By Jennigay Coetzer – Business Day, 28 February, 2011

Small and medium sized companies need a payroll system that is quick to implement and easy to use so they can get up and running in two to three days. “They need to slip a CD in  the disk drive, click to install it and start using it right away,” says Philip Meyer, technology director for Softline Pastel Payroll.

He says payroll functionality can be difficult to use because of all the transactions required for legislative compliance. But most payroll software solutions today provide templates that provide a standard set of transactions.

Software suppliers have learned from each other how to make their systems easier to use and add new functionality as quickly as possible to remain compliant, says Meyer. He says the most important thing about a payroll system is that it needs to work every time, and it needs to comply with the latest legislative requirements.

These include tax, UIF, skills development levies, the occupational injuries and diseases fund and industry specific regulations.   Payroll system updates need to be made available on the internet and email notifications sent out to say these can be accessed.

Meyer says few of Pastel Payroll customers make use of the human resources software module that is available to them. “There is a perception among small and medium businesses that HR software is expensive and difficult to use.”

However, he says once customers see how easy it is to use the software they are keen to implement it. “It helps them handle the day to day management of employees, and it is appealing because it synchronises with the payroll system and they can start using it immediately.”

Meyer says, software suppliers are building functionality into their systems every month to comply with the constant legislative changes that are happening. He says Pastel Payroll is also adding completely new functionality, such as employee self-service, which enables employees to update their personal details on the internet and have this fed into their in-house payroll system.

The next step will be to allow users to input other information, such as the overtime hours they have worked, on the web, says Meyer. He says by gradually adding additional functionality, this will evolve into an online version of Pastel Payroll within the next few months.

Customers will then be able to choose whether to install their payroll software in-house or access it online when they need to use it, but in the interim, one feeds into the other. The company also has an existing basic online payroll product that is designed for very small companies with up to five employees.

But with the increasing interest in software as a service, customers with up to 20 employees are now using the system online, says Meyer. “Uptake is still slow, but those that have gone this route do not want to migrate to installing payroll software on the desktop, but would rather settle for less functionality.”

He says it is interesting to note that while many companies are still resistant to running their payroll on a software as a service basis, they all pay their employees online through internet banking.

Jennigay Coetzer is a freelance business and technology journalist with 25 years experience, and she writes regularly for Business Day. She also runs media training and writing skills workshops, and is the author of A Perfect Press Release – or Not?, a guide to writing and distributing effective press releases, an electronic version of which can be downloaded free from her website: www.jennigay.co.za.

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