Since beginning his career in payroll more than two and a half decades ago, Grant Tasker has developed an astute understanding of the ever-evolving state of global payroll and its benefits for multinational companies. Now our Vice President of Payroll in EMEA, Grant is in the position to effect the kinds of process and system changes he knows business leaders both need and appreciate. Here, he sits down with me to discuss significant recent and imminent changes to the payroll industry, how his team applies technology to help manage complexity, and what customers can do to make the most of their global payroll solution.
David Barak: The world of global payroll is already buzzing this year with big changes coming in, such as GDPR, but I’d like to put that into some context. Speaking from your extensive experience in payroll, what would you say are some of the most significant changes you’ve seen in recent years?
Grant Tasker: I’ve worked in the payroll world for more than 25 years now, so dating back to when we were operating big IBM mainframes through to microcomputers and now operating out of the cloud. When it comes to processing payroll, of course, the most important aspect is to ensure that employees are paid accurately and on time. The key difference now is in how the customers manage their payroll data and processing.
Everything now is moving towards the cloud, and customers want access to their data, as quickly as possible and in a secure manor. I think this is particularly true for our bigger customers who operate in a larger area. They want things to be the same, secure, efficient, and accurate.
The focus is really on the centralization of data, access to it, and the most efficient way to export that data into the payroll system. This seems to underscore every other objective in payroll, whether that’s fixing issues, controlling costs, or just getting employees paid. There are many factors that drive payroll, and the key to improving performance lies in understanding and managing the information you put into and get out of your payroll solution.
Traditionally, teams would have to collect, manipulate, and transfer data using very manual processes. They don’t want that anymore. With modern audits, compliance, and everything that goes with it, customers don’t want people touching data and interfering with it. Now those processes can be automated with data traveling both ways between CloudPay and customers. This creates a fast, streamlined, standardized process with savings for our customers that are, in some ways, unmeasurable. That is one of the most significant changes I’ve seen, and really the potential of that is just beginning to be seen.
The other key change has to be the number of integrations available. I’ve been with CloudPay now for nearly seven years, and the increased use and capabilities of system integrations has been transformative in that time. Customers used to have to complete templates to submit all their information to us, but now integrations allow most of that data to be pushed straight through. No intervention, no manual work, and that’s an incredible benefit for customers, particularly from an audit and speed perspective. Especially for bigger customers, integrations are really important, and the primary reason behind that, I feel, is that they want to minimize the manual handling and manipulation of data. They want it to go straight through to CloudPay.
DB: Do you think the growing focus on data is more of a burden or an opportunity for multinational organizations?
GT: It's both. For example, at the moment, a customer may have to cut and paste data from their current system into a template that CloudPay can import. It’s very manual and time-consuming. What can happen now is in an instant, at a click of the finger, data can be pushed straight over into our system and imported without any intervention, without any manual work at all. Therefore, it not only helps the customer with compliance and auditing requirements, but it also helps by saving them time. Ultimately, by freeing up time, they and their payroll teams become more efficient.
DB: Looking ahead at this year, of course, there are some big changes coming. What developments do you anticipate having the biggest impact on customers and on their payroll teams?
GT: For me, there are two big developments taking place that I’ve been both really looking forward to and working hard on. The first is automated data validation, and the second facilitates direct communication between customers and our regional payroll experts.
Automated data validation is a major benefit of the relatively recent application of robotics to global payroll, and it’s significant both for me as a manager and for our customers. Every time we run a payroll, we check and validate the information before it is passed to the customer. The customer then repeats those checks and signs it off. Now, traditionally that would be a time-consuming manual process that required plenty of time and manual identification of issues to be resolved, which would then be re-checked and re-validated once they were fixed.
Automating this process means we're going to have a single global data validation check within the company. So, as a manager, what this means to me is that no matter what the payroll, no matter what the location, no matter what the team, all payroll data is going to be validated in the same way, automatically, and customers will have clear visibility on that. The entire process takes a fraction of the time it used to take and delivers even more accurate and consistent results. It’s really difficult to overstate the value of this for me and my customers.
Similarly, enabling streamlined, direct communication between customers and the country payroll experts who are processing their payroll will have a significant impact on the timeliness and accuracy of an organization’s global payroll. Currently, depending on their provider, customers could be getting support via tickets, email, a messaging app, or telephone calls, which means communications can be fragmented, delayed, or inconsistent.
Now we’re starting to use direct tickets to facilitate communication between the customer and the in-country experts—the person who can best address the customer’s question because they have the subject matter knowledge and are directly involved in the processing of that payroll. The value here is in delivering better, faster support to customers and helping all payroll teams get the information they need when they need it.
DB: What would you say are some of the most challenging EMEA countries for multinational companies to process payroll in?
GT: The most challenging countries will always be the bigger EMEA countries, such as France, Germany, Spain, and Italy. I come from a very strong UK background, and one of the reasons I wanted to get involved in global payroll was to learn about the differences among the various countries. That was very much a focus for me, and it was very surprising to learn how the different countries in EMEA process payrolls differently.
There is a lot of additional work involved in these countries around reporting, absences, retro-calculations, and Local Payroll Information (LPI), but it’s not just the case in big countries. For example, in the United Kingdom, if an employee leaves during the period, you can just pay them at the end of the month in the normal way. But in Hungary, you have to pay them within five working days of their leave date, which means additional supplementary runs.
DB: How does your team manage and delegate the tasks needed to navigate those distinctions and complexities?
GT: The teams are broken into in-house country teams, meaning there is an experienced team lead managing all aspects of their country payroll processing. This includes handling changes to legislation and training their teams.
The team leads will be notified when there are any changes taking place in statutory processes. Some of these can be very minor, in terms of simple changes to tax codes or tax rates within a country. However, certain updates will require a lot of changes, particularly if they include changes to software and reporting. From there, each country team lead will take on the task of ensuring their team is notified of the changes and updates taking place. They’ll form a plan to address the change, which could mean simple training updates or meeting one-to-one with individuals and different teams, such as system developers.
For example, if we were notified of a change that impacted our UK payroll engine, the senior leads within that team would actively work with the development team to ensure those updates take place. Any software update then runs through a major series of tests to ensure it works as expected. Depending on the update, we will then notify our customers of the changes, either by liaising with the customer directly through a WebEx training session or simply by sending a notification of the update.
DB: And how do you manage and monitor the team's performance and ensure that they're delivering to expectations?
GT: I operate regular one-to-ones with all of our team leads, in which we review their payrolls and teams, and look at what sort of errors and issues they are having. We use analytics a lot in that process. Analytics is a great tool because it allows us to actually dive into the data. So rather than simply relying on what we see and hear, we are actually able to run an analytics report and have a look at some of the errors and issues that are coming through before it escalates.
For me as an individual, analytics has been an especially important update over 2017 because it really allows me to dive deeper into the data. So, for example, I can compare how many errors are being made between one team and another team. I can also then go further and see who are the best performing customers within a particular team and which customers or team members need extra help or additional training.
Just as we go through this one-to-one process with the team leads, they perform a similar process with their teams. We’ve just added benchmarks to our analytics, which we will start to use within our customer reviews. Benchmarks are important because they allow you to compare the performance of a country, or customer, against that of other countries and customers. In 2018, I'm really hoping that the benchmarks will help us drive better understanding of performance and provide a bigger picture of exactly where we stand.
DB: What are the main KPIs you look at when you're trying to understand a company's payroll performance, and would those differ at all from what you would recommend that companies look at themselves?
GT: KPIs I generally look at are how many times the payroll is accepted on the first run, errors spotted by the customer, and new and late data. This is much better than simply looking at how many employees were paid accurately and on time. A lot of work could have gone into what appears to be an unremarkable but accurate payroll, when in fact a lot of issues mid-flight had to be corrected.
This is where analytics dashboards are invaluable, and we are adding new benchmark dashboards to make this easier. By reviewing the activity and issues raised at each step of the payroll run, we can see what happened when the payroll ran and work to improve it. These dashboards are available to all our customers, and we typically review issues with customers during our payroll review.
We can look at frequency of errors, types of errors, and where they originate. By looking at the data, we’re able to identify the primary cause of the issue and what we’re able to do to correct it going forward. Was this error caused by a data issue? Was it missing data? Was it inaccurate payroll processing? Once we know that, we can form an action plan.
What’s great about monitoring this data is it often allows you to pick up on something before it becomes an issue. That’s the last thing you want to happen. Keeping customers up to date on this data is important because you want everyone working together from the same information towards the same goal. By having the big picture, we’re able to take fundamental steps to improving the payrolls.
DB: In your experience, what is something that our most successful customers do that could benefit organizations who are expanding or launching their global payroll?
GT: With our best performing customers, what I've tended to find is that there is a key central person leading their global payroll effort. At CloudPay, we always appoint leads who take overall responsibility for a particular area, for EMEA, AMER and APAC. I find it works the same with our customers.
It’s important for a customer to have control over who has access to their data and who is responsible for the specific tasks within their organization. When a customer has a clear understanding of where their data sits, how their data gets to us, and when it should arrive, I often find that those types of customers tend to have much quicker, much better, much cleaner results.
This is a key benefit when it comes to addressing issues and working together to improve payrolls. When a customer has a good grip on their region, process, and data, it’s easier to focus in on any particular issue and quickly fix any challenges.
DB: Just one last question, Grant: Why do you enjoy working in global payroll?
GT: I love working in global payroll. Particularly compared to my early experience focusing on payroll in just the UK, I just love the challenges that global payroll throws up. In EMEA alone, we're processing close to 60 countries, with multiple teams, multiple partners, multiple challenges, multiple customers, multiple integrations. Global payroll is big, it's challenging, and it's exciting—and I think it's very much where the future lies, ultimately. The fact that I am here and engaged in a company providing a global service where we've got so much change going on is exciting. Working with a great group of people as a team, thinking of solutions globally that affect our future and the thousands upon thousands of employees paid by our customers, is an absolute privilege. Plus, the exposure that it gives you allows you to grow as a person. For me, it's just really, really exciting to see it all rolling out, and that's why I love working here inside global payroll.