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Mobile project takes payroll information to cell phones securely

Paylocity's Chuck Cooper discusses a mobile project where he designed a self-service application.

Years ago, Chuck Cooper set up a bulletin board system (BBS) on the PC he bought for writing his law doctorate dissertation. His BBS caught the attention of an executive at a local terminal emulation software company, who asked Cooper to set up that firm's quality assurance department. From there, he moved on to develop applications for Great Plains and Borland. Now, he heads up multiple development projects, including the recent development of a mobile self-service application, for Paylocity, a payroll services provider that processes over 20 billion direct deposit payments a year.

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"I love development, because I'm building something that people use and appreciate, that helps them with their work or enhances the quality of their life," said Cooper. "That's very gratifying."

Starting a mobile project

Cooper's most recent mobile project was creating an application for Paylocity that helps employees get more information about their accounts on any type of device, while protecting sensitive data from intruders.

Creating a mobile application that allowed accounts to be accessed from many types of devices called for a move away from its traditional Microsoft .NET MVC application development tools. Looking for more flexible cross-platform user interface (UI) development platform capabilities, Cooper's team evaluated tools from Telerik, Syncfusion, DevExpress, Xamarin and other vendors.

A combination of Telerik Kendo UI and Telerik AppBuilder was chosen for the mobile project due to its strong MVC expansions and Kendo UI's support for a mix of native and HTML5 coding. The latter was a big deal, said Cooper. Native apps can outdo HTML5 apps in performance, robustness in low-bandwidth situations and security.

Chuck CooperChuck Cooper

Unfortunately, native coding typically calls for standardizing on one mobile platform. With HTML5, developers can write and manage one code base that supports multiple devices. With Telerik, Cooper's team could use HTML5 wrapped in a native container to get a single code base and accommodate users' diverse devices.

"We don't necessarily have to choose one or the other now," he said. "We can actually support all the different strategies with one code base and one platform."

Strong support offerings played in Telerik's favor, too. "You create a project, you upload it, and they figure it out what your problem is," Cooper said. "Half the time it was the problem in our code and not their product but they would still go the extra mile to help."

The Kendo UI tool makes features available on diverse development language platforms. Therefore, Cooper's team could use existing skills in HTML5, JavaScript and other languages in the Employee Self-Service (ESS) projects. "In other environments I've worked in, we had to use several tool kits to support multiple languages," said Cooper. "Now I have one toolkit and platform that not only works with all devices, it works with all languages. That's very powerful for me."

Being able to use in-house developers' skill sets helped Cooper's team to take the ESS project from scratch to deployment in about six months. Adding new devices, such as tables and Windows Phone, to ESS and bolstering security are next on the agenda.

ESS mobile project success

Now in its first version, ESS is already boosting online services' performance, usability and customer satisfaction, said Cooper. About 7,000 employees are using mobile devices to access and adjust their payroll and HR accounts via ESS.

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The first ESS has security components "baked in" using the MVC framework, Cooper said. In a current project, his team is working on building a multi-tiered federated identity management system, which would allow customers to use the same identification information to securely access ESS and all Paylocity applications, even those on third-party clouds.

"On the Internet, security isn't baked in at the browser level, so a company has to build an authentication framework or buy a framework to integrate with Web services," he said. A federated identity management system will simplify access for users and security administration for Paylocity's information systems team.

The success of the ESS mobile project so far and the flexibility we have gained from our new tools "vindicates our decision to go mobile and do it this way," said Cooper. "We will be able to support future devices and platforms much easier than ever in the past."

Jan Stafford plans and oversees strategy and operations for TechTarget's Application Development Media Group. She has covered the computer industry for the last 20-plus years, writing about everything from personal computers to operating systems to server virtualization to application development.

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