Commentary: While the merits of the Affordable Care Act are still being debated, the ramifications of the reporting required by the IRS to support it are being felt by many. Organizations with 50+ employees will need to prepare new reports which will require information found in HR, benefits, accounting and payroll systems that traditionally do not easily exchange data. The options to compile the data necessary from these sources are limited. While many are upgrading systems completely to meet their needs, others are manually re-keying the necessary data. Neither option is great and both can lead to costly errors. Because of the difficulty associated with collecting data, the Congressional Budget Office is expecting filing errors to be the ACA’s single largest revenue generator over the next decade.

Also see:Employers face looming ACA reporting deadline.”

The good news is that new data preparation technologies are available for any level of user to acquire and prepare data from multi-structured sources like PDF reports, log files, telemetry data, print spools, text, EDI, HTML and more.

These self-service tools automate laborious, manual data preparation routines and capture them into workflows without the need for IT assistance. Every step of the data preparation process is captured into reusable and human-readable routines that can be shared with others and executed automatically going forward.

The result is a dramatic increase in speed and agility for business users who need to analyze data. Many users report productivity gains of days, weeks and even months of data preparation efforts being condensed to hours or minutes.

Also see:What employers need to tell employees about Forms 1095.”

Consider the Marbridge Foundation, an Austin, Texas-based community for adults with a wide range of cognitive challanges, that needed to meet new IRS reporting requirements mandated by the Affordable Care Act. The organization is saving many thousands of dollars and man-hours in data entry costs while greatly reducing its risk exposure to government penalties using a self-service data preparation tool called Monarch.

New ACA rules mandate that employers like Marbridge with 50 or more full-time employees must report whether they offered minimum essential coverage to their full-time employees and dependents, and if coverage was offered, what the employee’s share of the lowest cost monthly premium for self-only coverage was.

As a faith-based non-profit with tight financial resources, Marbridge considered hiring a temp agency to manually key in all the payroll data. But that option was rife with complications, costs and risk due to inevitable human errors. Each employee report filed late or containing errors was subject to a penalty ranging from $100-$250. The organization’s vice president of finance estimated its risk exposure at up to $40,000 in penalties.

Also see:5 actions to take now to prepare for ACA reporting.”

Using data preparation technology, Marbridge was able to extract the necessary IRS-required information, extracting and cleaning both current and historical payroll information locked in the PDF files quickly and automatically. The vice president conservatively estimates that the software has saved his team 2,000 to 3,500 man-hours so far. The organization also saved money by not having to hire extra temp staff.

Everyone can connect to relational data, CSV, and the other standard data types you’d expect. But often the most important information you need is locked away in multi-structured or unstructured sources that seem impossible to use without manual re-entry of the data. Next-generation data preparation technology is now available to acquire and prep data from virtually any source, automating manually processes and creating huge savings for under-staffed organizations.

Jon Pilkington is chief product officer for Datawatch Corporation, a vendor of data preparation technology.

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