Stepping up in tough times

Dec 07, 2020
Jason Collins spent much of 2020 helping Irish SMEs keep the show on the road. But now, he is tentatively lifting his gaze to the horizon once again.

Payroll administration has become an increasingly complicated process over the years, and the response to the COVID-19 pandemic has added yet another layer of complexity. Companies availing of government-led COVID-19 supports have had to contend with changes to an already less-than-straightforward system while dealing with the broader business impact of the pandemic.

Adapting to the rapidly changing payroll world has been the stock-in-trade of the Irish software firm, CollSoft, for the past 20 years. In this interview, Founder and Chief Executive, Jason Collins, reflects on a turbulent year and looks ahead to what the future holds – both for his company and his clients.

What was the biggest challenge for your business since the onset of COVID-19?

The provision of technical support has been a challenge. The vast majority of our clients continue to work remotely, and they are dealing with an ever-evolving payroll environment. Helping them on this journey has been our sole focus over the past year, and we have been forced to change our customer service model to meet their needs better.

For example, customer support was traditionally provided by phone or by email. It was also reactive in nature, responding to customer queries as they arose. We have turned that model on its head as it was time-consuming for both the customer and our support team, and often failed to deliver information promptly.

Today, we rely more on ‘in software’ communication as emails often go to the wrong person, or go unread. Through our platform, we can share information and updates with our customers as we receive it, which ensures that the end-user is up-to-date at all times. We also host webinars regularly, which allow us to tackle pervasive issues and questions with a broad audience. The interactive nature of our webinars is also a valuable learning opportunity for us, as it gives us an insight into the challenges facing our customers.

That sounds great for general issues and time-sensitive updates, but what about specific technical problems?

Troubleshooting remains a top priority for CollSoft. As a small company, customers are assured of a solutions-focused service when they contact us with a technical query.

When an issue is complicated, or the customer cannot identify the source of the problem, we use the TeamViewer platform to resolve the issue. TeamViewer is a software package that allows customers to give CollSoft’s customer care team access to the client’s PC using a single-use password. We can virtually see the client’s computer and access their system to identify the root cause of the problem and, where needed, fix the issue without the need for the client to get involved.

The most important aspect of the TeamViewer solution from the customer’s perspective is that they remain in control at all times. We can only access the customer’s PC with their permission, and the customer can end our session at any time, so it is incredibly secure in that sense. And from our side, we can provide a very efficient diagnosis and remedy service while the customer watches on-screen and we talk them through the process by phone. It’s part troubleshooting and part education, which benefits everybody.

From an SME perspective, what was the glue that held everything together during the pandemic?

PAYE Modernisation, without a doubt. The project, which went live on 1 January 2019, ensures that Revenue, employers and employees have the most accurate, up-to-date information about pay and statutory payroll deductions. While it was never the intention of Revenue, this real-time approach allowed for the design and delivery of the various subsidy schemes that have been so crucial in keeping businesses operational and employees on the payroll.

Before PAYE Modernisation was introduced, Revenue was always one year behind as it worked with the information provided in companies’ annual P35 submissions. But now, 99% of all payments made to employees in Ireland are made via payroll software. Employers simply click a button to share their payroll information with Revenue, which gives it a much better picture of the overall state of the economy.

But most importantly, it has put Revenue in a position where it can issue scheme-specific payments to employers within two days of receiving their payroll data. This is the glue that held everything together, and Revenue hasn’t been given enough credit for that in my view. Without PAYE Modernisation, it is quite probable that our economy would be decimated at this stage.

With 2020 almost behind us, what are your hopes and plans for 2021 and beyond?

There has been some encouraging news lately in terms of a viable vaccine to protect against COVID-19, so I hope that we – and all other businesses – manage to return to some semblance of normality. 2020 was a reactive year as we sought to keep pace with the various wage subsidy schemes and support our customers through the uncertainty. So for me, the main goal is to restart the planned development of our platform, which will significantly enhance our product offering.

It must be said that 2020 wasn’t all bad. For example, we engaged with customers in new ways using interactive webinars. This allowed us to host something akin to ‘town hall’ meetings where we could speak directly to our customer base while also, and more importantly, listening to their challenges and concerns. CollSoft’s motto has always been “solutions in software” but, to find those solutions, you must first fully understand the problem.

Even with a vaccine and the prospect of a return to a more normal way of life, CollSoft will continue this type of frequent engagement into 2021 and beyond and use the experiences of our customers to shape our future product development strategy.

Jason Collins is Founder and Chief Executive at CollSoft. For more information, visit  www.collsoft.ie