A common occurrence in our world of work is clients talking to us about their dissatisfaction with having to upgrade their HR/Payroll software.

Why? Often, it’s because there are issues with current releases which clients feel need to be resolved. Also, there is a lack of confidence in upgrades, generally, whilst previous upgrades have included ‘bugs’ or issues. As with many other things, the feeling of being ‘forced’ does not sit well.

I am an iPhone user. In 2014, when I got my new phone (an iPhone 6) I set the automatic update feature and, overnight, my phone updated. The next time I got in my car and my phone connected to the Bluetooth the phone started playing U2’s ‘Songs of Innocence’ album. Confused, I looked online and found that this was included as part of the iOS Update. Whilst breaking a record for being the largest album release of all time, it also became the subject of lots of complaints to Apple:

Why did this cause so much outrage and confusion? Because, quite simply, we didn’t ask for it. If the update was to fix issues and bugs – such as the major glitch with Group Facetime that was found in iOS12 which allowed callers to automatically make the recipient device answer, giving the caller the potential to listen in on friends – this is what we would want to have fixed.

With our HR and Payroll software, there are other things to consider. Software suppliers don’t generally do upgrades to make things worse for you. Some suppliers force users to be on the current version or no more than two versions behind the current. Some leave it up to you. But why should you maintain system upgrades? There are some important things to note:

  1. Legislative Changes

Although with HR and Payroll legislation we generally have plenty of notice of the changes, there are issues for software developers in getting the accurate information about how those changes should be implemented in systems. Take HMRC as an example. When there are changes to Real Time Information (RTI) formats, these are sometimes not released to software suppliers until the very end of the previous tax year. This means time for testing and implementing the changes is limited for software suppliers as well as those with weekly payrolls or early monthly paydays. This can lead to issues with your first submissions.

Delays can also occur. Whilst legislation is planned, sometimes the legislation does not take effect or specific legal cases can result in confusion about what the current state of play actually is. A simple Google search of Holiday pay on Overtime would provide 3.1 million results, showing there is still confusion about how these rules should be applied, what the correct reference period for calculating averages is and can software actually handle those rules (or, importantly, our different interpretations of those rules).

Clients’ systems are often heavily configured and implementing those changes can be difficult for a supplier when they don’t know exactly how each client has configured their system. Suppliers have a clear aim to ensure you are compliant and can maintain your own compliance. Work with your supplier to ensure they can take into account your interpretations.

2. Browsers Change

Internet Explorer, Edge, Google Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Opera – to name just a few.

Users often have a choice how they enter applications. We use phones, tablets, PCs, Laptops and other smart devices to log into various systems and applications. Software suppliers try to ensure their applications work well across a range of browsers (and would usually share their browser compatibility). Issues can arise when ‘plug-ins’ such as Java are in use.

A great example is one of the applications we use regularly at Phase 3. If I log into the application using Edge, certain pages don’t load. Using Internet Explorer makes buttons disappear. Firefox seems to work well on most pages but I don’t get pop-ups. The reporting tool uses Java but the new browser and Java aren’t quite compatible, so I receive some errors.

The end result is a frustrating mix of browsers for different applications and the main issue is that the software needs updating to be relevant with the most up to date versions of the browser. Naturally, this is just one of many different applications in use and for other applications a different browser version is suited.

A key tip here is to check the browser compatibility documentation before upgrading to ensure you can continue to perform all system functions.

3. There are issues and these need to be resolved

Inevitably, with software there will be bugs/defects/issues. These can appear randomly and only once customers start to raise issues do suppliers realise there is a problem. Most suppliers wouldn’t release software with a ‘known issues list’ – why would you release software knowing there were problems – but it can happen. Make sure you read those upgrade documents!

Clearly, bugs are an unintended consequence of a change made to the applications. Suppliers don’t set out to cause problems but some do use the “release it now, fix it later” approach.

In the same way, many people take medication. The medication is meant to help fix a problem but there can be side effects. We accept this, take the medication and if it doesn’t work, we stop.

When running HR processes or payrolls, we often have to weigh up the risks. For example, a release may fix an ongoing issue with our payslip but introducing that upgrade into the environment means that we accept the side effect which makes the system slower at running the payslip report.

An approach we often recommend at Phase 3 is to wait for the first Service Pack before upgrading. Selfishly, that means ‘let others have the pain and we reap the reward’ but it does mean the supplier has the chance to resolve issues or at least update documentation to make the users aware that an issue exists and how to work around it.

Take away one point from this: Your supplier doesn’t intend to cause issues but we do expect that they should work hard to resolve them.

4. Contractually, you may not have a choice

This is important. In order to continue to support users, suppliers have to set a limit to the number of releases that they can actually support. They create new releases for a number of reasons including enhanced functionality and bug fixes (as discussed above).

Don’t fall foul of this critical part of your contract. If you do have a clause stating that you must be ‘no more than 2 releases behind the current version’ for example, then take this seriously. If you do have issues with your software, your supplier may not support you.

5. Trends in HR and Payroll force changes to interfaces

There are lots of articles about the consumerisation of People Technology (how companies are creating a social, mobile and consumer-type experience for employees inside the company). As such, employees expect their personal information to be available at the touch of an App. Self service used to focus on requesting holidays and looking at payslips. Now we expect Talent Profiles, to see our Performance Reviews, to check in regularly or even to draw down our salary as and when we choose.

Suppliers therefore have to work on new and improved User Interfaces to ensure our users see a fresh, modern look and feel. As technology develops, this is something we can’t afford to miss out on.

Yes, there are challenges. All of those user guides, support videos and FAQ’s may have to be re-written or re-designed but why not see that as an opportunity to review your processes and ensure your users are fully supported by the software. It is, after all, the reason why you bought the product in the first place.

6. Security, Security, Security

Vulnerabilities in HR Software can occur. Suppliers invest heavily in protecting their systems from attacks. In 2018, HR firm ‘PageUp’ suffered unauthorised activity through malware. The Software provider said it immediately launched a forensic investigation after malware was spotted on its system. Five days later, PageUp said that their suspicions were confirmed, with investigations finding “some indicators” that client data may have been compromised. Knowing how much sensitive personal data is stored on our systems and with the threat of fines under the GDPR, we know this is a serious issue. If your supplier releases an urgent update due to potential security breaches – upgrade or patch!

Phase 3 Recommend

Our top tips to take away from this article are:

  1. Look out for documentation and read it thoroughly
  2. Understand why the upgrade is necessary
  3. Test new upgrades and patches before installing them into a live environment
  4. If you can, wait for Service pack 1 following a major release
  5. Log defects or issues with your supplier immediately after finding them – help your supplier resolve the issue

If you are new to people technology and need help with how to test upgrades and patches, please get in touch for more information.


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