API Technology: The Questions Benefits Brokers Need To Ask
By Scott Tickner
Today’s employers expect a lot more from their brokers than advice on benefits. Benefit products are only a small part of the picture. Instead, employers expect solutions and strategies to solve a number of problems related to benefits, employer programs, billing and data management.
It’s that last piece - data management and technology - that has become an Achilles heel for many brokers. With that in mind, what is the right way to approach technology, and how can you make sure you’re delivering a solution that will work for clients?
To start, let’s to identify the cause of the technology headaches that so many employers are experiencing. Simply put, when it comes to an employer’s data, you have multiple groups of people (human resources, carriers, payroll, etc.) all attempting to access and interact with different parts of the same data at the same time. If all these parties’ changes and interactions aren’t in sync, things can quickly become a headache to manage.
Technology is moving in the direction of Application Programming Interfaces to solve this problem. API technology is a tool that, among other things, helps with passing data back and forth of data between these systems. The growth of APIs means that there are a growing number of people providing this technology, but they don’t always necessarily operate in the same way. Not all APIs are the same.
So, when you look into API solutions, here are some key questions to ask when evaluating what each system provides.
What are your goals? Before diving into any of the technical questions, ask yourself, what are your goals? What problems are you attempting to solve and what challenge must you overcome to reach your goals? Setting those goals up front will help you know what answer you’re looking for when you’re asking the questions below.
In what direction does the data move? Are you simply looking to transfer the data in one direction with nothing needing to be transferred back? Or do you need the data to be shared back and forth between multiple systems owned by the employer? Some APIs may only move in one direction. Be sure you have a system that accomplishes what you need.
What data needs to be moved between the systems? Different APIs may only move different pieces of data. So, be sure to evaluate whether the system you’re considering is able to handle the data that must be moved. If the system is not able to transfer the data you need transferred, you won’t get the results you want.
How often does the data move between systems? In many cases, you’ll need data passed back and forth in real time to keep all systems accurate and in sync. Not all API providers offer this functionality, though. Some transfer data daily or even on a weekly basis, so select an API solution that can accommodate your needs.
What triggers movement of the data? While many APIs will run on a preset schedule, if you’re relying on something else to trigger the data transfer, make sure you understand what that is and whether it’s feasible with the API solution you’re considering. For example, you may want only certain actions to trigger a transfer or you may want to trigger it manually. Whatever it may be, your API solution must be able to do this.
What’s the implementation lead time? Sometimes you need a solution to your problem sooner rather than later. So, take into account the implementation timeline to be sure problems aren’t compounding while you’re trying to get your API up and running. Some APIs, if they’re already configured with systems you’re using, can be implemented in a matter of days. In other cases, it may be a matter of weeks or even months to get things up and running correctly.
Cleaning up an employer’s data management is no small task. Fortunately, there is great promise through the use of APIs. As you evaluate API solutions, be aware that API has, in large part, become a catch-all phrase for technologies that perform similar functions. They may not all operate the same way and may not be a true API in the sense of what you’re looking for. Using some of these questions, you can start to drive at the solutions employers need and find a better solution for your clients.
Scott Tickner is assistant vice president, sales operations, at Trustmark Voluntary Benefits. Scott may be contacted at [email protected].