The Case for Data Integration in Your Agency

 

When you Google “Data Integration and Law Enforcement,” you’re hit with countless articles on how agencies are sharing their data with neighboring agencies to improve efficiency and better serve their communities. If you’re doing this, you can already see how amazing it is when data sharing occurs- I remember it certainly made our lives  easier at Tigard Police Department, as we were using a metro-wide data sharing system.

But today when I talk about data integration, I’m talking about integrating all the systems within your agency. Specifically, I’m referring to administrative, human resource and payroll management systems. Here are just some examples of the systems that I’m referring to:

  • Business Intelligence
  • Human Resources Management (HRM)
  • Employee Scheduling
  • Timekeeping
  • Extra-Duty Management
  • Payroll Processing
  • Employee Health Management

Now stop for a minute and think about how many times you’ve had to enter the same information into more than one of those systems. It’s probably more often than you want to admit. What about when someone’s address changes or they get married and their surname changes? Now you have to remember to go into each of those systems and update their information or hope someone in another unit will do it.

From the employee’s perspective, they see their schedule in one place, go to a separate system to fill out their time sheets and hope all comes out correctly in payroll.

Payroll Timesheet

Problems with Data Isolation

Many agencies have already made the move from paper processes to the automated systems above, which is already a huge win for law enforcement. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean the information is always reliable and many processes are still done manually like:

  • Maintaining employee records
  • Updating contact details
  • Scheduling employee shifts
  • Checking time statements
  • Contacting employees to back-fill for special events or overtime assignments
  • Processing payroll

Entering duplicate data into each of these systems is a waste of your agencies time and resources and poses an obvious risk to including incorrect data, omission and human error.

For example, overtime activity requests are usually approved in bulk without close review by supervisors. If employees forget to fill in the appropriate timebank, payroll doesn’t know where to put those submitted hours. A few weeks later when an employee goes back to check, they realize there’s an error. Now payroll must go back and correct the mistake, using up time and resources.

Another example would be if an employee moves from one rank to another for a temporary assignment and now needs a different level of access to multiple systems. Usually, IT would need to ensure they had proper access to all systems manually. This can be a timely process and prone to human error.

With an integrated scheduling system, when the employee changes rank, it is automatically recorded in a cascading effect to other systems. Now the employee instantly has access to the proper systems in a timely manner.

The Payroll Problem

The easiest place to start when it comes to integration is by connecting your payroll to your scheduling and timekeeping software. If you work in payroll or manage anyone that does, you know that exporting data from your timekeeping solution to a CSV requires an enormous amount of time. You may have to manually remove unnecessary columns, rows, change headers, etc. until the formatting is the same as your payroll import requirements. Rinse and repeat every 2 weeks. By connecting your programs through integration, you eliminate these steps and manual entry.

I'm doing payroll- please do not disturb

Arguments Against Data Integration

Its Expensive

If you have a dedicated IT department with the requisite experience, they can easily handle creating integrations between your systems. Most agencies just start by integrating their payroll software with their scheduling solution so the timekeeping details and pay codes  are transferred through properly creating less paperwork.

Its Not Secure

With data being integrated between different systems that are used by different departments, you could argue that people have access to information they shouldn’t have access to. That’s not always the case- permissions can be set up so that employees only see what they need to access to complete their job.

Don’t Have the Resources

You don’t need a large IT department to start integrating your software. Many companies offer a tool, like Web Services (I’ll come back to that technical term), that will help your IT and finance departments integrate your scheduling software with your payroll. Integrations can be scaled depending on the size of your agency so don’t sweat it!

Why You Should Have Data Integration

So now that we’ve covered arguments against data integration, here’s why you need it:

  • Better budget management with the ability to track real-time costs related to your operations
  • More insightful deployment strategies and structures from analyses of past activities- like overtime requirements
  • Eliminate redundant data entry to save time, labor and data inaccuracies and inconsistencies

How to Integrate Your Data

By now I hope I’ve made a solid case for your agency to start data integration but much like myself before coming to InTime, I’m sure you don’t know where to begin. Don’t worry, I’m not going to get too technical on you! At InTime, we use something called Web Services to integrate our scheduling software with our customer’s payroll and HR and even CAD systems. Essentially, a Web Service is an interface that enables two completely different programs to talk to each other and share data- regardless of the language the programs are written in or the operating systems they’re on. There are three pieces you need for Web Services:

  • The code (XML)
  • The Envelope (SOAP)- this wraps up the XML messages
  • The Dictionary (WSDL)- this is the document dictionary that describes the data you can get out of the system

These three pieces interact with each other to pull your information.

Web Service Integration

The Calgary Police Service: Integration in Practice

In fact, the Calgary Police Service has already seen the benefits of an integrated system. CPS uses InTime Scheduling Software

as a single source of employee data and pushes this data into other systems where employee information is required. This has eliminated time and increased efficiencies throughout the agency.

Records Management Software

CPS has integrated InTime Scheduling with NicheRMS so that employee records are always up to date. Remember the example I gave above of a temporary rank changes? With this integration, a temporary rank change in InTime automatically updates Niche, giving the employee all the correct permissions they require; eliminating the need for any IT department involvement.

With the InTime and NicheRMS integration, CPS was also able to reorganize 600 employees in as little as 10 minutes. This amount of work would’ve taken three or four employees about four days each of work.

Payroll Integration with PeopleSoft

CPS has also integrated their Scheduling and Timekeeping with their Payroll tool. This has allowed CPS to easily audit and identify violations against policy. In return, this has reduced the number of incorrect requests and decreased the administrative work involved in correcting them.

Microsoft Active Directory Integration

InTime sends information to Microsoft Active Directory like phone numbers, ranks and other details so that both systems always have the correct information.

Shane Joyce and Nathan Douglas

Nathan Douglas (left) and Staff Sgt Shane Joyce (right) presenting on CPS’s Web Service integrations at InTime University 2017

Summing It All Up

Obviously, CPS has the “Dream Integration” and the resources required to handle it. I just wanted to give you a real-life example of the possibilities that data integration can provide your agency and the ways in which you can integrate. Whether you are a large organization like CPS or a medium sized agency with 50-100 staff, you can benefit from systems integration too. Just like moving from paper to software was an adjustment and change in your agency- data integration will be too. You’ll reduce administrative errors, save time, and eliminate redundant data entry.

 

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About the Author

Ricky Rhodes

Retired Lieutenant of Tigard PD / FBINAA #220

Ricky has over 30 years of experience serving in the police force and is an active member of the FBINAA community. Since retiring from the Tigard Police Department, he has worked at InTime helping other police departments solve their complex scheduling requirements.