Time Tracking and Attendance Primer: Beyond the Clock

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Are you still using spreadsheets and punch cards? Is the taking and tracking of time and attendance of your workforce still a manual process? Are you using any kind of time and attendance software in your organization? Welcome to the 21st century and to the world of advanced time-tracking technologies.

Punch clocks, time clocks, clock card machines, Bundy clocks, time recorders: we’ve heard them called different things over the decades, and time tracking has come a long way since the days of manual timesheets and punch cards. While some companies prefer the tried and true (well, maybe not so true) method of having their staff clock in manually using time cards, most organizations today are opting for newer technology-driven methods for tracking their employees’ time and attendance.

The Time-Clock Time Line...

Tracking employees’ hours until recently was just that: tracking when an employee clocked in or clocked out. Employees would punch in with time cards on an analog time clock that would identify the date, the time in, the time out, breaks, etc. Those time cards would then be sent to the payroll department, where administrators would manually input the time into the payroll system for processing. But the information those time cards provided ended there: the employee worked a specific number of hours and the employee got paid for those hours. Any type of analysis of time worked or time off was done manually using spreadsheets.

Although an effective method of recording time, these types of machines were flawed. Common issues included overstamping (where one time is stamped over another) and buddy punching (where a friend clocked in another member of staff).

Figure 1. Time-clock time line

Boy, have we come a long way! The first microprocessor-based time clock was developed by Kronos Incorporated in the late 1970s and introduced as a product in 1979. This innovation paved the way for the development of the types of systems we see on the market today.

What Should Today’s Time Tracking Software Do?

Time tracking software (first and foremost) should monitor and record employees’ hours. This includes work hours, vacation time, sick leave, and overtime. The enabling software that performs these simple functions via the time clock can now also easily capture additional information useful to management, such as time worked on projects. Time tracking software also helps managers monitor what is being accomplished while employees are on the clock—allowing organizations to more efficiently manage the time and productivity of its workforce. The use of such technology can prevent wasted time as well as stop projects from slipping through the cracks.

Some typical time and attendance activities that you would need to consider when purchasing a time-tracking system include:

  • tracking and maintaining attendance records 
  • creating employee schedules 
  • identifying tardy or absent employees 
  • enabling fatigue management initiatives
  • workforce planning and scheduling
  • optimizing labor and job costing 
  • interfacing with payroll for payout

There are various systems on the market today that do a variety of different tasks within the realm of time tracking or time and attendance. As such, knowing what type of system is right for your organization can get tricky. These systems vary and may include one or a combination of the following features:

  • electronic timesheets
  • absence tracking
  • fatigue management
  • labor management
  • project management
  • time and attendance
  • time and expense management
  • workforce management

The ability to take simple timesheet data (derived from the time clock) and use it in other ways (for example, project management, workforce planning, and fatigue management) is definitely a strategic move toward an optimized workforce. Today’s time tracking technology was created around the idea that it’s not just about capturing hours anymore—it’s about how those hours are allocated, what productivity occurs during those hours, etc.

It can be confusing to determine the right type of time tracking system you need, so make sure you have a firm understanding of what you aim to accomplish through such a system—before purchasing one. You must also consider what current technology you’re using (e.g., payroll system) and how the new system will integrate with it. If you’re looking for a solution that enables activities beyond tracking time and attendance, such as data analytics, you’d be best served by a system that allows data to be manipulated dynamically.

Time Tracking Software: What to Look For

No matter what industry you’re in, time tracking and management software is an essential part of keeping track of your workforce. Time tracking and management software should offer robust tracking features, including the ability to track employees, projects, expenses, and invoices, so that managers have the information they need to properly manage their workforce.

The software should be easy to navigate with intuitive features that anyone could use—regardless of their level of computer literacy. Additionally, the installation and setup process should be fairly straightforward. By today’s standards, Web-based functionality is essential in time tracking, given the fact that more and more workers are working remotely. It should give managers the flexibility to monitor employees and projects on-the-go (using mobile devices such as the iPad) and track their employees’ time and projects wherever they are in the world, as well as give employees the ability to enter their hours or time sheets remotely. And with business needs requiring mobile workforces or employees who can move between departments, it makes sense to have a mobile computing platform.

Time tracking software should also be able to provide a number of valuable reports that help company executives and managers make more effective workforce decisions.

Today’s time tracking systems have also allowed companies to put more emphasis on a self-service approach—eliminating much of the tedious data entry previously done by the HR and payroll departments.

  • Employee self service—Employee self-service helps organizations save valuable time and resources by empowering employees to enter and review their time and attendance information online using an employee self-service (ESS) option; employees can use ESS typically from their PC, from a shared kiosk, or via a mobile device (where available). 
  • Manager self-service—Managers can connect to a manager self-service (MSS) option, typically through the company network or via the Web, so even managers working remotely can use it to review and approve employee absences or vacations, approve timesheets, etc.

Benefits of Time Tracking Technology

There is no shortage in the benefits of time tracking technology. Some of these benefits include:

  • improves data accuracy
  • provides dynamic data that can be used for analysis later on
  • eliminates buddy punching, or time fraud
  • eliminates missing punch cards
  • removes the tedious and time-consuming task of adding up all staff worked hours to compute the pay 
  • removes the need to purchase punch cards and punch clock ribbons 
  • eliminates the need for an unsightly punch card rack 
  • removes the need to store old punch cards

Different Versions of Time Truth

Time tracking and time and attendance systems come in a variety of styles (each with their own unique software capabilities). These include:

  • Biometric Time Clocks—Rather than using a key, code, or chip to identify the user, these clocks rely on a unique attribute of the user (such as a handprint, fingerprint, face, iris, or retina). The user will have their attribute scanned into the system. Biometric readers are often used in conjunction with an access control system, granting the user access to a building, while at the same time, clocking them in for work and recording the time and date.
  • Hand Punch Time and Attendance Terminals—Similar to biometric time clocks, these systems use hand geometry biometric technology to identify the employee. These systems often come with hefty price tags and have a limited capacity for employee information (prices have been known to increase significantly with the addition of more employees), but they can be ideal solutions for companies with less than 100 employees.
  • Card Swipe (Magnetic Readers) Employee Time Clocks—Magnetic readers allow employees to swipe their personal employee identification card (with magnetic strip) through a reader. Information such as employee arrival and departure times, breaks, and lunches is then transmitted to the appropriate department through the enabling software.
  • Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) Terminals—This solution automates employee time tracking using RFID technology. Employees are given a unique RFID badge that they pass over the RFID reader. The reader records the time of entry and exit of the employee and transmits the information via the enabling software.
  • Touch-screen Technology—With advances in touch-screen technology (and its increased availability and affordability, in the form of, for example, tablet computers), employees can clock in at touch-screen terminals either by using a keypad to an their employee ID number or by scanning an employee card that is embedded with a quick response code (QR code) or similar technology containing employee information. 


Using the right time tracking and management software can save organizations a lot of time and money. The system you choose, however, needs to be thorough enough to track a variety of hours, whether for regular work hours, projects, or other activities, but it also needs to be easy enough that anyone can use it, regardless of their technological background. The information derived from these types of systems should be able to capture data that can be used for data analysis, workforce planning, and reporting activities—enabling executives and managers to make more effective workforce decisions.

Time Tracking and Attendance Vendors

Spotlight on Replicon, Inc.
I had the opportunity last October (at the HR Technology Conference in Las Vegas) to meet with the CEO of Replicon, Inc., Raj Narayanaswamy. During our discussion, I got the chance to see Replicon’s latest time tracking technology (Replicon CloudClock) first-hand and was very impressed with the look and feel of the solution, and its ease of use. The CloudClock units are pre-configured and shipped ready-to-use, making installation quick and painless— the solution can be installed and be up and running in minutes. This is great for companies that have many departments where several terminals would need to be installed. The low price point of this solution also makes it very attractive.

Founded in 1996, Replicon, Inc. is one of the market leaders in software-as-a-service (SaaS)–based time and expense tracking software. With more than 1.5 million users in 80 countries, some of Replicon’s clients include Ernst & Young, Cornell University, Health Canada, Shell, Verizon, Ferrari, and Amazon.

Back in November 2011 Replicon introduced Replicon CloudClock, a cloud-based time clock, which when combined with Replicon’s back-end time and attendance application provides a unified cloud-based solution that eliminates the hassles and overwhelming expense of managing traditional time clocks.

Figure 2. Replicon CloudClock

Replicon CloudClock brings the power of cloud computing to the time clock, allowing employers to instantly validate time-clock punches, ensure that time and attendance records are accurate, and report on compliance in real time.

Replicon CloudClock provides advanced capabilities that help businesses address the challenges and costs of maintaining traditional punch clocks, while ensuring accuracy of attendance and hours—preventing employee fraud and maintaining compliance. With unified hardware and software, Replicon CloudClock simplifies the process of collecting time and attendance data from all employees, whether at one location or multiple remote ones, and delivers the information in real time to Replicon’s centralized cloud-based application. 

The time clock offers a large, full-color multi-touch screen with a built-in camera that captures employee punches and creates a photo audit trail to discourage buddy punches. It connects directly to Replicon Web TimeSheet Time & Attendance Edition, enabling managers to review, adjust, and approve employees’ hours in real time.

Other Vendors in This Space
Asgard Systems—Time Tracker scheduling software allows users to automate and analyze staff schedules, helping to reduce costly errors. It tracks vacation time, sick time, compensation time, and other user-defined time. It allows organizations to analyze past activity as well as prepare data for payroll.

ATS—Apex Time Solutions provides an open and integrated time and attendance system and employee time management solution for a variety of company sizes and industries. The solution reduces labor costs by helping companies to streamline their payroll process and optimize their workforce.

Asure Software—Asure Software specializes in workplace productivity, with a number of products, including iEmployee, a Web-based time-tracking software solution.

Kronos—A pioneer in computer-based time tracking, Kronos is one of the global leaders in workforce management solutions. Tens of thousands of organizations in more than 60 countries (including many Fortune 1000 companies) use Kronos for their time and attendance, scheduling, absence management, HR and payroll, hiring, and labor analytics activities.

You can learn more about Kronos and its latest time-clock technology, Kronos InTouch, in P.J. Jakovljevic’s article on KronosWorks 2011.

Coming Soon!
TEC is currently working on developing a Time and Attendance Software Comparison model that will allow users to compare Time and Attendance Solutions side by side. This comparison model will be available in our Human Capital Management (HCM) Evaluation Center by spring 2012.

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