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Administaff enhances client service through extranets, KMWorld Best Practice Award 2002

This article appears in the issue March 2002 [Volume 11, Issue 3]


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By Judith Lamont

Extranets are being used extensively to link companies in the supply chain for manufacturing and retailing, but their application to professional services companies is still on the leading edge. Founded 15 years ago, Administaff enhances client service through extranets Administaff is a well-established and respected leader in the professional employer organization (PEO) industry.

The premise behind PEOs is that small to midsize companies can operate better if they focus on their primary line of business rather than on administrative tasks. Removing the burden of such functions as payroll processing and tax filing, health insurance and retirement plans allows participating firms to develop their core competencies without having to become experts in human resources as well.

For Administaff, the result has been a thriving business and steady growth. The only PEO in the Fortune 500, Administaff now has annual revenues approaching $4 billion. Another result of that growth is an extensive set of data to manage, much of which is destined to be shared with clients. It is contained in legacy systems, some of which are Unix-based and others, NT-based; the primary repository of employee data is contained in an Informix (now part of IBM, ) database.

For many years, payroll specialists and other service providers at Administaff ran reports such as weekly payrolls as requested. The reports were then faxed to clients.“In the late 1990s, we began to consider ways to enhance our service,” says John Sheridan, application manager at Administaff. “We were very cognizant that providing information is a key part of Administaff’s activities.” The company began to look for ways in which it could improve access to the data it maintains and allow clients to be more in control of that data. A Web-based system was a logical option.

An evaluation of requirements and a search of the available products led Administaff to WebFocus from Information Builders. The product was a good match for Administaff’s needs. Built as a Web-based business intelligence tool, its browser interface is familiar to users. The fact that no client software is required simplifies deployment and eliminates per-seat licensing fees. Equally important, use of WebFocus requires little training, a critical feature given Administaff’s heterogeneous group of clients. Users need not have a background in business intelligence to use WebFocus effectively.

Behind the scenes, WebFocus handles legacy data proficiently, a capability derived from Information Builders’ use of the fourth generation Focus programming language. Information Builders was established in 1975 as a firm specializing in data integration and reporting. WebFocus leverages data drivers developed by the company that access a large variety of data types in native format. “Our drivers make intelligent reads of the data,” says Jim Ivers, director of Business Intelligence at Information Builders. “The answer sets are much smaller, which minimizes data traffic over the Internet and makes queries more efficient.”

Administaff implemented the first phase of its Web-based reporting system in fall 2001 after developing a set of standard WebFocus reports that clients could run. Those are accessed through the Employee Service Center on Administaff’s Web site. Initially, clients could access payroll data, including both summary and detailed data, as well as general information about employees such as addresses and birthdays. The format of reports was specified; birthdays were sorted by employee name, for example.

As Administaff clients became familiar with the Employee Service Center, more options were added so that employee data could be sorted according to each company’s needs. Administaff is now rolling out a new extension of the service, through which clients will be able to create and save their own reports. Clients can also integrate that data with other corporate information. For example, they can output payroll reports in Excel spreadsheets and transition the data to their accounting systems. Sheridan anticipates that increasingly sophisticated options for managing information will be made available to Administaff clients in the future.

With databases full of sensitive personnel information, Administaff placed a high priority on security. “We had to be sure that only authorized individuals have access to the information,” says Sheridan. Multilevel security provided by WebFocus includes authentication to verify the individual’s identity, authorization to control what categories of information can be accessed and application-level security to restrict access at the “row and column” level.

Creative Alliances matches one of the profiles of a typical Administaff customer. A recent startup with a small number of employees, the company wanted to focus on its sales expertise rather than administration. Creative Alliances specializes in products for the real estate industry, including telecommunications, Web site development and telemarketing. The company signed up with Administaff several months ago and is enthusiastic about the arrangement.

Jenny Deason, administrative director for the company, cites the ease of use, 24/7 convenience and elimination of paperwork among the advantages of Administaff’s system.

“New employees can fill out enrollment forms online, which means we don’t have to file paper forms,” says Deason. “I can also run reports showing what benefits each employee has selected, or generate a new directory of employees.” Administaff handles health insurance and other benefits such as (401)K plans, leaving the fledgling company free to develop its business.

Administaff also uses WebFocus for its own business intelligence and reporting requirements. As a human resources specialist, the company has substantial reporting requirements to a variety of federal and state financial agencies. In addition, it uses WebFocus for analytical activities associated with understanding its business and clients.

The Administaff Employee Service Center achieves the desirable goal of empowering clients. Although both Administaff and Information Builders could be described as relatively conservative, they have leveraged the potential of the Internet world and used it to the best advantage. By developing and implementing a well-thought-out plan, the two companies have teamed up to break new ground in knowledge management.

Judith Lamont is a research analyst with Zentek Corp., e-mail jlamont@sprintmail.com.


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