Changing the focus of payroll with artificial intelligence

March 17, 2022 | 7 minute read
Felicia Cheek
Product Strategy Director, Payroll
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Without warning, we experienced a significant disruption in how we live, work, and play, which forced us to change how we think, act and do. In retrospect, we were able to adjust quickly, and those that leveraged technology to navigate through the change were able to pivot at a much faster pace and adapt to the shifting landscape.

Operational business continuity plans, particularly for payroll, have been put to the test. Payroll leaders are now more determined than ever to prepare for the future. For many, ensuring continuous payroll operations during the pandemic has strengthened their push for digital transformation across the payroll process. A 2020 Deloitte Payroll Benchmark Survey shows more than 70% of organizations either process payroll in the cloud or are currently implementing a cloud payroll solution indicating organizations are embracing cloud payroll technology faster than in the past. And that same survey shows almost 60% are considering leveraging Robotic Process Automation (RPA), intending to increase efficiency by automating the execution of routine, repetitive processes.

For many organizations, the natural next step is to explore the usage of artificial intelligence (AI). How can it be used to elevate payroll’s position in the organization? In this article, I will share insight on how artificial intelligence is a powerful game-changer and can reshape the payroll process, ultimately freeing payroll professionals to focus on those activities that add greater value to the broader organization and the overall positioning of payroll.

Artificial intelligence will further streamline the payroll process, redefining the role of the payroll professional

Digital technologies like cloud computing and RPA have forever changed how payroll is processed, and artificial intelligence is no different. AI will play a significant role in leading the movement of payroll from a highly transactional process to a more analytical and decision support focus. Expect to see payroll professionals making more valuable contributions to the success of their organization by providing insight and analytics to support overall labor management decisions. However, artificial intelligence will continue to increase productivity and quality throughout the end-to-end payroll process. Some areas where AI may have the potential to improve overall efficiencies include:

  • Scheduling can require insight from various inputs like skills, training, performance levels, work preferences, attendance records, and other attributes. AI and machine learning can be used to automate data analysis from multiple sources necessary to create optimal schedules for both the organization and the employee.
  • Time approval often takes supervisors and managers away from performing activities needed to run the business. With AI and machine learning, the effort required to approve time can be more targeted, allowing management to focus on those anomalies and exceptions in time cards that warrant their attention.
  • Early wage access is often delivered out of the box with payroll systems. AI can be used to understand better how employees are using early wage access, analyzing data ranging from frequency, salary, pay cycle, overtime, scheduling patterns, and other behaviours. The insight gained in this area can help organizations make more intelligent decisions about what employee financial wellness tools and practices may help better support employees. These added insights can help to boost employee morale and increase operational productivity.
  • Compliance is always a primary focus for payroll organizations. With the multitude of legislative changes we’ve had over the last year, the ability to track and better understand the impact of the changes is a considerable benefit ensuring continuous compliance and reducing the risk of noncompliance.
  • Business travelers often are subject to taxation in multiple jurisdictions. Usually, this information is tracked manually, increasing errors. AI technology can be used to analyze employee expense data to provide direction on necessary adjustments to individual tax withholdings. Early identification of these anomalies can help proactively ensure all employer responsibilities are being met and predict additional employer expenses.
  • Remote workers have increased over the last year, and the insight on the impact to employer expenses such as taxes and benefits is essential to planning, understanding, and predicting labour expenses. Additionally, AI can be used to identify anomalies in labor costs; for example, in the case of employer expenses like unemployment taxes in the United States where annual limits were previously met, but due to a location change, may need to resume, AI would allow the prediction of these unplanned labor costs.
  • Chatbots are commonly used to quickly resolve Tier I and some Tier II payroll inquiries, contributing to a timelier and higher quality call resolution rate which can have a positive impact on the employee experience and reduces the time payroll staff spends on inquiries.
  • Audit and reconciliation is another area to leverage AI. It usually requires involvement from seasoned payroll professionals with a learned ability to spot anomalies in the payroll output using various reports and tools like Excel.

With AI, machine learning can create algorithms to analyze data over a period of time, automating the identification of payroll anomalies. This can speed up the process and free payroll staff to work on more value-added activities.

Most organizations are using AI for process automation and optimization to some extent. While payroll has moved a bit slower, we will see increased usage in the upcoming years as digital strategies continue to advance throughout the payroll process.

Upskill opportunities exist for payroll professionals

AI is designed to solve problems by working in a structured, predefined manner, looking at large amounts of data to determine patterns, make predictions and act based on those predictions. There are many activities across the payroll process that are routine and reoccurring with large amounts of data, like the data reconciliation process that occur at different times before, during, and after the payroll process to ensure accuracy. By automating the reconciliation process, payroll resources are not entirely removed; however, the focus becomes more analytical, taking them away from tedious routine and highly transactional activities. It is important to note that AI cannot make decisions and lacks breadth and depth of perception, reasoning, judgment, and creativity like a human. The role of the payroll professionals will indeed change, but as technologies like AI continue to advance, new opportunities will emerge.

The addition of AI in payroll will further streamline and simplify the end-to-end process, freeing payroll professionals to play a more integral role in data interpretation, analytics, and other activities that enable decision support. This additional time is an opportunity to upskill as payroll professionals will need to have a detailed understanding of key business drivers to ensure they can make decisions on leveraging insight from data that can be used to support decisionmaking across the broader organization. This key skill further highlights the need for the critical people component to efficiencies gained from AI. For most organizations, upskilling to increase or enhance the profile of payroll professionals in critical areas like business acumen, critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, and innovation is where they need to focus on improving and complementing productivity and efficiency gains when using AI.

With AI, as with other digital technologies, traditional roles and responsibilities change, shifting from highly routine transactional activities to more value-added strategic and analytical activities that help to elevate the overall positioning of the payroll professional. Ultimately there will be more focus on providing insight and expertise to better manage labour costs across the organization. In addition, outside of the payroll area, AI is an excellent way for payroll professionals to expand and diversify their skillsets, increasing their overall work profile as AI skills are transferable to other areas of the business and outside of the organization. Forbes believes jobs requiring AI skills will increase by 71% over the next five years.

Our technology empowers payroll professionals to focus on activities that increase the payroll value proposition

Before companies can use AI or data science to make decisions, they must invest significant effort, time, and expense in data collection and preparation. Oracle's Advanced HCM Controls module has automated these laborious data prep tasks so organizations can start using advanced analytics right away. Using algorithms that can proactively monitor millions of HCM and payroll transactions and/or activities, process owners can be alerted to highly suspicious transactions (ghost employees, unusual amounts, lack of separation of duties, etc.) in a user-friendly dashboard.

The value of the payroll professional is in the power of the insight into labour trends, practices, and costs that they can share with leaders to support decisions related to labour management. They should be free to focus on activities that give them the best insight into this data. Oracle's Cloud payroll solution is fully integrated with Oracle Cloud HCM and positioned to enable paying employees in several countries around the globe. Cloud payroll is designed to digitally transform the payroll process by automating, simplifying, and streamlining day-to-day activities. This is accomplished through the extensive use of innovative technologies like Robotic Process Automation (RPA), continuous calculations, real-time interactive integrations, and Artificial Intelligence (AI), all intended to empower payroll staff to work smart.

AI is used for continuous data validation to ensure a fast and high-quality payroll process. Our payroll engine can calculate pay for more than 200,000 employees per hour. We continuously enable optimal processing speeds to increase productivity and efficiency across the payroll process by leveraging AI.

Chatbots contribute to increased efficiencies across the payroll process, and they also can be used to encourage timely, consistent, and accurate responses to payroll inquiries. Over time, Chatbots have become more intelligent and can answer more complex payroll inquiries and increase contact centre metrics like the first-time error resolution rate, and frees payroll staff to work on other more value-added activities.

Chatbots can also further ease self-service by responding to employees' spoken commands like "Let me see my last payslip." This is all part of our commitment to leverage digital technologies like AI to enhance the employee experience.

As our commitment to payroll and the payroll professional continues, AI will play a role in our quest to leverage innovation to streamline the process to help elevate the payroll professional.

To learn more about Oracle Payroll, visit

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Felicia Cheek

Product Strategy Director, Payroll

Felicia is a Director of Product Strategy for the Payroll product. She previously worked for The Hackett Group where she was responsible for global payroll strategy for organizations representing large employee populations across all industries, levels of complexity and geographies. She has been working in the payroll environment for almost 30 years and has focused on global payroll for the last 12 years.

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