Innovation is coming to the payroll industry and not before time. This innovation will see the deployment of cloud-based technology designed to speed up, improve and streamline the global payroll process. One of the current industry buzzwords in the payroll space is zero touch.
The phrase zero touched payroll brings to mind images involving robotics or artificial intelligence which will automate a previously manual heavy payroll process. But is this image accurate and does it convey what is actually happening in the industry at present when it comes to payroll innovation?
In this article, we’ll examine what the phrase means, whether or not it is likely to become mainstream and if it can truly deliver on the promise of its title.
The need is there
Multinational companies with ambitions to expand into new countries will face the inevitable question as to how they’re going to pay their employees in these various locations. There is a lot more to global payroll than simply arranging for some international bank transactions to happen on a periodic basis. Local country laws and regulations, tax nuances, time zone differences, national and bank holidays, health& pension contributions and compliance particulars all come into the mix in what can be a complex and multilayered global payroll infrastructure.
You might assume that for modern payroll departments to navigate all of the above, they would be equipped with the most cutting edge and innovative technology in the industry. Sadly, this has never really been the case for payroll, a crucial function that somehow managed to miss the mass digitalization applied to other departments in the last decade. If the payroll department does not currently have the necessary technology, can it really be expected to move over to a zero-touch process- the name alone demands innovation of the highest level.
But what is zero touch payroll?
Zero touch payroll is maybe a bit of an exaggeration, the name sounds impressive so people creating business cases for tech investment like the impact it has. The reality is that human intervention and supervision will likely always play a role in payroll calculations due to the various moving parts that only increase as companies scale and expand across international borders.
But payroll software technology and applications have a huge role to play- especially if they can introduce a level of automation that will speed up the payroll process and greatly reduce the likelihood of manual input errors. To this extent, zero touch is about the removal of several processes or steps that previously relied on excessive manual inputs. These processes are more prone to human error; examples would be the use of spreadsheets and email. Automating these will ensure that they are done quicker, and the risk of error is removed from the process. So perhaps, low touch payroll is a better description of a payroll process that moves from manual inputs to a highly automated structure.
Zero touch is also about avoiding duplication of inputs across HCM and global payroll systems where disparate systems created a need for doubling up on workloads by re-entering data across different systems. Zero touch would mean a level of technology put in place to ensure any data sent to or received from a payroll provider could be performed in one go.
Faster, smarter, better.
Zero touch is unlikely to ever be a simple case of pressing a button to deliver global payroll across several different countries and even continents. It is more likely that it will be a phrase associated with highly automated payroll services which allow for a number of processes to run in the background in an automated fashion. These processes will still be supervised by payroll professionals, but they will no longer require constant manual effort and checking procedures. They will therefore introduce a degree of speed, agility and efficiency that may have been missing.
Payroll professionals will always be in favor of technology that can do the heavy lifting and free up their time- as long as this technology is intuitive, easy to use and the benefits are clear to see for everyone. Zero touch payroll involves continuous smart calculations, audit trails, predictive analytics and other usable business intelligence. And this can be expected to take place in a of cloud-based environment where payroll professionals can see activity take place in real time and extract reporting from readily available data.
This would allow for a more efficient use of internal resources at many multinationals- especially since most payroll teams are already stretched to capacity when it comes to process management.
As the name suggests, zero touch sounds like something tech led companies with a digital mindset might look to adopt quickly. If they already use innovative technology to drive core business processes, then they will believe a similar approach has every chance of being successful when it comes to global payroll. The speed and efficiency rewards that come with zero touch would also be of value to companies who are scaling quickly and cannot risk any competitive edge being undermined by slow and dated payroll processing methods. They will be on the lookout for software that will introduce automation to avoid manual or duplicative data flows. Technology which enables easy ‘go live’ in growth markets will match their business approach and internal investment strategy. They also tend to make decisions faster when it comes to adopting new technology.
It also has strong appeal for mature international companies who are looking to reduce complexities and introduce operational efficiencies to their extensive global payroll operations. Companies like this tend to have a hybrid payroll model with a broad mix of vendors and a payroll process that is struggling under the weight of legacy systems that lack the required digital power to unburden them. Interest will also be high at companies with complex compliance requirements around payroll – leadership teams need their payroll professionals to have more time to meet compliance and regulation responsibilities – a zero touch payroll process could free up some valuable resource time and therefore be very appealing. Any company coming to the end of their vendor contracts will also be interested in learning about who can help them implement zero touch payroll.
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