A question of data
 

It’s surprising the range of queries people have for their payroll analytics, from the simple: “what is our consolidated global headcount at a single point in time?” to the more complex: “what would be the impact of a change in our vacation carryover policy to our balance sheet accruals?”.

Whether you are mesmerized by colourful graphs and charts, or want to download data for more sophisticated business intelligence-type reporting, the key is to have the data sets to report on in the first place. And that – in a multi-country context – comes down to the quality of your technology aggregation platform, or middleware.

As our latest research paper, Global Payroll Technology Platforms: A critical differentiator in selecting payroll outsourcers”, shows, these platforms bring together data using various functional and technical devices. Different outsourcers have wildly different levels of capability across these areas – from the most basic to fully functional and advanced. And while most will tell you they have a platform, kicking the tires a little can be very revealing.

For example, if you’re trying to group together pay items for consolidated reporting, you can do it based on the categories provided in your payroll’s gross to net report. But in reality, that doesn’t give you much more than your GL reporting, which does a similar thing – albeit from a financial systems perspective. And if you want to cross-reference that data with information held in your global HR system… well good luck with that.

What you really need is different parts of the technology platform working together – so a smart database connecting upstream systems to payroll systems, workflow moving the data around and validating it and then consolidated aggregated reporting on the way out. Oh and add in those colorful charts and graphs in an attractive user portal to make you go all googly-eyed!

The trouble is that while this sounds simple, in reality it’s quite difficult to achieve. If we follow through the data flow on this, firstly, smart payroll databases that are integrated with upstream HRIS and other systems are difficult to build and expensive to maintain. Companies that have multiple HRIS platforms – those that are likely to be asking the simple “how many employees” question – are going to need multiple mappings and master data definitions. And those that have already implemented a single global HRIS are going to need sophisticated interfaces to keep everything in synch.

There’s always a tension between global master data and local payroll information – and reconciling and consolidating these two sides of the equation is not always easy. To get an understanding of an employee’s total compensation package, you need to resolve this tension, so local and global benefits roll up together. And the leading HRIS and payroll vendors have come up with various solutions to achieve this, from opening up screens within their applications to certified integrations. 

The workflow and data validation piece adds a further complication – if only to ensure that when a payroll change is made, this is accurately reflected in the payroll and tagged in the workflow. This requires a deep level of embedding for it to work seamlessly. For example, if a user enters a benefit award for an employee that breaches a company-defined threshold, the system should alert the user with a warning, rather than allowing it to route through, and perhaps be caught on the payslip further down the process.

Finally, integrating the reporting tool is a great example of the difference between basic and advanced platforms. Many systems tag on BI platforms such as Tableau or Cognos for visualization of data outputs. Those that embed the data tools, with payroll logic built into their databases, provide precanned reporting on payroll-specific fields and enable you to cross-reference payroll results with data from other sources will go much further towards answering your advanced queries.

Of course, all of this is possible without an advanced technology platform – with custom coding, mapping and data manipulation – but it’s a lot of work. In our recent article in Global Payroll magazine, Why Technology Platforms Are Critical Differentiators When Selecting Payroll Outsourcers, we compared the new platforms to modern smart phones. You could do many of the things they enable you to do before the cell phone came along – digital photography, GPS, mini apps – but once you have a smart phone, you’d never go back.

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