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Coffee With Wilson Silva

A Virtual Conversation With Alight’s Wilson Silva

Cloud computing has reshaped almost every industry – and HR is no exception. For an inside perspective on the cloud’s impact as well as a look into the future of HR software and workplaces, we sat down with Wilson Silva, senior vice president of outsourcing at Alight Solutions.

Give us an overview of your role.

I started at Exult in 2000, when it was a small business process outsourcing (BPO) company. We performed “lift-and-shifts” to give clients the same or better quality in their processes at reduced costs, and I managed the associated payroll operations.

In 2004, Exult was acquired by Hewitt and my responsibilities expanded into helping the sales team and setting solution prices. From 2005 to 2006, Hewitt underwent major growth, and by 2007 I had become global payroll process lead, where I determined the direction for the service delivery model.

Then Aon acquired Hewitt in 2010, and I joined the leadership team. Around 2012, I began a deep dive into Workday and that led to me working for the current COO of Alight and eventually overseeing all our Workday clients.

Along the way, we foresaw where cloud software was heading and that helped me assume responsibility of all Alight payroll and cloud operations, along with other services like HCM and performance compensation (talent). Alight acquired NGA Human Resources in 2019, and so now I’m in the process of becoming its global leader in HCM, payroll and cloud, with oversight of all services from HR and talent to Workday benefits across an organization of about 4,000 people.

How have you seen the industry shift throughout your career?

We deliver the same services as before, but via a very different delivery model. Back in the BPO days, we would, for example, take actual PeopleSoft applications and host them and manage all technical aspects of them for clients. That was challenging because every customer had a unique setup, meaning that a PeopleSoft installation could look very different from one organization to the next because of all the custom work involved.

Then around 2013 to 2014, we saw a big transition to cloud, and with it a change in focus from customization to configuration. Clients still have particular requirements, but it’s possible to meet them via configuration changes rather than more extensive customizations. Our work is more standardized than it was under the lift-and-shift paradigm and there’s less variance.

Self-service has also taken on a new meaning over time. In the past, HR portals were transactional, with each user’s activities being interfaced into an application. It was a complicated user experience that didn’t provide a holistic view of HR functionality. Now we have UPoint portals that provide a quicker, more seamless HR experience, letting you do anything from getting a payroll question answered to updating your direct deposit information. The software is vastly superior to what came before.

Where do you see the industry heading in the next three to five years?

Cloud software will keep improving, with some interesting implications for HR and payroll service providers. Cloud software is getting much better, so we have to stay a step ahead of software development and bring value beyond the software itself.

Part of doing that is providing perspective and data-driven insights. Every organization wants to know how others are running their operations, and, as a wide-angled lens for the industry, we’re well positioned to answer that question.

For instance, we can look at a client’s underlying business processes, see anomalies, and show them how they stack up against others with metrics like process cycle time for onboarding. Chatbots and digital assistants are also turning into important differentiators in HR portals, as they can provide instant help.

What’s your favorite part of your role?

I like that it’s challenging and that the stakes are high – if you don’t provide the service a client wants, they have the choice to go elsewhere, after all. Connecting clients with the right solution is also very rewarding, as is helping new employees gain knowledge and experience.

What’s the most challenging aspect of your position?

It’s not enough to be a transaction-based provider anymore. We have to take a more consultative approach that accounts for major changes in how clients use technology in HR and payroll as well as the role of automation and AI in these fields. It’s a different skill set than in years past.

COVID-19 has created substantial challenges, too. Everyone is shifting to remote work. Technology like videoconferencing has helped us keep going even when apart. Ultimately, our physical workspaces may become less needed.

How do you judge success?

By client feedback and customer satisfaction scores. If we don’t have clients, we don’t have a business. To be successful, we have to deliver the value that keeps clients with us.

What advice do you have for your peers?

Try to learn something new every day. Be curious and a lifelong learner. Plus, realize that you won’t meet expectations all the time and that it’s important to learn from failure and move on instead of beating yourself up over what you did wrong.

What would be your ideal job if you weren’t working in your current job?

Teaching. It goes with my commitment to lifelong learning and my passion for seeing other people develop their knowledge.

If you could have dinner with three people, who would you choose?

  1. George Washington – I love history and he was president at a pivotal time and had to make difficult decisions.
  2. Abraham Lincoln – For the same reasons as Washington.
  3. Thomas Edison – He seemed to understand the secret of innovation and was adept at learning from failure.

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