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by Brian Westfall,
Market Research Associate
Last Updated: December 8, 2016


Benefits administration is one of the core responsibilities of any human resources (HR) department, involving the management of employee benefits—for example, tracking paid time off and overseeing employee health insurance and 401ks.

Generally, benefits administration is included within a broader suite of HR applications—for example, payroll, time and attendance and performance-review modules. While many small businesses currently manage employee benefits (and other HR processes) using manual methods, such as spreadsheets and email, software is also available to streamline the process. In fact, there are a plethora of vendors offering applications designed specifically to help HR professionals carry out these tasks more efficiently.

We created this guide to help you determine which benefits administration solutions are best for your organization. Here’s what we’ll cover:

Common Features of Benefits Administration Software
How Are Benefits Administration Systems Priced?
Web-Based vs. On-Premise Deployment
Best Software Evaluation Tactics

Common Features of Benefits Administration Software

Benefits administration involves keeping track of different providers and plans—from 401ks to health and dental insurance. As paying for these benefits is often a large expense for companies, carefully monitoring expenditures, as well as which employees are signed up for what plan, becomes crucial if employers are to stay within their budgets.

While organizing this data in spreadsheets may be feasible for very small businesses with fewer than 10 employees, administering benefits can quickly become a complicated process if it isn’t properly organized. Plus, benefits administration software not only helps businesses monitor their expenses, it also allows employees themselves to view and alter their benefits elections.

This type of software application may include some or all of the following capabilities:

Online benefits enrollment Allows employees to enroll in benefits such as health care and 401K online.
Employee benefits administration Enables HR to easily manage all employee benefits in a centralized location.
Affordable Care Act reporting Allows organizations to ensure compliance with the ACA and file all necessary paperwork and reports.
Compensation statements Allows organizations to show employees the value of their package of benefits.

Other benefits include:

  • Integrate benefits package providers into one easy-to-manage place.
  • Run reports and analyses.
  • Initiate and manage open enrollment.
  • Use self-service portals to allow employees to change their elections as they experience life events.

How Are Benefits Administration Systems Priced?

Because benefits enrollment solutions are generally sold as an application for part of a larger HR software suite—which will often include applications for applicant tracking, payroll and performance reviews—the pricing for this type of solution is similar across the greater HR market.

First, it’s important to understand how benefits management systems can be deployed. There are two types of deployment model available: on-premise and Web-based.

With on-premise deployment, the business hosts the software on its own servers (which are usually located on its own premises). With Web-based deployment, however, businesses don’t need to install the software on local hardware. Instead, the software is hosted on remote, third-party servers, and is accessible through the Web browser of any device with an Internet connection. (More on this below.)

Generally, these systems are priced one of two ways: through a perpetual license, for on-premise systems (generally, in the form of an upfront cost to own the software and use it on an ongoing basis), or with a monthly subscription fee, for Web-based systems. Whichever model you choose, as a general rule, as you add more (and more advanced) features and functionality, the cost of the system will increase correspondingly.

Web-Based vs. On-Premise Deployment

While cost is one factor when considering what type of deployment method your company should choose, there are several others as well. In fact, the HR software market has been an early adopter of the Web-based deployment method due to three key reasons: cost, convenience and security.

Cloud Deployment Preference by Industry, 2008-2014
cloud preference by industry

Many small businesses prefer to go with a Web-based deployment method, as the upfront costs for this type of deployment are considerably less—which is often a crucial determinant for small to medium-sized companies that may not have the necessary capital to cover the upfront costs of an on-premise system.

However, as you can see below, the pricing models for the two types of deployment converge over time. (If you’d like to see a detailed estimate for your business, visit our Total Cost of Ownership Calculator.)

Web-Based vs. On-Premise Deployment Costs
Total Cost of Ownership Calculator

There is also the convenience factor. When it comes to benefits administration and payroll, many buyers specifically request an employee self-service feature. This feature allows employees and managers to log in to the system in order to check the status of their benefits—for example, how many days of paid time off they have accrued—without needing to go through the HR department. With a Web-based system, employees and managers can log in from any device with an Internet connection, meaning they don't need to physically be in the office. This saves HR administrators and small-business owners time, allowing them to focus on other duties.

Finally, as benefits administration involves sensitive employee information, many employers choose Web-based deployment for security reasons. Web-based deployment is actually more secure for most small businesses, as software vendors will invest more heavily in server and data protection than what many small businesses could afford to invest themselves. Because the companies that host the software generally have many layers of data security and encryption, employees’ sensitive information is actually more secure than if it were hosted on-premise.

Best Software Evaluation Tactics

Deciding which type of benefits administration system to purchase can be an overwhelming prospect, given the number of products on the market. However, there are tactics your company can employ to ease and improve this process.

We recently surveyed software buyers across various industries to determine which selection tactics are the most effective. From this analysis, we discovered that the top methods for evaluating software include: checking vendor references; having an attorney review your license or subscription agreement; assessing the vendor’s financial viability; and preparing a request for proposal (RFP) or request for information (RFI).

To help buyers visualize the data from the survey, we created a quadrant that plots each tactic along two axes: one measuring the method’s correlation to high satisfaction, and the other showing its impact on the outcome of the project (in other words, showing how different the results were between people who did and didn’t apply each tactic).

By employing tactics in the “most effective” quadrant (and avoiding those in the “least effective” one), your company can streamline its software selection process and ensure you choose a system that best addresses your team’s needs.

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