Follow the money: IT unravels payroll puzzle

A seemingly stress-free software changeover is nearly undone by long trail of easily overlooked technical details

It can be infuriating -- and humbling -- to review the makings of a tech snafu. Yes, there are many reasons why details can be overlooked in any IT project: lack of communication between those in the workflow, limited resources, or a new technology deployed, to name a few. Most frustrating is the fact that if any one of those details had been addressed immediately, the problem likely could have been avoided altogether.

The issue we encountered during a four-day workweek began innocently enough. Nine months before, our company had negotiated a contract with a software vendor for a new payroll and time-keeping package. Being further down the food chain, I was not privileged -- initially -- to know the full details of the contract. My supervisor handled those details, and the rest of us on the small IT staff worked with the accounting department to get the new software working smoothly.

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On that front, events had progressed well. Data was converted from the old software into the new one. We paralleled several payrolls to verify deductions and such before shutting down the old package. The conversion and installation appeared to be a success, and the accounting employees had grown comfortable using the new software. In my mind, the project had been completed -- which is why I was caught off guard the week of Labor Day when problems were reported.

Per my usual routine, I was in the office an hour before other employees arrived to make sure servers and other peripherals were running. Since this was a short workweek due to the Monday holiday, some of the payroll staff also came in early that day and began processing checks and electronic funds transfers. But after a few minutes, the manager of the payroll department was in my cube reporting that the software refused to function, saying its license had expired.

Not surprising for our company, no one in payroll knew if or when the license fee had been paid. No one had yet arrived for work from the accounts payable division. The IT director wasn't in yet, either.

The manager and I made our way to his desk. As we walked through the payroll department, I glanced at an employee's monitor. There, in the lower-left corner of the screen, was a notice in red that the license would expire the prior day.

When I asked about it, I got a range of replies. The payroll manager claimed to have never seen it, another employee said it had been showing up for a week, while the employee whose screen I was viewing said it had been there for a month. None of them had thought it necessary to investigate or to notify someone that the license was about to expire.

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