Engagement is key to cloud-based benefitsNews added by Benefits Pro on July 9, 2014
By Scott Wooldridge
The 2013 move by Thomsons Online Benefits to open an office in Burlingame, California, was not just a case of an overseas company trying to muscle in on the U.S. market. Thomsons, a London-based company that provides benefits software to companies around the world, already had big U.S. clients: Cisco, Microsoft, Starbucks, and UnitedHealth Group.
But with such clients came frequent flights for Thomsons executives and support staff. The logical step was to open a U.S. office so customer service was less of a long-distance affair. The move also came after Thomsons announced a “significant” investment from Boston-based ABRY Partners, which valued the company at more than £100 million.
Thomsons, with 350 employees and offices in London, Romania and Singapore, is a pioneer in cloud-based benefits software, also known as Software as a Service. Thomsons, founded in 2000, had revenues of more than $60 million last year. Its primary product is Darwin, a cloud-based benefits management software.
According to Chris Wakely, senior vice president for enterprise at Thomsons, Darwin seeks to help companies automate the management of benefits, communicate with employees, and offer customized solutions to companies in that face widely divergent regulatory, business, and infrastructure environments, depending on the country in which they do business. Wakely says most of his company’s U.S. clients turn to Thomsons not for help with the insurance market in this country, but to help with benefit management in overseas locations.
“At this point we are not solving the problems that multinational organizations have in the United States,” Wakely said. “The United States is a relatively mature market. Most multinationals say to us, ‘We’ve got the United States done. Our problem is the other countries outside the United States.’”
Wakely says that in addition to helping organizations get a better handle on global benefits costs and data security in managing benefits, the software puts a premium on employee engagement.
“Darwin is designed to help a multinational organization communicate and engage with employees around benefits and rewards in a consistent fashion,” Wakely said. “A lot of these multinationals really struggle with getting these messages out to people,” he said. “They either go for the one-size-fits-all, which doesn’t really work, or they just miss the people they’re trying to speak to. Communication is a really fundamental part of what we’re trying to do. This is about helping employees understand the true value of their benefits and reward package for the organization that they work for, and providing them with an experience that allows them to interact with those benefits.”
A changing workplace
According to Wakely, his company is seeing interest from a wider range of industries, as employees and managers alike become more comfortable with concepts such as cloud-based services. Although Thomsons has had many clients in Silicon Valley, as well as with industries such as finance, pharmaceuticals and other technologically-advanced industries, the company is now talking to companies in the manufacturing and retail worlds.
“The big sea change in the last four to five years has been the explosion in tablets and smart phones,” Wakely said. “So now you don’t need to be a high-tech firm to make use of software for employees.”
With the proliferation of digital devices, he added, companies are becoming much more comfortable in communicating things like benefits information to employees through online services.
And employees are starting to expect it.
“The employee base prefers to use the Internet over paper,” Wakely said. “Most people now, even in emerging markets, are comfortable with using the Internet in some way.”
The change is affecting all kinds of employees, not just hi-tech or office workers, Wakely noted. “Five years ago, in talking to a business, they might say, ‘Only 30 percent of our workforce has a computer.’ Now, even with people who don’t sit at a desk, they’re going to be able to access the web or the internet in some way, shape or form, and relatively easily as well.”
Health reform puts a new focus on benefits Wakely noted that with his firm’s emphasis on overseas software solutions, health reforms in the United States have had a limited affect on Thomsons, but he said the result of the health reform debate is that companies have become more focused on benefits and realize that they need to be a priority.
“Benefits are at the top of a lot of organizations’ agendas,” he said. “It does give us a better forum to engage with decision-makers on this type of topic, because it’s at the front of people’s minds.”
Employees as consumers
Wakely says he thinks there will continue to be more engagement and interaction between companies and their employees in the area of benefits. He notes that many companies are stressing corporate culture as a selling point, and that they are “…using software to create engaging and interesting experiences for employees; treating employees like they’re consumers, rather than employees.
“The opportunity to use software to strengthen the cultural bond in the way [and employer] engages with employees, through better messages about benefits and reward, is also becoming more important,” he said. Wakely says the Darwin software allows companies to engage employees on benefits based on who they are and where they live.
”If you’re a 22-year old single guy living in Sao Paulo, your needs are going to be different than a married father of three children living in Germany,” he said. “Darwin allows you to send pertinent and direct messages to people based on who they are and what they need.”
With its software available in 65 countries and in 19 languages around the world, Wakely says he expects Thomsons to continue to expand its market share globally. He notes that Darwin is a first-use software; it seldom replaces a system already in use.
“It’s a new approach, so a lot of what we’re doing is evangelizing about the benefits of the software to people, and more and more it really resonates with them.”
Originally published on BenefitsPro.com
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