An Interview with Chris Flanders and Dickson Lau, Axsium Group
Once a single-function, mechanical workhorse that tracked the comings and goings of wage employees in offices and factories, the time clock is transforming into a multipurpose device that solves a wide variety of business problems.
Biometrics and limited customization have been standard features on time clocks for many years, but the next wave of devices will incorporate touchscreen technology, incredible processing power, audio and video interactivity, and mobility.
But how have we gotten from mechanical workhorse to multimedia powerhouse? We can trace the evolution through three generations of devices.
First generation electronic time clocks are single-purpose devices with mechanical keypads. These devices collect employee labor data, but offer extremely limited interactivity in the form of a single line character display and an audible tone.
Second generation devices incorporate programmable smart keys and dynamic screens that offer greater interactivity. Employees can view schedule information, receive messages, or request shift changes. Second generation clocks offer optional biometric identification capabilities such as fingerprint or hand scanners.
However, Second Generation clocks are still proprietary, closed devices that cost a lot of money compared to the ubiquitous and powerful PC found in just about every environment. Not surprisingly, people started to ask themselves if this lower-cost platform could be used as a clock instead of the traditional single-purpose device. Could this represent third generation clocks?
Alas, the answer is no. While these devices can capture time and use peripherals to support biometrics, proximity readers and more associated with traditional time clocks, the devices are too open and complex. Administration becomes a challenge. Organizations that have gone down this path face difficulties locking down for unwanted uses and maintaining the platforms.
True third generation devices are just now coming to market. Their manufacturers learned from the shortcomings of early generations and the experiments with off-the-shelf technology. True third generation devices embrace advanced technologies that are familiar from consumer electronics devices. These devices utilize increased processing power and interactivity to solve business problems in software rather than proprietary hardware.
This flexible approach greatly improves hardware leverage, allowing the devices to be applied to a much wider range of business problems. Common features include employee self-service, leave management, and access to corporate intranets or web-based applications.
These devices support existing biometric authentication systems, but also offer novel methods such as facial and voice recognition. Many of these systems are smaller than previous devices and can be easily installed in more locations. Some devices offer optional mobility, and can be mounted securely to a wall or carried about the premises. This opens the door to a wide range of additional applications, such as mobile point of sale, task management, and store operations.
Today, there are two third generation devices: the Kronos InTouch and the TouchBase from EmployTouch.
The Kronos InTouch utilizes a 7-inch touchscreen that allows employees to clock in, view schedules, approve timesheets and make vacation requests. Perhaps one of its most exciting feature is that the biometric can be used, not just for authentication, but to capture the punch! The InTouch can connect directly to a Kronos system in the Cloud and offers a platform for developers to create additional applications via the Kronos InTouch SDK. It is a refreshing improvement over the second generation 4500 series devices previously offered by Kronos.
EmployTouch, a new vendor in the market, has recently launched TouchBase, a compelling alternative to traditional labor data collection systems. TouchBase offers a 10-inch multi-touch display that provides employees with powerful applications to record labor data and manage their work lives. TouchBase is also mobile--if unlocked by a supervisor, the device can be undocked and used to complete mobile data capture tasks. TouchBase also takes photos of employees at punch-in as a powerful, non-invasive deterrent to costly buddy punching.
TouchBase is built atop Google Android and the EmployTouch Open Platform, which can connect with any workforce management system or ERP back-end. In addition, any Android or HTML5 web-based applications can run on the device, providing limitless opportunities to put key operational software in front of employees and managers. TouchBase will be available in April.
With third generation devices, employees can receive bulletins and notices, view training material, and raise concerns about shifts or payroll. Will all this added functionality become a distraction or a drain on productivity? The enormous growth in adoption of tablets and smart phones within enterprises proves that there is great interest in mobile enterprise applications, but the immediate value of these applications is not yet clear. As organizations adopt third generation devices, business leaders must evolve operational processes to fully leverage the technology.
With the pace of change, it is exciting to contemplate how next generation devices will evolve further. Emerging technologies such as facial recognition, near-field-communications (NFC) and voice-biometrics will become available in the near future.