Intel® App Innovation Contest 2013: Round 1 winning submission, advanced to Round 2 (status-submitted)
- Target Platform: Tablet PC equipped with Windows 8 desktop edition
- Contest Category: Finance
Overview of the Application
Fig. D1: app main window, sample screen shot (all data shown for info purpose only)
Proposed PaydayUSA™ Employment Tax Calculator and Payroll Organizer application software for Windows (hereinafter - Application) is a financial productivity tool that allows US employment tax computation and payroll management
pertinent to both salaried employees w/pay frequency ranging from daily to annual basis and employees/contractors compensated on hourly basis. It is adapted for Tablet PC (in particular, Lenovo® ThinkPad Tablet selected for production pilot) running Windows 8 desktop edition; it's also backward compatible with Windows 7/Vista and, to certain extent, with Windows XP.
Identification of the problem and opportunity
The application is aimed at complexity, labor and paperwork reduction associated with employment tax preparation and payroll records management in the US. Employment (Payroll) Tax computation engine enables core tax calculation corresponding to the US Federal, State (currently, NYS) and Local levels (currently NYC and Yonkers). In addition to core employment tax computations, it also calculates net pay, employer contribution, various aggregated values and provides essential set of tax reference data.
Proposed feature-rich application extends the functionality and UI of existing online NY payroll tax calculator 2013  by adding local database to store payroll and tax reference records, data export features (to Microsoft Excel and electronic tax forms), enhanced analytical/chart engine, print check module and tax calendar with business tax reference data. Application could be further extended with online tax payment option, though the implementation will require the approval of respective tax authorities.
Technical merits and broader impact of the application
Significant paperwork/labor reduction achieved by implementing efficient electronic document processing pertinent to tax/payroll computation and filing. Novel borderless WPF windows in conjunction with speech-enhanced MMUI and external HID will result in substantially improved UX. Fully autonomous operations in a stand-alone mode will increase the application mobility/flexibility and potential pool of use-cases. Proposed solution could be further extended by adding computational modules and reference data corresponding to the tax laws of other States in the US, and, potentially, tax laws of other countries.
Intended uses and anticipated audiences
Proposed financial application is intended primarily for use by small and mid-size businesses conducting operations in the State of New York, USA. In a single sentence, this app is about "small business helping the other small businesses". It could also be used by private accounting firms/CPA, educational and research institutions, and Governmental agencies. Edition/feature matrix and anticipated most-common use cases are listed in the following Tables 1/2 (*note: Enterprise Edition is optional; it's implementation depends on approval by corresponding Governmental Agencies):
Table 1: Application Edition/Features matrix
||Single Employee payroll taxes, Employer contribution and Net Pay on-screen only calculations, no data export/saving features
||Same as 'Lite' edition with data export/local storage features added
||Multiple Employees payroll taxes, Employer contribution and Net Pay computation with payroll records export, local data storage and operations
||Same as 'Pro' edition plus extended set of calculated/reference data and charting/analytical engine
||Extends Ultimate edition with data file sharing/synchronization capabilities on the corporate intranet in multi-user environment and secure online payroll tax payment functionality (requires API/procedure approval by respective Gov Agencies)
Table 2: Potential Users and most common use cases
||Business entities performing Fed/NYS/Local tax calculation/analysis
||CPA/Accounting firms working on Fed/NYS/Local tax preparation
||Research and analysis of the US business tax system
||Practical learning of the US business tax system
||Fed/NYS/Local Gov agencies working on business tax issues
- From technical perspective, development approach adheres to the cornerstone principle of separation of programmatic concerns, namely: all layout and aesthetic enhancement to be achieved via WPF/XAML; data content to be stored in reference (read-only) and User (read-write) databases operated through corresponding data-access libraries included in .NET; the algorithmic part will be implemented as managed code compiled into .NET assembly. Proposed application will utilize novel hardware features of Tablet PC (multi-touch screen, digitizer pen support, multimedia features) and MMUI capability of Windows 8 OS, .NET/WPF framework and speech technology (TTS).
- From PM perspective, development strategy will be based on the maximum re-use of existing computation engine (i.e. change-management and integration phases), and complete re-design of User Interfaces (UI) and I/O operations, corresponding to FLCD/TDD PM methodology and UAT approach based on both in-house (alpha) and community-based (beta) testing.
- Development tools to be used include Microsoft Visual Studio 2012 for Desktop (core development) and auxiliary tools: SQL Server Management Studio, variety of Microsoft Office application and image/video editing software.
- Security/Privacy concerns are thoroughly addressed in proposed app. User payroll data can be stored locally in encrypted databases with password protection. Core operations do not require Internet connectivity, thus significantly reducing the risks associated with online operations.
Coding Languages, Frameworks and Tools
Application's managed code base will be developed using C# language and .NET framework/WPF. Database operation on file-based Microsoft Access and Microsoft SQL Server Compact edition (SQL CE) will be coded in SQL/T-SQL. Data export operations will utilize Microsoft Office object libraries and (optionally) an open source libraries.
The Author (Dr. Alexander Bell) has extensive experience developing financial application in the US, running consulting business in NY City for almost two decades and providing consulting services to major financial institutions, including JPMorgan Chase & Co, Societe Generale Group, Marsh & McLennan Companies Inc, multiple hedge funds and PE. He is currently working on the "Tax Complexity Reduction" initiative, considering the proposed app as proof of a concept, testing ground and a platform for the future development. Dr. Bell is a strong supporter and promoter of energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly technologies; his Company implemented paperless
technologies for all internal data/document processing. Alexander is a Win/Web veteran-developer, actively participating in Codeproject digital life (holding the "Legend" status), and other social/professional networks. Beyond his professional duties, he is devoted to classical music and art, digital photo and WebTV.
Personal statement: I dedicate this project to the memory of my friends and colleagues, technology and business professionals at Marsh and McLennan (NY), who died tragically on the day of Sep-11-2001. Attached digitally enhanced image of "Eternal Lights of Twin Towers" is linked to my article in Memoriam.
Contest Metrics (Rounds 1 & 2)
Innovation and User Experience
- Unique computation engine adapted for US tax laws at all 3 Governmental levels: Fed, State and Local
- Unique proprietary payroll tax reference database and analytics (Y2005-2013)
- Novel Multi-Modal User Interface (MMUI) utilizing multi-touch capability of Tablet PC
- MMUI speech enhancement via TTS (context-sensitive voice messaging)
- Novel borderless WPF windows with unique re-sizing solution
- Fully autonomous mobile operation allowing financial/tax professionals to better utilize their commuting time, in particular, using public transportation without Internet access
Usage of Tablet PC key technical enabling vectors
- Multi-touch UI pertinent to Tablet PC utilizing most
common gestures (Tap, Press and Hold, etc),
corresponding to primary action, navigation
between screens and functional areas.
- Voice feedback to User implementing error, instructional and notification messaging via TTS
- Aesthetic WPF borderless Window controlled via multi-touch screen and voice commands
- High data-density/feature-aggregation in app window utilizing high screen resolution of Tablet PC
- UX improvement by using external HID, like detachable keyboard/mouse, stylus or digitizer pen
Viability and Significance of the Application for Finance Category
Business Tax/Payroll computation in the USA, and particular, in NYS is a rather complex financial operation [2...5], which adds heavy overhead on businesses conducting operations in this area. Any efficient/affordable solution, aimed at productivity increase/complexity reduction in this business domain will potentially produce tremendous positive socio-economic effect. Proposed Submission Ideas outlines the key concept of Payroll (a.k.a. Employment) Tax Calculator to be used as efficient financial productivity tool for wide variety of current/potential users in NY State, including without limitation: private businesses, accounting firms, research institutions, and Governmental agencies. Based on the popularity of existing web application  (it served more than 100,000 unique visitors since inception, rated in Top-3 on Google), proposed version of the app with extended functionality, adapted for mobile Tablet PC and reasonably priced is expected to be a viable addition to COTS available financial productivity tools.
Descriptive clarity, scope and implementation details coverage
Proposed application is based upon many innovative ideas, concepts and practical know-hows, including those already implemented by author in other Win/Web applications, in particular, rather popular online Payroll Tax Calculator  and award-winning Engineering Calculator Volta-814D  and Edumatter M-12 . Some of these ideas and know-hows introduced by author were discussed earlier on Codeplex , and other technical publications [4...8]. Detailed description of other Submission Ideas that were not previously discussed, plus partial list of potential programmatic tasks/challenges/solutions is provided in the body of this article (see sections Background and Points of Interest).
Market Perspective is based on the potential user-base estimates, importance and competitive advantages of proposed Application.
Demo App Performance
This section will be completed later.
Existing web application
Proposed Application is backed by the unique proprietary tax computation engine (known by its code name "PayDay NY™"), developed by the Author and used internally in a course of his consulting business since 2005. The simplified version, adapted for the most common general Corporation, Sub-chapter "C" [3...5] tax code section is implemented as web SPA  and put in public domain free of charge (see the sample screenshot in Fig. 1; click on the image to open the web page). Currently it produces web traffic to the page of approximately 3,000
unique visits per month, served more than 100,000 unique users since
Fig.1: NY Payroll Tax Calculator 2013, implemented as Web Application (SPA)
Existing app allows Employee/Employer payroll tax computation on Federal, State and Local levels, including: Employee Fed Medicare Tax, Employee Fed Social Security Tax, Employee Fed Income Tax
Withheld, NYS Income Tax Withheld, Local (NYC or Yonkers) Employee Income Tax Withheld, Employer Contribution (FICA Tax), Paycheck and Tax Summary. Sample snapshot in Fig. 1 shows multiple data items including User input, reference and calculated fields pertinent to online SPA.
In addition to the core computations listed above, Calculator provides numerous metrics, aggregated values and tax reference data corresponding to either salaried employees typically compensated on annual base (popular known as W-2) or employees/contractors compensated on hourly base (typically Form 1099). As a base for comparison, another existing online IRS Withholding Calculator  is implemented as a rather complex “wizard-style" multi-page web app, that does not include State or Local payroll tax computation To the contrary, the web app  developed by author is implemented as a convenient single-page solution (SPA) providing payroll tax computation on all three levels (Fed, NYS, Local); it's rather popular among business community, currently ranked in Top3 on Google (corresponding to search query: "NY Payroll Tax Calculator 2013"). There are also multiple other online payroll tax calculators, but they require live Internet connection, and (typically) utilize remote data storage, which significantly reduce applicability and raises certain privacy concerns.
Proposed Tablet application
Proposed solution will be implemented as a standalone Windows 8 app capable of running completely autonomously. It does not require live Internet connection for its core operations and allows User data storage in local databases, thus properly addressing the privacy security/concern. Proposed application will add extended computational functionality and set of data operations, partially listed below:
- Employee Fed Medicare Tax
- Employee Fed Social Security Tax
- Employee Fed Income Tax Withheld
- NYS Income Tax Withheld
- Local (NYC or Yonkers) Employee Income Tax Withheld
- Employer Contribution (FICA Tax)
- Net Pay (Paycheck Summary)
- Employee Tax Summary
- Employer Tax Summary
- Employer Tax Calendar
- Tax reference data, including mailing instructions/labels
- Business Checks Printing software
- Tax/Payroll records data management module
- Data export features into Microsoft Office applications and Tax Forms
- Payroll Tax analytical and data visualization module
- (Optional) Online employment tax payment feature
- (Optional) Online quarterly tax reports filing feature
Simplified architectural diagram of proposed Tablet app is shown in Fig.2 shows (note: optional Enterprise edition may requite Internet connection for secure online tax payments to the Fed/State Governmental agencies).
Fig.2: Simplified architectural diagram of proposed Tablet-version application
High-mobility of proposed application, capable of running completely autonomously on Tablet PC adds tremendous competitive advantages over its web-based counterpart. Proposed app will allow Users to better utilize their commuting time (particular important for millions of New Yorkers using public transportation), adding numerous "more relaxing/less stressful" use cases, typical for mobile apps.
As mentioned above, for the purpose of UX improvement proposed app will implement novel MMUI utilizing novel features of Tablet PCs. The core design principle of MMUI are listed below:
- Compatibility with standardized Windows desktop-type GUI operations via mouse/keyboard
- Multi-touch UI extension pertinent to Tablet PC utilizing most common gestures, corresponding to primary action, learning/instructional mode, navigation between screens and functional areas.
- Voice feedback to User implementing error, instructional and notification messaging via TTS
- Digitizer pen (optional) functionality, corresponding to standard gestures, plus data input features
Proposed UX enhancements in conjunction with unique set of features will result in a highly-efficient financial productivity tool , rather competitive against other applications in the same category. It has good potential market perspective.
Benefits of External HID
Proposed Tablet app could greatly benefit from external input devices, in particular: detachable keypad and digital pen. Adding such HID will substantially increase overall UX of this essentially data-centric and number-crunching financial productivity tool.
Business Intelligence Layer
Unique proprietary tax computation engine has been first developed using VB/VBA almost a decade ago, then migrated to .NET framework re-programmed w/C#. Currently it's implemented in the online version , and also planned for use in the Tablet version.
Data Layer is comprised of Reference Database and User Database (for security/privacy purpose, both can be stored locally on the User's PC, containing information in encrypted mode). The first one contains tax table and other respective tax data for the period starting in year 2005 and up until now. User Database (currently under development) should contain basic tax-related information (like TIN, EIN, SSN, etc. typically reflected in IRS Form W-9), and tax-payment records, either for a single, or multiple Employees (depends on the edition).
Tax Calendar and reference data
Tax Calendar module will be added to proposed
application, providing valuable reference information to business owners/CFO/HR regarding their employment tax obligations and timing, in particular regarding business tax filing on Fed/State levels corresponding Forms 941, NYS-45, 940, etc. [3, 16-19].
Functionality of proposed Tablet app could be further extended by adding more reference data corresponding to business tax laws in other US States, and can be easily updated for the following years (upon availability of the corresponding Tax documents issued by IRS and State/Local Governmental agencies [3...5]). Additional functionality may include API to electronic tax Forms, such as 941  and NYS-45 , and online payroll tax payment option.
"Road and Driving Pattern Analyzer" module (optional) previously
described in  could be added to the application, helping
business/tax professionals to better organize/utilize their commuting
time (this will require Tablet PC equipped w/GPS)
Using the code
NOTE: This section will be continuously updated as project progressing.
Code snippet shown in Listing 1 used to customize "numeric" WPF TextBox to accept only the characters pertinent to the content (dollar amount in a context of proposed app). It works as a pre-emptive input validation triggered on every keystroke by User. Combined with the second validation code block triggered on TextBox.LostFocus event (not shown), it provides reliable and User-friendly input validation mechanism.
Listing 1. WPF Numeric TextBox for Dollar Amount
#region Dollar Amount numeric TextBox
textBoxAmount.PreviewKeyDown += (s, e) =>
if (Keyboard.IsKeyDown(Key.LeftShift) ||
e.Handled = true;
int _intKey = (int)e.Key;
if (e.Key == Key.Back ||
e.Key == Key.Delete ||
e.Key == Key.Enter ||
e.Key == Key.Return ||
e.Key == Key.Tab ||
e.Key == Key.OemPeriod ||
e.Key == Key.OemComma ||
e.Key == Key.Decimal ||
e.Key == Key.Left ||
e.Key == Key.Right ||
(_intKey <= 43 && _intKey >= 34) ||
(_intKey <= 84 && _intKey >= 73)) return;
else e.Handled = true;
Notably, negative sign is not allowed in the dollar amount TextBox, though it's usually acceptable by more generic TexBox implementation for numeric input.
Points of Interest
There are several potential programmatic challenges corresponding to the tasks partially listed below:
- Borderless WPF windows with custom control box (see the sample screenshot in Fig. 3)
- Multi-touch operations and voice messaging
- Reliable I/O operations on clients Tablet w/various User Account Control
- Installer modules digitally signed and configured
- Product License control mechanism, including Key validation and activation over the Internet
- Payroll Check printing module containing dollar-to-text converter (additional pop-up borderless window)
- Intuitive and effective voice-message set (error messages, notification/instructions via TTS) [6,8,9]
- Efficient charting and analytic modules (to be implemented in high-end editions)
Borderless WPF Window
Borderless Windows, like shown in Fig.3 have better aesthetic appeal and increase the overall UI, though they represent certain programmatic challenge. The "borderless effect" could be easily achieved via XAML, but it requires some coding to make the window moveable/resiseable (notice the novel window control box having additional resizing option). Further aesthetic enhancement could be achieved by making the window translucent (it corresponds to the setting of opacity level). Tablet PC provides excellent opportunity to improve UX by adding multi-touch and voice-controlled re-sizing feature.
Fig.3: Borderless app window implemented via .NET/WPF (all data shown is for demo purpose only)
PayDay NY Small Biz: early days app version
The first version of the Tax Calculator was released under code name "PayDay NY Small Biz", encapsulated in a single Microsoft Access (2003) file with plenty of SQL and VB 6.0  ( it's relevant to mention, that the application is still up and running in MS Office 2010).
Following is a sample screenshot (see Fig 5) of the "Print Check" module implemented as "industrial-like" custom form with battleship-gray color palette, rather common at that time. Notice a check exporting feature, allowing to export to and print from the MS Word document dynamically generated content based on the specified template file (corresponding to the selected pay check paper):
Fig.4: 'Print Check' module in early version of the app: battleship-gray color palette (all data is shown for DEMO purpose only)
Novel Pay Checks Printing module: WPF style
Proposed solution implements 'PrintCheck' form with similar functionality as WPF/XAML-based borderless Windows (see Fig.6). The solution implements UI speech-enhancements mentioned above: notice the 'Playback' and 'Stop' TTS control buttons, providing voice instructions to the User (proposed app also implements context-sensitive voice notification features).
Fig.5: 'Print Check' with Voice messaging, first proto)
This module is implemented in app, and also can be used as a stand-alone financial productivity application having the value of its own (similar COTS applications are priced starting from $15 and going up)
Fig.6: 'Print Check' with Voice messaging, final Demo version
Business Tax complexity reduction initiative
Employment Tax (also called "payroll tax", a part of general business taxes) and associated computation methods in the US and, particular, in NY State are rather complex. For example, refer to Chart 1 visualizing the annual Y2013 NYS withholding tax table , just one of many included in app.
The author has spent great deal of his time/efforts trying to ease a heavy burden the employment tax computation and payroll management put on businesses operating in his own NY State, by developing an affordable and user-friendly IT solution to such complex problem. As mentioned above, the current online Payroll Tax Calculator  is serving tens of thousand unique Users annually. Proposed Tablet-based application is expected to be a valuable addition to this type of financial productivity tools.
In the meantime, based on his extensive experience of building financial applications/IS, the author is working on the "tax complexity reduction" initiative pertinent to his own State and the City (i.e. Big Apple), which upon success will significantly reduce the complexity and cost of running business in the State of New York. The same approach could apply to other US States as well.
Chart 1: Withholding Tax Rates corresponding to annual NYS Y2013 tax table 
- 2002 Multiple Voice-controled and speech enhanced engineering and
office applications developed and published by the author [5...8]
- 2004: Employment tax computation engine has been developed (VB 6.0)
- 2005: First version of PayDay NY Tax Calculator released: entire
app encapsulated in a single Microsoft Access file
- 2006: Print Check module added containing automated dollar amount-to-text converter (VB 6.0)
- 2007: Export to Microsoft Excel I/O feature added to 'PayDay" app
- 2008 Application 'PayDay" has been published 
- 2010 Employment tax computation engine has been updated using C#/.NET
- 2011: Production pilot of NY Payroll Tax Calculator web application has been released 
- 2012: Page layout and app responsiveness improved via HTML5/CSS3 and jQuery 
- 2012 Calculator Volta-2013 [11, 12] won app submission contest (Codeproject, 2012)
- May 2013 Borderless WPF application Volta-814D has been released 
- Aug 2, 2013: Current article submitted to the contest (Tablet PC, Finance)
- Nov 12, 2013: Final application demo package submitted to Round 2 AIC-2013
- NY payroll tax calculator 2013
- IRS Withholding Calculator
- Tax Information For Businesses
- IRS Pub 15 (Circular E), Employer’s Tax Guide
- New York State Withholding Tax Tables and Methods
- Alexander Bell, Voice feedback enhances engineering calculator (EDN, 2002, 7)
- Alexander Bell, Add voice command to virtual instrumentation (EDN, 2002, 5)
- Alexander Bell, Excel at Audio-Visual UI Development (Access-VB-SQL Advisor, 2002, 11)
- Alexander Bell, Build a Validation Object with Voice Feedback (Access-VB-SQL Advisor, 2002, 12)
- Alexander Bell, Engineering Calculator Volta-814D, Codeproject article
- Alexander Bell, Engineering Calculator VOLTA-2013, Codeproject article
- Alexander Bell, Jobrica-2013, Codeproject article
- Alexander Bell, PayDay Small Biz: Speech Enhanced Microsoft Office application
- Alexander Bell, Voice-controlled Virtual Instrumentation based om MS Excel, sample screenshot
- Alexander Bell, Road and Driving Pattern Analyzer using Ultrabook™
- Employer’s QUARTERLY Federal Tax Return
- Quarterly Combined Withholding, Wage Reporting, And Unemployment Insurance Return
- Employer's Annual Federal Unemployment (FUTA) Tax Return
- NYS Department of Labor, Unemployment Insurance
Acronyms and Abbreviations
- ALS Ambient Light Sensor
- ASR Automatic Speech Recognition
- BI Business Intelligence
- CFO Chief Financial Officer
- CPA Certified Public Accountant
- COTS Commercial Off-The-Shelf
- EIN Employer Identification Number
- FICA Federal Insurance Contributions Act
- FUTA Federal Unemployment Tax Act
- FLCD Full Life Cycle Development
- HR Human Resources (department)
- I/O Input/Output operations
- IS Information System
- IRS Internal Revenue Service
- MMUI Multi-Modal User Interface (multi-touch, speech-enhanced)
- NYS New York State
- NYC New York City
- PE Private Equity
- PM Project Management
- PMO Project Management Office
- SPA Single Page Application
- SQL CE SQL Compact Edition
- SSN Social Security Number
- SUTA State Unemployment Tax Act
- TIN Taxpayer Identification Number
- TDD Test-Driven Development
- TTS Text-to-Speech
- UAT User Acceptance Testing
- UI User Interface
- UX User eXperience
- VI Virtual Instrumentation
- WPF Windows Presentation Foundation
- XAML Extensible Application Markup Language