13 October 2022

10 steps for procuring HR and payroll for schools and colleges

Education related items

HR and payroll systems are one of the biggest investments that schools and colleges can make for their employees. But in a marketplace where there are dozens of solutions to choose from, the question you may be asking yourself is “where do I start”?

Written by Adam Mitchell-Whitcombe and Eamonn Moore, experts in HR and payroll specialising in solutions for schools and colleges, this step-by-step guide will give you some top tips and help you define what matters most to the ongoing development of your organisation.


1. Understanding a HR system for schools and colleges

HR systems comprise of numerous tools an organisation needs to manage the full end-to-end employee lifecycle, from hire-to-retire. It should include comprehensive automation tools to better manage areas such as recruitment and onboarding, learning and development, performance management, time and attendance, workforce and succession planning.

HR systems today should enable your Human Resources department to devolve responsibility to your employees and managers through the use of self-service. This shift in strategy empowers your workforce and more crucially, it frees up time within your HR team so that they can focus on more strategic tasks.


2. Getting to grips with payroll for schools and colleges

Fundamentally, a payroll system enables you to pay your employees. However, a payroll system suitable for schools and colleges should provide functionality that is compatible with multiple pension schemes (including Teachers’ Pensions and Local Government Pension Schemes), easy-to-understand payslips for staff with multiple employments, ability to process term-time only employees, the processing of timesheets, and integration with your finance software.

When choosing a payroll solution, you have two main considerations:

  1. Whether to manage payroll in-house with the assistance of payroll software, or
  2. Whether to opt for an outsourced payroll service through an experienced provider

There are pros and cons associated with them both, so it is all about figuring out what is going to make the most sense for your organisation.


3. Leverage the benefits of a single HR and payroll solution

A single solution for HR and payroll ensures that you have one version of the truth for your people data and removes the need for dual entry, reducing the risk of human error.

In 2021 the CIPP conducted a survey with UK organisations that had separate HR and payroll systems and this revealed some concerning results. Over 50% of organisations felt their isolated payroll systems were less effective, 65% said their systems were inflexible, 42% recognised they lacked data insights, and crucially 30% feared the risk of a data breach.

Over 50% of organisations who responded to the survey were in favour of using a single HR and payroll solution.

With the advancement in technology and automation, a single solution is fast becoming essential for all schools and colleges.


4. Identify your needs

Engage with your key stakeholders across the organisation including your HR, payroll and IT teams to map out your existing processes and establish what consumes the most internal resource. This will help you understand your core challenges and needs for a new solution.

Some common examples would include:

  • Paper-based processes - including recruitment
  • Lack of reporting and insights - particularly absence
  • Multiple, disparate systems - with limited integration
  • Statutory compliance - i.e. single central record
  • Data security - legacy on-premise systems


5. Research the market

Spend time evaluating the suppliers in the marketplace. Devise a list of five to 10 and find out what they can offer. Have they got a track record in the sector? What advice and guidance can they provide you with? And crucially, what is their solution likely to cost?

We would recommend speaking with colleagues in similar organisations to get feedback on their own solutions, how did they procure, what worked well for them, and what would they have done differently?

You could also attend industry events to meet with prospective suppliers such as the Schools & Academies Show and the Independent Schools’ Bursars Association Annual Conference.


6. Arrange at least three supplier demonstrations

This is arguably the most proactive way of judging each supplier's capabilities. You should ask suppliers to present scenario-based demonstrations focused on your core project objectives. Try avoiding general system overviews because this is typically an inefficient use of your time and may not reveal which solutions are most suitable for your particular requirements as mentioned above.


7. Get your business case approved

Having a clearly thought through business case is essential because HR and payroll solutions are generally a sizeable investment. Therefore, in order to ensure sufficient funds are available, you will need to convince your internal stakeholders and decision makers that, amongst a myriad of other departments vying for available budget, this project will not only drive significant business benefit, but it will also reap considerable time and cost savings.

The best business cases include detailed analysis to help generate support from your Executive Leadership Team. You should reflect on the benefits this project would deliver across the entire organisation.

There are several tools that help with this, such as online Return on Investment calculators and case studies from similar sized organisations that have invested in the solutions you are looking to procure.

Be realistic, the cheapest system does not always represent best value for money!

You need to balance this with the supplier's track record of delivering a high quality service, where the supplier will host your data and the ability to scale the solution to meet your future organisational needs.


8. Set your timescales and procurement process

It is important to be sensible with your timescales for both procuring and implementing a new solution. If you do not allow enough time to sufficiently manage the entire process, you will not deliver the benefits across the organisation that you set out to achieve. You will also need to be mindful of any notice periods you may have with existing providers.

By this point, you should be able to create a clear and concise request for proposal (RFP), documenting information about your organisation, an overview of your project objectives, associated timelines, RFP rules, and a supplier questionnaire.

There are some sector-specific frameworks available that you could utilise. However, to provide better control and governance over the procurement process, you may wish to manage this in-house.

Scoring methods should be based around 25% on price, with the remainder split across functionality, ability to meet project objectives, reputation and corporate stability.


9. Awarding your contract

Once you have a preferred supplier, you must ensure that the contract is formally approved by your internal stakeholders. This may include presenting your recommendation to governors and trustees.

A good organisation will work in partnership with you to get the contract signed in line with the timescales that you have set out in your RFP.

Once a contract is signed, this must be communicated at the earliest opportunity to your workforce to inform them of the impending changes to internal systems and processes, and the benefits this will bring them.

This will help you to get buy-in from your colleagues, increasing the likelihood of a successful project go-live and ensuring a high return on investment is achieved.


10. Talk to the experts

If your organisation could benefit from further advice and guidance to support you with your procurement process, our schools and colleges consultants at MHR can help.

If you would like to discuss this in more detail, please contact us today for a no-obligation chat:

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