- Types of Systems
- Calculating Costs
- Choosing a Vendor
- Comparison Checklist
- Glossary of Terms
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Overview of Time & Attendance Systems
More Than Punching a Clock
Types of Systems
- Time Card. The least expensive option is a high-tech version of the old mechanical punch clock. Employees are issued a time card about the size of a credit card that they swipe on a machine similar to a credit card machine. While data is transferred automatically to produce computer-generated timesheets, thus eliminating all the manual paperwork, the one flaw is the same as the old punch clock: it allows for “buddy punching.” It's easy enough for someone to swipe a co-worker’s card who isn’t really there. According to the APA, buddy punching accounts for between 2% and 5% of payroll expenses.
- Proximity Cards, Badges, and Key Fobs. These eliminate the need for swiping. The employee only needs to pass the identifying card, badge, or fob in front of the reader, without actually having to insert it. In many cases, proximity cards track an employee’s movements throughout a facility—not just check-in and check-out.
- Biometric. These are pricey systems (the biometric readers are more expensive than the software), but they do eliminate buddy punching because each employee is identified via a unique fingerprint or handprint. Some of these systems use eye-scanning equipment, while others use facial-recognition software.
- Web-Based Login Stations. These are best suited to situations where employees work mostly from laptops or personal computers. A static IP address is triggered every time employees log in to their computers, thus providing a digital “punch-in.”
- Interactive Voice Response (IVR). This is primarily used by companies with employees working in the field or at remote locations. Employees clock in by simply calling in over a landline or cell phone.
- The easier the solution, the more you’ll like it. Some of the hallmarks of usability and ease of use include:
- Familiar Web-type interface
- 24/7 access
- Ability to integrate external content
- Information users want to see—the way they’d prefer to see it
- Everybody is going mobile these days—and your software isn’t any different. The generation entering the workforce today is accustomed to iPhone-like instant access to information, anywhere, anytime. Solutions that fail to incorporate mobile features appear dated and cumbersome, and are likely to result in lower adoption and satisfaction rates. Mobile technology also improves the level of collaboration and communication. Some specific mobile time and attendance applications include:
- Check-in and check-out
- Submitting time-off requests
- Resolving exceptions and responding to employee requests in real time
- Using smartphone preferences to access familiar applications
- Leveraging smartphone GPS capabilities to track punch locations
- Get into the cloud. The Rolling Stones got it wrong. Don’t get off the cloud! Today you’ve got to be right on top of it. Rather than committing in-house resources, consider using cloud computing to replace the burden of hosting and managing software. The many cloud options that are available today make technology solutions attainable for a business of any size and free your IT staff to focus on implementing other strategic projects.
There are two major elements: hardware (the clock reader) and software. Biometric time clocks run between $350 and $1,000 per unit. Simpler card readers can be as little as $150, and go up to around $250. The cards themselves cost about $20 to $35 for a pack of 25. Web-based systems, of course, don’t have any specialized hardware and can be accessed by a variety of devices including computers, tablets, and smartphones.
The cost of the software depends on the size of the enterprise. A company with fewer than 50 employees can get a software package for a few hundred dollars. A number of vendors are offering cloud-based systems that work on mobile smartphones, which entail nothing more than a monthly subscription fee of as little as $20. There’s no software involved, just an Internet-connected computer or smartphone.
Larger companies—particularly those with multiple locations—require more sophisticated, and hence more expensive, software. Typically, these systems involve consultants who customize the software not just to suit the companies’ needs, but also to integrate into other IT systems. Frequently, these involve monthly maintenance fees in addition to upfront installation costs—at least $10 per month for basic service and more for larger, more complex systems. Prices can easily reach the neighborhood of $10,000. And for fully integrated, globally scaled systems, you can get into the six figures. At this level, pricing reflects:
- The features/functionalities of the software
- The number and types of clock readers, cards, badges, or fobs
- The software licensing fees
- Training, installation, and support
Choosing a Vendor
Here are a few general tips to consider when selecting a time and attendance vendor:
- Who is implementing the system? Will the vendor have primary ownership (and thus be responsible for maintenance, training, upgrades, and ongoing support)? Or will your IT staff implement and maintain the system (and thus reduce your purchase costs, but at the same time, incur operational costs by devoting your internal resources to owning the system)? The decision depends largely on the size of your staff, your budget, and the degree to which you feel comfortable with a partnership-type relationship.
- Is outsourcing an option? This could prevent a lot of headaches, free up your staff to perform other activities, and get you up and running faster. On the other hand, it will cost more; and you have to be assured that the vendor can work with your employees, systems, and culture.
- Does the vendor offer compatible payroll and HR systems? It may be better to work with a vendor who does it all rather than with multiple vendors who will piece together a system. On the other hand, if you’re happy with your other automated processes and are just looking to add time and attendance tracking capabilities, seek out a vendor who has a track record of integrating with other systems and technologies.
- Off-the-shelf or custom? Or maybe an off-the-shelf package with some customized features? If you’re not sure what you need, ask prospective vendors to analyze your needs and propose the best solution in terms of how it addresses your requirements, how much it costs, and how it works. Most vendors are willing to demo their product before you buy.
- Do you have industry-specific needs? A growing trend is for vendors to specialize in time and attendance solutions customized to a particular industry, such as hospitals. You may find that a vendor who already specializes in your industry already has what you want, while a more general business application would have to incur the expense and time of customizing your industry requirements.
There are numerous time and attendance system vendors and resellers to choose from. The comparison checklist below will help you determine what these different vendors may have to offer.
Some of the key factors you should take into consideration when comparing vendors are listed below.
Glossary of Terms
- Access Control: Ensures that information or assets are restricted to certain authorized personnel through the use of passwords, specialized ID cards, and barcodes or biometric (face, eyes, fingerprint) recognition systems.
- Buddy Punch: When an employee swipes the card of a co-worker who’s not actually at work.
- Cold Weather Chip: Allows safe operation in temperatures below freezing.
- Daisy Chain Connect: A unit that connects to the Master Clock (the first unit attached to the computer). A Master Clock may have several daisy chain units.
- Employee Lockout: Restricts or prohibits card swipes for employees not scheduled to work. Locked-out employees receive messages, usually via the reader, of the rejection. Supervisors have the option to manually override.
- Key Performance Indicator (KPI): Sets a trigger level at which corrective action is indicated when a specified threshold is exceeded—e.g., 40 hours of continual standard work time.
- Remote Worker Tracking: Software that measures the time and productivity of employees working out of the office. It usually also includes access to on-site resources shared with other employees.
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