Kiwi developer releases open source payroll

Modular design can adapt to different legal requirements

A small New Zealand IT consultancy is working on an open source accounting and payroll application that can be customized to suit the requirements of the country it is being used in.

Christchurch-based Treshna Enterprises released Paymaster under the open source GNU General Public Licence after it was originally developed as an in-house payroll solution for an organization with a very large payroll base.

Treshna managing director Andrew Hill said existing products on the market, including closed source solutions, were not well suited to the company's requirements.

"We initially tried to work with a number of other open source projects [like SQL-Ledger] to shorten development time, but we decided that we had to go it alone in order to get the application released and working," Hill said. "Paymaster is built as a stand-alone payroll application for companies with large payrolls."

Hill said the application is now quite stable and is being used in a number of production environments.

"We are working on a purely Web-based version of the payroll and adding support for the US tax system," he said. "There is one paid developer working on the project, and no support yet from the open source community."

The first version of Paymaster was a Windows 95-NT application written in the mid 1990s using flat files to store employee details. Treshna then decided to switch to storing information in a PostgreSQL database and rewrote the user interface for both Linux and Windows.

Regarding the functionality of Paymaster, Hill claims it is "a lot more powerful" than MYOB and Quicken.

"The problem with payroll in any market is that generally they are only useful for the countries they were designed for," he said. "Every country's laws and taxes are different and require different features of the software. So if you need a high-end payroll solution in New Zealand or Australia there is a limit of solution providers because most of the large payroll providers stick to larger country markets."

Hill said Treshna's aim with Paymaster is to develop a payroll application that is reliable and fast to use.

"Payroll is unique in that you have a very short time frame to do all the data entry, process it and report on it," he said. "Paymaster deals with cost centres, leave management and human resource information, as well as a lot of powerful reporting tools designed at pinpointing potential problems in large organizations."

Paymaster is not for New Zealand businesses only and it can be adapted for different countries.

"It has a plug-in architecture for support for other countries [or] states," Hill said. "We have support for New Zealand, California and US federal at the moment, and are in the process of adding in support for more states. Countries that have similar laws to New Zealand are very easy to add, like Australia and the UK."

Adding supported countries to a payroll application is not a technical problem but a legal problem because it involves figuring out the countries' tax codes and employment laws, according to Hill.

"It's something I hope that the open source movement could help in the future in writing modules for other countries," he said. "It's a paid service we also currently offer to people looking for a payroll for their country and willing to pay someone to write a module for their own tax and legal system."

Paymaster also provides reports like full cost analysis for the period's wage transactions and leave accrued provisions, which provide a simple basis for a journal into the accounting system.

"We are currently working on a point of sale and inventory system, and already have a job processing and manufacturing system," Hill said. "In the future we may decide to add the missing link of an accounting system."

Treshna is now working on porting the payroll application to Windows and is looking at providing an online payroll service.

Paymaster is online at http://www.treshna.com/software/paymaster/.