White Castle satisfies its craving for user authentication

* How White Castle Management Company chops costs as well as onions

Employee turnover in the fast food industry is not unusual. What is unusual, however, is saving money on processing the paperwork for new hires as well as existing employees. See how White Castle Management Company chops costs as well as onions at its 410 restaurant locations.

For more than 80 years, White Castle restaurants have created cravings for their signature hamburgers called Slyders. I remember the little white brick building in my home town. Alas, now that I live in Texas, I have to get my Slyders from the frozen food aisle – but they still satisfy that craving!

You might think that a company founded in 1921 would be slow on the uptake of cutting edge information technology. Not so for White Castle. This company has found a recipe for saving millions of dollars a year on processing paperwork for its 12,000 employees, and one of the ingredients is biometrics.

Don Long is senior director of information services at White Castle. Several years ago, Long’s challenge was to find a way to reduce the cost of manually handling the paperwork associated with hiring new employees, managing work schedules, enrolling employees in benefit programs, and issuing paychecks. Complicating the matter was that most, if not all, of the paperwork required signatures.

White Castle has more than 400 restaurants spread throughout numerous states, and this is where the majority of employees work. Each restaurant has a PC where workers can access paperwork to enroll in the healthcare plan, managers can create work schedules, and other activities can take place.

When an employee uses the PC, he types in a user ID to identify himself. Then he presses his fingerprint to a biometrics reader to verify he is who he says he is. Using this process, White Castle can instantaneously authenticate the user to the appropriate applications. He also has the ability to apply an electronic signature to documents.

“We wanted to eliminate the paperwork that people had to sign,” says Long. “Manually handling the paperwork took days and required mailing it between our headquarters in Ohio and the restaurants in the mid-west and northeast. We consulted our Legal department about using electronic signatures, and they highly encouraged it.”

Long says the biometrics was a real enabling technology. It became a quick way to verify a user’s identity and provide access to the electronic signature. White Castle and a developer acquired a software development kit (SDK) from biometrics vendor DigitalPersona. Within half an hour, Long says they had a basic prototype up and running. They were able to integrate the biometrics verification into existing applications very quickly.

The results have been impressive. White Castle has focused on several applications that were extremely paper intensive prior to the implementation:

* Enrollment in benefit programs – By having employees enroll online, data entry mistakes are reduced and employees can begin receiving benefits sooner.

* Labor scheduling – Only specific people can approve the schedules, and electronic schedules and signatures have speeded up the process. Long says White Castle saved $12 million last year on just this one application.

* Direct payroll deposit – Rather than mailing paychecks to employees, White Castle has implemented direct deposit for everyone. Employees can print a paystub on a local printer after validating their identities. The company saves over $50,000 a year with this new process.

One reason White Castle chose DigitalPersona for the biometrics technology is its ease of use. DigitalPersona has SDKs for various environments, including Linux, Windows 2000, Windows XP and Windows Vista. While the company does produce the biometric sensors (i.e., the hardware), there is an increased focus on putting the pieces together to create a complete solution.

For example, DigitalPersona now offers out-of-the-box solutions for point of sale (POS) applications. Such usage helps increase a retail store’s PCI compliance and cash drawer security.

White Castle hasn’t yet put any biometrics-enabled applications in the front of the restaurants, but the company has satisfied its craving for savings by eliminating paperwork associated with the back office applications.

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Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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