Resource Management

Clocking in “the Cloud”

December 3, 2012
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Today’s web-based time and attendance systems are accessible to even the smallest businesses. Employees can now clock in and out from a proximity or biometric time clock, telephone, web browser or GPS-enabled smartphone app—or all four, if required. With the latest time and attendance systems running in the cloud, no software installations are needed, and managers can now log in, view hours, run reports and manage the system online, in real-time, before emailing employee hours to a payroll bureau or exporting electronically for payroll.

A Step Back in Time

Time clocks were originally mechanical machines; that is, they were precision time clocks that used a clock card to record in-and-out clockings. A weekly card was required for each employee, making the administrative effort for an organization with many employees enormous.

With the advent of the personal computer, electronic time clock systems that used credit card-type cards to record employee movements started to appear. These

Tips for Implementing a New T&A System

• Check that the system you are considering will provide you with the correct calculations, reports and data outputs.
• Ensure you understand the technology involved and how it will work in your environment and with your existing systems.
• Make sure you have a demonstration of the system in real time so you can see exactly how it works and whether it meets the needs of your organization.
• Ensure that the system you choose enables you to deal with the exceptions and automatically takes care of the standard things without you needing to waste time on them.
• Make sure that the company that supplies your system has a good record of providing after-sales service and support; there will always be questions that need to be answered, no matter how carefully a system is implemented.

early systems were in the era of MS-DOS and were all text-based, with lots of setup screens and limited reporting. Technology advanced quickly, and functionality grew until these systems could handle hundreds or even thousands of employees. However, they were complex and time consuming. Some suppliers had to employ teams of programmers to configure the systems and user trainers to educate customers. The time clocks themselves had to be connected to the computer using serial cables, as computer networks were still using coaxial cables in those days. The industry term for clocking systems evolved into “time and attendance systems” (or T&A systems, as they became widely known) in order to distinguish the computerized systems from the old mechanical machines.
The introduction of the Microsoft Windows 3.1 operating system created a more complex programming environment. This initially proved to be a backward step in terms of calculation capabilities, as new programs for T&A systems needed to be developed to suit the new operating system. By the time the Microsoft Windows-based T&A software programs started to catch up with calculation capabilities, additional features that took advantage of Windows’ graphical interface (such as calendar screens and graphical reporting) were added.

With the development of technology for operating computer networks, new connectivity options became available. Transmission control protocol/Internet protocol (TCP/IP), the basic communication language of the Internet, revolutionized the possibilities for connecting clocking terminals to a network. Now, virtually any number of terminals could be connected to a system. The development of wide area networks (WANs) enabled more data to be handled; terminals could be connected to systems across the world and linked back to one database.

As the Microsoft Windows operating system progressed from 3.1 to 95 to 98, T&A programs changed with them. The graphical user interface made systems easier to use, and some of the more market-led systems became much more user friendly.

The boom in the use of credit cards—plastic cards with a magnetic stripe (no chip and pin then)—provided a card technology that was reliable and cost effective and became the standard technology for use in T&A clocking terminals. Larger organizations that required ID badges found that they could also use the T&A magnetic-stripe cards as ID badges.

The arrival of Microsoft Windows XP, Vista, and now Windows 7, as well as additional improvements in networks and technology, have meant that proximity-based systems and biometrics have reached a level that enables users to connect various different types of terminals to their systems as and when the need arises.

Modern Systems

T&A systems have come a long way in the last 20 years or so, but what will happen in the future? There will always be a market for the classic client-server application using databases on centralized servers with either “fat” clients or “thin” client technology, like Citrix Winframe or Microsoft terminal services. Now, however, cloud- or web-based technology (such as Google Docs) is the up-and-coming technology on the market for many systems.

The latest T&A systems employ cloud technology to give users the ability to access data from any Internet-connected browser, anywhere in the world, irrespective of the type of computer or operating system in use. This is great news for Mac users, who have never before been able to use modern T&A systems since such programs were normally written to work on Microsoft operating systems.

Connecting modern clocking terminals is also much easier than connecting previous systems. Instead of needing fixed IP addresses and port forwarding, which creates headaches for the IT department, modern terminals can connect to an existing network by simply plugging them in and taking advantage of automatic DHCP configuration. No setup is required; the unique clocking terminal identifier is simply put into the secure web portal, and the clocking terminal can be used immediately. Employees can be using the system in as little as five minutes. The latest models are connected via Wi-Fi, so the clocking terminal has no need for a network cable or socket.

Users can also be asked to clock onto a web page with Internet protocol (IP) filtering to ensure they are where they say they are. Landline telephones with
telephone number filtering and even smartphone apps can be used to clock in and out—some even give the GPS location of the person clocking.
Another major benefit of cloud technology is that you no longer need to install software. The system can be accessed using the standard web browser available on every computer, tablet or smartphone.

What Comes Next?

We are already seeing face-scanning technology in movies and on TV programs. Will this eventually be the way that employees are clocked in and out? Or will employees just need to walk through the door to be clocked in?

Fingerprint technology has vastly improved over the last 10 years, but a small number of people still cannot use even the most modern fingerprint terminals. This normally occurs when the employee has a job that affects their fingerprints, making them difficult to read using current technology.

Rumors are circulating about future readers that will use the layer below the skin to record a template. Hand-scan technology avoids this issue and is easier to use for employees, but it is more expensive and requires more attention.

Who Can Benefit?

Organizations with five or more employees can usually benefit from introducing a T&A system to monitor both hourly and salaried employees to ensure that contractual hours are being worked. When hourly paid employees work overtime, T&A systems can automatically calculate the number of hours to be paid at the normal rate, as well as those to be paid at overtime rates.

One customer with only two employees realized that he could save time and money in the recording and preparation of payroll hours by implementing a computerized T&A system. The time saved recording and processing employees’ working records could then be sold as productive time, so the introduction of the system created a net profit.

This kind of T&A system can also provide additional benefits, including the implementation of a good time and attendance culture. Requiring employees to clock in and out, and allowing them to see the time on the terminal, means they are more aware of their timekeeping. Even if employees are not paid by the clock, a T&A system can be used to record who is on site for fire roll-call purposes (now available on tablets and phones, if necessary).

Choosing a T&A System

Time and attendance can be a tricky subject. Replacing an existing system that is not doing what your business needs, or trying to find the right system for the first time, can be challenging. First, ensure that you are talking to experts who have been dealing with time and attendance for a long time and who understand it from the bottom up. Whether you are running on a single day shift, rotating triples, double days, continentals, four-on/four-off rotations, complex flexible working, or just the good old “nine-to-five,” make sure you consult with people who know the effects of implementing a system like this.

Considerations are mainly dictated by the working arrangements. If you have a single site with 25 employees, then a one-clock system installed on one computer may be sufficient. If you have multiple sites and need to be able to access the information stored on the system from different locations, you will need a more extensive solution. Computer network infrastructure also needs to be considered in case you need to add capability in terms of connection points for the clocking terminals. The use of Wi-Fi technology can help here.

Ask yourself what you really need the system to achieve for you. Do you want to export the hours information to a payroll system to negate the need to double-key lots of hours? Do you want to use an outsourced payroll provider who can accept information electronically (thus reducing the cost of actually running the payroll)? Many of these payroll providers also carry out the year-end work for you as well.

Do you need line managers to be able to access the data and manage it on a day-to-day basis, thus freeing up the administration department to get on with more important tasks? In that way, managers can authorize overtime directly on the system electronically so that it just feeds directly to payroll, and there is no need to print reports or re-type information.

How many clocking terminals will you need? What terminal technology do you need? Will your working environment allow you to use the more advanced biometric systems that ensure that the employee who is clocking is really who they say they are? Fingerprint and hand-scan technology has come a long way and is now commonplace. Terminals using that kind of technology are now so reliable that they can be found on building sites, quarries and coal reclamation sites.

Think about the reports that you might need to enable you to save time when considering holidays and absences, payroll, and other facets of time and attendance. Choose a system that is going to be able to calculate exactly what you need. Some systems purposefully offer limited capabilities in order to be less expensive (but easier to implement). Others are designed to be more flexible and can deal with the most complex time and attendance rules.

Multiple Benefits

Implementing or upgrading to a modern T&A system can ensure that you only pay employees for the time they really work. Managing time and attendance information can be far more efficient with a new system, and time saved can be spent on improving your business. The ability to look back at previous pay periods quickly and easily, as well as the simple management of absences and holidays, ensures that these systems can pay for themselves over and over again.

For additional information, contact Access-to-Time at (44) 01761-410015 or visit www.uAttend.co.uk.

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