April 10, 2013
Most pension funds have operations manuals that describe how to do benefits-centered processes. In Linea’s experience, these materials are rarely up to date, and they are seldom used on a day-to-day basis. In many cases, when these manuals are written, they are written for a one-time purpose, such as in reaction to an audit finding or because several new staff members have been hired. They are not used in practice to guide the day-to-day work of the staff.
In our view, pension funds are reaching the end of the line for the typical policies and procedures manuals. They are difficult to produce, difficult to keep current, and are out of date the day they are published. From the staff perspective, most staff members would rather receive instruction from a peer than read through a procedures manual. Key business rules, including benefits-centered policies and calculations, are already documented in printed Summary Plan Descriptions.
Pension Administration Systems and other workflow-based solutions, such as Customer Relationship Management (CRM) or Electronic Content Management (ECM) systems, are also operationalizing procedures, providing wizards or step-by-step means of moving through a process. These systems also have extensive help capabilities and training materials, which provide further context for the workflow. Once the staff is trained to use these systems, it is unclear why they would need a separate written procedure for the process for their day-to-day work.
Clearly, however, there is a need to document a system’s administrative policies and procedures. Not all procedures are systems-based, even in enterprise-class software solutions. Administrative policies that fall outside the Summary Plan Descriptions must be documented in some fashion. The question is how is this accomplished in a usable, updatable format that staff is likely to access? We have seen three potential solutions:
- Intranet-based policy and procedure manuals. This is an exploded version of the traditional binder: an internal web-page links to a series of PDFs or Word docs with individual procedures. The advantage of this system is that it is low-cost to implement and allows organizations to centrally store and control the content.
- Wiki-based systems. A wiki is a website that allows users to add/delete/modify content via browser. This is similar to the solution above, although it tends to be more free-form and informal. The advantage is that it can be updated and edited more rapidly, increasing the chance that the materials will stay current.
- Online training systems. These are more expensive and time-consuming to implement, but they can provide a much more robust solution. The tools allow users to create their own training content. For example, a user could create a video of how to create a benefit estimate using the pension administration system. This video would be available online, both to new employees as a training tool and as a container for the overall procedure.
The common thread of these solutions is that they allow for more centralized control and update of the content, and they allow users to access materials via computer rather than pulling binders off shelves. We believe these solutions will gradually replace the paper-based manuals.