should expect the data warehouse vendors in your RFP process to provide clear, consistent, and transparent pricing.
The benefits analytics industry is highly competitive, and you may find vendors cutting their first-year pricing, offering big discounts, or otherwise vying to come in with the lowest quote. But, as anyone who has purchased shoes at a discount retailer can tell you, you often get what you pay for. Instead of searching for the lowest price, search for the right combination of features, service, and price. Look for a data warehouse vendor who offers performance guarantees, cost savings tips, and other ideas for getting value out of your benefits analytics spend.
6. How many users will have access to the system? Is there an additional cost for additional users?
Employers and benefits advisors should look for a benefits analytics software platform that offers unlimited user licenses for no extra fees. Since benefits analytics is so often a team effort, it’s important to find a data warehouse that won’t nickel and dime you on users. Benefits teams often include one or more people on the employer’s in-house benefits team, one or more people from their brokerage firm, and/or several people from their consultant firm.
Additionally, many finance teams are now utilizing benefits analytics tools to predict healthcare costs, so you could easily end up with a dozen or more users. Make sure everyone who needs to collaborate, share insights, export data sets, or print reports can do so with your chosen data vendor.
7. What types of data feeds are allowed? How much does each feed cost? How many data feeds can we have?
A great benefits analytics software package will be able to integrate a wide variety of data feeds. Look for a tool that allows traditional data sources (medical, eligibility, Rx) as well as non-traditional data feeds (wellness program engagement, 401k, health risk assessment surveys, absenteeism, etc.). You’ll want to balance the number of data fees you choose to integrate with the cost of doing so. Make sure you ask your data vendors up front how much it costs to integrate each feed, and if there’s a limit on how many you can integrate. Historical data is also crucial to tracking trends and changes over time, so be sure your data warehouse doesn’t “roll off” or stop supporting historical data feeds. That’s how you know if your interventions are making a difference!
8. How do you help us to identify potential problems or opportunities we can take action on? What proprietary models are built in to help identify these problems and opportunities?
Ask if your benefits analytics software will help “bubble up” potential risks or answers to common benefits questions. You’ll want to see at a glance if your spend is increasing year over year, which conditions are driving high-cost claims, or if there are opportunities to reduce wasted pharmacy spending, for example.
Some, but not all, benefits analytics firms create custom data models and algorithms to help surface these answers for their clients. These data models can focus on everything from calculating overspending to identifying high risk members. Look for an advanced data warehouse that offers these kinds of data enhancements to help you find and tackle potential inefficiencies in your benefits plan.
9. How does your data warehouse help us justify new solutions or evaluate existing programs? Please provide examples.
One of the most important functions of a data warehouse is to help you evaluate new programs or measure the effectiveness of existing programs. Ask for specific examples, case studies, and customer testimonials of how your vendor’s software enables these tasks. You’ll want to hear specifics of what question was being asked, how the analytics tools armed the team with information, and what was accomplished as a result.
10. How does your data warehouse facilitate our strategic relationship with consultants and brokers?
Benefits consultants and brokers are often on the front lines of data warehousing. Many employers rely on an advisor to use a benefits analytics tool on their behalf. If you’re in this situation, you’ll want to find out how the data partnership would look between all three parties: the employer, the advisor, and the data vendor. Additionally, consulting firms often have strategic agreements in place with their preferred benefits analytics software companies. This can give you extra insight into how a data partnership might function and support your benefits strategy.
11. What is your company’s long-term vision?
Ask your benefits analytics vendors to share their vision and mission for the future of their company. You might find they have strong roots and commitments to the employee benefits space, or that they offer a small tool for employers but are really focused on hospital data, for example. Look for a data warehouse focused on employers, their needs, and creating tools just for benefits data analysis. Including this question on a data warehouse RFP will help you ensure the vendor will be around for the long haul.
12. What sort of impact will we have on the product roadmap for future features, functions and enhancements?
One of the things that sets a benefits analytics partner apart from an ordinary data warehouse is their process for collecting and incorporating customer feedback. Ask if your voice will be considered when they’re planning for product updates, creating a product roadmap, and considering new features. This goes back to customer service. You want to work with a partner who values your opinion, seeks your input, and works towards common goals.
A great benefits analytics software solution will be built with the user’s success always in mind.
These are 12 key questions you should include on a data warehouse RFP. The answers to these questions will help you evaluate the vendor’s capabilities, unique features, service approach, transparency, and partnership philosophy.