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September/October, 2003 - Volume 82 Number 5

by Alison Kasper Gareffa

“If title agents could slow down a moment to find ways to streamline the back-room functions, they would have more time to devote to the front-room functions and making that aspect of their business more productive.” This is a reply from John Monacelli, an expert in agent technology with Old Republic National Title, when asked why technology is so important to improve office productivity.

So how do we accomplish what John is talking about? My company currently uses many web-based applications to streamline our financial management and HR services. These applications have enabled our business to spend less time on the behind the scenes work and more time on value-added functions. They offer flexibility, portability and oversight capability. They can work easily in any title office.

But you know as well as I do that it is difficult to find the time to surf the Internet for solutions to these types of challenges. So, I have done the work for you. This article will offer alternative solutions to current office functions—tools offered via the Internet to help with your HR, timekeeping, payroll, accounting, and banking needs. Not only will you learn the names of applications we have discovered through our own research, but, more importantly, you will gain information and suggested keywords to do your own search. You will be surprised at how little time it takes and at how beneficial the results are.

Why Web-based Technology?

Why web-based technology? It is easy to take with you. All you need is your laptop or even the computer in the business center at your hotel. Web-based technology allows multiple users to access the system from different geographic locations. It can lower your IT costs since you are not spending money on expensive software upgrades or servers. With web-based technology, the upgrades are implemented almost seamlessly. There is no longer a need to purchase upgrades, wait for the CD-ROM to arrive and install it on your computer. Web-based technology also offers higher data security because the data is stored off-site, and you no longer have to buy tapes and spend time backing up your data.

Human Resources

HR products are plentiful. Many of the applications we find have more bells and whistles than our company could ever use. That is nice, but you pay for these bells and whistles—so it is important to find the right fit for the right price.

www.ebenefits.com is a site that offers tools such as performance reviews (which you can design yourself) and review reminders for employees who also fill out a self-review. When employees complete the self-review, the system will trigger a reminder for a manager to fill out his/her review of the employee and finally a reminder to the HR director to write up the final review. This site also has a paid leave module that keeps track of vacation, sick, and/or paid time off. It allows the HR director to store data on all employees, generate reports such as birthday reminders, leave taken, leave not taken, and personal information to contact employees, etc. The nice thing about this site is that you can tailor it to suit your needs. If you'd like to search the Internet for other HR solutions, use keywords: web-based hr software.

Other sites offer timekeeping modules. In essence, you can utilize a web-based time clock so that your employees will walk in the door, turn on their computer, and clock in. If you are away from the office, you can see who is in, what time they arrived, etc., without having to call anyone. One such site is www.timecentre.com. Another site that integrates both HR and timekeeping features is www.qquesttime.com. Web-based methods of timekeeping allow you to have your “finger on the pulse” of your organization without physically being at your desk. To do your own search on these products, use keywords: web-based timekeeping.

Financial Management

Financial management is an integral part of any organization. It is one of the necessary functions of the back office. It does not generate profit and quite often, as a result, few resources are allocated to streamlining the process. I know of some businesses in our industry that maintain their finances in ledger books rather than on the computer. The misconception is that the finance side (A/P, A/R, and Payroll) is not a profit center and, therefore, resources would be better spent in other areas of the business. In fact, if the financial management process could be streamlined, it would increase productivity and allow your staff to assist in other areas. The people who might be cutting checks, stuffing, sealing, mailing—all of which are quite time-consuming—could be assisting your organization in other ways to reduce overhead.

There are many approaches to financial management. Most companies use accounting software, which is installed on the computer. We have found web-based accounting applications to be a more useful tool. They allow us to pay bills (either via bill pay or physical checks,) and the entries are made automatically. There is no need to download account activity from our bank's Web site to the accounting site. One such product that has been developed by a very reputable company, Oracle, is www.netledger.com. Other products that are similar (and also quite reputable) are offered by www.peachtree.com and www.quickbooks.com. Again, doing a little investigation of your company's needs, how many users will be on the system, and your budget will help you to find the best fit.

Payroll—it is the thorn in our side. It is one of those things that if you do it right, you do not get praise; if you do it wrong, you hear about it immediately. There are many strategies with regard to payroll. The payroll process is multifaceted and begins with timekeeping. The issue of how you input that data and into what format is of primary consid-eration. We currently use a web-based timekeeping application that could be integrated with our payroll software. The goal is to download the data from the timekeeping application directly into the payroll software in order to save time. There are web-based solutions out there. One product called Easypaynet, offered by ADP at www.adp.com, integrates with www.timecentre.com so that the information is downloaded from the timekeeping application to the payroll application. Other products are www.surepayroll.com and www.paymaxx.com. The Internet is full of options, and these are just a few. To do your own search, go to any search engine and type in web-based payroll.

Internet Banking

Internet banking has been extremely important to our company because it has allowed us to become independent. We no longer have to hope that our private banker is in the office and can process our transfer request. Gone are the days when we type up a transfer request, fax it to the bank, call the bank to be sure they received it, and wait for a return call or fax to confirm the transfer. Today, we simply get online, go to our bank's Web site, log in, and effect the transfer ourselves. A copy of the transfer confirmation is printed, logged into our web-based accounting software, and it is done! This method is easy, and it takes about one minute to do. All of the major banks and even many of the smaller ones offer Internet banking. There is a fee, but it is minimal if you consider the amount of autonomy it affords you and your staff. Do your homework, shop around, find a bank you like and prices that you can live with, and you will never look back.

Worth the Time and Effort

While it may be difficult to imagine yourself or your company utilizing some of these web-based services, once you try them, you will wonder how you lived without them. This article came into being while I was in Myrtle Beach on vacation. As CFO of our company, I cannot put off some tasks associated with my job until my return. I have processed a payroll, checked employee attendance, paid bills through our accounting application, checked account balances from our banking Web site, and transferred money between accounts. It took me a short amount of time to do some critical tasks and still enjoy time away. I always take my laptop with me on business trips and have even processed payroll at ALTA® conventions. So if you think you cannot get away—you are wrong! There is no longer an excuse.

Invest a small amount of time to research some of the products on the market and the companies behind the applications. Think of it this way: if you could streamline some of the back-room functions, it would free up you and your staff to devote more time to your customers and to growing your business. That is what we are all here to do.


Alison Kaspar Gareffa is CFO of Kasparnet, LLC, a real estate title examining firm that covers all 88 Ohio counties. She also serves on the Ohio Land Title Association's PR Committee. She can be reached at: alisong@kasparnetllc.com or call (614) 523-1740.



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