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By Bruce van Wyk, Director, PaySpace

Technology is advancing rapidly to help businesses expand across borders in pursuit of new opportunities. Cloud software, for example, has fundamentally changed how the payroll function operates. With greater access to information and automated administrative assistance, payroll professionals are no longer simply expected to input data.

Bruce Van Wyk

Bruce Van Wyk

They now also have to analyse information, identify trends and patterns and make recommendations for improvement. Responsible for a global mandate in a highly competitive world, today’s payroll administrators need to understand the complexities of implementing and running a multinational payroll.

This means that payroll can’t sit in a silo, or shy away from new technologies. It must work closely with other departments and embrace digital innovation – which requires payroll administrators with the right skills and knowledge to step outside their comfort zones and collaborate effectively.

As the next generation of payroll professionals prepare to join the force, here is an outline of the main skills and characteristics they will need to ensure their future success and relevance.

  • The ability to think strategically

To do their job as best as they can, the next generation payroll administrators need a holistic view of the company they work for, and the strategic thinking ability to put this knowledge to good use. With a full view of how the business functions across various departments, payroll administrators should be able to identify the role each employee plays in making things run smoothly.

Gone are the days when each business division worked independently from another. The next generation of payroll professionals must have an in-depth knowledge of not just the payroll function – but crucially, HR and finance too. Simply knowing how much an employee should be paid is not enough for the next generation payroll administrator. They also need to know where a specific staff member is in their employment journey – has this person recently been promoted, for example, or have they been delivering excellent results? With this information at hand they can make informed recommendations with regards to salary increases and bonuses.

But insight into HR and payroll data alone is not enough. The payroll department also needs insight into the business’ finances as a whole. For many organisations, people costs are their biggest operating expense. Having insight into the business’ finances – combined with in depth HR knowledge – will enable payroll administrators to make informed recommendations on how this cost should be managed.

Payroll professionals that are aware of the business’ financial position and objectives can truly take a seat at the boardroom table and participate in high-level business decision-making. The next generation payroll administrator should be ready and willing to take on this responsibility.

  • An aptitude for technology 

The next generation of payroll administrators needs to eat, think, drink and dream technology. They’ll have an almost insatiable hunger for new innovations and relentlessly pursue new automated business technologies that help them do their jobs better.

In the past, HR and payroll management relied heavily on administrative tasks and manual oversight, making payroll a laborious job. Employee leave requests, profile updates, salary gross ups and iterative tax calculations are time-consuming tasks that push long-term strategic work to the bottom of the pile.

Luckily new technologies, like Business Intelligence (BI), analytics and the imminent world of Artificial Intelligence (AI) – all of which strive for truly automated systems – can liberate payroll teams from mundane, repetitive administrative work. This gives them more time and resources to focus on business-critical work like expansion planning.

The power of current BI and the future of AI is that it can be applied to almost any payroll function across all sectors, industries and businesses. Applications such as raw data filtration and validation, business information mining and predictive information supply are relevant to most, if not all organisations operating in today’s digital age.

What’s more, these payroll professionals of the future will have a firm grasp on system integration and the application program interface (API) world. Familiar with this lay of the land, they’ll understand which best of breed apps to utilise for seamless payroll administration. They will embrace software that integrates with each other, like accounting software that feeds data directly into the company’s payroll system or vice versa. Or HR management technology that automatically updates the payroll system and vice versa when an employee has taken leave, for example.

The next generation of tech-savvy payroll administrators will investigate how and where technology can ease their administrative workload – and help them meet the company’s business goals.

  • An agile attitude in an ever-changing environment

These days, one doesn’t start their career as a payroll administrator and retire as one 30 or so years later. Today’s workplace is a moveable feast. Fuelled by an uncertain global economy, people are working for much longer and can change positions quite quickly.

The current market demands workers with the ability to transform their skillsets in a short period of time, especially in the payroll department.

An agile attitude to payroll management is crucial to do business in a world that is looking for lucrative new territories in which to expand. Take Africa for example. In most African countries, legislation can change overnight without any warning. An inexperienced payroll administrator who is slow to respond will unwittingly cause problems for the business – perhaps even resulting in an expensive penalty for non-compliance.

Similarly, technology enables companies to expand their operations much more easily and rapidly, and payroll administrators have to be able to adapt to managing new territories and employees, without any disruption to the business.

To flourish in this career – even if just for a few years – the next generation of payroll administrators must be agile. Mediocre skills and a lethargic attitude is simply not an option.

Today’s business environment calls for payroll professionals who are unafraid of technology, agile and ambitious. Payroll management no longer simply rests on inputting data – the next generation payroll administrator will be a strategic player in the business, using data to analyse trends and drive the company forward.

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