DOJ analysis tool adds up
- By Kevin McCaney
- Nov 12, 2002
'A lot of people see this as the cornerstone that will help feed some of their other subsystems or other information.'
Henrik G. DeGyor
The Justice Department has enhanced management of its work force with a new analysis and reporting tool that lets program managers bring payroll and personnel data quickly to the surface.
'The tool has really opened up people's eyes to the validity and the integrity of the data,' said Melinda Morgan, acting deputy director of the department's finance staff.
About 18 months ago, Morgan's staff began a project to adapt WebFocus from Information Builders Inc. of New York for their use. The goal was to develop a suite of reports that could integrate payroll and personnel information and quickly provide reports and analyses. They wanted to get around the slow, painstaking process of searching the National Finance Center's mainframe for the information.
'They had a plan for a Web-based system' that would serve Justice's roughly 186 offices, said Larry Reagan, director of Information Builders' Federal Systems Group. 'The existing system was too slow.'
'We had been using Information Builders' Focus product for the last 10 years or so, the mainframe version,' Morgan said. 'When they came out with the Web product, we thought this was a good way to marry some of our HR and mission data.'
Her team spent about nine months planning their approach and then began testing. Morgan said three or four department employees worked on the system while doing their other jobs. The system has been running for more than six months now, 'and the important thing is that we were able to do it for $25,000,' she said.Doing what-ifs
The system keeps track of pay and benefits, Morgan said, and it has the capacity to do some what-ifs, such as identifying employees eligible to retire and projecting the effects if they do leave.
'This is an opportunity to reach out to some of the more mission-oriented organizations, on the law enforcement side, and say: What different information do you need? Do you need to know when your people were last promoted? Do you need to know, more importantly, where people are and whether there is a duplication of resources?' Morgan said.
Part of the application's appeal was that it was a reusable investment, she said. It took data from legacy systems, tied it to mission data and put it into a place where it would get multiple uses.
Reagan said the project took WebFocus' templates 'and modified them in a way that makes sense for [the Office of Management and Budget's transformation] objectives.'
The results help managers determine the best approach to managing the work force. For example, Morgan said, 'If we give people more money, do they stay? That kind of information.' She said the finance staff has passed a lot of information to Justice's personnel staff director, Debra Tomchek.Easier access
The data was always there, but digging it out was problematic. 'It was available through the National Finance Center, but the way we got to it was by going through a very cumbersome process,' Morgan said.
That involved tapping into NFC's mainframe and searching though libraries for program code. Justice used about 50 libraries dealing with human resources and payroll data'more than 30 of its own and about 20 trusted libraries belonging to other agencies.
'This tool allowed us to jump-start and streamline our reporting, and bring information down to managers' desktops, so they could make projections from trends and help contribute to the human capital information gathering,' Morgan said.
The system retrieves information from the NFC and puts it into an Oracle8i database in Rockville, Md. WebFocus runs on top of the database. Users access it through the agency's intranet, using passwords. The system controls relational access privileges to different parts of the database.
'If they want canned reports, they can click on one and, on a good day, it will be there probably within 2 to 3 seconds, no more than 5 seconds,' she said. Before, it took about 6 minutes. And ad hoc reports were, practically speaking, not readily available. 'They couldn't do it easily.'
If users want a report sorted, they go to the ad hoc menu. 'There they have like a candy store where they can pick and choose and sort,' she said.
WebFocus works like an extract-transform-load tool, letting users view a report on screen, print it, download it to a spreadsheet or e-mail it to somebody else.
Along with speed and analytical capabilities, Morgan said the system also saved the department some money, cutting in half the per-minute charges for tapping into NFC's mainframe.
Justice is now looking to share the wealth, passing on its experiences to agencies such as the IRS and Agriculture Department. 'There's no sense in everybody recreating,' Morgan said. 'We'll show people what we've done and be glad to share the code, share the logic, train their people, whatever it takes.'
The bottom line is making good use of the data. 'A lot of people see this as the cornerstone of
Kevin McCaney is editor of Defense Systems. Follow him on Twitter: @KevinMcCaney.