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Time is money for this agency

OCTA considers buying a $457,280 system to track workers' hours.

January 11, 2008|David Reyes | Times Staff Writer

OK, it's understandable. Transportation planners need the surety of a good clock. After all, hundreds of employees need to be accurately clocked-in if the buses in Orange County are to run on time.

But $457,280 for a new timepiece system to keep tabs on bus mechanics?

It's a question that surfaced Thursday at an Orange County Transportation Authority committee meeting.

"I'm trying to get my arms around why we're paying $125,000 just for the software. . . . Help me out a little bit here," said county Supervisor John Moorlach, who serves on the committee.

Other members were wondering what happened to the old-fashioned punch clock.

It's outdated, according to OCTA, as is the agency's 10-year-old system that apparently was inaccurate, limited in application and allowed "buddy punching," a workforce problem in which employees punch in for one another.

"It's an antiquated system prone to breaking down and needs to be rebooted repeatedly," said Joel Zlotnik, an OCTA spokesman.

System failures have required staff -- rather than the system -- to calculate night shift and weekend differentials. With a focus on labor laws, Zlotnik said, employers such as OCTA have to pay greater attention to allowances for sick time or family medical leave. The new system, he said, "will automatically do that."

And the timepiece on OCTA's shopping list is anything but your ordinary clock.

The system, made by Massachusetts-based Kronos Inc., uses biometrics to scan employees' fingerprints, clocks them in and out, and computes payroll information.

Fingerprint sensors are becoming popular and are in use at some amusement parks and security agencies.

Regionally, cards with magnetic stripes carrying worker identification are used for employees at the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and for Orange County government workers, said officials from both.

The Kronos system would be used for the time-keeping and payroll of 300 union workers, including mechanics, service workers and technicians employed in Santa Ana, Garden Grove and Anaheim.

Still, OCTA board member Cathy Green, a Huntington Beach councilwoman, said background information on the vendor highlighted the software but did not explain why Kronos is considered a superior system.

"I didn't know why, and I had to call and ask more questions before the meeting," she said.

If the company's software puts it on top, that should have been a separate category during bid scoring, Moorlach and other board members said. Pacific Time Systems in Brea and IntelliTime Systems Corp. in Santa Ana had bids of $328,131 and $398,950, respectively.

The background information didn't explain that the top marks for Kronos were because of the software, Moorlach said.

Nevertheless, the committee recommended the new system, which comes up for a vote before the full board Monday.

Green and Moorlach eventually voted for the new system, but only "to continue the process" to the next step, they said.

A Kronos spokeswoman did not comment but sent an e-mail noting the company's Web page that highlighted customers of its time-keeping systems, such as cities, corporations and public agencies.

One customer, a county recreation department in Charleston, S.C., was satisfied with the product. "We were the ultimate poster child for crunching numbers and using up plenty of staff time to do payroll," said Jan Coulter, director of human resources for the Charleston County recreation commission.

With about 1,000 employees, Coulter said the system had been reliable in handling the department's seasonal workforce, which expands by hundreds during the summer with the addition of lifeguards and camp counselors.

"I don't mind driving a Cadillac instead of a Chevrolet," Moorlach said, "as long as we save money with the better product in the long run."


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