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How to choose a Time and Attendance System

There are several reasons why company needs a Time and Attendance system. First, it is the accuracy. Human error is a factor when you have to manually fill out timesheets, calculate number of hours each employee worked and input these calculations into the payroll software. As a result, your employee may end up with incorrect paycheck. Also, you need to be aware of your employees’ attendance and punctuality; some employees come to work late, some leave early and some might not show up to work at all. In addition, you might want to avoid “buddy punching” (one employee asking another employee to punch in/out on their behalf) or “ghost workers” (a manager creates a fake employee which exists only on papers and submits their timesheets as if they actually worked). Furthermore, you might need to have a scheduling mechanism, job costing and ways to gather statistics about your company labor expenses. Ultimately, the goal is to reduce cost and improve performance.

A good Time and Attendance software should be able to address all of the above issues. Any Time and Attendance system consist of three parts: (1) time clock (it could be a card reader device, a biometric device such as HandPunch, Fingerprint reader, face recognition, or it could be a simple desktop or online program allowing users to clock in using their employee number); (2) software (which collects data, allows users to manage it and generate reports); and (3) support (software upgrades and helpdesk).

There are two types of companies that offer Time and Attendance system. One type is the manufacturers of the time clock devices or strictly reseller of hardware. Their emphasis is on the device functionality, and making it affordable to their buyers; these companies tend to bundle a simple Time and Attendance software. The other type of companies is the software companies; these companies emphasize on the software functionality and tend to provide more elaborate solution. After all, time clock itself has one function – it identifies an employee and logs the time he/she registered, but the Time and Attendance software interprets this information and produces usable data.

How to choose the right time clock?

Biometric vs. Non-biometric time clock

A non-biometric time clock, such as a card reader, are cheaper to buy, easier to maintain and simpler to set up. An even cheaper solution is the desktop or web-based time clock simulators: the employee punches in their employee number and presses a button to register. The downside is that employees can cheat the system by registering for each other.

If you need to eliminate “buddy punching” and/or “ghost workers”, you need to consider biometric time clock. There are several biometric readers on the market; the most popular are fingerprint readers and hand readers. Because each person has a unique fingerprint and hand geometry, no one can clock in in their place: this person must be physically present in front of the clock to register. Another advantage of biometric devices is that no other accessories, such as a card or a key tag, are required; these cost money to produce and may be lost or stolen.

Work Environment

Another point to consider is the cleanliness of the work environment. In some companies, such as factories, construction sites and mechanic shops, there is no way for employees to avoid having dirty hands when using the time clock. Fingerprint reader scans a finger to identify an employee. If the finger is dirty, the reader will not be able to match the employee’s fingerprint with the one in the database. In addition, the dirt might be left on the sensor preventing the next employee from registering. In such cases, hand reader such as HandPunch would be a better solution: this device measures the employee’s hand geometry from a distance, rather than use a scanner. Work environments in which dust or dirt is an issue a hand reader or non-biometric devices are much better solutions.

Device Features

Each device has specific number of employees it can support, amount of data it can store, type of connection, backup power supply and temperature that it can withhold.

Each device has a limit of how many employees it can store. For example, HandPunch by Indersol Rand, HP1000 can support from 50 to 512 employees and HP3000 can support from 512 to 9600 employees. Fingerprint and card readers by ZK Technology, on the other hand, can support up to 1,500 employees. Even though the device can store all your employees, you need to consider how many employees will be punching in or out at the same time. For example, if your shift ends at 4pm and 100 employees have to register at the same time, even if it takes 20 seconds each employee to walk to the device, put their hand or finger for the machine to identify them, it would take more than 30 minutes for everyone to punch out. In such a situation, you might consider getting several devices so few employees can punch out at the same time.

Each device has a limit on how much data it can store. Every time an employee registers at the time clock, a time log is created with the employee’s number and the time he/she registered. You need to know how many transactions the reader can store before you need to download this data and clear the memory. For example, a HandPunch HP1000 by Indersol Rand can store up to 5000 transactions; if you have 100 employees registering twice per day, then the reader can store up to 25 days of logs. If the Time and Attendance software automatically downloads these logs on a regular basis then the data limit might not be an issue.

Another factor to consider is the type of connection interfaces or how the registrations from the time clock be transferred to the software.

One type of connection is Serial or USB. Serial and USB cables are more expensive and cannot be very long. It is not recommended to have cables longer than 50 feet. It means that the reader cannot be further than 50 feet away from the computer where the other end of cable is plugged in. Another problem is that computers usually come with a single Serial port or might not have one at all. Usually you would not consider serial connection if you want to use more than one device.

Another type of connection is a network adapter. This is a more expensive device module, but it allows you to install device anywhere in your facility and pull a long network cable to your switch or router. There can be any number of devices, each connected to your network.

If your device is located in a remote location and there is no internet, some time clocks have USB ports where you can use a Flash drive to download logs from the reader and manually transfer them to the computer where the Time and Attendance software installed.

Another useful feature that you might need to consider is the backup power supply. In case there is a power outage, is it important for the time clock to continue working? A simpler solution could be connecting the device through regular UPS. A more expensive solution would be to have the backup battery installed within the device; this feature is available on HandPunch models.

Each device has a limit of the minimum and maximum temperature it can withstand. If you plan to install the time clock outside or in extreme temperature environments, you need to find out if the device can work in such conditions.

Cost

Money is always an issue. Software based readers, card reader or fingerprint readers are less expensive than hand readers. The more employees the device can support and the more data it can store, the more expensive the device is. Network adapters and backup power supplies tend to increase the cost of the device. Ultimately, the when choosing a time clock you need to balance your requirements and the cost.

How to choose right Time and Attendance software?

Time and Attendance software vary greatly in features and functionality. Here are the most popular features and/or modules that you might consider:

  • Software Platform
  • Multi-user access
  • Multi-company support
  • Rounding
  • Scheduling
  • Paid Time Off
  • Job Costing
  • Reporting
  • Exporting for integration and analysis purposes

Software Platform

You need to decide what kind of platform you want to use. Do you want a desktop-based or a web-based application? Do you want to host the program internally or have it hosted by the solution provider “in the cloud”?

Desktop applications are usually cheaper to buy, have a one-time fee with an option to pay for upgrading to newer versions. Some companies offer a yearly maintenance plan at a cost which includes free upgrades. However, you have to worry about installing the program, database backup and establishing a recovery plan in case of system failure. Also, if you need to run this program on several computers, you have to worry about integrating all workstations together and when you are upgrading this software, you have to upgrade all workstations simultaneously.

Some Time and Attendance applications come in a web version that you host yourself. You will have to install the program on a single computer (web-server) which will make it easier if you decide to upgrade the software in the future. All of your users will have access to the program through a web browser from anywhere with internet access. However, with this solution, you need to dedicate a computer for it, have someone troubleshoot the server on as-needed basis and worry about server security. You also have to pay for upgrades and/or maintenance plan. Just like in the desktop version, you also need to worry about database backups and have a recovery plan in case of web server failure.

Web-based applications “in the cloud” are programs that are hosted by a service provider and the user is paying a monthly fee; however, you do not need to buy any special hardware, do not need to secure your servers, plan for system failures or database backups. All of your users will have access to the program through a web browser from anywhere with internet access. Software upgrades are part of the service, so you are always using the latest version of the program. Compared to a one-time fee, paying for an application on a monthly basis allows the company not to make a large initial investment and the flexibility to back out in case this is not the most optimal solution. Even though, it may seem like it might be more expensive, the reality is, once you take into account the time it takes you to maintain the server, and occasionally upgrade the software on each computer or on your web server, it might be cheaper and more efficient to use an online, hosted application.

Multi-user access

You need to decide how many people would be using the program to administer employees’ registrations, run reports and do other administrative tasks. Each user should have their own login and password, and possibly some users should not have access to all features of the program. For example, you might want to give a supervisor access to a small group of employees where he/she can manage time registrations, but cannot change any program preferences. Another user, such as a payroll person, might need to have read-only permission to the whole company, be able to review all records and export them to a payroll application without being allowed to make any changes. Such User Management feature needs to be considered when choosing a Time and Attendance software.

Multi-company support

Do you have more than one company in your organization? For example, you might have a clothing store chain, with each store being considered a separate company with their own employees, rules and scheduling. In addition, these stores may be in different states or provinces, or even in different countries, where there are different rules for overtime or holidays. In such case, it would be important to maintain centralized data, but allow different rules setup within each company. This way you can oversee your whole organization and do various statistical reports and analyses.

Rounding

Do you need to round employees registrations? Most companies round employees registrations to the nearest 15 or 30 minutes of an hour. For example, employee registers at 7:52am and a company might like to round their registration to 7:45am or 8:00am. Another rounding that might be useful is the block rounding: employees’ time is rounded to the beginning or end of their shift. For example, employees have to start work at 8am, but few people are going to punch in at exactly 8:00am; usually employees would come 5 or 10 minutes earlier and a block rounding option can automatically round their time to the beginning of their shift so that you do not have to pay them for the extra time. This feature may save a lot of money for the company.

Scheduling

In most companies, there is some sort of schedule. A Time and Attendance software can be used to help you create a schedule, whether it is recurring shifts or a constantly changing schedule. Also, the only way to know if an employee is late, leaving early or absent is by comparing the employee’s known schedule with actual registrations. If your company has different shifts and/or alternating schedule, you might want to make sure that the Time and Attendance software you choose has an easy to use scheduling mechanism allowing you to quickly define employees’ schedule.

Paid Time Off (PTO)

In some Time and Attendance software you can specify if an employee is ill, on vacation or if there is a holiday, and take into account these hours for the Time Card calculations. Some Time and Attendance software support accruals for paid time off; for example, how much vacation time employee has accumulated or how many sick days are left.

Job Costing

A job costing feature is useful when employees do different tasks throughout their workday or workweek. If it is important for your company to track how much time your employees spend on any specific job, then you want to make sure that the Time and Attendance software you choose includes this feature.

Reporting

After you accumulate all the data, you need to be able to use it by either seeing it in a report or exporting it. Most common reports would be (1) Time Card – a report which tells you how many hours employee worked in a specified period of time; (2) List of employees who are late, leaving early or absent; and (3) Job Costing analysis – amount of time spent in each job. If you need a unique report, will the Time and Attendance application that you are considering allow you to create one? If not, is it possible for the company that designed the software to create this report for you? Will this report work after the software is upgraded to the next version? These questions are important to ask prior to buying the software.

Exporting for integration and analysis purposes

In addition to generating reports, you might want to export data. Sometimes Time and Attendance software can be integrated with an accounting software directly or may require you to export data to Excel or CSV file specifically formatted for your payroll software. If you would like to integrate the Time and Attendance software with your payroll program, such as QuickBooks, Simple Accounting, AccPac or Peachtree, then you need to make sure that the Time and Attendance software you are considering has such feature. In addition you might want to export data to an Excel file to produce different calculations and graphs.

How to choose right Time and Attendance solution provider?

There are many Time and Attendance software on the market. Each software company claims that their devices and software is the best. It is up to you to find out the best solution for your needs.

In addition to figuring out the right device and the software that will suit your company’s needs, you need to consider few more things.

Most software companies continuously work on their Time and Attendance application: they fix bugs and implement new features. You might want to know how often the company releases new version of their program. Will you get a free upgrade, or will you have to pay for it. How much will the upgrade cost? What if there is a bug in the program, will they fix it for free or you have to pay for the upgrade?

You have to find out about the customer support that the company provides. You might have some questions about how to use the program or the device. Can you call the company and have them assist you immediately? Or, do you have to request the service and wait for 24 to 48 hours for someone to respond? If the company is local, then there might be additional advantages, such as onsite training and support at a lower cost, and you might have the option of getting a temporary device in case something happens to yours.

Finally, you need to research company reputation. What do other people say about this company and their product? You might want to ask for few references or review some testimonials.

Conclusion

There are many things to consider when choosing a Time and Attendance solution. Ultimately, the best solution will depend on your company’s needs. Do your research, request a demo and ask questions.