Transit payroll workers trade 400 square feet of paper for gigs of COLD technology

Transit payroll workers trade 400 square feet of paper for gigs of COLD technology

A New York City payroll division puts years of employee data online

By Merry Mayer

Special to GCN

A COLD wind is blowing through New York City Transit, but it is warming the hearts of NYCT's payroll workers.

NYCT plans to eliminate reams of paper and save time by using computer output to laser disk (COLD) technology to distribute payroll data via CD-ROM.

NYCT runs New York City's subway and bus systems throughout the five boroughs. It employs more than 42,000 workers and runs biweekly payroll reports between 4,000 and 5,000 pages.

Under the paper system, the Payroll Division printed up to three copies of each report for distribution. This meant many hours of printer time and the need to separate the report into sections manually.

The division also kept one copy of the report for its archives. Seven years of biweekly paper reports take up 400 square feet in NYCT's Brooklyn headquarters.

New York City Transit senior director of payroll Joseph Bonds, left, and controller Kevin McKenna show CDs that replaced stacks of paper payroll reports.

Don't ask

Special requests caused even more problems. When an employee retires, the Payroll Division has to provide the individual's payroll history. A payroll employee had to retrieve paper copies of the last 25 report summaries, amounting to more than 100,000 pages. Then the payroll staff had to go through each of the binders, collect the payroll data for the retiree and summarize it in a spreadsheet report.

Not only was the process time-consuming, but the report was also likely to contain errors. The division received about 15 such requests a day.

To ease the process, NYCT's Emerging Technology Group considered alternatives for handling the reports, including programming its mainframe to produce them.

The Payroll Division began a pilot with MetaViewer, a print capture program, and Metafile Information Retrieval, a search interface, both from Metafile Information Systems Inc. of Rochester, Minn.

MetaViewer accepts output from just about any application. Documents in less common formats such as IBM's Advanced Function Presentation or Xerox's Metacode retain their fonts and graphics. Meta Viewer also captures output from applications produced on a Windows platform, such as Microsoft's Office Suite, and retains all characteristics of the text.

On just one report, MetaViewer saved 250 boxes of paper, said Arthur Mahler, senior director for timekeeping payroll. Instead of delivering 25 boxes of paper to each division, payroll handed them 10 disks, he said.

The CDs are also more secure than paper because they are password-coded. A payroll worker can only view the portion that the division has given the worker permission to view.

The Metafile Information Retrieval software can combine multiple reports and index them according to many different fields. The software also lets users perform full-text searches.

Now the payroll staff can answer employees' payroll questions in a few seconds. They simply type in the first few letters of an employee's name and execute the request.

'This clearly demonstrated the potential to automate nearly all of the time we were spending manually distributing and searching documents,' said Kevin McKenna, NYCT controller.
So easy

'The program proved to be relatively easy to install and set up. No host code changes were necessary. We just specified which print files we needed to download, how often the downloads should occur and what needed to be done to the spool file once it was downloaded,' McKenna said.

At first, it took several hours to download the information from the mainframe to a PC, McKenna said. That time has been reduced to 60 minutes after replacing some old network hardware, he said. 'We consider this to be an excellent speed, considering the size of the file to be transferred,' he said.

'COLD technology has improved the quality of life in the Payroll Division, absolutely,' said Joseph Bonds, senior director of payroll. 'Nobody is hurting their backs picking up heavy boxes of paper anymore. All those reams of paper had become a safety issue.'

During the pilot, payroll produced reports on both paper and CD-ROM, but now the reports are committed only to disk, said Grace Siegel, a computer specialist in the Emerging Technology Group.

Eventually the Payroll Division could use the software to provide users with secure access to data over an Internet browser, she said.

The group's next goal is to provide the same kind of technology to all NYCT divisions.

'We hope to go into production early next year for everybody,' Siegel said.

She is not sure whether the division will stick with Metafile. It will look at a variety of companies that provide COLD technology, Siegel said.

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