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An Experts Idea On How To Get More Out of Your Payroll & HR Applications

Take a fresh look at old stalwarts like payroll and HR systems

For many IT departments, the focus of long-range technology and strategy projects center on technically-fascinating, cutting edge topics such as cloud computing, software as a service, open source software, virtualization or green IT. While these innovative topics may be relevant to pursuing the business' interest, too often companies look at these types of new initiatives at the expense of existing, core critical business processes such as payroll and human resources (HR).

That needs to change for organizations to get the most out of what they've got, said John Mancini, President of non-profit group AIIM, based in Silver Spring, MD, which helps business users understand the challenges associated with managing content and business processes.

Payroll and human resources are not exciting topics, Mancini said, "but they are vitally important and there are a lot of opportunities for companies "to make useful improvements and process upgrades." They are core business processes that any enterprise has to maintain, including many critical but non-sexy functions such as invoice processing, HR documentation and other back-end processes.

What's needed, according to Mancini, is an inward-looking approach by management to determine just how important these not-so-exciting applications and processes are to their operations.

Both payroll and HR applications tend to have two characteristics that are very important to business, he said. "They tend to involve a lot of ad-hoc, unstructured documentation coming in from a lot of different sources, and putting a structure around that is very important." Those well defined, constant workflows are critical to maintain and build upon, because without them, systems and employee services can break down very quickly, Mancini said.

The other key is that there's a lot to keep track of in the data streams for both payroll and HR systems and the staff who deal with all of that data have to stay on their toes, Mancini advised. "There are a lot of compliance-oriented mandates that you have to pay constant attention to," such as regulatory rule changes and even the occasional lawsuits from rejected applicants or disgruntled former employees. "If you don't have these types of processes under control, then you're probably paying more than you should be for those practices and you're likely exposing yourself to risks from someone who wants to come after you."

Those kinds of business processes pose solvable opportunities for most businesses to get more out of their oft-overlooked payroll and IT systems, he argued. "You can start looking for how you can streamline these processes," he said. "Everybody has them. And it's a hell of a lot easier to standardize these kinds of scenarios than it is to bring in a complex new drug process or a new insurance claim process. Those usually have more wrinkles and require more project management."

The advantage of taking a closer look at these core processes is that because they are so critical to your organization, "you can get a higher payback from a risk management perspective, for a pretty modest investment," Mancini said. "It's kind of the low-hanging fruit of the document management industry."

Such improvements can be beneficial for staff because every organization, from small to large, has some type of payroll and HR processes, Mancini said. "When you look at the applicability of some of these kinds of solutions given the size of a company, an all-encompassing ERP system is not going to reach down and fit into companies of every size. For small businesses, that may not make sense. But with stand-alone business systems, you can get pretty granular even for a small business when it comes down to automating HR processing, invoice processing and more."

So where do you start to take a look for changes that your company can make to improve your core payroll and HR processes to save money, speed your systems, increase efficiencies and better serve your employees? A great place to begin, Mancini advises, is for companies to look closely at their businesses and ask themselves three questions:

  1. Has your business been in any regulatory or compliance trouble because of shortcomings in your payroll or HR applications? Have you ever been unable to quickly and adequately produce a document that you needed or that was requested by an agency? You should do these kinds of self-focused, qualitative risk assessments to determine your real world needs.

  2. Are your staff truly satisfied with the timeliness in which they are being served by the payroll and HR people and existing processes inside your company? Be honest about the answers to this important question.

  3. Do you have estimates on how much investment these processes might be causing your company on the fringes? If everyone is fine and if your existing payroll and HR processes are not causing any pain, then you're probably okay to spend your time making improvements and changes in other areas, Mancini said. Usually, though, that's not the case. Most companies inadvertently continue to maintain existing HR and payroll processes that annoy staff, instead of making process and system improvements that wouldn't necessarily cost a lot of money, he said.

Once you gather some answers to these questions, you can then begin to look and see what related changes might be most beneficial for your company. Taking a fresh look at old stalwarts like payroll and HR and finding useful improvements that may have been right under your nose is a low cost investment that many companies fail to recognize.

It's also a great reminder that not all of the best IT changes and upgrades have to be completely new and revolutionary to have a measurable and sustained impact. Sometimes, working with what you've already got can be a brilliant strategy that leads to visible improvements for your business - and from your employees. Where can you take your payroll and HR systems today? | Human Resources Management & Payroll Systems Blog