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Support Your Payroll…

…With Good Consultants

What kind of employee experience can be discussed, if people aren’t paid on time?
Obviously, this is the worst experience any employee can imagine.

Everywhere I meet customers that can’t benefit from new technology due to issues in fundamental solutions. Combining high complexity, fragility, and vitality, payroll deserves the attention it, unfortunately, doesn’t always get.

With this series of posts, I’d like to come up with a few simple observations on how you can improve your support of SAP Core HR & Payroll solutions, extracted from my 20 years’ experience dealing with HR systems, last 11 of which were dedicated to SAP Payroll & Time Management solutions.

This is not a comprehensive support guide neither I pretend to outline a complete checklist. I just want to share some considerations which are in my opinion often underestimated although very impactful which I hope customer support managers and consultants might find useful.

Focus on People

It is never redundant to note there are particular people who support your system, but not a fancy brand. If you are outsourcing your support, a global consulting company is not a cure-all, moreover, it could be way the opposite as they can afford things like planting zero-knowledge team, what is usually unacceptable by small companies valuing each and every contract.

Knowing lots of highest-level professionals in global consulting companies, and having been a part of great teams with them, my point is not in bringing up company size as a decision criterion. My point is to warn customers against getting into a “marketing trap” by taking a brand – which is a pure marketing product – as a decision input, in both choosing a system integrator for your support outsourcing and hiring individual consultants.
Concerning the latter, if one was maintaining, say, payroll constants for 5 years in a world-known SI, that clearly shouldn’t tell you nothing about professional skills except maintaining payroll constants.

Particular people and particular skills should be the center of attention.

Choose People

For hiring a consultant or choosing an SI to outsource, there is a must-read guide «Seven Tips to ensure you hire the Right Consultant», published a few years ago by a notable SAP Payroll & Successfactors consultant, analyst, and a top community contributor Jarret Pazahanick. The advice given by Jarret cannot be overemphasized.

Here I’d like to come up with the three classes of skills and qualifications any good consultant must possess.

  1. Functional & technical, the knowledge of hands-on work in the system.

    Consulting vacancies often include requirements like “ability to create payroll rules”.

    It’s like looking for a piano player who can press piano keys. Or a carpenter who can nail.

    Eventually, it’s a performance you want to get from a piano player, isn’t it? Possibly a particular one.
    And from a carpenter, you want to get a job done, don’t you? THE specific job, most probably.

    Can you imagine a pianist enters the stage, opens a laptop, and posts a question on a forum “Very urgent! I need to play some Schubert, where do I start?”.
    Who would do that?

    And what answer an experienced pianist can give?
    “Start with adjusting your chair height”? “Open your notes”? “Start with a piano tuning”? or maybe
    “Be a good man, apologize, tell people that at this very moment you are not the guy, and go work on yourself for some time”?.
    What advice can be given to a person who doesn’t bother to read a short documentation page by someone who spent sleepless nights to find out a solution and many years later, is still hungry to learn?

    There is a practical functional knowledge that every successful payroll consultant should possess. Luckily, most of it can be gained through dedicated learning, mentorship, and practice.

    • Relevant SAP-knowledge, specific to the job.
      I prefer to structure this area according to the relevant SAP-courses.
      Not only because of the obvious necessity of functional knowledge of HR/payroll process from employee hiring till legal reporting that is perfectly provided in SAP courses.
      But also because courses are still the main official SAP knowledge delivery channel in the payroll area, therefore it’s important to know how the knowledge is structured, tested and how it can be shared.
      The basic list includes Personnel Administration HR305-HR307, Organizational Management HR505, Time Management HR310, HR311, Payroll HR400, HR4XX, where XX your country grouping (01 for the US), ones related to your country reporting and so on.
      Check the list on the SAP Training Page for your country.
    • Overall ERP (R/3…S/4) architecture and place of HCM & SuccessFactors in it, integrations of Payroll component with other HCM components, SAP and non-SAP functionalities. In the case of SAP software, whose primary idea is the integrated solution, there should be a conceptual basis to form an understanding between teams. For example, HR/payroll consultant won’t be able to communicate with the FI team if he doesn’t speak a common language, e.g. he doesn’t know what a vendor is and how they are created and used for GL posting. Or communicating with PP/PS/PM teams on incentive wages.
    • Basics of ABAP and SQL. A requirement “usage of debugger” is often found in vacancies. It’s of course, necessary, but without the basic knowledge of ABAP, it’s nothing more than a repetitive button-pressing without getting a clue on what’s going on.
      A good consultant should know the technical architecture of the driver, how it executes the schema, and how the processing is structured through the functions and rules.
      Otherwise, he won’t even able to create a decent functional specification for an ABAP development.
    • HR authorizations including structural.
    • Right approaches to customer enhancements – user/customer exits and BAdIs.
    • Data processing tools: batch inputs, ALE/Idocs, and LSMW (if still applicable).
    • Methods of solving typical payroll-related problems.
    • Processing massive volumes in data in Excel with VLOOKUP or INDEX/MATCH.

    SAP certificates are good assessment helpers, serving as condensed tests on the knowledge of a range of courses. You might want to craft your own questionnaire, more focused on the business needs and more detailed in your specificity.

    Performing test cases in a sandbox is a very impactful method, especially for a junior consultant. I love the practical cases which are part of SAP courses.

    You might need to spend some time and effort on the preparation of the interview and probably some tests in a sandbox, but it is will at least double or triple your time investment for sure, because you are going from the direct answer on the main question of the hire – a good consultant is someone who does the job you need to get done.

  2. Business & managerial, consultant’s workflow, accountability and business orientation.

    Consultants deal with various stakeholders in a business environment,- payroll accountants, developers, other teams, client account managers, and so on.

    It should be clear, when and how to interact with each other.
    Also, a key knowledge is how to keep the related documents in order: a Blueprint, Configuration Description, Test Scenario, Functional Specification on an ABAP development, etc.

    A business language a consultant use includes knowledge of the commonly used project implementation methodologies, typical interaction workflows and documents, support frameworks, and business processes description notations.

    The key concept here is the business value that drives our work.
    Probably in the payroll component, it is not that visible and strategic.
    Maybe the fanciest thing you can do as a payroll consultant is a beautiful HR Forms payslip.
    If noticed.

    And this is the core thing. Having the payroll process regular, fast, transparent, silent, smooth and reliable is the business value.
    Concentration on it should never be lost.

    Comparing solutions in terms of advantages and disadvantages, suggesting this or that approach, driving meetings, etc. – all the work activities should, firstly, meet an ability to be done on the consultant’s side, and, secondly, must be done with that very focus on the business value.

    If someone asks to break the system in order to implement a requirement, a good consultant should negotiate that case, talk the client out of doing that, suggest a workaround, stick to the standard solution to how it’s possible, at least provide a detailed picture of all the drawbacks and ensure it’s successfully delivered.
    Nobody wants to turn a multi-million business system into a disaster.

  3. Human & social qualities, at first be a good person, preferably with nerves of steel.
    Then, this includes communication abilities, critical thinking, systems thinking, problem solving and knowledge management skills. A right consultant doesn’t know everything, but he knows where and how he can quickly find the information he needs.
    Especially the ability to:

    • Search the required information in the right places including the system and great sources help.sap.com, service.sap.com.
    • Grasp new knowledge quickly and effectively.
    • Organize and structure knowledge.

    There is no need to expand that, just want to emphasize how important it is for a consultant to understand the principle of collective work and to solve emergencies logically, in an organized manner.

Value people

There is a common point of view that when it comes to hiring a junior consultant, there is not that much to check (“look, he’s a good programmer/excellent student and it’ll be fine”), so that human, social, and knowledge management qualities are not tested properly.
In reality, in case of hiring a junior specialist to “grow” and invest in, these skills are a predictor of your investment. Especially when it comes to forming a support team against a background of a reduction of costs. If one is not able to find, learn, and collect information, and asking on “SAP answers” very basic questions that can be clarified within a minute visiting SAP Help Portal, your professional results on payroll system support are accidental (literally: whether there is an answer or not, is it correct or not). There are various managerial methods to influence the case.
Yet, hiring is the first and, obviously, the best moment to start.

Another common wrong belief that is way more serious is that once the implementation is completed, there’s no need for a highly experienced specialist for a support job.
In reality, you still can and, moreover, for sure will go through very complex tasks due to external or internal forces like legal changes or business reasons.
The resolution of these tasks most likely will be covered by your support budget initially agreed. A need in an expert can show up anytime, so make sure you get one, the earlier the better. As an option contract on a 3rd or 4th support level on a regular basis.
Not necessarily full-time, but you have to arrange an opportunity to quickly involve an experienced specialist once needed.

A rightly addressed effort might save you lots of nerve, time, and money on the stage of choosing a support provider or hiring an in-house consultant.

Support your payroll solution, it deserves it!

 

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