With all the press going to biometric systems lately, you might be excused for overlooking another type of terminal-based time and attendance system — proximity badge systems. But that would be a mistake.
Many businesses find a proximity badge system is ideal for tracking their employee time and attendance. Take a closer look at proximity and you just might find the same is true for your organization.
You may be wondering: just what is a “proximity badge” system?
What Proximity is Not
To explain what proximity is, first let’s take a look at what it is not.
You’re probably familiar with bar code or mag stripe badges.
- The credit and debit cards in your wallet, for instance, are probably mag stripe. They carry your account information on a magnetic stripe on the back of the card. That information is read when you pass your card through the slot on the terminal at the checkout stand.
- Those grocery store discount tags hanging from your keychain are likely bar coded. The cashier scans the bar code at checkout, which records your account number and ensures you get your discounts.
In the context of time and attendance, both types of technologies are used today at many organizations. Employees are issued a badge, which they swipe through a slot on the terminal. The terminal reads the bar code or mag stripe data to identify the employee, the time of each swipe is recorded and the employee’s work hours are calculated.
What Makes Proximity Different?
Proximity systems are a little different. The badges used by a proximity system contain a tiny data chip. When the badge is passed close to the sensor on a compatible proximity terminal, the terminal can retrieve the information on the chip. As with a bar code or mag stripe badge, the system uses that information to identify which employee is clocking in or out.
The big difference is that the badge doesn’t have to pass through a reader slot on the terminal. In fact, it doesn’t have to touch the terminal at all! Employees can clock in and out simply by passing their badge in front of the terminal.
So, what makes this a good thing?
While mag stripe and bar code badge systems are generally very reliable, they do occasionally require maintenance to keep the terminals functioning at peak performance.
With mag stripe or bar code systems, as the badges pass the reader they can carry with them ambient dust or grime. After awhile, the reader component can become dirty and fail to record badge swipes. The reader needs to be cleaned periodically to prevent this.
It also means that the reader component of a mag stripe or bar code system can shift out of alignment over time, as badge after badge passes through the reader slot. If this happens, the terminal won’t be able to reliably read swiped badges. Employees won’t be able to clock in or out. Periodic re-alignment may be necessary to keep the terminal working well.
With proximity terminals, on the other hand, all electronics are completely enclosed by the terminal case. There’s no need for cleaning or adjustment, because nothing ever directly touches the badge reader. Employees may even be able to clock in without removing the badge from their wallet or purse — which might even result in fewer lost or damaged badges.
Perhaps because they don’t endure the wear and tear of sliding through a reader slot several times a day, proximity badges also typically tend to last longer than other types of badges. Over time this could save you some money on replacement badges.
A Few Caveats
Of course, no time and attendance system is perfect for everybody. There are a few things you need to keep in mind when evaluating proximity systems to ensure the system you’re considering is right for you.
First, while the badges are very durable, nothing lasts forever. Replacement badges can be slightly more expensive for a proximity system than for bar code or mag stripe. If your employees are in the habit of frequently losing or damaging their badges, you may want to take into account the cost of replacement badges.
Second, it’s a virtual certainty that employees will occasionally leave their badges at home, or lose them entirely. It’s important that whatever system you choose offer a convenient, easy to use alternative. For instance, if the terminal also features a keypad, employees should be able to simply enter their badge ID number to clock in or out. This would allow them to get on their way and get to work even if their badge decided to stay home for the day.
If, instead, they have to track down a supervisor to enter the missed punch via a PC or an administrative log in at the terminal, you could find yourself losing valuable employee work time every time someone forgets his or her badge.
Third, while the technology is quite forgiving, it’s possible an employee will swipe too quickly or won’t pass their badge quite close enough to the terminal for the badge ID to register. It’s important for your system to offer visual and auditory cues to alert employees when a punch has been accepted — and when it hasn’t.
The Big Picture
There are a lot of reasons to love proximity systems, but they aren’t for everyone. If you need to absolutely eliminate buddy punching, you want a biometric system. If you need badges, but the per-badge cost is a big concern, consider a mag stripe or bar code system. If you have an exceptionally grimy, greasy or dusty work environment… well, frankly you should probably think long and hard before installing any electronic time and attendance product. Dirt and sensitive electronics usually don’t work and play well together. In that case, you might want to consider a heavy-duty time recorder that can stand up to the harsh environment.
However, for the vast majority of businesses a proximity badge system can be an excellent choice: a convenient, cost-effective and easy-to-use time and attendance tracking solution suitable for a wide range of workplaces. Whether you’re starting from scratch or looking to upgrade your current time tracking system, proximity deserves a closer look.
Want to learn more? Visit our website for more information about Acroprint’s proximity badge systems.