Celebrating 40 years of software provision

Education Today catch up with Michael Howard, Founder and Managing Director of Frontier Software, who this year celebrates a 40-year milestone in the provision of HR and Payroll software and services. Michael, who has an ambition for Frontier Software to be a “100-year-old company”, discusses the reasons behind its success and how considerable change has been navigated.

Congratulations on the 40-year anniversary – what does this milestone mean to you/the company?

Thank you for your congratulations and for providing me with this opportunity to talk about a fantastic achievement for our business. For me, the Frontier Software family is the most important thing of all and there are a number of staff that have worked alongside me since the company was founded, so that’s an incredible 40 years’ service. Not only did these early pioneers share my faith in the potential of Frontier Software, but they have also continued to support the business and contribute massively to its growth. This is a significant milestone, but to continue building on our success, we always have an eye firmly on the future. Frontier Software’s long-standing employees are exemplary in their dedication to the success of the company and their contribution, support and commitment amaze me every single day. But when you add to longevity and experience our new recruits, with their ambition, ideas, and a desire to do a great job, you’ll see why we have a winning team. Everyone brings something different to the table and at Frontier Software we learn from each other.  And, of course, there are our clients, many of which have been with us for 10 years or more. Their loyalty to Frontier Software is valued enormously and shows us that our efforts are appreciated and make a real difference to the organisations that we support.

What do you put your longevity and success down to?

I’ll say that it’s down to keeping an eye firmly on the future and to developing our software and services in line with market expectations, technology, and demand.  We never stand still or rest on our laurels. We started out as an HR & Payroll software provider and quickly added outsourced payroll services to our portfolio. Across 40 years the demand for new software features has grown and grown and so our developments have continued apace.  We support 1700 clients of all sizes, and we have no plans to stop expanding our choice of solutions or our client base! Furthermore, I am proud to acknowledge that our longevity and success is due in no small part to the staff and the contribution they make to the business. They have a tireless commitment to developing and supporting our award-winning software. Frontier Software has a staff or more than 500 people and we have demonstrated that opportunities exist for all; for example, we have provided a career path that has taken an individual from reception to the helpdesk and others from helpdesk to project management. 

How has the HR & payroll software landscape changed over the past 40 years?

HR terminology has changed considerably and what started as a phrase or concept has resulted in functionality changes and, in some instances, entirely new software modules, such as onboarding, workforce management, talent management, with more still to come. When we started in business we offered an integrated solution, so it amazes me that we are still asked if our solution is integrated, as some are not.

Innovations in technology have driven the biggest changes and now powerful automation features and artificial intelligence dictate the direction of software development. Across four decades, HR and payroll has evolved from “personnel” files in a locked filing cabinet and manual pay calculations, to fully integrated systems that support every aspect of HR, simplify payroll and incorporate ever changing tax regimes. Software now streamlines processes with inbuilt workflow taking control of the routine for efficient management of basic tasks. A great example of this was the introduction of employee Self Service, which has resulted in employees taking care of their HR related tasks anytime/anywhere and on any device.  Self Service was a real game changer. Leading on from this has been the matter of mobility and the quest for mobile applications is getting stronger and stronger.

And, of course, cloud computing has changed processes and ways of working forever. On-demand access to applications without the financial strain and responsibility of data storage, security, and infrastructure. Software as a Service has brought the power of HR and payroll software to the web at an affordable price, particularly for smaller organisations.

What lessons have you/has the company learnt in the past 40 years about running a successful business in the education sector particularly?

Never stand still. There is always more that we can be doing, and we must keep listening and learning. Customer satisfaction is Frontier Software’s number one priority and taking feedback and acting on it is critical to our success. Secondly, great employees are invaluable.  The success of this company reflects their loyalty, hard work, and commitment. I have learned that having faith in ourselves and our ideas is essential and that any organisation must be equipped to keep growing and evolving through every challenge it faces. The education sector is also confronted with challenges and must adapt, often at short notice. Budget cuts, constant assessment, and the importance of pupil well-being mean establishments are pulled in every direction, often under immense pressure. We have learned that delivering a competitively priced, functional, yet easy to use HR & Payroll solution means we are not another challenge for overstretched resources, but a means of support. We have considered the nuances of the education sector when developing our product to ensure that we survive in what is a competitive market. We have to understand the business needs of the education sector in order to deliver a solution. For example, we have ensured that the handling of multiple-contracts, salary increments, different contract and leave conditions, and the production of statutory collection data, all form part of our standard software.

What’s next for Frontier Software?

What’s next for Frontier Software … AI … or Artificial Intelligence to give it the full name!

Article originally published on Education Today April 2023