Magazine Article | July 1, 2002

It's Time To Make Your Enterprise More Efficient

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

If your use of time and attendance and biometric solutions is limited to payroll processing, you aren't getting your money's worth.

Integrated Solutions, July 2002

Time and attendance solutions may have come a long way since the manual boxes that required workers to literally "punch in," but the attitude toward them has not. Workers in many environments are now using magnetic stripe cards, touch screens, or biometric devices based on retinal images, hand geometry, or voice recognition. Ironically, many enterprises still view these solutions as little more than a way to prove who showed up for work. In reality, an integrated time and attendance solution can enhance security, improve customer service, increase efficiency, and influence enterprise decision-making. "Time and attendance sits at the middle of a number of processes," says George Murray, VP of marketing for Infotronics (Farmington Hills, MI). "By collecting information and interfacing with other databases, it can act as the gear at the center of a group of activities and tie them all together."

Use Existing Biometric Solutions To Provide Security
In the past, biometric implementations have centered on pain points such as buddy punching. The pressure to increase security has changed that perspective. "Historically, time and attendance and security have been quite different," notes Peter DiMaria, president of Accu-Time Systems (Ellington, CT). "HR and security worked independently. What they have in common is a need to track people. Integration on the software side can use the same employee information to monitor who is in the building, where they went, and when they left."

This inter-departmental approach also has significant cost benefits. DiMaria relates a situation where a company was running independent HR and security systems. That meant supporting two terminals and two sets of software. Slashed maintenance costs justified the cost of a unified solution.

Manage Employees Better, Improve Customer Service
Improvements to the tracking and notification functions of time and attendance systems as well as browser-based access to data allow supervisors to better manage employees. By accessing real-time information about employees, such as who is clocked in and where they are assigned, the manager of a large department store, for example, can see which floors are understaffed and move employees accordingly. Some systems can be configured to proactively warn the supervisor that an insufficient number of people are at work. "Wireless is becoming a key enabler. A system can be configured to send a message to the supervisor's PDA [personal digital assistant] if an employee doesn't show up at an appointed time or job site," says DiMaria.

Adding browser-based access through a standard Internet connection or a wireless device can also make supervisors more productive, says Murray. Employees who are traveling or at home on weekends can access the system to complete tasks such as approving time cards or tracking how much labor has been dedicated to a project. Employers can also use the system to leave messages for workers.

A browser-based time and attendance solution that can be accessed from a PC or handheld can make it easier to manage employees who haven't necessarily been able to clock in at a terminal. For example, visiting nurses or field service workers might access the system to signal that they are on duty at a job site. As a result, management can track their performance and productivity. Integrating that information with customer service and billing applications reduces redundant data entry and improves accuracy.

Successful cross-enterprise time and attendance/biometric solutions depend on a solid network. "If you're going to take full advantage of the technology, the infrastructure is going to be important," says DiMaria. While many smaller organizations can get by with serial connections, most need at least an Ethernet network because some systems run thousands of transactions to a server for verification. Fortunately, says DiMaria, biometric files have become much "lighter," making less demand on networks. Consistent wireless access is also a concern for users who include mobile workers in their solutions.

Jimmy Bianco, president of Control Module, Inc. (Enfield, CT), says that distributed enterprises in which employees move from site to site must be especially conscious of network demands. "If you move people, say in a retail environment, from one store to another, you'll need the infrastructure to communicate between those locations," says Bianco. "In a smaller application, you can locally load the information for a biometric time clock and use the system to see quick ROI. We have a solution that's in 60 airports with 300 clocks. The 30,000 employees can be traded from one site to another on a daily basis. There's no way to put 30,000 templates on every clock, let alone keep them updated," says Bianco. "A distributed solution like this may require the clock to prompt for a PIN [personal identification number] and call back to the server for a template. This template could then be automatically deleted after a given period, such as five days."

Employee Self-Service Reduces HR Costs
Automating payroll processing through time and attendance software has become a common way for enterprises to cut costs, but allowing employees to interact with the system can reduce costs further. "Kiosks can be set up at the work site for employees to check personal data, such as 401K information or a vacation schedule, during breaks. Secure Internet log-on is also another option and further increases employees' access to their files," says Bianco. When employees can gather this information themselves, the HR staff no longer has to dedicate resources to searching for it. Murray points to one banking center customer with more than 15 branches and 250 to 300 employees. He says that a comment from that customer indicated inquiries to HR "virtually ceased" when employees were given access to personnel files secured through social security numbers.

In addition to reducing interruptions experienced by HR employees, an integrated time and attendance system can streamline the preparation of annual reviews. "Maintaining an integrated database allows you to look at entire employee history," says Murray. "It can be configured to flag exceptions based on business rules. So if an employee has to be a certain number of minutes late, it will note only those incidents. When it's time for a review, you can run an indisputable report in seconds." An accessible database can also be used to settle pay disputes more quickly or provide evidence to support employee dismissal.

Time And Attendance Data Fosters Intelligent Decisions
By configuring a system to track employees and projects, enterprises can more efficiently track production costs. This data may be used to compare departments, or it may be used for billing. With browser-based access, even salaried employees could use a system at their desktops to record their time. For instance, the cost of producing a product may include manufacturing hours on the shop floor as well as engineering or professional services. By integrating and organizing the data collected from the shop floor and from desktops, executives have a more accurate and more timely picture of how resources are being allocated.

Mining the data collected by a time and attendance solution and generating reports can also provide up-to-the-minute data about operational issues. "When you start to collect information in a fully automated system, you have the ability to generate reports of all kinds," says Murray. "For instance, if you are aware how much time is regular and how much is overtime, you know when it's time to look at hiring new people. You can get labor statistics and compare one department to another. Once that data is being collected in a database, you can use it in a myriad of ways to understand your business better."

Using your time and attendance system to cut costs and increase efficiency is possible for organizations that fully evaluate their needs and take a long-term view. Advises Murray, "It doesn't mean you have to do it all at once, but you have to know where you want to be at the end."