Published: May 29, 2018

American Payroll Association's 36th Annual Congress with special payroll guest – James Blond – didn’t disappoint. APA produced an excellent week of educational training, payroll trends, James Blond escapades, networking, and a rockin’ “License to Party”. So many hard-working payroll professionals were honored for their dedication to our profession. We welcomed a new payroll president, John Raguz, CPP; heard from outgoing Payroll Woman and Payroll Man of the year, and so many more. We were even treated to an explosion of ping pong balls on stage with Steve Spangler’s #bestdayever.

Of course, there were much needed sessions regarding regulations, laws and policies, that every payroll person needs to stay current and compliant. And there were tracks for processing and finding efficiencies, along with garnishment processing, and understanding taxes.

payroll trends

But what made this, in my opinion, the #bestcongressever (to coin Steve’s phrase)— a new and fresh look at how payroll is making a difference in their organizations. I’ve had a week (and a holiday weekend!) to reflect on the conversations I had and the themes discussed and the one thing that stood out to me is that Payroll is no longer viewed just a cost center. Payroll is evolving and becoming a better business partner and helping to shape policy decisions. In return, Payroll is getting a seat at the table and contributing to the strategy for the business. Here are the three major themes that I heard at this year’s event:

Making payroll data work smarter for the business. Building on the notion that Payroll is becoming a better, more strategic business partner there were a lot of discussions around using payroll data to make more informed business decisions. You could be unifying your platforms into a full suite or consolidating systems. Either helps achieve a centralized view of data to be able to build better visualizations, which is critical when trying to understand the information living in your data. When managers and leaders can see data represented as pictures, charts and graphs that make sense to them, they are able to quickly identify problem areas, highlight good behavior and make better decisions. 

Embrace technology innovations as payroll moves into the future. With all the talk about robots taking over our jobs, I thought it was refreshing to hear forward thinking about how to leverage today’s technologies to be more effective in our role in payroll and how that adds value to the business. With machine learning, i.e. artificial intelligence (AI), you can more easily detect anomalies, ghost employees, under/over payments, variances from pay to pay. All these tasks have historically been done with reports and spreadsheets and the human eye. AI allows these tasks to be completed in a fraction of time, without bias, and provide results quickly saving much needed time and effort to the payroll team. Imagine what a little extra time every pay cycle could do for your payroll team!  

Payroll is expanding and playing a greater role in the employee experience. A very poignant trend is happening - the world of payroll is expanding and opening our minds and roles to be more than a processor. Some of this is driven by globalization, as talked about in “The State of Global Payroll” session, but really it rings true regardless of size of company or where you process payroll. The function of payroll is more than just a paycheck. Payroll creates the first and lasting impression of the company. Payroll is the ever-present touchpoint for an employee’s experience, with each and every payslip produced. Payroll often becomes a customer service support center as well, making the Payroll SME the ideal employee advocate to provide guidance and knowledge to the business leaders and help shape the future of the company.

I’m a big promoter of getting payroll’s voice heard in the business. No other area of the business is there a convergence of HR, policies, time and labor along with wages all in one place. For everyone fortunate enough to attend, I hope you also walked away with a feeling of value and appreciation, and new tools and ideas to take back to your company.

Hat’s off to another successful Congress! #BestCongressEver!