Expert Interview: Tom Ciccotti Part 2

October 16 2018 / by Mari Ryan

Tom Ciccotti is the co-founder and Executive Vice President of Shortlister. Shortlister is a technology platform and team of subject matter experts used by the nation’s top employers and benefits consultants to help them identify their ideal vendor match for products and services in the wellness and HR technology space. Think e-Harmony or for finding vendors in these markets.

In this expert interview, AdvancingWellness CEO Mari Ryan explores the research conducted by Tom Ciccotti's firm Shortlister, on employer’s preferences and buying behaviors with regard to well-being program technology.



Tom Ciccotti Interview

Mari Ryan: Hi, I’m Mari Ryan, I’m the CEO and Founder of AdvancingWellness. Welcome to this Expert Interview. This is Part two of my interview with Tom Ciccotti of Shortlister. In the first part of my interview with Tom, we talked about some of the trends that are impacting workplace well-being programs and initiatives. In this video we will explore some of the market dynamics that are driving the decisions that employers are making when implementing their employee wellness program and the accompanying technology. I’m sure you’ll enjoy this video.

Mari Ryan: Tom, the research that you are doing is fascinating and I’m curious if you can take us through a little bit of a deep dive on what are some of the elements that you are seeing as the elements in the market demand. Let’s start with what are the “must haves” that you’re seeing in the research that you’ve conducted?

Tom Ciccotti: One of the questions that we pose to our consultant partners is from a product or service standpoint, a specific program component, if you will, what are the must haves when an employer moves forward with a particular vendor, and selects a solution? So, they go through a selection, they pick a winning vendor, and they go ahead and implement that particular solution; 42% of our respondents said challenges were the number one must have component of an offering. Number two at 39% were biometric screenings, and number three with 25% of respondents were health risk assessments. Rounding out the top five were EAPs in fourth, and then health coaching in fifth place.

Mari Ryan: Interesting. I’m fascinated to hear that those are some of the responses in places I would have intuitively said might have been declining, like biometrics or HRAs. It’s good to know that people are still keen about collecting data and using that data in a meaningful way, real personalized programs. So, that’s great.

Tom Ciccotti: Yes, your intuition was correct because as we looked at the top three programs that are declining in demand, they were in this order; number one, health risk assessments with 46%; the number two spot is still health, by biometrics at 39%; and then rounding out third is on site exercise with 31%; fourth was health coaching; fifth was wearable devices.

The confounded look on your face is the same that we had when we started to look at this data.

Mari Ryan: How can you reconcile that?

Tom Ciccotti: Yeah, so we had to do a little bit of digging and circling back with our consultant partners and looking at our data and so forth to understand how they can be the “must haves,” but also be declining in demand. I’ll use this analogy and reference point; it’s almost as if the tide is coming in on these programs, and is now receding. They are still very prevalent.

If you think of the buyer of a solution, if I’m an HR purchaser and financial wellness is an exciting topic, mental wellbeing, mindfulness, these resilience apps, and all of these different tools are very exciting in the offerings – I’ve never purchased that before. I don’t have a reference point for those. What questions should I be asking? What should user experience look like? What is the appropriate market price for these different services? We think traditional wellness, we think these core items that the HR buyer has likely had at his or her prior employer, or has purchased in the past. Biometric screenings and understanding the role to costs and moving to punctured draw or finger sticks. Health risk assessment; I know I want some branched logic and be able to customize my questions and so forth.

These are very familiar elements, so the comfort level, the more holistic focuses we showcased in the first session was absolutely growing with today’s HR buyer and these employers, but as I am making decisions now, it is inherently how anyone buys anything. If I own a car and I’m going to go and buy a motorcycle, I don’t, maybe, know all the questions to ask. So, I’m going to do a little bit more discovery, I might be window shopping, and so forth, but I don’t know all of the questions that I should, or what the price points are for that. You see folks sticking with what they know from a purchasing perspective.

Mari Ryan: That makes sense. That’s a great explanation. Thank you.

I’m curious as to whether there are other things that you are seeing that are growing in demand?

Tom Ciccotti: Yes, so when we then ask the question of from a product or service standpoint, what are you seeing your employer clients ask about most? Far and away in first place with 73% of respondents was financial wellness, unsurprisingly. We are seeing a little bit more generic request. There isn’t as much knowledge of the nuance to … is it student loan repayment, is it financial education, is it money management, is it a number of different things?

The number two response was mental wellbeing with 50% of the respondents. Again, a little bit of an area where there is a blurred line between asking for what we would consider to be a mental wellbeing program, something focused on mindfulness, resilience, and something that would fall under the category of behavioral health, where we would be looking at something like depression, a clinically diagnosed psychological condition in which we are looking at very specific interventions. So, the line kind of blurs there, but they’re falling into that larger bucket, 50% of our respondents said that’s a growing area of interest for our employer clients.

Finally, 25% of our respondents was clinics, so a combination of both on site/near site; it goes to the theme from our first session about mobile first, improving access, and eventually personalization for their members, establishing that relationship with some type of medical service, primary care physician in this instance, and so forth.

Rounding out top five then, we had diabetes management prevention solutions – pretty even for us too – and then telemedicine was the fifth option growing in demand. Normally, you’d expect that to be a little bit higher, I think, at the rate that tele-health* solutions are embedded into a lot of carrier-based options and nominal, or no-cost in some cases, access to that in some capacity, likely exists for most employers.

Mari Ryan: Fascinating, well, that’s great to hear about how some of the trends that we’re seeing around things like telemedicine are starting to work their way into areas for growing demand. Excellent.

So, I’m curious about one of the elements that your report has revealed of some aspects of what you’re calling “point solutions.” I’m wondering if you can explore these point solutions a little bit and explain what your research is revealing there.

Tom Ciccotti: When we see an interesting point solutions period, it’s really the desire for either the provider we currently have in place has a fairly basic offering in a particular area, we need something a little bit more adept and substance, or they’re deficient in that area in particular. I really want some resource or organization that is specialized in this area, financial wellness, mental wellbeing, and so forth, would be excellent examples of that where I want a dedicated resource that is best in class at that particular aspect, and I want to plug that into my broader offering. We talked about the agnostic hub models being perfect for that because I can activate the different areas, if and when, I’m ready to turn on or release a financial wellness solution. It would save them some of the time, of course, to have those agnostic hub partners maybe having to go out for a second RFP and let them validate the market. They know that the integration from an API or daily exchange perspective between that partner exists with their base platform.

The reporting that we talked about in the first version of this series has been finalized in terms of consolidated billing just from that. We understand the interest in the point solutions for all the reasons that I just described. We asked what do you expect to get the most traction, specifically from a product and service standpoint, that is a point solution in 2018? Mental wellbeing programs, stress, resilience, mindfulness took the number one spot of 54% of respondents.

Number two with 42% were diabetes, either prevention or management-focused programing, really targeting a fairly substantial portion of some populations and high costs to individuals with the management of, or maintenance of, particular conditions. Much higher quality of life for them, of course, but also cost savings for them and the employer.

Third was sleep at 19%, which is going to be interesting. There are fewer providers in the market offering sleep solutions beyond C-PAP machines and things like that. There is certainly interest; I don’t know if there are many providers in the market to fill that void, which will be interesting.

Then we did what are the next five; so, different from the previous five, what were the total five. Next was financial wellness, then tobacco cessation program, followed by weight management programing, broader disease management, then a focus on nutrition. Those are some of the top eight growing point solutions in demand that was expected for ’18. We’re seeing a lot of our data objective went through the platform as our user base is going out to market and making selections, are reflected with a high degree of accuracy.

Mari Ryan: Excellent, it’s interesting to see the direction that some of this is going, and certainly in larger populations where things like behavioral health, mental health costs, diabetes care costs can be really high, even though there may be a small percentage of the population that has those conditions, they can be very costly. So, it’s interesting to see how the point solutions are rounding out. That’s fabulous information.

I have another question about whether there are any products or services that the HR community is focusing on, with regard to how they are spending their budget, or what their priorities are, and how that attention might be distracting them from focus on wellbeing from the workforce.

Tom Ciccotti: Absolutely, so one of the things we’ve come to find over the years – and you and I have known each other from our start at the Wellness Research Institute, and now, Shortlister – part of our rebrand and being a little more agnostic in the areas of the market that we track, is this realization that today’s HR buyer has a finite amount of time, there aren’t enough hours in the day, and budget for the programming that they bring forward to their population in an effort to be more efficient operationally, to be more compliant, and so forth. Sometimes those dollars that may be earmarked for wellness or condition management, or diabetes management, or any of these other programs in a given year, they start to look at other HR technologies to say how do we improve our efficiency as an organization?

The number one thing we asked was what products or services is the HR buyer most commonly focusing their attention on when they aren’t looking at wellness? Number one response with HR IS systems at 28% of respondents; then admin platforms with 23% of respondents; recruitment solutions for 10% -- let’s get the best talent into our organization; rounding out the next five were payroll, bringing automation to all of these different processes, everything I stated previously, as well as payroll; learning and development tools and resources; more of a focus on rewards and recognition for the population. Tying this all together, the point solution came back up, and then finally rounding it out was employee assistance programs – EAP.

Mari Ryan: Okay, that’s interesting because it’s consistent with what I hear from my clients in terms of prioritizing. They’ve got so many things on their plate and they are prioritizing the work that they are doing. So, that’s great to hear how it’s also broadening your scope in terms of the work that you are looking at. Fabulous.

So, Tom, if our audience wants to learn more about Shortlister and the work you are doing, or to obtain a copy of your research report, where can they reach you and find you?

Tom Ciccotti: I welcome them to go to They can find all of our information and the full report that we’ve gone over here. Also, feel free to email me directly at

Mari Ryan: Fabulous, thank you so much for being here. I appreciate all your insights, this great work that you and your team are doing at Shortlister, and grateful for your time, Tom.

Tom Ciccotti: Thanks for having me, Mari, I appreciate it.

[End of audio]

Topics: Worksite Wellness, Wellbeing, worksite wellbeing, workplace wellbeing, wellness, employee wellness, worksite well-being, hr, wellness technology, employee well-being, corporate wellness, well-being technology

Mari Ryan

Written by Mari Ryan

Mari Ryan is the CEO/founder of AdvancingWellness and is a recognized expert in the field of workplace well-being strategy.