As technology continues to transform our everyday lives, as well as our working practices and environments, there is surely not a reward professional around now who does not acknowledge the need to address how technology affects the industry.
While online benefits technology and new communication methods are increasingly common, there are bigger ‘megatrends’ which are set to have significant impact on this space in the coming decade and beyond. These trends have the potential to transform how we do what we do, so it is important to know what is coming, and how it could be used.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning
Artificial intelligence (AI) is all about engagement – in other words it is the bit a person sees, touches or speaks to, while machine learning is what creates the data sets to make AI work. Together, they can automate data analysis, providing complex insights to support strategy. Greater predictive capabilities and more personalised recommendations make it possible to tailor health, benefits or financial options for employees.
Automation is able to make the underlying system processes for benefits provision smarter, faster and more adaptable, while reducing risk. It can mean less manual intervention for employers and a better user experience for employees.
Using big data, employers can interact with huge data sets, construct more complicated strategic models, and see more details and trends. By turning numbers from information into knowledge, it helps generate the actionable insights that can create strategic change.
Blockchain’s ‘distributed ledger’ brings unchangeable, unarguable and centrally verifiable data that moves with the user. This could be health history, benefit selection or recruitment files, to name just a few examples. Benefits plans can become easier to manage, with centralised records between vendors providing streamlined and faster processing for claims, for instance.
Much like crowd sharing and open source platforms, collaborative technology is all about productivity and engagement. With collaboration in the context of benefits, it is possible to gather employee ideas and understand what they want, making an organisation’s people part of its solutions.
CX or customer experience
The customer experience is all about designing with users in mind, not about pushing features. It is about knowing the people, the issues, what they want and how they expect to interact. Attitudinal segmentation and behavioural clusters help us to move on from looking at demographics alone, to a greater kind of personalisation.
This must remain a priority, with ongoing reviews of systems and processes to help keep both the employer and its employees safe.
Virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and 360-degree technology are bringing in new ways to communicate and engage. Existing technology such as mobiles can utilise AR, linking everyday experiences to new information. With VR, an organisation could deliver a benefits fair in a virtual space, and connect remote workers as if they were in a collaborative environment.
This can help employers to make the most of a corporate benefit plan, perhaps saving money by identifying local discounts from a voluntary benefits plan while on the move, or finding the closest physiotherapist on a private medical insurance scheme.
Facial and gesture recognition, biometrics and gaze tracking are commonly associated with unlocking a phone or app, meaning employees no longer have to remember URLs and passwords. The use of gaze-tracking helps monitor how users interact with tools and functions, to assist with better design or smart content placement.
The Internet of Things
This is made up of all devices that can connect to the internet, and will be especially crucial as they communicate with each other; for example, wearable technology and benefits systems. In the next five years, more data will be available to applications, meaning more user-centric outcomes can be created based on their interactions with a user’s varied devices.
The ability to connect multiple services will bring with it dynamic connections between people, processes and services. Adding the Internet of Things makes it possible to share more data between services. Where this improves employees’ understanding of their benefits or organisation’s wellbeing approaches, it can contribute positively to employee engagement.
Mobile or social internet
This connects us with others in seconds and feeds into changing communication norms. It is therefore easier to engage employees by broadcasting a message and asking for feedback instantly: think media players, social media collaborative platforms, web casts or live streaming as part of future engagement.
According to comScore’s The global mobile report, published in September 2017, mobile technology is so ubiquitous now that 61% of digital minutes are spent on mobile devices, and 80% of those are spent on apps. There’s an expectation that content and benefits will be available on mobile; apps can make this easier, and may offer native functions that mobile responsive sites cannot. Apps and mobile technology should now be considered at the forefront of a benefits offering.
Currently used for contactless card or smartphone payments, proximity tech already works with geofencing, biometrics to unlock devices, and Near Field Communication to tap a device and pay. Feasibly, geofencing could be used on corporate offers, such as checking in at a gym as part of a health plan. The engagement analytics produced, showing when and how a benefit is being used, could then feed into strategic planning.
We are already able to get help turning on the lights or playing music, but voice assistants will become more useful in the benefits space, supporting enrolments, employee queries and reducing the burden on benefits and HR teams.
These megatrends are gradually becoming the norm, and are set to have increasing influence in the coming years. HR and leadership teams need to figure out how to leverage them to their best advantage, and not be left behind.
Dom Manley is UK technology product manager at Aon