Maryland Parks Agency Slashes Operational Costs with Cloud Solution

The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission expects to save up to 25 percent on labor, hardware and maintenance expenses by moving its workforce management system into the cloud.

by / June 24, 2014
Bladensburg Waterfront Park in Maryland is one of many parks administered by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, which recently switched to a cloud-based version of its workforce management software. Flickr/Andy LoPresto

Every workday morning at 4:00 a.m., Tracy Harris, a project manager of enterprise IT with the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, received an automated reminder to check on an aging computer for system failure, space issues and memory leaks to ensure its smooth operation for the day. 

For Harris, running the aging computer that powered the commission's workforce management program meant putting out fires regularly. She and the IT staff grew accustomed to responding reactively. But when the commission switched to a cloud-based version of the software built by Kronos, things changed. 

"When we went live, it was peace of mind for the staff and it allowed the staff to really focus upon being proactive instead of reactive in terms of management of the system," Harris said. "It reinvigorated the team to learn new things."

The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission is a bi-county agency that administers parks and planning in Montgomery and Prince George's Counties, managing more than 52,000 acres of parkland, trails and open space and employs nearly 2,000 workers.

Since switching to a cloud service, the commission's IT focus has shifted to tuning and configuring the application to meet its business needs, and to make room to tend to the commission's in-house ERP solution. Meanwhile, a Kronos cloud services manager helps to manage, support and upgrade workforce management during off hours when the system is not interrupted.  

In 2009, the commission realized it had to upgrade its software and respond to failing hardware in its data center. Harris said she got two directives--cut costs and upgrade its Kronos workforce management solution, which is a mission-critical business application for the commission. 

In 2011, the commission upgraded the solution and, after a cost-benefit analysis, migrated to cloud technology instead hosting the solution in house to save on both human and technology resources and other associated costs, Harris said. Cost-saving examples include: refocusing two commission staff who managed the workforce management application to other projects, and saving money on hardware licensing and upkeep with the cloud technology. 

Over five years, the commission will save an estimated 26 percent in operational costs by migrating to the cloud versus hosting onsite, according to Kronos. 

It makes sense and saves money to let people focus on what they're best at--it's also a reason people move to cloud technology, according to Charlie DeWitt, vice president of business development at Kronos. 

"The basic idea is let the public sector guys do what they're good at, which is to provide services and let the IT people help them focus in that area of providing services," he said. "There's no sense for them to sort of replicate what Kronos has done thousands of times before."

After signing a contract with the workforce management firm in spring of 2011, the commission went live in four months' time, using version 6.32. As a part of the migration, the commission made space in its data center to host a new ERP solution, and, because Oracle support was no longer needed, upgraded its database from Oracle to SQL, which contributed to cost savings Harris said.

The commission also acquired 30 InTouch terminals, or time clocks, which replaced older hardware that required constant monitoring. Harris said deploying new clocks was a major success because it enabled granular control of the clocks -- for example, controlling the locations where an employee can or cannot punch in.  

With the upgraded InTouch application, employees can also take more control over their own attendance data by accessing time clock, leave balance and schedule information and also requesting time off through the clocks' software interface. 

"It created a lot of visibility and it relieved managers from that administrative process," Harris said.

The updated workforce management applications have helped the commission improve on business processes like allowing it to pay employees accurately during promotions or lateral transfers mid pay period and streamlining the process of adding and updating new records so that changes happen in real time.

According to DeWitt, labor is the public sector's top expense and, by improving business processes, the commission can adopt a workforce management solution that eliminates fraud, waste and extra work and saves 2 to 5 percent of payroll. He said it can also help public organizations ensure compliance to labor standards.  

Commission staff also has greater access to information offsite, such as allowing supervisors to approve payroll. During Superstorm Sandy, the Kronos cloud application did go down, but it was back online in an hour or two, Harris said, whereas the commission's other in-house systems stayed offline longer.

Moving forward, the commission is planning upgrades to the Kronos platform and infrastructure, which will make them Java-free -- a tremendous benefit according to Harris since the help desk receives lots of calls from staff regarding Java runtime errors. 

The release of the latest version of the solution is scheduled for the first quarter of 2015, and will include new features, such as the ability for multiple supervisors to approve time and pay for one employee, according to Harris.

This is a boon for a commission that runs and maintains regional parks and a recreation program and has numerous seasonal staff who may work several jobs with different rates of pay and different supervisors. The new process will again get rid the commission of another headache -- a paper timecard process that later gets keyed in the system. 

Jessica Hughes Contributing Writer

Jessica Hughes is a regular contributor to Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines.

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