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Dave Foxall Mobile Payroll & Benefits Administration: Are We There Yet?

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 By Dave Foxall

Leveraging Mobile Payroll and Benefits: The Battle for Access

When it comes to the latest trends in mobile payroll and benefits administration, it would appear as though the hype rather than the truth continues. For instance, just recently an article in Employee Benefit News (Mobile Tech Presents Big Opportunity for HR) Doug Ring, chief technology officer with Peoplefluent, is quoted as saying “The explosion of mobile technology presents an enormous opportunity for HR… Take these tools, get them into the hands of people doing the work and take what has traditionally been seen as the drudgery around HR and turn it into an engaging, enlightening and, dare I say, fun experience”. Certainly the opportunity is there; and on face value, it would appear that organizations are falling over themselves to be mobile adopters in all walks of business life. In fact, mobile-centric applications and interfaces were featured at the #2 spot in Gartner’s Top Ten Strategic Technology Trends for 2012. Likewise, in the Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies this year, Gartner’s Jackie Fenn summarized that, “Themes from this year… include ongoing interest and activity in social media, cloud computing and mobile…technologies [which] continue to be part of most of our client’s short- and long-range plans”. As for payroll and benefits though, CedarCrestone’s 2011-12 HR Systems Survey took the hype up even higher—identifying it as one of the two most widely adopted mobile applications (the other being recruitment) and predicting a 50% adoption boost during 2012.

The Mobile Payroll and Benefits Functionality Problem

However, being presented with opportunity is one thing, seizing it is another. The challenge with any new technology (whether it be mobile, cloud, social media, etc.) is to leverage a quantum leap, to transform aspects of the workplace rather than simply use them to make what we already have shinier, slicker, and faster. So this begs the question, what are we doing with our emerging mobile access to payroll and benefits?

Well, at first glance, the widely available functionality appears broad. For instance, we can now: access online payslips; 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; participate in annual benefits enrollment; and leverage associated functions that impact on payroll accuracy such as scheduling, shift-swapping, remote punching in, and leave/time off requests. And that’s just for employees! Now employers (small to medium businesses at least) have the capability to calculate and run their payroll on their move using apps such as ADP’s RUN, SurePayroll, and PayrollGuru.

But there’s a catch. Indeed, what is immediately noticeable about the above list of functions is that it includes very little that is new. All of these transactions were (and are) available to the workforce via employee self-service on any desk-bound web browser in the office and before that by contacting the payroll/benefits team. Independent HR technology analyst, Bill Kutik has stated that "mobile HR is the most overhyped trend because not enough vendors are thinking about the changes they need to make in their applications to exploit the particular qualities of mobile platforms… [and]…if vendors are simply throwing the whole application onto the iPad, there's no value-add there at all except that it's lighter to carry around". As such, it’s fairly clear that mobile payroll and benefits offerings for the most part are still very much “first generation”—and are failing to provide much in the way of genuine innovations mobile access leverage.

Mobile Payroll and Benefits administration – Final Thoughts

Naturally, software vendors and service providers are rather more enthusiastic. A 2011 article from Ceridian Canada, The Future of Payroll states, “technological innovation is powering and enabling another critical trend in HR and payroll: the trend from transactional to transformational HR.” But, it must be said that in the case of mobile payroll there is currently no direct relationship. On closer examination, what mobile payroll applications appear to be doing is enabling the passing on of administrative transactional work to the workforce via more flexible, accessible, 24/7 employee self-service functionality; leaving payroll/benefits staff to focus on more strategic matters. This is, of course entirely as it should be. However, the transformational aspect lies solely in what the payroll/benefits team then does with its newly-acquired “free” time. The logical next step then is a mobile payroll and benefits app that offers something new to the users (i.e. the workforce) other than simply easy access.

Currently available mobile payroll and benefits applications for both employees and employers carry real benefits for organizations (e.g. increased efficiency, reduced costs, etc.) which can be used to effectively drive up employee engagement by handing over control and access to DIY payroll and benefits transactions—simultaneously lessening the administrative burden on the payroll and benefits teams. However, in another sense the opportunity remains a promise unfulfilled. Payroll and benefits management has been set free from the desktop but it remains to be fully seen what use that freedom will be put to. End

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The challenge with any new technology (whether it be mobile, cloud, social media, etc.) is to leverage a quantum leap; to transform aspects of the workplace rather than simply use them to make what we already have shinier, slicker, and faster.”



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