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Professional Spotlight

Meet Dennis M. O’Sullivan, Retired Global IT Expert


By Frank J. Mendelson

Editor’s note: Dennis O’Sullivan is a career-long information technology (IT) professional. He recently retired from Johnson & Johnson (J&J), where he was Director, Global Project Management Office, Payroll and HR Integrations. As Director, Dennis managed execution of global strategy for payroll and HR services for countries in Asia Pacific and Latin America. He ensured integrations into country payroll, represented J&J as global leader, identifying/confirming payroll services, and assisted with price negotiations and service-level agreements for markets in Asia Pacific and Latin America. Dennis oversaw project alignment on global directives, stakeholder strategies, and project standards for all countries within Asia Pacific and Latin America, resulting in improved deployments by leveraging lessons learned. Currently semi-retired, he is helping small businesses transform through innovation, proven managerial techniques, and cost-effective technological solutions.

Within the framework of this article, O’Sullivan is not speaking as a representative of any specific company but is articulating his perspective based on many years with large multinational companies and his extensive experience within IT. His experience includes more than six years working exclusively with payroll projects across the globe.

What emerging trends have you observed in data management?

The smartest trends I’ve seen are payroll companies that provide a middleware platform independent of all systems and providers who can work with a multitude of file types and formats.

With the ability—and flexibility—to integrate directly with any HRIS/HCM front-end application (i.e., Oracle, Workday, SAP, etc.), this separate, independent middleware has proven to be strategic as it is platform-agnostic and integrates with multiple systems, regardless of version.

This type of payroll provider builds one integration model for all payrolls, eliminating the need to construct multiple HRIS/HCM integrations. It utilizes data mapping exercises to determine the common and local pay elements by country, the sources of information, and the owners. In turn, it can map the inputs to data fields within the centralized corporate database. In doing so, it is inherently automating the process with clear check points for controls/validation that can be reported across the payroll register.

Alongside your core HRIS/HCM application, this platform can also take inputs from any other data source/system to account for other variable data (e.g., time and attendance, absence management, benefits, medical, equity, etc.), which eliminates the need for manual intervention and manual consolidation of information. With the local data elements now being standardized within a common and consistent format, global reporting can be achieved with more meaningful analytics for your company.

One of the greatest benefits is that the application ensures that what happens in the front-end is appropriately handled within the payroll engine.

The old method would include an interface/integration from one system to the other. Think of it as a bridge between the two—they communicated with each other, but it was limited. Using a newer approach that can integrate with your HRIS—as if they are merged—is ideal. It’s more accurate, easier, takes less time, and most importantly, mitigates risk.

What are some of the considerations a company should ask about to determine if there is good fit with a prospective vendor?

The first piece of advice I would offer is that just because a vendor is large does not mean it is a better choice or a better fit than a smaller vendor.

At one point in my career, we were having a difficult time integrating the new HRIS into one of our in-country payrolls. The integration was expensive and less than effective. Within the payroll organization, we found a new, smaller, and evolving company that had experience in this sort of thing. Suffice it to say that we were met with a political battle since the new vendor was not “discovered” by IT, who considered themselves accountable in selecting vendors associated with payroll integrations. I’ve seen that logical and cost-effective solutions can often be overlooked while more expensive (and more complex) solutions are chosen due to what essentially amounts to mismanagement.

All of that being stated, a selection criteria matrix needs to be established with appropriate weighting being given to the various criteria before any requests for information (RFIs) are sent. Ensuring alignment ahead of time for both the selection criteria and weighting is essential. As the subsequent requests for proposal (RFPs) are received, the vendor assessment matrix is completed with the scores of the vendors within each criterion being assigned based on their respective strength within the criteria relative to each other.

In the end, it’s easy to see who wins by simply tallying up the totals in a pre-defined spreadsheet. In addition, it’s vital to ensure your firm gets the A team when it comes time for your implementation. You certainly don’t want the C team because the vendor’s A and B teams are off on other implementations–you want those folks on your project.

Having someone own the vendor relationship is also key, providing timely feedback to the vendor regularly as the project is underway and ensuring the vendor understands your expectations and when they are failing to meet those expectations.

It’s more important to understand your operational model before you begin to assemble your vendor list. If a company does this, it will improve its chance for success with the upcoming payroll deployment.

Operational readiness is imperative and there are small, up-and-coming players in this space that can help if you have the appetite for sound, effective business partnering with your outsourcer of choice. But, in the end, every company needs to rely upon the integrity of the payroll metrics and remember that mistakes run downhill. The higher up on the food chain that you can mitigate these potential landmines, most often data quality issues, the better off everyone will be, especially payroll management.

You should not assume that the large vendors understand and will be there to ensure your operational readiness is what it should be. There are payroll experts who thoroughly understand the pitfalls that lie ahead in large-scale payroll deployments that involve a multitude of interface challenges. Find them.

What can you share from your experience in regard to being effective, efficient, and a strategic business partner?

Although to some extent they are necessary, I’m not a huge fan of virtual teams. I have seen the first-hand benefits of face-to-face (F2F) meetings. I suggest monthly F2F sessions with a pre-defined agenda that focuses primarily on removing the barriers to success—call it F2F issue resolution. When it comes to implementing complex in-country payroll systems that also include new HRIS front-ends, new benefit systems, etc., there is simply no substitute for a regular F2F meeting with the project team.

There also needs to be a Project Integration Manager whose job is to oversee all the integration touchpoints involved in any major payroll implementation. The Project Integration Manager would run the monthly F2F meetings and collect agenda items from the broader team in advance of the working meeting.

During this monthly F2F, the team would align on its current status, which should be published as an outcome of this working meeting. Getting out front of project issues is essential, and you can only do that if you are willing to acknowledge the “elephant in the room”—some obvious problem no one wants to discuss. Finally, after a successful go-live, it’s important to formally acknowledge the efforts put forth by the project team. Celebration is important, and time needs to be made for that to happen.

Hopefully, the chemistry of the broader team, with a collection of perspectives, molds into a true high-functioning, cross-functional team. But, we all know this is definitely not going to happen. The Project Information Manager needs to be as politically agnostic as possible. This person needs to ensure the collective voice of the team is heard accurately and management expectations are managed through that collective voice. This manager is responsible to anticipate internal politics so that better decisions can be made.

In your experience in global payroll, what have you found to be the most important qualities of effective leadership?

Effective leadership is the willingness to do what you expect from others: to actually listen, demonstrate a sense of empathy when things don’t go as planned, remain calm under pressure, acknowledge the good work along the way, and maintain a sense of humor through it all. Without people willing to line up behind you and go the extra mile for the cause, no leader can be effective.

Great leaders receive respect from their teams because they earned it, not because they are entitled to it.

Truth be told, I don’t think great leaders exist within corporate America to the extent they did 20 years ago. In today’s business climate, there is often a lack of collaboration within executive and senior management that subsequently affects the people doing all the heavy lifting. The internal business climate within companies is not as nurturing as it used to be (my opinion based on my experiences), but the traits of effective leaders have not changed.

An effective leader will do the following:

  • Value people—Find ways to connect with them. Include and involve the people who will be doing the work. Ask for their thoughts, ideas, and suggestions. Listen to their pain points and suggested solutions. Empower them to be successful.
  • Value openness—Be transparent, and encourage transparency. Be fully present. No surprises. Be honest and expect honesty.
  • Value passion and innovation—Love what you do and show it. Show positivity. Allow and encourage creativity and new ideas that make others passionate.
  • Value accountability—More than taking responsibility, and better than assigning blame. It’s about character.
  • Value a sense of humor—Know when to be serious and when to lighten up. Help your employees to do the same. Life’s too short not to enjoy it.

FrankMendelsonFrank J. Mendelson is an Acquisitions Editor for the Global Payroll Management Institute. He has been working with the American Payroll Association since 2009 as an editor for
PAYTECH magazine, and has presented workshops at the Annual Congress on effective communication.