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Follow These Steps to a Successful Implementation

BY: Sue Bradley, CPP | 01/29/20


Sound familiar? But where do you start? It’s not a stretch to say that you are aware of issues you have with your current system, so start with a list of the items with which you are struggling. Then add the “wish” list—those items that you would love to have, if only the system could provide them.

Once you have your list, visit the APA’s Buyer’s Guide, which are published in PAYTECH each month and can also be found on the APA’s website (click on “Vendors” at the top next to login and then “Buyer’s Guides and Listings” in the left-hand menu) and start comparing systems. Talk to your colleagues at your local chapter meetings to find out what system they use. Don’t forget to ask if they would recommend their system.

Request Information

Review all the information you have collected, and then start the process of reaching out to the vendor sales teams. Most, if not all, vendors have a “request information” link on their websites. The representatives will schedule a time to meet with you in person to gather information regarding what you currently have, why you are looking, and what you are looking for.

Buyer beware at this point. They are sales reps! Their job is to sell you as much of their product as they can, with as many bells and whistles as they can convince you that you need. Schedule multiple demonstrations—one high-level for your C-suite and major decision-makers, then secondary demos for deeper dives into the modules that your team will actually be using. For example: the timekeepers truly don’t care what the benefits modules look like. Streamline your demos for the audience and you will get better evaluations from your team.

Before you request a quote, make sure that you know what your current costs are. Look back for two years and detail any and all costs associated with your current system(s). Do you pay extra for Forms W-2 processing? What are your tax filing costs? Have you had to pay for custom report creation? Are all of your carrier connection/interfaces included, or are there additional costs there? Locate your current contract and ensure that you understand the parameters, including exit costs.

When you request and receive the quote, make sure it includes the implementation costs, as well as the monthly fees for the modules you will be utilizing. Review the quote carefully to ensure that it includes everything you have discussed and does not include anything you don’t want. Keep in mind that the quote is just that: it’s a quote and not set in stone until you sign on the dotted line. You may be able to negotiate the fees.

When you have gone through all the demos and compared quotes and features, you will want to reach out to other clients. Ask for a list of reference companies. Request that they include a couple of companies that recently implemented their platform. Ask to talk to the client service team. Here is a list of questions you can use to help make your decision:

  • What other companies did you look at before you decided to go with XYZ?
  • What system did you leave?
  • What were your three biggest challenges during the implementation?
  • If you could go back, what is the one thing you would change about your implementation?
  • How hands on/off was your implementation team? How often did you have calls? Did the team come on-site to help?
  • What training was provided prior to the go-live date?
  • What is the timeline for the project? How long did it take you to go through it?
  • For the CSR team—what are the three questions you get most often, and what is the resolution?
  1. What is your response time for cases submitted online?
  2. If you call in, can you get an immediate response to tax, garnishment, reporting, and benefits questions, or do you need to pass certain calls to other response teams?
  3. How often does a case get escalated, and what types of problems would require an escalation?

After Your Selection

At this point, you have done your analysis and reviews and have chosen your new system. It’s time to begin. But where again do you start? And what do you need to know to avoid implementation woes? Rest assured that it is extremely rare that an implementation is completed without any bumps in the road. But by being prepared, and a bit flexible, the bumps will not turn out to be potholes.

Before you endeavor to pull data from your current system, find out what it needs to look like for the new company. Does it need to be in a specific order? Can you prepare the data loads in .CSV (comma-separated values) format, or does it need to be something else? Are you able to provide the data in the format that is required?

While you prepare for an implementation, it’s a great time to review your current setup. Are all your departments lined up between the HRIS and the general ledger (GL) systems? Do you have data in your current system that is obsolete? If so, you may want to work on purging that before you bring it over.

As you work with your new vendor in setting up your system, review employee access. Are the employees who need basic access able to see too much? Are your managers missing out on something that they need? Can your administrators make changes that they are responsible for? Does your IT team need better access? Who controls password resets, and is that person/team able to access that area? Who has the magic access to everything, or is it split? This is a great time to work through these details, so that when you begin testing, you know which people you need to select for your team.

Don’t forget to test your carrier connections and any interfaces to other systems you utilize. Test it both ways. If you currently send a payroll file to your benefits carrier, test it. If the 401(k) provider sends a change file, test it. List all your connections, even if they seem insignificant. If you miss one, that could be the one that causes you the most trouble.

During your testing, run the reports you will use most often. If you are changing mid-year, run your year-to-date reports to ensure that you can see the data you need. If you have a report that you rely on, are you able to duplicate it? If not, can the implementation team build it for you? If it cannot be duplicated, you will need to determine what else you can do to extract the data you need.

Training Is Essential

This cannot be stressed enough: Train all your employees, from the lowest access—only using the system for punching the time clock, to the manager who needs to edit and approve timecards. Train everyone! Work with the implementation team to develop the training geared toward the audience. General employees are not interested in sitting through the training on how to create a GL report. Can the training be done online? If so, how can you track who attends and completes the training? Are there quizzes for the employees to take to ensure they understand the information?

Be prepared for headaches and setbacks. Make sure you have a team of people from your organization working on the implementation. Do not go into an implementation alone. While it might be great to have control of what is being done and how detailed the review is, unless you are pulled off your regular daily tasks, you will just burn out by taking it on alone. Make sure that you have regular weekly or biweekly meetings with your internal team to discuss any issues they may discover during their review.

Your vendor team will have a timeline of when things need to be submitted. Make sure you follow the timeline. If you need to adjust a date, it may snowball into changing more dates. Weekly calls with your vendor team and your internal team will be critical as time goes on. The closer it gets to parallel testing, the more critical the meetings will become.

When the testing is complete, and the parallels run to the appropriate comfort level of comparisons, you are ready to go live. But be ready—this is a perfect time for Murphy’s Law to rear its unwieldy head. It may be as simple as someone’s timecard not being recognized by the new system. You will most likely be resetting passwords frequently in the beginning.

After You Go Live

Once you are live, your vendor implementation team should be available for a while longer to ensure that everything is good to go before they pass your account off to whatever customer service team you will be working with in the future. Hopefully, you have chatted a few times with this team so they have an understanding of your company needs and setup. Be prepared to reach out to them during your first payroll processing, your first month-end, quarter-end, and year-end preparation. 

Before you completely cut ties with your old vendor, make sure you fully understand what kind of access you will have to prior data. Maybe you get a duplicate database to store on your local server. Or maybe you need to run additional detailed reports for job history, pay history, and timekeeping details, etc. 

Whatever you do, make sure you have it stored somewhere that the data can be accessed in the future, even if you are no longer with the company. Store it in a secure server folder without passwords. If you absolutely must password-protect the file, ensure that someone has access to the password. Too many files have been rendered useless because the password is lost or forgotten.

All in all, implementations are fraught with woes. They are never perfect, and rarely come off without a hitch. But if you are prepared, you can weather through it and come out on the other side breathing a sigh of relief that it’s over and relishing in your new system and all its features.

Sue Bradley, CPP, is the HRIS/Payroll Manager at JL Clark. She is an APA Meritorious Service Award recipient, a member of the Board of Contributing Writers for PAYTECH, Hotline Referral Service, State and Local Topics (SALT) Subcommittee of the Government Relations Task Force (GRTF), Manufacturing Best Practices Subcommittee of the Strategic Payroll Leadership Task Force (SPLTF), and a board member of the Greater Milwaukee Chapter.