Seneca brushes up on its payroll system

College’s upgrade leads to time savings, lower costs, improved reporting
By Sarah Dobson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 09/11/2011

When Karen Mendler joined the Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology in Toronto four years ago, the school’s payroll system was definitely in need of an upgrade.

For a long time, a third-party payroll provider had provided a system that was very DOS-based and only ran on Microsoft’s Windows 98. It also didn’t allow for a lot of user modifications. For example, payroll couldn’t do any importing. And there was considerable manual work involved.

“For those reasons, obviously, it made sense to start looking for something, but also just to have more capabilities,” says Mendler, manager of payroll at Seneca.

“(I realized) it would be great to streamline our processes and to be able to minimize the manual input that we were doing, so (it was about) the time-saving, also less errors that way, by having a better system.”

Seneca, which has about 1,500 full-time and 3,000 part-time employees, has a complicated payroll system and it’s difficult to give all of that to another organization to handle, she says. Some employee groups don’t see many changes while others, especially faculty, can experience schedule changes or cancelled classes which affect their pay.

“We’re having to play catch-up on some of those and correct payments going along because there are those changes happening,” says Mendler.

But with a new system, the situation is much easier.

The move to a web-based HRMS system had been in the planning stage for some time so Mendler put together a business case — her first — and presented it to the management group. Once approved, requests for proposals were sent and nine companies responded.

Four or five were then asked to do presentations to Seneca’s payroll, finance, HR and IT departments. Several were asked back again to give more detailed presentations.

At the same time, Seneca was also looking for a provider with a time and attendance tool, so Kronos and Now Solutions presented themselves as partners and both were selected as the vendor of choice.

The implementation process began in February 2010 and ultimately went live in January 2011. The initial goal was to go live in the fall but with a payroll staff of six working on both the implementation and regular bi-weekly payroll, the workload was too heavy, says Mendler.

“It just was taking up a lot more time and we decided, at that point, it might be cleaner to go live the first pay of the year.”

Throughout the implementation process, Now Solutions provided a consultant who was on-site every other week, for the whole year. She helped with setting up the tables and formulas needed in the new system, along with putting together the conversion files to convert the data from the old system.

The consultant also prepared the payroll department for testing and the payroll staff then tested the different codes and ran small pays to see if employees were set up properly.

“Once we felt fairly comfortable with all the codes being set up and everything seemed to be working, we then ran two parallel pay runs just to compare and make sure that what we were processing on the new system was matching what was happening on our current system,” says Mendler.

Payroll even did that with the first pay of the year, as it was prepared to run on the old system in case something didn’t work properly, so three parallels ended up running.

When it came to the time and attendance system, Kronos took a different approach. A project manager came in and sat down with payroll to understand the rules for the employee groups. They then took that away and created a system on Seneca’s behalf.

Once again, the payroll department ran a couple of parallels to ensure what was keyed in and coming out to be paid matched what was being processed in payroll.

“That process was very different… but it worked too,” says Mendler.

College saw immediate benefits

On the previous payroll system, Seneca couldn’t input a lot of data, so it had to key in new salary increases and new hires from the HR system, along with address changes, so there was a lot of duplication of effort, says Mendler.

With the new system, the creation of daily import files allows all new hires and many employee changes to import every night from the HR system to payroll.

Payroll is also open to importing any type of payment, so a bonus is easily paid out to a certain employee group, as opposed to the past when everyone had to be keyed in individually, she says.

The old system also only provided paper records of employment (ROEs) while the new system uses ROE Web which is definitely a time-saver, says Mendler, not only for the payroll department but for employees. Seneca also implemented an employee self-service, so employees could access pay stubs online.

“Previously, we had 4,500 pay stubs to distribute every two weeks and now we don’t do any,” says Mendler.

To communicate the change, payroll used email and the Intranet and worked with the marketing department.

“We also did sessions as well at our main campuses for employees to come in and actually see how it works and to understand the process and we also gave them copies of the procedures too,” says Mendler.

“I hope that they now think they’re getting a lot more information on their pay stub that they weren’t getting previously.”

Looking back, Mendler says she wishes payroll had acquired more resources specifically for the implementation.

“It was very challenging for myself as well as my staff to be running their regular jobs and then also working on the implementation,” she says. “It was a lot of work.”

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