Subsystem or System

I was working at Builder’s Square back in the mid 80s and got tasked with converting the existing payroll process for the company.  We used large 11 x 17 forms for the  employees to fill out which was then sent out to ADP.  These forms had information such as address, bank routing numbers for direct deposit, with-holding for taxes, etc.  They also sent the weekly hours for store employees out to ADP for them to cut checks.

Builder’s Square was a subsidiary of K-Mart and the word had come down that K-Mart’s payroll department could do the work.  They had a custom record layout already created for us to submit all that data on those large forms up to K-Mart in Michigan.

There was also a developer up at K-Mart who was taking the uploaded data and importing it into their payroll system.  We also had a payroll manager up at K-Mart who did the project management and coordination.  There was also a couple of trainers at Builder’s Square who went out to the stores and showed the payroll clerks what needed to be done.

I had to work with developer at K-Mart to include anything on the ADP form into their record format.  Also they had assumed we’d always send everything on every record but I modified the format to fill any field not actually being updated with null values or low values.  No sense in causing an update for a field that hasn’t changed.

I created data entry programs to update the employee data and allow the store payroll clerks to enter the hours.  Any field that was changed got logged into a transaction file to show when it was changed and who changed it.  This file was then extracted at the end of the week to create the change records to K-Mart.  The change records and payroll hours where sent via model to K-Mart every Sunday which took about two hours.

Working with the Avery form vendor rep the two of us modified that large payroll form down to 8.5 by 11.  It was still used but instead of sending the forms off to ADP they now sent them to Builder’s Square corporate payroll.  Modifying that paper form also allowed me to match up the green screen data entry programs to match the form layout. 

We used a dedicated modem to transmit the changes and payroll hours each week to K-Mart.  The transmission took about four hours on a Sunday which was acceptable.  I also had to code the transmission programs to hand shake over SNA to the K-Mart mainframe.  

The next day K-Mart would send down the current employee data file which we would continue to maintain at Builder’s Square.  This kept the two systems in synchronization.  K-Mart had the master copy of the employee data while Builder’s Square had a local copy.  If any problem had occurred where we missed a change or something it would be obvious and we’d have to key the changes in again.

So we got everything working and folks were getting paid right.  Occasionally there would be a problem with the store connection going down.  I had a workaround where the store payroll clerk could drive to a nearby store.  I had used the device description the payroll clerk signed in on to limit them to just that store’s employees.  When a payroll clerk would go to another store I’d do a temporary override to let them maintain one store’s employees from another store.  It wasn’t very pretty but it worked.  With a bit more time I’d have given that override ability to the corporate payroll department and gotten myself out of the loop.

At the end of the project Mike Smith who was the VP if IT at Builder’s Square made a comment to me that ADP did the payroll cheaper that K-Mart.  I got the impression maybe he didn’t want us to succeed with the project.  I replied that it was in house and was probably cheaper for K-Mart.  He’s looking at it from Builder’s Square perspective.  I looked at it more from K-Mart’s point of view.

Was Builder’s Square payroll a subsystem that was needed to be optimized for K-Mart or was it a system that should have been left alone as the conversion to K-Mart wasn’t a cost improvement? 


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