Neither Wind nor Rain...
Payroll and IT Defy the Storm
Despite the complete lab shutdown during SLAC's power outage, one comforting routine held: everyone got paid on time. With the failed power lines, flooding and debris, payroll probably did not register on many people's radars. But the effort involved in getting all of SLAC's employees their paychecks during a complete loss of computing resources deserves some kudos.
"It was a team effort between IT and payroll," said the Chief Financial Officer Susan Calandra. The payroll office, located in Building 41, has a backup plan to get everyone his or her paycheck in case of emergency.
Employees receive either a direct deposit or a check on the 7th and the 22nd of each month, in this case Friday January 22. The bank needed all of the deposit information electronically by Tuesday evening to meet this deadline. Luckily, because Monday January 18 was a holiday, the payroll office had manually entered the paper-based timesheets into the online payroll system the week before.
"We were on the ball—we had entered all the timesheets by Saturday," Calandra said.
With all SLAC computers—including payroll—offline Tuesday, Yen Tran from accounting called the bank and extended the deadline to 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, SLAC's information technology group activated its own disaster plan, and expedited the protocol to zero in on the systems required by payroll.
"We had to separate payroll from the process," said Norm Ringgold, who was a part of the IT team that spent Tuesday planning their attack. About twelve to fifteen people huddled around a whiteboard in Building 50, trying to sift out the necessary tasks to get payroll back online.
Wednesday morning, SLAC was still without power when the payroll and IT teams showed up. As the power started to come back, IT would have a long series of steps to bring back all of the network and server parts required. Timing would be tight to get everything running so payroll could meet their 8:30 p.m. deadline.
"There are 100 pieces that have to be up and functioning," Ringgold added. "They brought up the systems and infrastructure faster than they ever had at SLAC."
The biggest concern was employees who receive a printed check: direct deposit is a relatively straightforward matter of electronic data transfer to the bank, but printing checks is a much thornier problem. The CFO office staff started going through their options: they could move the check printer to another building that might get power earlier; or, they could start hand-writing checks.
At 2 p.m. on Wednesday, just as the payroll people were about to move to elsewhere, Building 41 received power. And by 3:30 p.m., the all-important computer servers were up and ready to go. A few departments submit electronic timesheets, rather than paper, and the payroll team still needed to take care of the electronic forms. They went to work getting everything ready for the bank, squeaking in at 8:27 p.m.
"There were a lot of people making payroll a top priority," Tana Hutchison, the deputy CFO, said. She was grateful most SLAC employees have signed up for direct deposit, noting, "In an emergency, it's the better way to go."
Employees who would like to sign up for direct deposit can do so by completing the direct deposit form and returning to the Payroll department.