With the variety of Time and Attendance methods available on the market, which ones make sense for your business?
In our last article we looked at the importance of proper Time and Attendance systems, and how the basic task of verifying that the right people are in the right place at the right time is still a significant challenge in the support services industry.
Whether you are specifying new systems from scratch, or reviewing your existing procedures, you need to consider how well they will perform the job of identifying and recording people and their locations, the convenience of the system for those who use it, and the real costs associated with the various options.
While the answer won’t be the same for every set of conditions, every group of employees or every location. It’s important you can mix and match as required as even within one of the above, you may have multiple challenges – our analysis below will help to guide you towards the right solution for your business, and ensure that you enter any discussion on time and attendance armed with the right questions.
To recap briefly, punch-cards are no longer fit for purpose, and typical solutions now include:
- Fixed-line telephones;
- Using a mobile app, which will have access to GPS location;
- Sending an SMS message with a code;
- Fingerprint identification;
- Facial recognition;
- Access control systems;
- Desktop computer login.
We’ll now look at how these options compare under the criteria of performance, convenience and cost.
In all cases, you will want to ensure that the person clocking in is who they say they are, and eliminate the opportunity for ‘buddy punching’.
Sending an SMS message with a code on arrival might seem straight forward, but simply passing the code on to a buddy could not be easier, irrespective of how often the code changes, and is an obvious vulnerability of this system. Instant messaging tools, group chats and the like all expose the vulnerability. The same is true of access control passes which are easily shared and sometimes easily cloned, albeit this is something that manufacturers are trying to address.
Similarly with mobile apps – you need to be careful about the design of the app as often we see that a friend can clock someone in in a couple of seconds. Even when the phone requires biometric data, there is invariably a fall-back option to enter a code in case this fails. A good app will capture evidence of the individual, or be more integrated with the day ahead so that booking in is simply incidental to the engagement of the employee, and not the sole purpose of the application. Less is not more in this sense.
Dedicated biometric systems such as fingerprint identification and facial identification are vastly superior in terms of security. Both methods rely on inherent human measurements and traits, some of which are in three dimensions (3D) and thus are very difficult to spoof. For example, a proper facial recognition system, such as the FaceGo package will not fooled by 2D pictures or 3D prosthetics.
One downside of fingerprint identification is that in some environments, fingerprints can be degraded by wear-and-tear, oil, grease, water or dirt, so it is not always as robust as we might need; injury or skin disease can also impede performance. The sensors themselves are also a weak point in terms of vandalism, so if using a biometric fingerprint tool, the advice would be to use tools which allow for easy, ideally self-service, reader module swapping as this is far more cost effective.
Fixed line telephones have the advantage of proving location, assuming it uses caller line ID (CLID) and isn’t limited by ‘Blocked CLID’ technology. Clearly, if a user calls from that approved location (the caller line) at the right time you have the time and proof of attendance .This technology can fail if users share PIN numbers so you should only consider systems that have reliable ways of handling attempted fraud. For example, you could require challenge questions, seek voice recording and invoke a caller divert if users fail to authenticate. If you don’t have your fail-safes in place, this technology is very easily duped or used to buddy punch.
Desktop login tends to work against flexible working trends, fail when users have to travel or attend meetings frequently, have to deal with start of day workloads that are more challenging than most (as in security and cleaning contactor businesses thanks to overnight delivery), and so are not a common feature of Time and attendance systems in this market place.
The SMS, biometric tools, access control and desktop methods are perhaps the most onerous to implement. Setting up the software requires device or infrastructure integrations, configuration and enrollment for each user which are typically more laborious and tedious for the organisation. Without doubt, biometrics is the most straightforward of these and clearly serves to most robustly deal with identification.
Smartphone apps are materially more convenient, but they still demand that the workers take time out of their day to open their phones, then open their apps, and then clock in. If this is the only reason they need to open the app then it is likely that you will witness a level of non-adoption and complaint about app ease-of-use, availability and the like, much of which will be born out of frustration rather than anything you could easily address. Success will come from making this a desirable part of the workers’ day and integrating this app in to the way that they work. Try to avoid a culture of ‘an app for this and an app for that’, as this is equally frustrating for the worker and also leads to poor adoption. Less is truly more here.
Using a fingerprint scanner avoids the problem of having to fish out your phone – we all have our fingerprints conveniently to hand – but it can lead to delays if you have a large group of people waiting at the scanners. We would recommend you think hard about this part of the process. Biometrics come in two flavours; Verification and Identification. Verification is a two-step process, identification is one step. Fewer steps are better to avoid delays at book-on times, and identification is a stronger biometric process from a security-of-identity perspective, so this seems to be the obvious solution, especially for large groups who arrive and depart at the same or similar or times.
In terms of contact biometrics or non-contact, thought has to be given to the environment. Degradation of fingerprints by dirt, oil, or grease is a factor, just not that often. Finger-vein helps reduce this further but in a healthcare environment, you should also be alert to infection being spread by indirect physical contact, usually by touching a contaminated surface, so the need for all workers to touch the same sensor is far from ideal. Gold plated readers and antimicrobial readers and casings should be front and centre of tool selection in this respect, or you should consider contactless (non-contact) biometrics.
Facial recognition has the advantage of being contactless, and the better solutions have high speed detection and identification. This means workers can be detected as they approach and the camera identifies them in less than one second, so no need for delays or distractions, and no ‘hanging around’ at the booking in area, unless you want to of course!
Remember also that the way you make people clock in and out reflects on you as an employer. Every time a worker does it, they think of you, so you need to decide what impression you want to make on your most valuable asset, and importantly, how that asset will go on that day to represent your brand to your end client.
There is an obvious cost of installing code generators (for SMS) and implementing biometric systems, access control systems and desktop software to process time and attendance data.
Similarly, with mobile apps, the workers may be using their own data allowances.
In both of these methods, we are assuming that the workers actually have suitable mobile phones, and agrees to use them for this purpose. That is not always the case.
Fixed telephone lines have a cost, albeit negligible these days. Many telephone packages have unlimited calls/minutes so it’s all bundled into the call packages. The value always offsets the costs. If your client’s site has an issue with the costs as they don’t have inclusive call packages, you can always use the alternative tools we have talked about here, or you can get a free-phone number from you suppliers (WFM or telco) and offer that to those clients who object.
Cost needs to be offset by value. Value to you, but also value to the employee. Make getting in to work easier, more efficient and ideally, make the experience useful. ‘What do I do today?, and ‘What do I need to know?’, or ‘How is my pay or vacation time building up?’, are useful ways of adding value. They also help integrate workers into your business rather than leaving them feeling like they are only on the end of a string.
Detailed costing of any option is beyond the scope of this article, as it needs to consider the numbers of people to be processed, the level of security needed, and the specific characteristics of the locations (how many locations; is there access to mains power; is there an adequate internet or mobile connection? …).
But it is very important to note that when all factors are considered, the more technologically advanced methods are not always the most expensive. As the costs of sensors, processing power, software and connectivity continue to fall, solutions that might previously have been dismissed may now be the most cost-effective.
First, consider what you would like to have, in an ideal world: What would your perfect time and attendance look like in terms of performance, convenience and cost? Then talk to the experts and see if that can be achieved at a price that makes sense.
Getting this right can give you a lasting advantage in the competition for customers, and for employees!