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Time and attendance hardware evolving to meet self-service needs

Beth Stackpole

While time and attendance software has continued to be the staid but dependable workhorse of the enterprise application suite, new time and attendance hardware innovations surrounding the tried-and-true punch clock promise to open doors to more flexibility and even greater self-service capabilities.

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The punch clock has historically been a highly specialized device, with the sole function of logging employee time. But that’s starting to change as a new generation of clocking devices incorporates more general-purpose technology, such as support for the Web and mobile platforms. In addition, more powerful time and attendance software and expanded screen real estate are broadening the time clock’s role, allowing workers to do much more than log their time. Now they can submit time-off requests, facilitate shift changes and get up-to-date reports on details such as overtime status and work schedules.

“There’s been much more employee self-service because of the hardware evolution, as the clocks become more sophisticated and the prices come down,” said Brian Koniuk, a principal at The Hackett Group Inc., a Miami-based global business consultancy. “Traditionally, you’d walk into a human resource office to ask how many vacation days you had. Today you can walk up to a display and see the details of how many hours you worked, what your overtime hours are, or request vacation time two weeks from now.”

Mobile time and attendance software arrives

It is no real surprise that mobility, in particular, is one of the hottest trends affecting time and attendance software, given the near ubiquity of cell phones, many of them smartphones. Vendors are scrambling to meet customer demand for mobile time and attendance that allows hourly employees to clock in using their phones, perhaps from out in the field, while allowing managers to perform HR-related tasks, such as signing off on vacation time and approving time sheets.

“Time clocks make sense for very few organizations today -- what makes sense is mobile apps and kiosks,” said Rebecca Wettemann, vice president of Nucleus Research Inc., a Boston-based provider of technology consulting. Time and attendance software that supports the unique capabilities of mobile phones -- cameras and Global Positioning System capabilities, for example -- could deliver  benefits such as letting companies know exactly where employees are when they clock in as well as ensuring, using photos, that employees are properly attired for the job. In addition, analysts said to expect to see clocking activity integrated with other functions. For example, a badge used to log in might also provide physical access to facilities.

Younger generations will expect to perform many of these functions with their cell phones. “Folks entering the workforce today are used to mobile phones -- that is the way they communicate, and a time clock will seem antiquated to them,” Wettemann explained. “Especially for companies that hire mostly teenagers, they’re going to want to check their schedules online or punch in with a phone because they’re working multiple locations.”

Biometrics is another area having a huge impact on the hardware component of time and attendance systems. The ability to recognize employees from their thumbprints or other unique traits can help organizations exert more control and eliminate fraudulent time recording, according to analysts. Consider “buddy punching,” historically one of the biggest problems with time and attendance systems. Buddy punching is when a work colleague punches in for a peer before that person actually starts work.

“Part of the ROI of investing in these solutions are the control factors,” said Paul Hamerman, vice president of business applications at Forrester Research Inc., a consulting company based in Cambridge, Mass. The new time and attendance tools give managers a richer set of tools to monitor the workforce and analyze attendance patterns, Hamerman said. “You want to have effective processes for lowering the administrative cost of the process, and you want to add controls in error reduction and fraud detection.”

Shipyard's new time clocks aid labor management

Aker Philadelphia Shipyard hasn’t yet made the jump to biometrics or mobile support, but earlier generations of time clocks are still making a big difference and bringing new self-service flexibility to workers, according to Michel Boeckx, the shipyard’s chief technology officer. The new clocks’ capabilities have also led to more straightforward time recording between the shipyard and its contractors. “We can now track every minute people are here, see what tasks they are working on and see when people are leaving and when they are late,” Boeckx explained.

While the new controls might sound draconian, Boeckx said both employees and contractors are happy because there is no back and forth over invoices, and people know what to expect. “It’s a win-win for both situations,” he said.


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