Time and attendance solutions have evolved from punch cards to cost-effective and more accurate cloud-based biometric systems.
Time and attendance (T&A) has been a staple of blue-collar workers for many years with companies initially using punch cards to record staff clocking in and out of work. The idea behind T&A; was and is that the company will be able to pay staff more accurately for their hours worked.
This didn’t always work as planned as it is easy to cheat this type of manual clocking system, with the result that some workers were overpaid and the ghost workers became a challenge. When biometrics entered the fray, cheating the system became difficult, if not impossible, and today we have a thriving industry providing T&A; solutions using biometrics, and now running these systems as a cloud service is becoming popular.
Hi-Tech Security Solutions asked two companies to expand on the T&A; market today, looking at what the market demands and some of their products on offer.
Gary Chalmers, CEO of iPulse Systems, confirms that biometrics are definitely the most common form for tracking clockings in South Africa today, “as the fraud inherent with other solutions is simply too high. Workers have become used to biometrics, and it’s hard to find an environment where at least some form of biometrics is not in use for T&A; solutions.”
Christo Myburgh, general manager at Access and Beyond, agrees, but notes there is still a wide variety of clocking peripherals used within the local market, ranging from tags through to biometrics, with mobile applications using NFC (near-field communications) also becoming more popular.
He adds that deciding on which solution is the right one for a particular business depends on your application and the security level you require from your clocking verification. “For instance, you would typically use a cost-effective medium for low-risk areas like your stationary store, but would definitely make use of biometric validation in the form of fingerprint, iris or facial recognition at your gold or diamond hold areas.”
In these high-security areas a company may even opt for 1:1 verification where a person makes use of a tag and then a biometric to ensure the profile is compared to the right personal template.
While the use of biometrics was limited a few years ago and workers could be nervous of the technology, Myburgh believes that in the current environment employees have become accustomed to it and also recognise the advantages in eliminating risks. These risks can include card/tag theft, acts of unauthorised entry and even theft that can occur with their names linked to the respective access event.
How biometrics is accepted by the workforce “depends on how the company handles the change control process and what technology is chosen.”
Not only blue collar
And while the initial recipients of T&A; systems were primarily blue-collar workers, this is no longer the case. Chalmers has noticed “a significant trend towards white-collar workers being tracked in the same manner.
“With the economy in a tough place, tracking and managing employee productivity and attendance – normally the largest cost for any business – has become more important for companies looking to survive.”
The type of employees being tracked via T&A; systems varies on a case-by-case basis, Myburgh says. “Some clients do not distinguish between white- and blue-collar employees and everybody is required to clock in at their workplace, while other clients are more relaxed around white-collar employees.
Furthermore, he says that in some cases the T&A; or workforce management system also functions as a health and safety enforcement agent, so implementing clocking for everybody is not negotiable.
What is negotiable these days is if the system chosen runs on site and is managed by the customer’s own technical department or whether a cloud-based system is adopted. Using a cloud system has the advantage that the customer does not have to worry about managing the server, but simply ‘plugs into’ the system hosted at a service provider’s site. The service provider is responsible for keeping the system running and secure, as well as implementing upgrades.
Increased cloud services
Myburgh says that in cases where clients have their own WAN or LAN infrastructure along with a dedicated division to support and maintain them, they are more comfortable with on-premise systems as it allows them to have complete control over the data, environment, access to it and so on.
“This is very common in an enterprise type of deployment, and in most cases there are strong interfacing lines to their respective ERP, HR and payroll systems. This does not generally apply for smaller companies with less than 20 people on the payroll that rely on the manual input of an employee as well as manual export to their payroll system.”
This, again, is a customer’s choice and should be decided based on the merits of each situation. He says some of the issues to consider when deciding on a cloud-based or on-premise system include the cost of infrastructure, risk of downtime, maintaining the infrastructure and the level of control you want to have.
Chalmers, on the other hand, states that cloud-based systems have penetrated the market completely. Moreover, he adds, “Anyone not offering a cloud-based solution today is struggling to keep business and grow new customers. The simplicity, convenience and power of cloud, along with the associated cost savings in support, hosting and maintenance, have made this a very attractive option for clients of any size.”
Not forgetting mobile
Since we are in the era of smart mobile devices, it would be remiss not to mention the advances that have been made to take T&A; ‘on the road’.
Myburgh notes that there has been tremendous progression in technology supporting remote T&A; to ensure accuracy. Using a mobile application with geotagging allows employers to confirm a person’s position at a specific time, for example. “There are many systems available and there is no reason not to have this data available and the mechanisms in place to automate the process. Manual data entry should be the exception to the rule these days.”
Chalmers echoes this sentiment, noting that iPulse uses SmartTime for its T&A; service. “As part of this solution, we allow remote or road-warrior employees to clock in and out using an app. This application combines the location (through GPS) to ensure that the employee is where they say they are, thus increasing the accuracy of data captured.”
Going into the iPulse T&A; solution more broadly, Chalmers says the company partners with SmartTime, a cloud-based T&A; system owned by Page Automation. “We have clients using our service with as few as 20 employees and our customer base extends to enterprise clients with over 10 000 employees clocking in and out on the same system.
“The joy of cloud is that scaling is effortless and because 95% or more of support can be delivered remotely, any client can benefit from the solution without having to pay premium rates. From as little as R10 to R15 per person per month (based on staff numbers of over 5000), T&A; is a no-brainer for most customers.”
As far as Access and Beyond is concerned, Myburgh explains that its solution is called XTime, an access control, workforce management, health and safety enforcement agent and peripheral management suite.
“We service a wide variety of clients within various sectors, including mining, oil and gas, industrial, manufacturing and parastatals. We offer various products and services of which the XTime Workforce Management Suite (available as a hosted or on-premise deployment) is our flagship product, trusted by thousands of employees and employers alike to secure their time and resources while keeping them safe.
“Our XTime Software Suite is locally developed and owned, and due to this fact we pride ourselves on continued innovation and product expansion. We have recently released two new products: XTime Kiosk and XTime Locker, which are used with either personal belongings or smart lockers that detect the presence of tagged equipment within the locker and manage the issuing and receiving of this expensive equipment.”
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