Water Authority Integrates Functions with Computer System

Computer Automation

The Fairfax County Water Authority is the largest water utility in Virginia, serving more than 1.1 million people in Northern Virginia. Created in 1957, the Authority was established by Fairfax County to develop a comprehensive county-wide water supply system. The Authority's sole enterprise is the production and distribution of drinking water, with a rated treatment capacity of 262 million gallons per day.

The Authority has 381 full-time employees, 10 board members, five part-time employees and 25 summer interns to manage approximately 2,800 miles of water mains, 18,000 fire hydrants and 204,000 metered accounts.

System of the Past

In order to manage its human resources, payroll and benefits functions for almost 450 people, the Authority was using a home-grown COBOL-based legacy system. "This mainframe system lacked the integration of the human resources and payroll systems, creating duplication of effort among departments," said Paula Rowson, systems analyst III for the Fairfax County Water Authority.

The payroll department had its own database of standard information for each employee, including home address, telephone numbers and pay history. The personnel department also had its own databases that included much of the same information as in the payroll database. If an employee changed his or her address or telephone number, this information needed to be changed in both locations.

In addition, the Authority entered each employee's time worked information twice (once in a Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet, and once more in the COBOL system). "Not only was the time-entry process time consuming because of the duplication of effort, but also because the mainframe system was not user friendly," Rowson said. Once the information was entered into both the spreadsheet and the COBOL system, the data was then compared to ensure it balanced correctly.

Accessing information in the mainframe system was difficult. When employees requested just simple information regarding a recent paycheck, the payroll personnel would need to access the mainframe to obtain the information. This process often would require a programmer to design a specific program to access that particular piece of data. Payroll employees were not able to simply pull the information up on the screen or run a report from their desktops.

System Requirements

"We needed an integrated system to handle all three functions: human resources, benefits and payroll," Rowson said. "We were looking for a system that would allow us to integrate these functions, eliminating the duplication of effort between personnel and accounting departments."

In an effort to find the most efficient database, the Authority required that the system be a true Windows-based environment with a relational client/server back-end database. Additionally, it had to offer the flexibility to permit customization to support the Authority's specific requirements. Ease of use was another important consideration. Sophisticated functionality is useless if non-technical personnel cannot navigate the everyday system routines required to accomplish their jobs.

The Human Resource Manager

After evaluating five Human Resource Information Systems, the Authority selected The Human Resource Manager, developed by PDS. This decision was based on the fact that the other products tried were not truly Windows-based solutions. "This was a critical factor when selecting our HRIS, as we wanted the look and feel to be consistent with our other Windows applications," Rowson said.

This system is a completely integrated HRIS that supports all human resource, benefits and payroll functions. Consisting of three primary modules (Payroll Manager, Personnel Manager and Benefits Manager) The Human Resource Manager allowed the Authority to install a completely integrated solution in which data collected in one module is accessible and interchangeable across all other modules in the system.

The PDS client/server HRIS was implemented in April 1996. The Authority is operating a SQL-based Centura database in a Novell NetWare environment on a Hewlett Packard Pentium server. It is running Windows 3.11 on Pentium and a few 486 clients. Approximately 10 benefits, payroll and human resources employees currently access information in the system, with three or four active users. A 20-user license was bought by the Authority.

The Authority uses the Payroll Manager to process the large volumes of data in the short amount of time associated with its bi-weekly payroll. Critical functions it performs include calculating pay, creating paychecks, producing pay-related registers and preparing federal, state and local tax reports. The menu-driven approach makes the payroll input, execution and reporting to be accomplished easier.

The Benefits Manager facilitates the administration of employee benefit plans by automating the collection, tracking, analysis and reporting processes. Detailed benefits statements for employees can be gathered and produced. Additionally, the software has the flexibility to be manipulated to tailor a benefits package.

The Personnel Manager enables the Authority to create and maintain a comprehensive, organized database of employees and positions. "In the Personnel Manager we are able to enter, access and store employee data, such as demographic and education information, resumes and dependents," Rowson said.

Data is entered and stored once, but can be used for many purposes. The personnel and accounting departments work with one set of data, thereby ensuring its integrity. Each user has access to the data whenever needed, enabling the sharing of information. Changes that affect groups of employees can be accomplished with a single entry, reducing the amount of work required to maintain database accuracy.

Return on the Investment

The new process has streamlined time entry. "What took two people two days to complete now takes one person one and a half days," Rowson said. The Authority was also able to create a customized report for self balancing (automatically comparing line totals with summary totals for each employee, thus ensuring accuracy).

The implementation of The Human Resource Manager automated the Authority's human resource, payroll and benefits data, relieving burdensome record keeping and reporting requirements. This HRIS enables the Authority to produce government required reports and create customized reports, as well as allowing human resource employees to generate their own reports.

The complete integration among the different applications enables data to be simultaneously updated in all databases, ensuring integrity of the information. Additionally, the integration of the data enhances efficiency, eliminating duplication of effort, and increases accuracy.

Future

The system contains other features not yet implemented. For example, the Authority plans to pay retirement annuities for approximately 100 retirees using the system in order to eliminate another mainframe-based system.

The Authority also plans to use the fully-automated savings bond processing feature in The Human Resource Manager. This feature will enable the personnel department to have unlimited bond definitions and automatically create an output file for the Federal Reserve in its required format.

Nicole Burdette is a freelance writer based out of Audobon, N.J., She covers the topics of information technology and telecommunications.

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