pilot takes control

Pilot Travel Centers adapts to its growth by streamlining its payroll and human resources systems.

Necessity is indeed the mother of invention. As Pilot Travel Centers grew to 50 c-stores and 262 travel centers in 40 states with 14,000 employees, it became imperative for the company to streamline its payroll and human resources processes. Explosive growth also created a need to turn its payroll and HR administrators into analysts.

"Having 14,000 employees across 40 states adds a lot of complexity to payrollbecause each state has different rules and regulations for tax, overtime processing,handling of benefits, et cetera," says Dave DePrimo, manager of corporate systemsfor the Knoxville, TN-based chain. "We needed the ability to work and trackemployees in different states. We have truck drivers, a lot of hourly peopleand a lot of turnover. Things like that are exceptions to our payroll process.

"We were growing and looking to put some computer changes into place," he continues."We want to consolidate systems as opposed to using multiple systems for thevarious applications; we already owned Lawson’s General Ledger, Accounts Payableand Activities/Project Management modules. We wanted to find another solutionthat would integrate with these modules."

The company turned to its longtime technology partner Lawson Software (www.lawson.com)for a solution to its payroll and HR software problem. The payroll programthe company is working to implement handles regulatory and compliance reporting,garnishments and court order management, flexible automated deduction creationand more. It also eliminates time-sensitive tasks—such as time entry,check printing, off-cycle payments, quarterly filings and payroll reporting—andallows retailers to spend less time maintaining employee taxes while increasingtax calculation accuracy.

Change for the better
Pilot is replacing the three systems it has had in place for years withthe Lawson software. The first is a proprietary Web-based front end that trackshourly employees for stores and restaurants, pay changes, terminations and someemployee transfers. The second is its core payroll system, rather than a database.Finally, Pilot is phasing out another custom application it had developed forhuman resources reporting. The biggest complaint for the latter two systems,according to DePrimo, was "information integrity" issues.

"A lot of data had to be extracted and then loaded into flat files or loadedinto different databases," he says. "There was a lot of room for error withthe possibility of items being miskeyed or mishandled. Now, it will be one system,one way and everything is in communication with everything else. Today we havedisparate systems for processing payroll and human resources, and we neededintervention before we set up an employee to be paid. Lawson has helped us integrateand have everything in one database and available in real time. When the storemanager keys an employee in, it’s in the corporate system."

Another thing Pilot will have the ability to track is its full-and part-timeemployees. The new software will verify that each group is working the appropriateamount of hours for their benefits.

"This allows us to catch that mistake and correct it," says DePrimo. "We canevaluate that and get a better understanding of how we are using our employees,and there’s a potential dollar savings there. Our managers and field peoplewill also have immediate access to our employees’ information—from personalitems like birthdays and anniversaries to professional items like the date oftheir last evaluation, or their last raise. It helps us to manage our employeesbetter. And when employees are due for a review, the system will let our managersknow and keep them on schedule."

The new software will allow Pilot to pump some of its information and recordsinto multi-dimensional databases to display information via a Web portal, whichwill create a one-stop shop for field employees to get a quick look at theiremployment records on a daily basis. While not all the numbers will change everyday, they will have employee information at their fingertips whenever they needit.

Another useful function is the Manager Self-Service, where numerous employeeactions can be changed by the manager (i.e., pay changes, position changes,employee transfers, vacation or leave of absence requests, etc.). Then the informationpasses to the appropriate supervisor’s "in" basket and shows them their workas it comes in. Approvals can be quickly accepted or rejected. The functionwill not only bring the item to their attention, but it allows them to quicklyact on it, creating a more streamlined process that will run much more efficiently.

Dollars to ‘sense’
Pilot had hoped to have the payroll and human resourcessoftware in place and running by December 2004, but it has experienced implementationdelays. Now, as the weather warms, the company is shooting to have it fullyimplemented by September—purposely taking a lull in the summer to gearup for training, with plans to "go live" after its peak business months. Thetotal investment Pilot will have made is a little less than $2 million whenall is said and done. This includes implementation and some new servers to handlethe extra processing.

"Our biggest savings will be gained through the efficiency the system provides,"says DePrimo. "I feel that our info will become more accurate than it is today.And as we get more into self-service aspects of the product, we’re going tobe empowering our people.

"We’ll save in fewer calls to corporate where employees are looking for answersthat they’ll be able to now find for themselves," he continues. "It will changethe role of our payroll and human resources administrators from data entry todata analysts. Then hopefully they can figure out trends or patterns to makeour labor better. That’s our biggest expense—labor—so anything wecan do to help reduce labor will have a significant impact to our bottom line.For example, if we can reduce our labor by one hour from each store every daythat will translate into annual savings of $1 million."

Payroll made simple

Robin Swanson used to hate doing payroll. As owner of theCorner Mart and Super Stop (Sneedville, TN), manually handling the payrollfor her 16 full-time employees. It kept her distracted from more pressingmatters and caused her to worry over the mistakes she may (or may not)have made in her hurry to get it done. But she found a solution on theInternet that helped alleviate her worries and knock the payroll processdown to just 30 minutes a week.

"There are so many mistakes you can make when doing your payroll manually,"says Swanson. "You have to figure out everything that needs to be withheld,like Social Security and federal taxes for each employee. And if you’vemade a mistake it might be a week or so before you catch it, which meansyou have to go back and figure out the problem."

When Swanson and her husband bought their first store in November 2003,they wanted an online payroll management system, so they went on a search.They found a program that suited them fine, until they purchased theirsecond store. The Swansons needed two separate accounts, one for eachstore, but the system they were using couldn’t handle it. So they startedto search again…and found Sure Payroll (www.surepayroll.com).

All that’s required is an Internet connection—and a little patience—forthe setup. First, an employer inputs the required company information(proof of
federal employer ID number, state and local income tax ID numbers,proof of state unemployment insurance ID number and rate, company payrollbanking information and regular payroll schedule). Then individual employeeinformation is required: personal information (name, address, phone numberand Social Security number); pay information (hire date, date of birth,status, type and pay rate); tax information (state, local authority, filingstatus and exemptions); direct deposit information (bank account number,routing number and amount); deduction information (name and withholdingamount for medical, dental, etc.); and benefits information (startingtotals and accumulation amounts for vacation, personal, etc.). Finallythe employer prints, signs and submits the enrollment forms and serviceagreement.

Robin Swanson’s employees also have the ability tocreate their own accounts and view their pay records. The employee self-servicefeature also allows them to print out their own W2, although the systemwill produce all quarterly and yearly forms automatically.

Basedon the options Swanson needed to manage her payroll and the number ofemployees being managed, the service costs $40 a week. She has been workingwith Sure Payroll since July 2004 and feels it’s been an invaluable solutionto what once was a time-consuming and stressful process.

"Themost important thing we’ve gained is the accuracy," says Swanson. "I’mnot worried about errors with my figures because the program takes careof everything for you. You simply have to input all the company and employeeinformation once and Sure Payroll makes the necessary deductions. It evenshoots you an e-mail reminder when your payroll is due so you don’t forget.And with all the time I’m saving, I can direct my attention to the stores,our employees and our customers."

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