Million idea in time for year 2000 Innovation: A savvy financial analyst not only solved a complex problem with the Department of Transportation computer system, he also won a $20,000 reward for his effort.

A $6.9

September 04, 1998|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

When Maryland Department of Transportation employee Ken Kline put his thinking cap on recently, he devised a plan that saved taxpayers $6.9 million and earned a $20,000 thank you from the state in return.

Kline, a financial analyst who specializes in technology, found a way to upgrade the existing human resources personnel system in time for the year 2000 that eliminated the need to buy a new software package.

On yesterday, Kline and two other state employees received checks from Gov. Parris N. Glendening through the Governor's Award Program, which rewards state employees for innovative ideas. Collectively, the three saved the state more than $7.1 million.

"The real reason that we're here is that individuals make a difference," Glendening said. "No other state agency has given more ideas and saved more taxpayer money."

The Governor's Award Program, established in 1993, has provided about 100 state employees with $37,000 in awards for ideas that have saved Maryland residents $8 million.

The dilemma facing Kline was that MDOT's human resources personnel system was not compatible with the new mainframe; neither was it year "2000 compliant." "It was a challenge," said Kline, who has worked at MDOT for four years. "I love challenges."

Like other businesses and agencies, MDOT had to prepare for the arrival of 2000.

Referred to as Y2K in computer speak, the year 2000 problem is a global issue resulting from the fact that much computer hardware, and even some software, is designed so that dates are recorded by their final two digits, or "fields." When the clock strikes 12: 01 a.m. on Jan. 1, 2000, those fields will read "00" and be interpreted as "1900" instead of 2000, wreaking havoc on all kinds of recordkeeping.

Kline was not satisfied with the two options available to MDOT: Retain the old mainframe at substantial cost per month, or buy a new personnel system at a cost of several million dollars and still not be able to implement it on time.

"Once I knew what our dilemma was, I knew I could come up with a better way," Kline said.

Kline, 52, who has worked in the industry for 30 years, said he spent weeks of personal time researching the matter. He made phone calls searching the market for solutions that would be more economical. Finally, he determined that Geac Smart Enterprise Solutions in Atlanta, which owns the rights to MDOT's existing personnel software, could upgrade it to become compatible with the human resources department's current IBM system.

Kline's wife, Marion, remembers the day he walked into their Kent Island home and told her that he'd found an answer to the problem she'd been hearing about for years.

"He's very low key," she said. "But he was excited about this. I thought, finally, there's a solution."

The software conversion was completed in April, ahead of schedule, and expenses have come in under the $1.2 million budgeted, officials say.

Kline, who makes less than $50,000 a year, said he plans to donate most of the award money to his favorite charities. He declined to say which ones. The balance will go in his retirement account, he said.

Yesterday's ceremony also honored Steve Kouroupis, a highway supervising engineer for the Maryland State Highway Administration. He suggested that when resurfacing a road, the shoulders and portion along the center line, rarely touched by cars, not be removed. That idea is expected to save $154,000 a year in resurfacing costs and improve traffic flow by keeping lanes open throughout most of the repairs. That ingenuity earned him more than $3,700.

Kouroupis said he came up with the idea while driving on Interstate 95 in North Carolina, where he saw similar methods of repaving.

William F. Schneeman Sr., a vehicle recovery technician for the Maryland Transportation Authority, also offered an idea that saves drivers time while saving the state money. He suggested that his agency buy a large, stock tow truck rather than a custom-built version, generating savings of more than $62,000. He was awarded nearly $950 for his suggestion.

Although the larger tow truck is too big to turn around in the Fort McHenry and Harbor tunnels -- an advantage of the custom variety -- the MTA used to contract for such heavy equipment anyway whenever large vehicles broke down in the tunnels. Now, instead of delaying traffic for the 25 minutes it takes to get the heavy equipment on site, the job can be done much faster.

More than 20 other state employees also received cash awards yesterday at MDOT's annual Innovative Awards Ceremony.

State agencies can award up to $1,000 for an idea that is expected to save money or produce additional revenue for the state. The idea may then be submitted to the governor's award panel for awards up to $20,000 or 20 days of paid leave.

Pub Date: 9/04/98

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