1. Home>
  2. Resources>
  3. Payroll>

How Technology is Optimising HR & Payroll Effectiveness

Investing in HR/Payroll technology has proven to be one of the most effective ways for businesses to reduce costs, improve productivity, and increase employee engagement and satisfaction, while also driving sales. 

So how can industries with complex workforces – such as Retail and Hospitality – be more agile and efficient, so they can focus on evolving their business to meet the demands of the future? 

Our recent webinar brought brings together industry experts to look at the reorganisation of the retail workforce, and the role of technology, using real-world examples of organisations who are successfully navigating this landscape to focus on revenue-generating activities. Here we outline five key takeaways from the webinar, featuring valuable insights from two thought-leading HR & Payroll experts. 


  • Mandy Hawley (Partner and Channel Director) – SD Worx 
  • Devyani Vaishampayan (CEO) – The HR Tech Partnership 

Key Takeaways 

How the retail evolution is driving change in HR & Payroll technology 

We see constant change, change in industry, technology, legislation, globalisation, and, of course, the pandemic – and all impact how businesses operate and how they need to be supported. From a retail perspective, the huge and sustained move from bricks and mortar stores to online and eCommerce means that traditional retailers have quickly had to make the move to be tech and distribution experts. 

  • Developing business models and ecosystems requires different technologies, collaboration, and support from technology partners and suppliers, as well as personalisation, and convenience. 
  • All the expectations of businesses and consumers now mirror the expectations of HR, payroll and employees. The key to success is around agility, scalability, speed and flexibility of businesses to support. 

There are some other enormous changes in retail. A lot of these changes would have happened, eventually. They’ve just been sped up because of events in the economy. And we’re now in a world between lockdown and reopening. Consumer behaviour has changed forever.” – Mandy Hawley, Partner and Channel Director, SD Worx 

  • Retailers with robust eCommerce sites, and retailers that have modern technology, could quickly pivot their operations to respond to different requirements, leading to a realisation that this speed, flexibility and agility is also required in HR and Payroll, to support changing business models, and a digital business and a constantly changing environment. 
  • There are many changes in how retailers operate – mergers, acquisitions, franchise models, hybrid working, globalisation. All these bring different pressures on HR and Payroll departments how to support that business. One of the real key things in that area is data and insight. 

2. Why it’s time for back-office functions to catch up with front-of-house consumer tech 

  • A recent McKinsey study said that funding for digital initiatives had risen quicker than any other funded initiative. Digital initiatives have taken off up to 2020, by 25 times and, in some instances, 40 times more rapidly than other initiatives. 
  • It can damage employer brands if back-office functions aren't meeting those requirements of consumer front-office functions are older legacy tech platforms, or even cloud technology platforms that were put in 10 years ago.  

    Poll #1 – Is your back-office employee technology matching your front office consumer technology?

    1. Completely – 15%
    2. Mostly – 38%
    3. Partially – 38%
    4. Not at all – 7%
    5. Don’t know – 2%

    Only 15% said their back-office systems match their front-office technologies. Now is the time for back-office functions to catch up with front of house consumer technology. 

      • Business models are now turning digital, particularly on the retail side. You can’t have a business model that's digital, but then have an HR function that is still quite traditional. The pressure on HR – irrespective of what function it is, whether it's payroll or recruitment – is going to increase and we need to try and adopt newer technology. 

      The biggest factor is going to be employee experience. There is no doubt. It’s the back-end. It’s a very, very big part of the input that goes to employees.” – Devyani Vaishampayan, CEO, The HR Tech Partnership 

      • There's a real opportunity for back-office to play a much bigger role around the whole employee experience piece, but also help businesses reduce cost and become far more agile. 
      • Older technologies are coming out of life now and becoming very expensive to keep going. It takes a long time to affect change. The benefits of buying into latest tech are now huge. From a business perspective, we’re starting to see the business case for that change being much more understood. 

      3. How the way we pay and support our people has changed  

      What has changed from their perspective and how we treat them as employers? 

      • The traditional payroll model is changing as labour is becoming less and less fit for purpose, and less and less understood by working individuals – it doesn’t fit with the way people want to live their lives. 
      • From an employee point of view, is it appropriate anymore for you to have to wait until the last day of the month to get paid for all the hours you’ve worked? Somebody may work overtime for a particular two weeks because they're going on holiday the week after. This allows people to manage their life and their money in the way they actually want to.  
      • The big trend is around education. There is a responsibility from a business point of view on education and financial and emotional wellbeing for individuals, but also in giving them the flexibility to work and interact with the business the way that works for them. 

      For retail businesses, it’s very clear that a lot with traditional frontline staff are getting automated. Equally, the shift in roles is moving to skill-sets that probably could be sourced from anywhere. Payroll systems have to now think about it slightly differently. If you want to get paid as soon as you’ve put in the hours, today, there is technology that can help you with that. HR and Payroll managers must ensure that the focus is on the employee, not just what’s convenient for the organisation. - Devyani Vaishampayan 

      • A level of increased feedback coaching and mentoring – very human-centric processes, which can be aided in a big way using AI solutions – is specifically coming to payroll. 

      4. How the right HR solutions can improve the lives of managers 

      Skills are changing. The adoption of automation and AI takes care of some of those routine things that, at the moment, are just crank handles that spit out this month’s payroll. Are we able to offer self-service to our employees? What do you think are the skills and capabilities that the HR manager of the future is now going to need? 

      The last couple of years have been very tough on HR managers. I think the pandemic, the speed of change, and now the whole move to a hybrid workplace policy. But being the guardian of employee engagement and business has been a great opportunity, but has also put additional pressure on limited time and budgets. – Devyani Vaishampayan 

      • Think strategically and don’t treat your role as a transactional role. There’s also a mind-shift change. No one knows the answers right now. There will be very few HR heads who know exactly what needs to happen and how it’s all going to pan out. But, at the same time, you can’t sit still. 
      • In terms of hard skills, data and analytics are important. It doesn't matter which job you do in today's world. But particularly if you're in reward and payroll, where there's a mine of information, you could use this differently and become the insightful leader the rest of the HR team needs. There's genuine opportunity there in up-scaling yourself from data and analytics. Maybe we all have to become data scientists in order to be HR professionals. 

        Poll #2 – Do you see the use of AI and digital technology as an opportunity for HR and Payroll teams?

        1. Yes, definitely – 59% 
        2. Maybe – 41% 
        3. No – 0% 
        4. Unsure – 0% 

          5. The how and whys of connecting Payroll & Time Management systems 

          Once you start to have the data available, it opens all kinds of opportunities as to what you can do with it. We've all heard the expression ‘data is the new black gold.’ We can see how data has really been able to help a business on that journey of transformation; maybe it's identified a new opportunity, or an answer to a challenge that's bedevilled it for a while? 

          • If you’re able to assess employee engagement at each of those stages, you’re not waiting for a person to resign. You’re not waiting six months to tell them how they are feeling. You are being proactive about getting information and employee engagement. 
          • The shift now is not to ask for information, but to use data analytics to get insights without going to the employee for information. And that can make a big change or shift in how proactive you can be in handling issues. 

          It’s clear just how much technology can support the speed of change. With the right technologies in place, the agility and speed of change is exciting. A key factor is the employee experience. Having worked in payroll for over 20 years, the employee part of payroll has for a long time been confined to a bit of paper at the end of the month: the payslip. Whereas now, the sheer amount of information available supports personalisation, meaning we will be able to move forward from an employee’s point of view.” – Mandy Hawley 

          Final thoughts 

          So clearly, there are enormous changes within the retail sector, in many cases structurally. Much of that change is working its way down into HR and payroll. We need to think about what makes us the employer of choice, so that we can attract and retain and motivate those people, as we all live fast-paced, complicated lives.  

          The single biggest thing many people have experienced in retail is the change from the high-street physical presence to online and digital eCommerce. This has changed shopping behaviour, and the way that we live our lives and work.  

          Now is a good time to look at how we combine HR and payroll systems, and to take advantage of some of this – because if for no other reason, with some of those older systems, as more and more people transform away from them, the likelihood that you’re going to get long-term support begins to drop, and some of the systems are quite fragile.  

          Now's the time to go for something a little bit more robust. It will need some more skills. It will need a different way of thinking. That's not to say that we all become data scientists overnight. But we do need to get to a point where we can understand what story the data is telling us. 

            Sign up for a free Payroll Discovery session

            At SD Worx, we forge payroll partnerships built on trust and collaboration. We offer integrated solutions and services for powerful Payroll and HR. So, if you’re thinking of investing in your payroll systems, you should request one of our free 1-hour Payroll Discovery sessions – where we offer tailored advice to kick-start any business case for upgrading your payroll solutions.