How a 50-Year-Old Payroll & HR Services Company is Leading Innovation in the Age of Disruption

With nearly a half-century of industry expertise under its belt, Paychex embarks on a journey from being a mere digital player to a true digital disruptor.

Recently, the Oracle community got together at Collaborate 19 in San Antonio for a week-long event of rich technical sessions tackling industry challenges, data security, cloud computing, the latest and greatest in Oracle technologies, and more.

One of the highlight sessions from this event featured a company applying innovative technologies to bring their traditional application stack into the 21st century and provide better service to their customers.

With nearly half a century of industry expertise under its belt, Paychex shared their journey of being a mere digital player to becoming a true digital disruptor in their industry. Based in Rochester, NY, Paychex is a leading provider of payroll, benefits, HR and insurance services – processing for more than 650,000 clients.

The company pays every one in 12 American private sector employees and processed more than $680 billion in financial transactions last year. Not to mention, they’re the largest 401(k) recordkeeper in the U.S. by number of plans and was recently named to Forbes’ 100 Most Innovative Companies.

The Reality of Digital Disruption

But similar to many traditional companies, Paychex did not start as a technology firm. They had a long history of using a mix of legacy monoliths and microservices, naturally leading to a very large, siloed organization with many lines of business.

With growing competition in the payroll and HR services industry in the form of upstarts like Gusto and Zenefits, the company recognized the need to transform their software development lifecycle (SDLC) to enable rapid software delivery for their customers.

“We’re different from many other companies,” said Chris Swanson, senior software developer at Paychex. “We have trillions of pennies we have to keep track of, so we can’t tolerate any mistakes or any delays in getting money to people.”

“If I’m scrolling down my Facebook, and I see a video and I click on it and nothing happens, I’m going to be disappointed for a few seconds until I see the next interesting thing on my feed,” Swanson adds. “Now say Friday rolls around and my paycheck doesn’t show up in my bank account, it’s a whole different set of emotions involved there. We don’t want that, our clients don’t want that, so we work very hard to make sure our applications are rock solid by the time they hit production.”

Embarking on this digital transformation journey, the company was looking to set the foundation for a fully automated and orchestrated next-generation series of environments. Specifically, they had five distinct goals:

  • Increase product delivery speed to get products out of the door faster

  • Increase capability of environments by providing whole, isolated environments

  • Increase availability by providing product-level support in test environments

  • Increase change quality by version-controlling all changes

  • Reduce build and configuration lead time through automation

“A lot of companies will give developers empty database instances and leave it to them to create synthetic data,” Swanson stated. “The database that I run is over 3,000 tables, so it’s extremely difficult to maintain synthetic data for all of that and keep relational integrity intact.”

In an effort to achieve those objectives, Paychex adopted a data virtualization tool to deliver test environments based on a single core environment that had shared instances of all the systems and functionality of production. The satellite environments provide local copies of infrastructure for dev/test to work in and can be deployed on-demand through self-service tools, including full automation.

“Back before I used this technology, if I wanted to get a copy of would take hours to days to rebuild a production database,” Richard Ignizio, database administrator at Paychex, said. “Now, it’s literally four clicks to provision a database.”

“We can dynamically spin up a database without any manual or human intervention. I’m able to synchronize virtual copies in near real time and virtualize any type of data, files, directories to any server,” Ignizio adds. “When all of that is done...I can go back and restore any of that data from a certain point in time. It makes me be able to move quickly through the various application life cycles.”

The Paychex team currently has 13 virtualization engines, three masking engines, 62+ dsources, and 271 virtual databases and counting. Of that, they’ve only used up 170TB of storage, saving nearly 3.17PB of data.

The virtualization capability also integrates with a masking engine to help safeguard the wealth of sensitive data they have on behalf of their clients.

“We can’t use unmasked data in test obviously for security reasons, so we use their masking utility to turn these copies of production into safe test systems that anyone can get without compromising security or integrity,” Swanson explains.

Living the DevOps Dream

In many ways, gone are the days when companies rely on old systems and fail in securing sensitive data. Digital transformation is creating an opportunity for innovation across all industries. It isn’t just about modernizing IT infrastructure or moving to cloud, but it’s about accelerating application development using fast, secure data. That’s exactly what Paychex is doing to stay ahead of its competition.

The payroll and HR solutions and services market is projected to reach more than $43 million by 2026, according to a recent report. By combining its innovative technology and driving the company’s agile development processes, Paychex is among today’s successful data companies that are demonstrating a commitment to adopting a modern data management platform to refine how their business deliver superior products and services.

Unlike many of its industry counterparts, they are championing innovation by delivering solutions to more than 650,000 customers faster, with higher quality than ever before and empowering their customers to focus on what they do best: managing and working towards a brighter future for their small business one day at a time.

“This project is still ongoing, but at this point, we’re living the DevOps dream,” Swanson affirms.

The world’s leading organizations rely on Delphix to fast-track software development and speed new applications to market. Check out 5 companies using Delphix in 5 different ways, ranging from app development of customer-facing apps to cloud migration and more, to power digital transformation.