Welcome to my online portfolio, the complement/substitute for my resume. The opinions included herein are my own and do not reflect those of any client or employer, past or present. Please check out the new site: http://danieljohnsonjr.com

Monday, September 24, 2007

Keeping upper management knowledgeable and salespeople paid

This is another post where I share technical details about a project I have been working on.


Sales executives within the company receive monthly commission checks based on active client employee counts and gross payroll, for clients that they have brought on. In addition, upper management needs to see high-level numbers such as active clients, active employee counts, and gross payrolls - dashboard-type information.

A easy-to-use tool to generate this information did not exist at a user level. Previously, upper management relied on IT or the Controller to generate this information and send it to them.

Through some personnel reorganization, the process for generating this report fell through the cracks. Salespeople were waiting for their commission checks for the previous month, so the project was both urgent and important.

As usual, this information needs to come from the multiple SQL Server databases the company uses to manage client information through the Darwin PEO System, a customized, version of Microsoft Great Plains for the Professional Employer Organization (PEO) industry.


I was asked to develop a tool that upper management can use to generate information themselves. Some of the application requirements and thoughts that guided the development:

  • Let users pick the date range, click a button, and have the system produce a report.
  • Develop the application quickly to meet the immediate needs of the organization, yet with the ability to be reused whenever upper management so desires.
  • Since upper management is most comfortable with Microsoft Excel and will want the data in a workbook anyway, use Excel Visual Basic for Applications (VBA)) and ActiveX Data Objects (ADO) within a single Excel workbook to produce the results.
  • Choose Excel over Access because the application overhead is low (i.e., no need for tables, forms, reports, etc.).
  • Since the company doesn't mark employees and clients as inactive in the system immediately when they are terminated, define an active employee during a date range as a paid employee.
  • In addition to a paid employee count, obtain a total check count and gross payroll amount for each client during the date range.
  • If an employee received a check and it wasn't voided, it counts.
  • Take advantage of server-side processing to achieve the best performance.

I first developed the SQL statement to unite data across the twelve SQL databases, based on prior knowledge of where to find information. Then I wrapped the SQL statement up in a stored procedure, with start and end dates as parameters.

After testing the procedure with different date ranges to make sure the information was accurate and made sense, I moved on to the Excel piece. I wrote code in Excel VBA and ADO to execute the stored procedure and output the results to a worksheet in the workbook.

Once I had tweaked the completed application to make sure everything ran smoothly, I e-mailed it to the director who requested it.


Within a few minutes I received a phone call from her, telling me how awesome I am. She also sent the application to the owner of the company so that he can run the report as often as he wants.

Now they are able to generate the information in a matter of seconds themselves, versus waiting for the Controller or someone else in IT to generate it for them; or, even worse, spend hours compiling the information themselves.

Check out my other blogs:
Journey Inside My Mind Blog
Journey Inside My Mind Podcast
Get That Job!

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Reaching the point of diminishing returns on a project

Over the past month, I have been working on a project to automate payroll entry for a client that has close to 300 employees and is growing. Naturally, it is the company's best interest to get this payroll automated as much as possible.

To do this I've been developing an application to bridge the payroll info to Microsoft Great Plains Integration Manager.

One of the criteria I've used to evaluate a client's payroll is a consistent layout in a good format, so that I can tell the program where to map regular hours, overtime, cash reimbursements, etc. In some cases I'm able to tweak the payroll to make it into a layout that is consistent enough for me to automate.

This particular client is a construction company, and the only electronic version of the payroll is a text file that is not delimited. The file is basically a report from the client's system, and it has page headers and department footers, as well has breakdowns of withholding, etc. Most of that I can ignore in the program.

My colleague was able to import it into Microsoft Excel, using spaces as the delimiter. From there I saved the file as tab-delimited text, the format used in the other bridge applications I've developed.

The big problem is the inconsistent layout, which has come from using spaces to delimit the text, depending largely on how much detail is on a particular line of text. Look at the following 3 lines of text:

  • E 22 Per Diem - C AZ 3 99
  • E 22 Per Diem - C AZ 3 XYZ111 99
  • E 22 Per Diem - C 99
In each of these lines, the payroll item is Per Deim, and the amount is 99. When you space-delimit the lines the amounts are in different columns.

This is just one major aspect of complexity that has come from my attempt to automate the payroll. After talking it over with my boss, we realize that we've come to the point of diminishing returns.

I'm off this project until there is another way to parse the payroll information and am able to move on to another project that's in the queue.

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Sunday, September 9, 2007

One Voice Walk 2007

crossposted to Journey Inside My Mind Blog

One Voice Walk 2007
Originally uploaded by danieljohnsonjr
Have you've been wondering where I've been this past month? I've been doing some online publicity as a New Media Consultant for the 4th Annual One Voice Domestic Violence Community Awareness Walk, which was held in Cincinnati, Ohio this morning. I took lots of pictures and recorded lots of audio from the event.

Hearing personal stories really moved me. I honestly felt a flood of emotions ranging from sadness, outrage, hurt, compassion, and more. It was really a lot to take in. And rightfully so. Domestic violence is an anathema to our society and must be stopped.

I really enjoyed interviewing people from the various local organizations and finding out what they are doing to help raise awareness for and to prevent domestic violence.

During the walk, I talked with other participants. In nearly all the interviews, I asked folks why they came. Really great discussions.

Do a Google search (aka 'google') "onevoicewalk", and you'll find this content as it all becomes available. For now, I encourage you to check out these specific websites:

http://onevoicewalk.org - the official website, with information about how to donate
http://flickr.com/groups/onevoicewalk - pictures taken during the event, with more to come
http://twitter.com/onevoicewalk - microblog of updates from before, during, and after the event
http://myspace.com/onevoicewalk - MySpace page
http://jimmpodcast.com - Journey Inside My Mind Podcast, where audio content from the walk will be posted

Speaking of the Journey Inside My Mind Podcast, head over there for the recent episode, Music for the One Voice Walk.

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