How interoperable are you?


How techies talk…

One of the Friends of Auto-Enrolment’s groups is called the interoperability task-force. I think Andy Agethangelou makes these names up so his name seems short by comparison.

“Interoperability” is a concept I haven’t come across before, but like a lot of technical jargon, I went along with it to keep the pointy-heads in order. But now I am being dragged screaming into tech-land and I discover nodes of jargon centring on interoperability.

As far as I can make out, interoperability is the capacity of one system to talk to another system through data. You and I use words, but computers use code which is often encrypted to make it impenetrable to ordinary folks.

So when Star payroll systems wants to talk with the People’s Pension, the conversation doesn’t start- “what’s going on in Crawley”- more likely there are strings of numbers from which experts can extract a sense that all is tickety-boo or strings of numbers telling them they’ve just had a data-train-crash.

TPR has a bright idea.

The Pension Regulator has twigged that the capacity of Pension Providers to talk with Payroll software is critical to the ongoing success of auto-enrolment. I am a great fan of our forward-looking Regulator but on this instance, I will not praise him for his “out of the box” approach. We got there first and for nearly nine months we have been asking payroll how they get on with pensions using simple questions like “what do you think of..?” and “how’s it going for you?”.

Ask these questions often enough and you will get a consistent pattern of answers which tells you that XYZ payroll won’t be sending Christmas cards to ABC pension providers (but will to Provider DEF.

So – as a rule – we would suggest that if you use XYZ payroll and – all other things being equal- you have the choice between these two providers- you chose Provider DEF. You explain your choice by telling your staff that your payroll people like provider DEG because they can have a decent conversation – that they have interoperability.

Rules like the one above are know- heaven knows why- as algorithms and if you have enough data to drive enough algorithms, you can create a system that helps people make reasonable choices – such as the one above.

When people ask me what I do for a living , I do not generally answer “I create algorithms around inter-operability in auto-enrolment” – I don’t do that number of syllables without a few drinks.

But I might explain that I find ways to empower employers to take sensible choices on the pensions they’re setting up for staff.

But not that bright an idea!

Coming back to the Regulator, with whom I am spending too much time, I suspect that he knows that he needs to create a data set, like the one I’m creating.

The danger is that – as with the aborted idea of the Directory – people use s little piece of the jigsaw and call it “the big picture”. In case we forget, simply because pension and payroll happen to be mates in July 2015 doesn’t mean they will always be so. Nor is interoperability the only criteria on which a pension should be chosen – id does little to drive better member outcomes (for one thing).

But knowing who operates well with who is a start and as the Pension Regulator is a little behind the curve on how employers should choose pensions, I’m happy to help out!

Of course being the Regulator, he’ll probably get the interoperability data a lot easier than I would but I’ve offered to help out and get the ball rolling- if only to make sure the information is in the public domain.

Some people may thing that I am giving away the crown jewels, by sharing my interoperability data, but then they don’t understand interoperability like what I do.

neil esslemont

About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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1 Response to How interoperable are you?

  1. Great post Henry. It’s probably not intended by anyone official that a major factor in an employer’s selection of a scheme will be how well his payroll software interoperates with pension scheme XYZ. To help make it less of a factor, I’m trying to get my middleware to interact in a streamlined way with lots of payroll brands at the front end and lots of pension providers at the back( post assessment) end. Collaborating with PensionSync on the journey, and thankful to some but not all payroll brands for cooperating for the greater good. There aren’t many players left in this space but we are making progress as the avalanche of employers in scope gathers pace.

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