Some people complain about having to work with a five-year-old Pentium. Meanwhile, Alberta’s public-sector pension administrator is just now getting around to updating some of its quarter-century-old administrative technology.
Administration Corp., a provincial Crown corporation that handles the pension plans of almost every public-sector employee in the province, has started phasing in a system where the payroll departments of various employers can submit information about members via the Internet. Last December, two plans representing 45,000 members were placed on APA’s new APEX system, which stands for Alberta Pensions Excellence. APA is moving to have all its pension plans, representing about 160,000 members, on this Web-based system by fall.
In the meantime, some public-sector employers in Alberta will continue to mail in paper accounts of required information, and people at APA will continue to haul out a calculator when someone inquires as to how much their pension is worth if they retire at a certain time.
“”The old systems were very labour-intensive,”” says Stan Petrica, project director of APEX. “”People still use words like ‘key-punch’ around here.”” He says the legacy systems being replaced were “”flat-file”” programs on mainframe computers with no databases, and they were not unified across differing plans.
Petrica says one of the biggest impacts at APA so far is the reduction of work needed to calculate what pensions might be worth. He praised the expertise of those who have been doing this manually, but it can now be done automatically by APEX. As well, there’s a reduction in paper being mailed in, and this should become even more noticeable once the other plans are online. About 30 public-sector employers can now submit information to APA more efficiently. Many errors can be caught by the front-line program before submitted. And if an error gets through, the employer will learn from the administrator about it within a day rather than the weeks it could take in the past, Petrica says.
He says feedback has been positive from most stakeholders, though there are growing pains with some APA people who are used to the old way of doing things.
“”This is a real change,”” he says. “”You’re talking about an organization that hasn’t had modern technology for their lives, are used to very old systems, and this is quite a culture shock for them.””
At some point before the end of the year, APA intends to make the APEX online system available for use by plan members themselves, rather than just their payroll departments. Plan members will be able to log on to the system and verify their personal information and get pension-value estimates. IBM Business Consulting Services is leading the team responsible for implementing APEX, which has been a work-in-progress for about two years.
The software is that of CPAS Systems Inc., a Toronto-based company with 65 employees. It has been creating pension-administration programs since 1985. Adrian Praysner, CPAS’s vice-president of marketing, says his company works in a narrow and specialized industry, which has become even smaller in the last decade or so.
“”It is a pretty arcane and fairly complex business to be in and get it right,”” he says, noting that his company’s software must work under the different pension laws of Canadian provinces and around the world. He adds that it’s multilingual.
“”It travels well,”” he says.
Petrica says the APEX project will cost about $20 million to implement. He says there are operational efficiencies being realized, but any savings that would be are likely to be offset by the increased volume of members coming over the next few years.