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Mobile Payroll Applications: My Top 3 Questions
Payroll Blog Post

Mobile Payroll Technologies: Are We Ready for What Mobile Can Do?

I have a confession to make…I’m a mobile junkie. I’ve got 4 different mobile devices currently and I’m always on the lookout for what else I can buy to satisfy my thirst. Thank goodness it seems that I’m not alone. For instance, research firm Gartner put out a rather bold prediction that global revenue for mobile data will exceed a trillion dollars by 2015. And even mobile device provider Ericson has weighed in with their own (albeit self-serving) figures that cite by 2020 over 50 billion devices will be connected worldwide. So in other words, it clearly doesn’t look like the appetite for apps is going to be over any time soon—which is music to my ears.

What’s not so clear is what this means for mobility with regards to enterprise applications like payroll software. On the one hand you’ve got figures coming out from ABI Research that say upwards of 250 million enterprise business customers will be handling tasks from a mobile device by 2015. On the other hand though, you can’t escape from the reality that mobile functionalities for business applications are still largely on first-generation platforms; which are still low impact, and only deliver basic information via approval process automation.

Nevertheless, this is changing, and as then Gartner’s Jim Holincheck once put it, “the emerging generation of these mobile capabilities is a re-imagination of the employee, manager, and executive user experience in a way that improves not only user productivity, but also increases usage and engagement”. Maybe that’s why CedarCrestone’s 2011-12 HR Systems Survey identified payroll software as one of the two most widely adopted mobile applications that the industry is seeing. Still, the larger questions that I have been pondering for a while now are what, how, and why. What are organizations looking for in terms of benefits from mobile payroll capabilities? How are these businesses actually using mobile for their payroll processes? And of course…why is it exactly that we need mobile payroll capabilities anyway? So in the immortal words of Adam West, “To the Bat Cave!” (or to the questions I just posed, whatever works).

Mobile Payroll Question #1: What are organizations looking for?

In a phrase, the answer to this question is access and alignment; but at first glance, mobile payroll functionality requirements appear broader than that. Organizations want employees to be able to: access online pay-slips; view net pay and year-to-date pay statements; review deductions; update personal information; edit direct deposit details; monitor 401(k) plans; track FSA balances and transactions; and complete annual benefits enrollment. On top of that though, businesses are also looking for currently available mobile payroll/benefits apps that can carry the tangible benefits of increased efficiencies and reduced costs—elements that can be used to both lessen the administrative burden on payroll staff as well as drive up employee engagement by handing over control and access to DIY payroll and benefits transactions.

Mobile Payroll Question #2: How are businesses using mobile?

The use of mobile devices by employees and managers to access and interact with payroll and benefits data is rapidly becoming a widespread phenomenon. In fact, in 2011 Bloomberg’s BusinessWeek ran an article called “Mobile HR: The Global Challenge”, in which they reported that adoption for these processes was sitting pretty at 32% globally; with the leading region of Asia/Pacific at a respectable 42% while the U.S. and Europe trailed at 27% and 31% respectively. So that addresses the issue of whether businesses actually are using mobile for payroll activities, but it doesn’t tell HOW those businesses are using them. To find that info, I actually had to turn to a Frost & Sullivan report on workforce management, in which the research firm indicated that 40% of companies were using these technologies to gain efficiencies to boost the bottom line. How? By using self-service functionalities for payroll data entry and reviews; earnings/deductions/tax calculations; payroll previews; direct deposit processes; deadline monitoring; and in some cases even reviewing payroll metrics and reports. Granted, not all of the business leaders cited in the company’s report were using the same tool, but these basic functionalities were where the majority of these businesses found their sweet spot.

Mobile Payroll Question #3: Why do we need mobile payroll applications?

Of all the questions that came to mind when thinking about mobile payroll, perhaps the one that got me thinking the most was why this functionality was actually needed. Ever the cynic, my initial thoughts were that early adopters of these technologies were simply enamored by the “next best thing”—content to adopt these newer feature sets without regard to any true substantive value. But then I re-read Ceridian Canada’s 2011 article The Future of Payroll. In it, Ceridian makes the bold claim that, “technological innovation is powering and enabling a critical trend in HR and payroll: the trend from the transactional to the transformational”. Could that be the case for mobile payroll? Is the whole point of mobile capabilities for the payroll function indicative of the push for innovation and transformation? With admitted trepidation, the conclusion I came up with is that (in the case of mobile payroll) transformation can happen with these technologies but it’s not a direct relationship. Here’s why I think this…because upon closer examination, what mobile technology appears to be doing is enabling the delegation of administrative, largely transactional work down to the workforce itself. And in large part this is taking place via more flexible, accessible, 24/7 employee self-service functionality—which leaves payroll/benefits staff to have time freed up to focus on more strategic matters. You’ll get no argument from me there. But, real transformation can only occur if the payroll and benefits teams actually DO something with this new-found freedom. And at its core, this is the crux of the mobile payroll issue (and I suppose any new business technology for that matter)—to transform aspects of the workplace rather than simply use them to make what is already there slicker and faster.

Mobile Payroll Software Questions: Some Concluding Thoughts

Mobile-centric applications and interfaces were featured in the #2 spot for Gartner’s Top Ten Strategic Technology Trends for 2012; and for many businesses this has translated into a seemingly unstoppable trend for this type of payroll automation. But it’s not all smooth sailing unfortunately, because a measured introduction of mobile payroll functionality (aligned to productivity objectives and profitability goals) is still needed; and an aspect that many organizations fail to grasp. As it is with any new business technology, you have to be aware that a fairly rigorous selection process will be called for to ensure that the fit between goals and functionality is right. In fact, research firm CedarCrestone states that “For those considering mobile- or social-enabled applications, if you are not already engaged in these initiatives, as you get started evaluate the social and mobile tools from your current vendor set, again to avoid later integration costs”. That’s all the questions I have for now. Until next time…let’s hear your thoughts.

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