Guest writer, podcast producer
November 24, 2020 • 4 min read
Back in the early 1980s, Microsoft unveiled Multiplan, which eventually morphed into the most popular spreadsheet application in the world: Excel. Of the many use cases for Excel, payroll has to be right up there in the top 10. And slice this further into slivers of functionality and you get data transfer, data validation, task management, and so on. For this post, I'll focus on the benefits of leaving Excel behind and using automation to help with data collection or payroll. In other words, how more efficient you can be as an organisation if you automate and process multiple data streams.
Let's start with turning Excel off. Go on, do it. Let the long, lingering shutdown process happen and take a deep breath because here's where your new life begins.
Excel is actually a very capable spreadsheet application. It can help you analyse data, crunch numbers, process information and store everything in one place. Is it clunky, unwieldy and sometimes difficult to understand? Oh yes. Like all software applications, there are pros and cons. Where Excel has excelled is in making us believe it's the only answer to lots of problems. That may have been true in 1995, but right now we're enjoying an era of cloud services, automation, nanotechnology and mobile ubiquity. There are now answers to questions we haven't even asked yet.
Over time, we adopted Excel to fit across multiple scenarios, and Microsoft responded in kind by bloating it with complexity to accommodate different use cases. But let's get over the psychology of why we stick with things that are no longer suited to the job, and look at the issue in hand: gathering data if you're a payroll officer.
There are many routine tasks for a typical payroll officer. In a nutshell, they maintain a payroll processing system and associated records by gathering, calculating and inputting data. I know, it sounds like fun, but it's a laborious stage of the payroll process. It's also where errors occur, as data comes from multiple sources in multiple formats. To handle the influx of data from different departments in different regions (often in different languages and currencies), a remarkable 52% of UK HR and payroll managers in private-sector companies are still using spreadsheets. (More details here.)
The dashboard these payroll specialists are using to manage this data is Excel. Other spreadsheet software may be used, but we all know it's probably Excel. The antidote to spreadsheets are software services that are faster, more accurate and more compliant. Think of Gusto, Namely and Zenefits – all able to take care of payroll as well as numerous other HR and accountancy features.
RPA (robotic process automation) is the princess who kisses the frog. Not only does RPA help to collect data from multiple sources, it processes the information and removes the likelihood of human error. With 76% of survey respondents admitting to having failed to pay employees correctly or on time an average of four times over the past 12 months, you can't afford errors in data gathering and processing. I read that half of workers in the US would start looking for a new job if they experienced problems (only two) with their pay cheques.
Payroll officers should be engaged with more important tasks, leaving RPA to handle the data on their behalf. Automated solutions save time and effort by managing repetitive tasks, and provide business intelligence opportunities you may not have considered.
With so much data to process, and with versions of files laying dormant and undiscovered on desktops and laptops around the world, it's a minefield of security risk! RPA could be used to facilitate not just the gathering and processing of multiple formats, but its security too. Imagine a global payroll operation where RPA is the first port of call for the raw data. It's the concept of a single database that automatically serves the global payroll solution and the human resource management system (HRIS). This is sometimes called a single source of truth (SSoT).
So many acronyms, so little time. We can discuss data transfer within payroll systems in another post, but if you consider the strength of a single source of truth, whereby RPA handles raw data, multiple versions, currencies, languages and variables such as bonus payments and salary increases, and apply this strength to the actual data collection, you minimise security risk. Outdated sensitive data is stored willy-nilly on computers around the world. With a global payroll solution, you render this scenario obsolete.
I often write business and technology articles with people in mind. It's too easy to become bogged down with the technicalities of this great stuff we call technology, but there's a human behind all of it. And for payroll, there are humans all over the place and most of them want to be paid the right amount at the right time. With RPA, payroll officers can reduce the time it takes to get through the tedious, laborious, difficult tasks and make sure valuable employees stick around!
By dumping the spreadsheet as the focal point for payroll data collection, you'll increase cost and time efficiency, security and happiness. Yes, the happiness of people. And that's what we're aiming for, right? Make people happy – robots are always happy (unless you're grumpy C-3PO, who probably runs on spreadsheet architecture).
And the reason so many people still use spreadsheets for data collection? "Things have always been done this way." When you hear this sentence, run. Run as fast as you can.Back to blog list