Why the Automation Revolution Has (Finally) Come for Payroll

From check printers to gross-to-net calculators and everything in between, global payroll has always required technology – but that doesn’t make it a particularly tech-enabled area of the enterprise.

Whether conducting payroll operations in-house or through a global network of vendor-partners, multinational payroll teams have long relied on so-called ‘legacy’ technologies: infrastructure-heavy (or even hardware-bound) solutions that migrated the traditional paper-based payroll process to the Internet. More recently, however, cloud-based “software-as-a-service” technology has seen increased adoption in the space – equipping payroll professionals with more modern, lightweight, and easy-to-use tools for executing global payroll in an end-to-end way.

Yet while the move to “the cloud” is a major advancement for payroll, it’s not an endgame in itself. Just as legacy solutions moved the manual payroll process online without revolutionizing that process, many cloud solutions providers simply migrated legacy approaches to payroll into their SaaS technologies. As such, even many of the best-known cloud solutions in the payroll sector remain bound to manual uploads, non-standardized processes, and disparate data.

But thanks to innovators in global payroll, the payroll game is changing – and finally allowing payroll professionals and their IT teams to enjoy the true benefits of cloud transformation: more automated, standardized processes and higher quality data.

Why now? In part, it’s simply payroll’s turn. Almost every other global business function has already enjoyed its moment in the ‘automation revolution’: CRM technologies and marketing automation systems have turned business development and account management into data-driven disciplines; HR and Finance teams rely on sophisticated enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and workforce management solutions to automate day-to-day responsibilities and power their decision making with high-quality ‘people intelligence.’


Now that cloud innovation is infiltrating payroll in a more holistic way, multinational enterprises are increasingly able to enjoy the similar benefits and opportunities borne from high-quality ‘payroll intelligence.’ Here are several key advancements that are helping stronger automation make a major impact in the world of payroll.

Integrations & APIs: Lessening the manual burdens of uploads & transfers while standardizing data

Given payroll’s unique position as both part of, and separate from, its typical parent functions of HR and Finance, executing payroll successfully involves both proprietary payroll technology and high-volume collaboration with other business technology systems. Yet whereas the ‘first wave’ solutions of payroll technology operated with a high-touch approach to integration – heavy on error-prone data entry and manual uploads – more modern cloud-based global payroll solutions are taking a sophisticated approach to integration

Through certified connectors and application program interfaces (APIs), the most advanced global payroll technologies can integrate seamlessly with leading human capital management (HCM) and ERP software, enabling two-way data transfers that lessen time and manual effort involved in importing and exporting payroll information. When paired with automated data validation, to check the accuracy and completeness of information loaded to a cloud system, secure integrations among commonly used systems help organizations lower processing times, lower error rates, and lessen the need to refile or reprocess payrolls.

Workflow Optimization: Eliminating offline tools & creating common-sense process enhancements

Once data is loaded to an organization’s various payroll solutions, it goes through each system’s payroll process. With the average global organization relying on 3.7 payroll systems – and large organizations often relying on dozens more – executing payroll across the globe means sending and collecting disparate data from disparate systems with disparate workflows. Managing all of those fragmented processes, and aggregating all of that siloed data, often leads to errors and sucks up organizations’ staff time and effort. 

By consolidating global payroll into one system with common sense workflow automation features, organizations can lessen the operational and infrastructural burdens of managing disparate systems and inject new efficiencies into the payroll process. With holistic digital payroll calendars, for example, teams can better allocate staff resources by gaining a single view into statuses and timelines across all payrolls (without relying on error-prone, excel-bound payroll calendars). When integrated with cloud-based communication portals, calendar-driven workflows can be audited against the communication cycles that powered their processing.

Analytics: Delivering data-powered insights to drive across-the-board improvements

Given its unique positioning in the enterprise, payroll is a unique data set that houses information no other enterprise application holds. As a result, it can provide immense strategic value to those organizations interested to assess their costs, optimize their payroll performance, or engage in more data-driven analysis regarding capacity planning and productivity tracking. Yet most systems fail to deliver the transparency to bring insights out of the “black box” of payroll.

Thanks to cloud technology and automation, payroll analytics is becoming a place of real-time intelligence and boardroom insights – not just look-back reports based on monthly or quarterly data. When payroll is conducted through an accurate, well-maintained system of record equipped with global payroll analytics functionality, organizations can benchmark their performance more easily, hold vendor partners accountable for their performance, and invest in lowering processing times through continuous investment in improvement. Ultimately, by reimagining the payroll process, today’s automated cloud solutions are not just revolutionizing payroll – they’re also revolutionizing payroll’s significance to the enterprise.