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IVR, touchtone replace timecards at Northrop Corp.

In an era when accountability is a household word, aerospace giant Northrop Corp., headquartered in Hawthorne, Calif., could emerge a hero.

The innovative use of technology to create the Labor and Attendance Network System (L/ANS) in its Aircraft Division has increased efficiency, accuracy and boosted productivity. In short, it has saved the company, and hence the taxpayers, money.

According to Ken Johnson, applications development specialist in Northrop's Information Services Center, labor charging has historically plagued aerospace companies.

"The government--meaning the armed forces and various Department of Defense agencies--has audited timecards for decades. Invariably they would perform 'snap audits' on large aerospace companies and always find poor information--illegible times, dates, numbers," says Johnson.

"We have 15,000 people in the Aircraft Division, all with timecards in their hands. It's hard to believe that 99.9% of them would always be right."

Until L/ANS entered the picture, timekeepers were dispatched each week to distribute timecards to the division's 40 locations around California. Employees filled in the cards daily as they performed each job. Every week the cards were reviewed and signed off by a supervisor, collected from each location, reviewed by timekeepers and sent to keypunch. The automated payroll and labor reporting systems rejected many of the charges, thus requiring time-consuming investigation and manual adjustment.

By automating labor recording and validation throughout the Aircraft Division, L/ANS will ultimately eliminate the necessity of handling 15,00 timecards and keypunching over 77,000 records per week. It will also eliminate a lot of paper.

"We will never be a 'paperless' organization, but like any good corporate citizen, we are trying to reduce the amount of paper we generate," says Johnson.

Aerospace companies, caught with 30-year-old timecard systems, became aware of the need for change with downsizing, cost-cutting and doing it right the first time being the order of the day.

"Adding personnel wasn't the solution. Instead of passing timecards to timekeepers who couldn't verify a charge or even if an employee actually worked or not, it became imperative that we find a way to put data recording into employees' hands and provide them with an immediate confirmation of authorized charge numbers."

In addition, missing and corrected hours must be accounted for. It takes five times the amount of overhead effort to correct an entry than it does to enter it right the first time. Consequently, there is a lot of labor for which you simply defer billing.

"By going on-line with L/ANS, we are expediting that billing process by doing it right the first time," Johnson says.

Northrop initiated its search for a better method to record labor and attendance by surveying other aerospace companies. The findings led to a rich mixture of technology as a solution. The touchtone telephone or CRTs would record the task- or job-related information for direct-charge professional employees, while indirect employees would use magnetic badge readers to record their attendance.

Data collected for all direct, indirect and contract labor would then be immediately recorded on Tandem computers, which are linked to the company's IBM mainframe. The result? Accurate, complete employee records accessible from any IBM or Tandem terminal.

Johnson explains that a pilot study was initiated in the Aircraft Division to confirm whether interactive voice response (IVR) would be acceptable as a means of data entry for Northrop.

"We wanted to know if our engineers preferred labor recording with the voice response unit over the old timecard method. We ran a parallel pilot for several months, experiencing opposition in some areas and support in others.

"Once engineers realized that labor errors were eliminated and they could access history records, they decided that paperless was the way to go. And managers couldn't believe the improvement in data accuracy over the timecards at first," Johnson says.

"We gave the engineers the ability to enter data through the touchtone telephone, something they already have on their desks," says Johnson. "In this area, we are number-oriented in regard to data: short data fields and no alpha-numerics. Using the telephone, data elements are easy to enter and require less than a minute once or twice a day."

The IVR component of L/ANS is the RobotOperator System from InterVoice of Dallas. Northrop has 28 lines activated on the OS/2 based system and plans to be using 16 more lines later in 1992. It tracks not only labor and attendance information for professional employees, but it also maintains details on sick leave, overtime, leaves of absence, vacation and other conditions.

The system processes 3,000 labor-type calls a week. By the time it's fully implemented later this year, 10 times that number of calls will go through the system each week.

Although the labor savings for Northrop's Aircraft Division has been significant to date, Johnson looks for the numbers to be even more impressive once the system is rolled out company-wide.

"It's a win-win deal for everyone except perhaps Bekins. They stored our timecards for decades," Johnson says.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:interactive voice response
Publication:Communications News
Date:May 1, 1993
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