Editor’s Note: As Global Payroll Product Strategy Leader at Alight Solutions, Pete A. Tiliakos guides the overall vision, roadmap, go-to-market, and growth strategy for Alight’s global payroll solution. Tiliakos is widely regarded for his extensive knowledge, coverage, and advisory for the global payroll services market and is a regular contributor to industry podcasts, publications, and events for organizations such as the American Payroll Association (APA), Global Payroll Management Institute (GPMI), and HRO Today Magazine, and has been named an HR Superstar in the Advisors/Analysts category by HRO Today Magazine multiple times. Tiliakos leverages deep and unique market expertise derived from more than 30 years in HR and payroll transformation, outsourcing, and shared services, holding leadership roles across the full sourcing lifecycle. He has experienced the industry from the front lines and from all vantage points including payroll practitioner and leader, service delivery, contract governance, pre-sales and solutions, relationship management, sourcing advisory, and market analysis and influencer. Prior to joining Alight, Tiliakos led market research as a Director & Principal Analyst for leading analyst firms NelsonHall, and ISG Provider Lens, providing market insights and advisory services to assist both providers and buyer organizations in navigating human capital market (HCM) market opportunities to drive business outcomes. His experience includes leadership roles with Deloitte, IBM, TCS, ADP, The Walt Disney Company, and the United States Marine Corps.
What do you see as the changing role of the global payroll professional?
Global payroll has evolved to become a key and central element in the employee experience, and when enabled by technology and innovation, is being elevated from simple processor to strategic advisor to the business.
As cloud platforms, cognitive automation, mobile apps, dynamic integrations, and predictive insights continue to strengthen and become the norm, payroll is being both relieved of its historically manual past and empowered to focus on more value added, analytic, strategy-enabling tasks. This is creating an opportunity to be a change agent within the organization to support strategic goals and drive better business outcomes.
What are the chronic challenges for companies that have moved, or are moving, into global expansion?
I commonly see more firms—of all sizes—finding themselves being pulled into new locations of operation. Whether that is to support new market/country expansion, because of mergers and acquisitions (M&A), to accommodate remote working trends, or to open access to top talent outside of the home market; firms are increasingly becoming multinational which they may or may not have planned for.
That said, companies of all sizes commonly seek global payroll and workforce solutions to support an expanding multi-country footprint and operation. Many companies are pulled into these locations and the longer this goes unharmonized the more disparate and disjointed the payroll operating model can become. If global payroll operations are unsatisfactory, this may lead to poor visibility into the workforce, degraded service consistency, a lack of access to real-time globally-consolidated data and insights, and a fundamentally reduced agility and resiliency in navigating both strategic plans and unforeseen volatility. I’m seeing more firms coming to the realization that their global payroll operating models are unfit for the future, and thus are prioritizing transformation to move to a more futureproof state for payroll.
How can a payroll department provide support on a strategic level to corporate finance, human resources, and other departments?
Payroll holds some of the richest yet underutilized data sets in the organization. That data holds rich insights and strategic value when it is globally consolidated, harmonized, reliable, real time, and available on demand. Pair that with cognitive technology such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine—or deep learning—and you have actionable, predictive insights to support better proactive decision making to drive improved business outcomes.
What are the biggest challenges for payroll teams (i.e., skills, training, legal/compliance, cultural, technological, communications) and what is emerging to address these challenges?
Payroll teams today continue to face increasing challenges. Payroll is inherently complex—compounded when multiple countries are in play—and historically very manual and often neglected from an investment perspective in many organizations. Payroll is also not immune to the talent challenges we see in the marketplace and the shortage of skilled practitioners. Compliance is also a top challenge and arguably more intense than ever in history and only intensifying rapidly.
The good news is that there is help. Payroll providers are pushing massive investments into the space to modernize and digitize payroll, bringing it to a highly automated, tightly integrated, and harmonized central control point globally. Advancements in modern technology, particularly cloud platforms, dynamic application programming interface (API) and integrations, cognitive automation, and analytic insights, have provided buyers with the ability to truly harmonize payroll to a single provider solution and governance model globally.
Further, technology-enabled managed payroll services offer a “turnkey” option for achieving a modern, harmonized, technology-driven payroll operating model globally, thus accelerating the transformation timeline and outcomes vs. navigating it alone.
What are the things you would like to see payroll vendors address in the next three years?
Payroll technology has certainly come a long way in just the last five years, and providers are making some impressive strides in modernizing a historically complex user experience. However, payroll platforms have largely been developed for the process or the business itself but not so much for the employee and practitioner.
While much of the broader HCM market has focused heavily on the user experience (UX) and the employee experience (EX), there is still room for improvement. I think payroll needs to take this same approach.
What I believe is needed is a top-down and bottom-up approach to payroll technology that is designed for the employee, practitioner, and businesses that meet somewhere in the middle and underpin it all with a foundation of compliance, controls, and leading practice process.
Payroll will slowly become democratized and push more control and power to the user. In fact, the fintech providers are aggressively enabling that as we speak, so it’s not far off. Embracing this shift now—by design—will be important for payroll technology providers and users.
What is the value and limits to emerging technology, robotics, and AI in managing a global payroll?
The value and limits of emerging technology today for HR or payroll can best be measured by an organization’s willingness to adapt to those innovations—but more importantly, changing with and through those capabilities.
Today’s HCM and payroll technology solutions are incredibly powerful and rich with modern and innovative capabilities that continue to gain strength through cognitive features. However, in my research, I commonly see firms failing to truly adapt to their new investments, choosing to keep outdated legacy practices in favor of fully leveraging the solution to drive transformative change.
Too many firms believe technology alone transforms, but the reality is that technology simply enables transformation. The organization must truly adapt and evolve with that technology investment by adopting its full capabilities in order to realize maximum value and impact.
What are some of the considerations a company should have to determine if there is good fit with a prospective vendor?
Look for a partner not a provider. You want a partner with credibility and experience. You want a partner that is capable and has a vested interest in your success.
For payroll, and particularly global payroll, compliance and expertise are a top priority. Make sure the provider has a history supporting your specific requirements in and for the specific locations and countries in scope.
Thoroughly vet and test the technology—particularly integrations and data movement—ensuring the solution is tightly integrated and able to meet your specific use cases and requirements. Evaluate both the roadmap but also the provider’s performance in delivering to its roadmap historically. Be sure they deliver to their innovation commitments and that the future roadmap aligns to your organization’s future requirements.
Look for flexible solutions that won’t force you into a box but rather provide you with the path to adopting the pieces and parts that complement your strengths and fill gaps in your own capability. Additionally, the offering must be able to grow and scale with your organization and its needs. Be sure to look for a provider that meets both current and future requirements and growth plans.
Look for providers that can support you from start to finish along your journey. The right provider should offer a holistic offering and capability that supports your journey from the start to value realization—not a one-trick pony.
How can companies better leverage payroll data for strategic decision-making? How will payroll data emerge as a critical analytic business tool?
Payroll’s data is where its power lies and putting that data to use to tell stories that champion change and support the business in its strategic goals is where the role of payroll will be elevated: to that of a trusted advisor to the business.
How did you get started in your career?
My career in HR and payroll began in the United States Marine Corps. After boot camp and administrative school, I was assigned to the Depot Consolidated Administration Center on Parris Island, South Carolina—joining on day one of its inception. The center was one of (and possibly the first) shared services organizations in the U.S.M.C. My role was to maintain, audit, and certify service, training, pay, and entitlement data and records for permanent personnel assigned to Parris Island.
I didn’t understand the shared services concept at the time, but I learned the value, efficiency, and scale enabled through functionally aligned processes and consolidated back-office support, which gave me a tremendous foundation for launching a 30-year career with HR and payroll shared services and managed services organizations.
What were some of your early career lessons?
Thankfully, one of my first career lessons was from my time managing customer service and experience in an HR/payroll contact center, providing as much value as possible to every interaction with my customers and stakeholders. It taught me the value, impact, and difference a great customer experience can have on the brand, and revenues by building long-term sustainable relationships.
What career and life advice do you give to a new employee in global payroll?
Listen and learn everything anyone will teach you. In payroll, you have the unique opportunity to touch all towers of HR and every single corner of the organization. That is incredibly unique and provides an incredible learning opportunity, both to support being the best payroll practitioner you can be for the unique needs of the business, and to be open to learning more, forming relationships, and engagement within the organization. This can, and often does, open doors to new career paths and personal growth opportunities.
Focus on providing as much value to each engagement you have with your stakeholders, with your needs as an afterthought, and watch how much easier and effortless expanding your network and business opportunities will become.
What books are on your recommended reading list?
My top three I have read very recently or am reading currently include the following:
- “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”—Ray Wang
- “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There”—Marshall Goldsmith
- “The Art of Impossible”—Steven Kotler
What do you do for stress management that you have found useful?
I’m a big proponent of fitness to relieve stress. I find it helps me to remain clear headed and expel my frustration and “bad energy.” I enjoy a handful of fitness activities that help as well in their own ways including rowing, running, martial arts, yoga, and kettlebells. I also love to walk. I find it’s a good daily fitness habit, and I can do quite a bit of thinking while taking even short walks.