Lift a Finger(print) to Track Employee Time

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Bar coding has become ubiquitous because it's time-tested technology that boosts the speed and enhances the accuracy of data input in many business applications. Bar codes are on virtually every item sold by retailers, for use by point-of-sale systems. They're printed on most shipping cases in distribution channels, so goods can easily be tracked in transit and counted in the warehouse. Bar coding is also used for tracking employee time and attendance using badges or time cards.

Wasp Barcode Technologies sells solutions for all these business applications, but VP of Marketing Grant Wickes concedes bar coding isn't the most foolproof automated solution in all circumstances; it has been superseded by better technology in some applications. For example, biometric solutions are now more popular than bar-code systems for employee time tracking, Wickes says.

Eliminating Buddy Punching

That's because bar code-based time and attendance systems have a big loophole: buddy punching. Johnny Come Lately, delayed on his way to work, can ask fellow employee Bobby Buddy to swipe Lately's bar-coded employee badge through the time clock. The time clock will faithfully record Lately's attendance before he arrives, and the employer will pay Lately for time that he didn't work.

Biometric time systems eliminate buddy punching because they are inextricably linked to the employee, not to a token such as an employee badge or a time card.

WaspTime time clock

I looked at the WaspTime Biometric Time and Attendance System ($999 list price), an integrated bundle from Wasp Barcode that includes a biometric time clock, WaspTime Software Suite time attendance software for Windows, an ethernet cable, and a AC power adapter.

The time clock is a wall-mountable box with a laser optical fingerprint scanner, a monochrome backlit four-line LCD, and a numeric keypad with five menu-control buttons. The clock can be directly hooked up to a PC using a serial port, USB connection, or (the way I tested it) connected to a network via ethernet.

Setup Issues

Setting up the WaspTime Software Suite on a PC or server is simple enough, even if it does take some time. However, adding the time clock to your network is not as easy and fully automated as it could be. You'll need to delve into the time clock's setup menu to configure the network IP address and other items. Unfortunately, the Quick Start Guide's instructions in my evaluation unit did not reflect the time clock's current menus, although Wickes says it will be revised by the end of March. Nonetheless, if you have never attached a device to your Windows network without using a software wizard, you'll probably need a techie to configure and set up the time clock.

Once WaspTime is installed, operations are fairly straightforward. You set up new employees using the WaspTime software on the PC. Their fingerprints are then scanned and enrolled using a password-protected administration menu on the time clock.

Easy Time Tracking

The timekeeping process is simplicity itself. To record the start of work, an employee rests the enrolled finger on the time clock's laser fingerprint sensor until it's recognized. This requires just a second or two and is acknowledged with both a message on the display and an audio tone. To sign out from work, the employee repeats the fingerprint scan.

The time attendance software is initially licensed for 50 employees, but up to 1500 can be supported at an additional license fee of $99 per 50 employees. The system supports more than one time clock ($749 for each addition), which is useful if you want one clock stationed by the main entrance and another at the door to the employee lunchroom or lounge. A $249 software upgrade enables job tracking. The system administrator can permit employees to log their time from other PCs on the network, though that circumvents the biometric control.

Incomplete Payroll Solution

You can use WaspTime to adjust employee time cards.
You can use WaspTime to adjust employee time cards.
While WaspTime tracks time and attendance, it does not calculate gross pay and deductions such as income tax. Third-party software, acquired separately at additional cost, is required for a complete payroll solution.

You can set WaspTime to automatically download information from the time clock or you can download attendance data on demand. You can then review the time information on the PC and use WaspTime to adjust it, if necessary. There's a wide range of reports, including time cards, overtime, and early outs. Once you're done, you can export the data to popular payroll apps such as Intuit's QuickBooks and payroll service ADP or to an Excel spreadsheet.

Is the WaspTime Biometric Time and Attendance System worth it? It's certainly faster and more efficient to use than paper-based manual time tracking systems, and it's probably more accurate than nonbiometric time systems. If you have five or more hourly paid employees, the system is cost-effective. While the ease of installation and the quality of documentation could be improved, once set up the system is simple enough to use--and it can save your business money by tracking time automatically and accurately.

Richard Morochove is an IT consultant and writer who can be reached via e-mail.
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