Biometrics and T&A, a match made in heaven

October 2013 Access Control & Identity Management

Time and attendance (T&A) technologies have come a long way from the day when workers clocked in by punching cards on the way into factories. Today biometrics has changed the game and delivered enormous benefits, such as cost savings by cutting out buddy clocking and other ways to cheat the system and still get paid.

Sadly, many companies still rely on punching in or a similar way of starting your work clock. Whether they are unaware of biometric T&A or don’t like the costs associated with it, or simply trust their employees is a matter of debate. Some companies tried to use biometrics before the technology was really ready for the real world, while others burned their fingers by choosing cheaper products that let them down. The reality today is that many more companies are looking to biometrics for T&A as a way to cut costs from over or underpaying, as well as to streamline the once manual process of getting employees’ time sheets to payroll.

Hi-Tech Security Solutions spoke to Delme Hawkins from ERS Biometrics to find out the latest T&A trends.

Hawkins says the demand for fingerprint biometrics used for T&A has grown phenomenally over the last three years. “As ERS, we only sell biometrics as part of our T&A solution, ensuring positive identification of the employee. A large portion of our business consists of upgrading the old card-based systems with biometrics.

“Using biometrics ensures positive identification whereas card-based systems allow employees to clock in and/or out for each other without having to be there and it allows for ghost employees to be created.”

He says that while vein or facial biometric readers are available, ERS uses fingerprint biometrics in 99% of its projects. “The reason for this being the elements we face on sites, mainly direct sunlight or dust which negatively influence the reading capabilities of vein, facial and hand geometry devices.”

Another challenge with card-based solutions is the fact that cards get lost or forgotten, which creates an administration nightmare both to replace or temporarily rectify the T&A records. Hawkins notes that with biometrics you cannot forget your finger.

As to the question of when biometrics fail, he says biometrics has matured over the past three years to better read damaged, dirty fingers and has also advanced to the stage where devices can store up to 10 fingers per employee while still retaining recognition speeds below one second.

Hawkins also addresses the cost issue. “The perception is still there that the traditional punch card systems are more cost effective than the newer biometric solutions, but when one looks at the card, and in certain cases printing costs, coupled with the need to manually input data and you will come to a different conclusion.” And that’s without factoring in buddy clocking and ghost employees.

Return on investment

While card readers may have a lower purchase price than biometric readers, Hawkins says that the difference is almost irrelevant. He says it has been proven time and again that the implementation of a biometric T&A solution can save between 10% and 15% of a company’s pay run. Biometrics ensures that employees are at work on time as the times cannot be manipulated as would be the case with a manual time sheet. Besides ensuring that all employees are only being paid for time worked, it also automatically increases productivity.

“A large portion of the above mentioned percentage comes from managing staff after hours or on weekends where management is minimal, it ensures 100% accurate overtime claims.

“Many of the card systems out there don’t have a display screen which is a necessity for T&A these days as the date and time must be displayed preventing employees disputing the times at a later stage,” adds Hawkins. “It also has the added benefit of indicating positive recognition of an employee when they clock in or out. The biometric readers are also self-standing, enabling the storage of data in the event of networks being down, they have proper power management and messaging capabilities, to mention a few. You simply get more for your rand at the end of the day.”

Integration to payroll

The point of T&A systems is obviously to smooth the process of collecting time sheets and feeding them into a payroll system with the minimum of manual input, where mistakes can easily happen. The problem, says Hawkins is that ERS often encounters card and even biometric solutions which do not integrate into the various payroll solutions, this is mostly due to T&A software limitations. “Many biometric solutions are sold with the default software as a complete T&A solution which is not the case. This software often doesn’t cater for the basic let alone the advanced T&A requirement we encounter in South Africa and doesn’t have the ability to export to a payroll solution.”

He adds another warning to those who buy promises of easy T&A solutions, “Integration into payroll is only possible if the employees are managed properly and clock in and out for their shifts, the T&A software properly manages the shifts, splitting the times worked between normal time, overtime, etc. Only after all of this will the integration be successful. T&A implementation is fairly complex and resource intensive not just for the initial setup, but on an on-going support and maintenance basis. It is often underestimated which results in many unhappy customers in the market.”

It’s also important for users to look at the importing and exporting of information, specifically clocking data. If your installer or integrator offers to sell you a system that does not allow for development and changes to suit a payroll system’s changes, you could be in for a costly development project. Hawkins says ERS has an advantage as it offers its own proprietary software and dedicated development resources to customise and grow its software solution based on clients’ needs as well as constantly changing industry requirements.

“In our experience, to successfully implement T&A solutions you will need sufficient resource, time and knowledge. You cannot rush an implementation, we have adopted a phased approach where a client receives their initial training and only two to three weeks later their advanced training and setup. The logic behind this is to allow the client to deal with any teething problems and have all staff clocking in and out by the time we return for the second session, giving us actual clocking times to setup and test on.

“For larger customers we have customised implementation packages doing a hand-holding approach until such time as we can hand over, for this you require properly qualified resources and time. Thereafter you need a facility in place to help clients as and when they need assistance. ERS has put a call centre in place to ensure prompt assistance.”

Hosted T&A

No article about T&A would be complete without a mention of hosted solutions. While in Europe and the USA the question of hosting, or cloud services, is a given, in South Africa we have to consider bandwidth and the reliability of communications systems before we can settle on a hosted solution.

Hawkins says that ERS has been providing clients with a cloud-based T&A solution for several years with great success. “The SA Internet connectivity is reliable and stable, providing several levels of access for data, via ADSL, 3G on laptops, tablets and even smartphones. We make use of a reputable ISP that provides all the necessary infrastructure backups like power, Internet, backups, security, etc., ensuring that servers are running 24/7/365 and clients’ data is secure.

“We adhere to the requirements laid out in the PoPI Act as a service provider, but employers need to clearly indicate the usage of employee data for T&A in their employment documentation. Cloud-based solutions do not require additional client infrastructure in the form of servers and PCs, reducing the initial capital requirement and allowing the client to concentrate on what they are good at.”

ERS is also a specialist in mobile biometric hardware. The benefit of the mobile technology is that it doesn’t require any network infrastructure as it communicates directly with the ERS server offsite. This is ideal when a site doesn’t have infrastructure. Typical examples of this would be construction sites, farms and even multi branch scenarios.

Biometrics is a clear winner when it comes to T&A. Not only does it prove cost effective, even when compared to cheaper card-based systems, the accuracy of biometrics and the difficulty in fooling the system is sure to save companies money. To date, fingerprint biometrics are the most widely used, not only by ERS, but other biometric technologies such as facial recognition are gaining ground in the business world as the underlying technologies improve.

For more information contact Delme Hawkins, ERS Biometrics, 01 0593 0593, delme@ersbiometrics.co.za


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