AI and the changing face of payroll in Africa

The advent of artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming how businesses operate. It has the potential to impact a range of functions – including payroll. Like any new technology, the arrival of AI is being met with much excitement, as well as some scepticism. Its major benefit is its enhanced efficiency. However, there are concerns around Africa’s digital infrastructure, security and a potential loss of jobs to machines.

Payroll is a critical business function. It’s responsible for a lot of sensitive information; one glitch in the system and the whole organisation could suffer. Many of Africa’s business decision-makers may thus be reluctant to hand over their company’s data to machines. However, the ‘dangling carrot’ of greater efficiency and reduced operating costs is worth a closer look.

What AI means for payroll

The less glamorous side of payroll involves a ton of mundane administrative tasks, that traditionally had to be carried out by a business’ payroll team. But the more time they spend on admin, the less time they have for more strategic work.

AI can liberate employees from repetitive, time-consuming tasks. Applications such as business information mining, raw data filtration and validation and predictive information supply can be applied to almost any payroll function across all sectors, industries and businesses.

Using intelligent algorithms, AI technology is able to translate natural language into form fields. Say, for example, a new employee joins the company. Instead of the payroll department having to repeatedly enter the data manually across various files, the algorithms can scan the employee’s contract and use the information to complete all the required employee forms.

AI technology is more sophisticated than a standard information filter. It’s able to use previous outcomes to guide its future responses and check for data errors. The more documents it scans, the smarter it becomes, refining its knowledge with every new bit of information. Payroll teams benefit hugely here; any mistakes are flagged immediately which keeps processes compliant at all times.

On the topic of compliance, advanced AI technology will also help payroll teams keep up with regulatory requirements. It will be able to interpret and implement raw legislative data correctly – and test the results against system expectations to spot any issues before they become a problem.

What AI means for humans

The machines may be on their way, but that doesn’t mean humans will soon be redundant. Yes, AI will take over certain tasks in the workplace, but instead of fearing job losses, businesses need to embrace a new world of work.

Not too long ago, Excel was the new disruptor on the block. It changed how number-crunching employees worked – but it didn’t mean they had less work to do. As the world gets smaller and companies continue to expand globally, technology continues to advance to help them do smarter, better business.

AI is simply another technological advancement. Rather than fear it or compete with it, payroll professionals should approach AI in the same way they’ve approached previous changes. They need to update their skills and knowledge to enable greater collaboration with technology. The sooner they understand what AI can and can’t do, the sooner they can identify the gaps that human capabilities can fill. This will ensure that they remain employable and relevant.

What AI means for Africa

There are still those who dismiss Africa as a backward, unconnected continent. They are wrong. Africa is as connected as the rest of the world; the same financial, taxation and structural principles apply there as they do anywhere else. Digital connectivity is advancing rapidly and thanks to a lack of legacy infrastructure, Africa is proving itself as a leading innovator and early-adopter in new, advanced infrastructure.

AI is just as feasible in Africa as it is anywhere else in the world. Rather than debate this, the continent’s business decision-makers should turn their attention to preparing their systems and processes for its arrival. The technology may still be in its infancy, but payroll, HR and finance teams are already testing its possibilities – and the potential benefits of AI are simply too good to ignore.

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