From Pushing Paper to Strategic Partner

December 16, 2019 by Meredith Trimble

From Pushing Paper to Strategic Partner

Paper-based processes will slow down any organization. This is particularly true for larger cities, which contend with high volumes of timesheets, requests, and approvals, as well as burdensome physical distance between offices and employees.

The city of Surprise, Arizona faced the challenges of manual processes, including wasted time and increased room for error, both of which were costing the city money.

The Perils of Paper

City employees in Surprise, for example, were submitting hundreds of paper time cards each pay period that payroll staff then hand keyed into the system. Human resources staff generated personnel action forms in Word and conducted manual data entry for the information. Employees couldn’t enter pending actions without disrupting live legacy system data. Since there wasn’t a digital workflow approval process that held changes in a pending area, data entry mistakes were extremely problematic.

An especially trying time for HR staff was open enrollment. Many had to drop all other work priorities to focus on making changes to employee benefits; an arduous task. Once an employee completed change paperwork, an HR staff member would manually enter the information both in the agency’s system and on the carrier’s website.

Even something simple like an address change resulted in manual entries on multiple carrier portals for FSA, dental, vision, and medical to ensure the change was reflected across the employee’s full collection of benefits.

Working Smarter

To work smarter, not harder, the city moved toward digital processes. Employee self service (ESS), for example, allows employees to manage time entry and to make changes to federal and state tax elections. The new self service system also brings the open enrollment processes online, making it easier for HR staff and employees to manage benefit changes.

To eliminate duplicate data entry inherent in the previous process for qualifying events, the city’s HR team invested the time upfront to setup an 834 Enrollment File, which automatically sends employee changes to the insurance carriers and eliminates the need to manually update their systems. “It took some training and time to setup the 834 files, but it was totally worth it,” said Human Resources Information Systems Analyst Christine Edwards. “We learned all of the components of the 834 files, where the data pulls from the system, and how to successfully run the files.”

Enjoying Efficiency and Accuracy

With online time entry, Surprise’s payroll team is free from managing paper timesheets, which has greatly improved efficiency and auditing abilities while also creating a more accurate payroll. “It’s great because now our payroll team has more time to perform other project work that advances the city’s goals,” said Edwards.

By leveraging ESS for open enrollment, the city has seen higher participation rates, less paperwork, and has spent far less time tracking people down to complete the benefits enrollment process. “In the first year with ESS benefits open enrollment, the city had a record participation rate of 94%,” commented Edwards.

What’s more, she noted, “Open enrollment used to require 10 HR employees—half of our team—focused exclusively on that process. Now, with ESS, we need only three staff members to manage the process from beginning to end.”

Similarly, over the course of a year, the HR team processes roughly 200 new hire benefits onboarding or qualifying life events. What used to take nearly 3,500 hours of staff time now takes around 1,700 hours. And, there is no longer a need to duplicate data entry into carrier websites; the 834 file takes care of that automatically.

The time savings has allowed the department leaders to more appropriately delegate work tasks. It has also helped the city’s HR team reinforce its role as strategic partners to the executive team by showing how investments in technology have a positive impact on achieving the organization’s overall goals and moving the city into the future.

Digitizing processes has improved internal opertaions, reduced error, and saved time for staff of Surprise. Hear more from Christine Edwards in this video.

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