R.I. retirement system retires folders

Until recently, workers at the Employees' Retirement System of Rhode Island computed pensions manually.

Frank J. Karpinski, executive director of retiree services, had a staff of 25 to manage 50,000 state accounts, and 'I wanted the staff to spend more time on the analytics,' he said.

There were thousands of paper records in filing cabinets that looked like 'pizza ovens,' he said, without a reliable backup method. The state stored employees' contribution histories in a proprietary database on an IBM OS/390 mainframe. But the database 'did not compute your benefit check,' Karpinski said.

And because of limited storage, the state used to purge the mainframe information every 18 to 24 months, and 'throw every member's [contribution] information onto ledger cards in a folder,' he said. 'There was no backup for the paper files.'

Staff members would have to retrieve ledger cards and add up the years of service to produce an annual report for employees. To issue a monthly retirement check, they would download a retiree's contribution information from the state mainframe, enter that into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and calculate the check amount by hand.

Karpinski was hired in 1994 to make the system more efficient. He decided to spend $17.5 million for Clarety document imaging and record retrieval software and services from Covansys Corp. of Farmington Hills, Mich. The services included business process re-engineering, a new network, workflow software, data conversion, maintenance and training.

Karpinski's first step was to 'back up all the paper.' He also wanted a better way to compute benefits as well as a way to give all members online access to their records. The hand-calculated annual statements only showed how much an employee had paid in, which 'doesn't tell you diddly' about future benefits, he said.

The streamlined system will produce detailed annual reports with beneficiary information and types of service credits. 'We'll also give them estimates of what their benefits would be,' Karpinski said. All employees should have online access to their information by next April.

Phone, fax or mail

The 25-member retirement staff uses Clarity to respond to queries by phone, fax or mail. Clarity runs under Microsoft Windows NT and searches a Microsoft SQL Server database. Its document imaging system is integrated with Microsoft Word to scan and barcode files.

Taking a big step, the retirement staff has now shredded their paper files. If an employee wants to authorize, say, an increase in contributions, the paper form is scanned into the electronic file.

For changes phoned in, a staff member can make quick file adjustments by typing in the employee's name.

Each scanned document goes into a work queue 'similar to an e-mail inbox,' Karpinski said. Work items are routed to the authorized persons, and folders are no longer passed around.
'It used to take half a day to find a folder,' Karpinski said. 'I cannot tell you the time we spent saying, 'Does anybody have Joe's folder?' ' But record-keeping and basic accounting are only the beginning of his plans.

'We have an F-16, and the only thing we've done is ride a bicycle,' Karpinski said.
About a year ago, the Kentucky Teachers' Retirement System switched to Covansys' $250,000 document imaging system to handle paper records for 30,000 annuitants and 59,000 active members eligible to retire in five to seven years. Now they can check their retirement information online.

Gary Harbin, executive secretary of the teachers' retirement system, said a communications log lets the staff file and retrieve retiree information in an IBM AS/400 database server.

'We created an interface between the AS/400 and a file imaging system' running under Windows NT, said Tom Delaney, the Covansys project manager. Kentucky classifies the paper records by Social Security number and links them to files in the AS/400 database.

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