NFC chooses CD-ROMs over paper for financial reports

The Agriculture Department's National Finance Center (NFC) has developed a system that allows it to distribute financial reports and data to its clients on CD-ROM rather than paper, saving the agency $7 million over five years.

The NFC provides financial and administrative services to more than 40 federal agencies, administers the government Thrift Savings Plan and processes payroll for about 500,000 federal employees every other week. It traditionally distributes most of the output on paper or microfiche and mails or transmits it to its clients. It produces 8 million to 10 million pages of printed copy a month.

For the first time, a Microsoft Corp. Windows NT-based CD-ROM mastering system, now in pilot testing, will allow the NFC to send reports and data to its customers on CD-ROM.

When the NFC receives data from in-house and remote users, it processes it on a mainframe that generates the reports that are sent to clients. With the new system, reports and data can be routed via Connect Direct for NT directly to the CD-ROM system for output onto a CD, which is then mailed to clients.

"It's lights out from a production standpoint except for loading the CD-ROM blanks and picking them up once they're done," said Bill Dell, a computer specialist at the NFC's computer resources management branch. "We also have clients that use report-generating tools like Focus. They are submitting Focus jobs, and it goes directly into the CD-ROM system. They are not dependent on the NFC to write report programs."

The CD-ROM system at the NFC includes three Advanced Logic Research Inc. Pentium file servers running Windows NT Server 3.51, with the primary server attached to a 32G Radian XLT RAID drive. Each server is connected to a Dell Computer Corp. Pentium-based mastering station that has CD Kodak PCD Writers and disc transporters attached. The mastering stations run on Windows for Workgroups 3.11.

Savings for NFC and Its Customers

While the NFC estimates the new system will save the center $7 million over five years, users will also see cost savings. "Users pay a higher cost for printed products," said Jerry Stiffler, chief of the computer resources management branch at the NFC. "One CD-ROM can hold 80,000 pages of information. At a penny a page, that's $800 for printing costs, and mailing adds to that. We can produce a CD-ROM for $10."

Currently, the NFC is testing the system with the Forest Service, the Office of Civil Rights Enforcement and the departments of Treasury and Justice in a pilot that will last about two more months. After that, the NFC will offer the option of receiving data and reports on CD-ROM to all its customers. The NFC will not duplicate output, so it will not offer a report on paper and CD-ROM, for example.

Joseph Glenn, a computer systems analyst in the human resource systems analysis group in DOJ's Management Division, said the division now receives a couple thousand pages of payroll reports on CD-ROM every two weeks from the NFC.

"One big advantage with CD-ROM is the search capability," Glenn said.

"We are building a mini-database system that will allow us to retrieve from that detailed payroll information," he said. "With a CD, it's easy to go back and reconstruct payroll history." CDs let you search by things such as name and Social Security number.

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