In their first implementation, a customer will get used to working with CloudPay. They are introduced to all our terminology, our documentation, our tools, and the end-to-end process. Then what they find when implementing subsequent countries is that the process is repeatable. They’re really just changing out the country and its specific data requirements.
As a result, our customers tend to find it easier to implement new countries, because they are familiar with the global questionnaire, the payroll calendar, and the rest—only the information looks different for the new country. And we tend to find that people can progress more quickly because the process is easier for them.
One benefit of the predictability in our delivery is that it gives customers comfort. It's a tried and tested methodology. After going through the methodology in the first set of implementations they understand how it works, and that gives them peace of mind for subsequent implementations. This familiarity with a global methodology also benefits existing customers who may be expanding. Maybe they’ve been live in operations for five, six, seven years—they get to follow the same implementation methodology to expand and grow as their business grows.
CP: You’ve been with CloudPay since 2011. Can you name a change you have seen in implementation over that time?
ZW: One big change in the time I've been in implementation is the number of customers implementing on the interface. We didn’t used to have many customers interested in using interfaces, but now we’re seeing more customers moving on to the interface. Some do with their initial payroll transformation and taking the payrolls live, and a lot of our existing customers are now introducing an interface solution. This speaks a lot to the value of our solution, integration, but also to the changing expectation customers have about the integration capabilities among their enterprise applications.
CP: ‘On the interface’ meaning an integration with customers’ HR systems, right?
ZW: Yes, it would be what we call inbound, meaning data coming into the CloudPay application from a customer’s HCM system using our integration interface: CloudPay Connect. It reduces the need to complete Excel templates for key global information. Customers are starting to expect more automated integrations to keep the data in sync so there is one source for truth. We're seeing much more of that during implementation.
CP: So with that in mind, are interfaces and integrations something you recommend companies do in the beginning of a global payroll transformation or roll out later?
ZW: Really it depends on the state of the customer’s HR system. The point of an interface, at the simplest level, is to ensure that the HR system has the same data as the CloudPay system. If a customer is changing their HR software at the same time they’re implementing CloudPay as their global payroll vendor, or if they’re perhaps quite new in their use of an HR system, it may be more efficient and safer to implement the payroll solution first and enable automated integration later.
To set up a payroll, we need an initial data load—some information about the customer and their employees to be able to set them up and test them as part of implementation. So the customer must have that data somewhere and give us that data source. Often customers find out they don’t have all their information in the HR system, or they may have just bought it and are still working through their business processes, including how they're going to use the system and who's going to have access to it.
We tend to find that they still want to move their payroll. Perhaps they have termination periods with their current vendors or are dealing with fragmented legacy systems. The output they get from CloudPay is the same regardless of whether they’re on an interface or template input, so we’ll proceed using the more traditional template process.
In implementation, what customers are really testing is that CloudPay is delivering what they need, that calculations are accurate, everything's working, the filings are happening as expected. We refer to being able to ‘switch on’ integration later because it’s really a switch of the input method.
CP: You’ve been doing this for some time now. Why don't we start with some best practices you’ve uncovered to ensure a successful global payroll implementation?
ZW: I’ll give you three that I give to all of our customers: start simple, avoid the big bang, and choose your time of year wisely.
I've actually just detailed payroll implementation best practices in a blog post for CloudPay, but at a high level, by start simple, I mean that customers can make their implementation journey easier on themselves by beginning with their simplest payroll. There’s a lot of new information to learn and any implementation will involve some process change, so by starting with whichever payroll is easiest for the team, customers can make their transformation a lot smoother.
Avoiding the big bang is about managing your resources, and choosing your time wisely is directly linked to that. Together, these practices help ensure you don’t find yourself facing too many deadlines with too few hours or employees.
CP: In your experience, are there any key indicators of whether a payroll transformation project will be completed on schedule or be delayed?
ZW: Great question. In our experience, the customers who can easily access their payroll data and knowledge generally experience no or very little delays. Projects that go to schedule tend to involve customers with strong internal buy-in, meaning the organization wants this change to happen. They understand why it's happening. They also have strong project management or program direction on their side, so actually a business driver to hit the time scales and go live. Access to the people who know the payroll and understand the payroll can speed things up as well.
However, because we’re talking about large projects, it’s common to have three- or five-year rollouts sometimes, which is a sensible duration. The bit that clients can never predict or control is what may change in their business environment in that time. They could go through a merger, an acquisition, end up selling off an arm of the business, anything like that. Even the successful clients would be subject to that uncontrollable element of business changing naturally over the course of five years.
CP: Interesting. Maybe that helps explain why “How long does implementation take?” is the wrong question to ask.
ZW: Yes, it’s the same sort of question as, "How long is a piece of string?" It really depends. Although the CloudPay methodology is the same, and we go through the same process, every customer we deal with is unique. They have their own requirements, their own set up, their own situations which are all changing when they come to us.
For example, a customer who runs payroll in-house will have ready access to their data, likely understand all their payroll rules and expertise, and know exactly how everything should be calculated. How much time it takes that customer to implement, in one sense, could be a lot quicker. They don't have to go to previous vendors to get information about how their payroll works. They've got all the access there, but there are other variables in play.
It could, for example, take them a long time to implement because they’re probably running a very late payroll run. This is what we see with in-house customers: they accept data as late as possible. That's certainly what I used to do when I ran in-house payroll earlier in my career!
Really there are several key variables that could impact implementation time for different customers. One might be where payroll teams spend their time, which is likely to be very different for in-house customers versus somebody who’s moving from another outsourced payroll provider. For the outsourced customer, implementation time is going to depend a lot on how responsive their current vendor is. How quickly will they provide information? By requesting information, will the customer reveal that they’re leaving them? Is that going to perhaps change the relationship and their responsiveness?
Then there are plenty of factors that impact implementation time regardless of provider. Are you implementing at various times of the year? Are you configuring and testing around periods when your live payrolls are busy? Annual pay reviews, bonuses, things like that could be happening, and customers obviously have to prioritize their live payrolls.
Vacation periods are another example of potential complications on a couple fronts. You could be processing a lot of vacation, for example, in the summer in Western Europe or over Christmas in December. It’s more difficult to predict how long it’s going to take, because you don’t know. You can’t be sure of how easy it will be to get access to your data, and you don’t know how keen everybody will be to work on it.
Finally, some countries are harder than others. For certain countries, customers don't need a huge amount of historical data. However, for Brazil, they have to provide us with five years’ worth of year-to-date information.
The duration of any implementation is the mix of all of these things. I couldn't give you an answer that says, "You need 10 hours here, 20 hours here, and within three weeks, everything will be done." There are too many factors, including some change management and personal engagement, that can vary tremendously from customer to customer.
CP: Given the complexity and variables involved in a successful global payroll implementation, how does your team delegate tasks and help customers through the process?
ZW: We offer training throughout the project, including standard and ad hoc training based on customer needs. Our customers know that they've got a dedicated CloudPay implementation team, and we know our product inside out.
Because we’ve completed many implementations across the globe, we tend to get a sense of whether a customer is struggling or going off-track, so we will call that out. We jump into problem-solving and guiding the customer through the process, identifying which items can be closed, what can be moved forward. We try to keep the momentum building in the project and help customers continue to deliver, even if it’s perhaps not in the order they expected.
We also value consistency for the customer throughout implementation. The implementation consultant assigned to a customer is the person who sets up the payroll and CloudPay, and also then does the first live payroll run. There’s a natural benefit for customers of getting to know and work with the same individuals throughout the project, doing the first run, then doing the hand-over to operations.
What customers also get through CloudPay is a build-up of history, so we get to know them just as they get to know us. This works to our benefit as well, and as much as we can, we'll use the same project team members for future rollouts. Just as our customers come to rely on us, we get to know their quirks and particular requirements, which helps every stage move smoothly.
CP: Finally, Zoe, why do you like working in global payroll?
ZW: I think it's the variety. The payroll process is always similar, of course: collect input, process output, pay people, make statutory filings. That is what payroll is, but what I like is how varied the details can be. At CloudPay, we're really lucky to work with customers from all industries and sectors, all over the world, with all different requirements, different HR systems, different setups their side. So implementation is always varied in terms of what it takes to set up a customer and get them through that journey. Sometimes things don’t go smoothly or a customer struggles with a particularly difficult rollout, but helping them through it and seeing them realize the benefits and acknowledge what they achieved can be really satisfying.