For U.S.-based multinational companies, administering and communicating benefit plans in multiple countries – each with its own regulatory regime and unique workplace culture – is no simple task.

Cisco Systems Inc., an American multinational technology company with headquarters in San Jose, California, recently turned to a cloud-based benefits tool for its international employees, particularly those in Europe, Middle East, Africa and Russia.

Charlie Johnston, vice president of HR, EMEAR at Cisco, says “creating great online employee experiences and using innovative technology to solve global problems is part of [Cisco’s] DNA.”

“We wanted a solution in EMEAR that automated how we administered all our benefit plans as well as providing each Cisco employee with one place to transact and review benefits and reward information – we called this i-benefit@Cisco,” Johnston explains. EMEAR at Cisco had been using 12 benefit brokers, more than 70 benefits vendors and more than 30 long-term savings plans as part of its benefits offerings.

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But, Cisco’s benefits communication and interaction were all paper-based and didn’t achieve the touch points during vital communication periods for its generous – yet complex – suite of benefits, says Chris Wakely, senior vice president of Thomsons Online Benefits North America, a benefits software provider.

Cisco implemented Thomsons’ Darwin product, which is also used by technology companies such as Microsoft, Bwin and Samsung, to automate and streamline how it managed its benefit plans around the world.

Wakely says that not effectively communicating the real value of an organization’s benefits offering can leave even the most technologically advanced companies in the Stone Age.

“They had a very generous benefits package, but the experience of joining Cisco – from a benefits standpoint – was fairly poor,” says Wakely. “It wasn’t absolutely clear what you were eligible for from an employee perspective. And then ongoing, as you move through your Cisco career, you were never absolutely clear what was the true value of what Cisco was offering.”

Johnston agrees. “Now we are able to communicate with our EMEA employee in a consistent and targeted fashion as well as remove manual processes from sensitive HR data related transactions,” he says.

The Society for Human Resource Management recently stated that organizations are “not fully leveraging their benefits programs to attract and retain the best and brightest.”

“The value of employee benefits effectively could thus make a real difference to the bottom line,” SHRM foreshadows in its 2014 employee benefits study.  

Meanwhile, Johnston recommends that global benefits departments should consider software options to help weave their benefits web together, regardless of the specific industry they do business in.

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“As more and more companies look to globalize, and also want to start using culture and engagement to drive competitive behavior, using software to solve benefit-related challenges will continue to become more commonplace,” Johnston says. “We also believe that the explosion in the use of mobile devices and the preference to consume and transact data online, rather than paper, will continue to drive this experience out beyond the innovative high-tech companies and into sectors like retail and manufacturing.”

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