Computer based time and attendance systems offer a wide variety of options and features. From an array of data-collection devices, to data reporting and downloading alternatives, to possible optional features such as job costing, access control, benefit accruals and more, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with all the available choices.

Sometimes business owners want to know which solution is the “best.” In my opinion, that’s asking the wrong question.

There’s no one “best” solution for all companies in all situations. The specific features you need depend on many factors, including the nature of your business, your industry, your work environment and your locale. The question is not, “Which solution is the best?” but “Which solution is the best for my organization?”

Of course, you want features and options that will help you cut costs, increase profits and improve productivity — without paying extra for options you don’t need.

You may find this checklist helpful when you’re evaluating potential solutions:

Can the system accommodate enough employees to handle your projected business growth?

A good solution can accommodate your current employees and at least your expected near-term growth.

An even better solution can cover your projected long-term growth as well.

It isn’t just a matter of software capacity, either. Consider: if the software allows for unlimited employees, but only one terminal, think about the situation you would face if you have 200 employees trying to clock in and out at that lone terminal. Your system will be overloaded, regardless of how many employees the software can handle.

A good rule of thumb is that each terminal can support about 75 to 100 employees. Much beyond that, you should consider installing a second clock. This is especially important at the end of the day, as many employees tend to leave at around the same time. Be sure your system will allow you to install or add more terminals as needed to avoid long lines at the clock.

Does the system offer the special features or functions you require?

All professional-quality time and attendance systems can record employee punches and produce basic reports of time worked.

Do you need additional functionality, such as job costing or scheduling? Do you have remote or mobile workers who need to be able to clock in and out without coming in to the office? Do you need to be able to segment employee time by department or work group? Do you have unusual work rules or business processes that your time and attendance solution must be able to handle? Do you need your system to perform other functions such as access control or signal control?

Make a list, sorting into absolute requirements (“must haves”) and desires (“nice to haves”). Verify the solutions you consider can support all of your “must haves” and as many of your “nice to haves” as possible.

Does the system support all the different ways you want your employees to clock in and out?

You have a wide variety of choices. For instance, depending on the system you’re considering, employees may be able to clock in and out using a PC, by logging in to a web site or even over the phone. They could swipe a badge or have a biometric terminal scan their fingerprint, hand or face.

Adaptability is key in a changing business landscape. Solutions that support a variety of options give you the most flexibility over time.

Where do you need to place data-collection terminals? Will any of the system’s available options work for your location?

Consider the physical environment and layout of your business. Does everyone pass through a single entrance, or are there multiple entry points? Will you need to install data-collection devices in more than one place within the building?
Some data-collection terminals require a connection to a network or a direct connection to a PC, while others can operate as stand-alone units. While many require AC power, some offer battery or USB power options.

If the terminal requires it, is there a network connection or PC close enough to the intended terminal location? Is there an electrical outlet nearby? Keep in mind, all electronics are sensitive to environmental issues (dust, extreme heat or cold, etc.) and may require protection from harsh conditions.

Make sure you understand the system capabilities and the requirements of the terminals you’re considering. Employees are more likely to clock in and out regularly if the location is convenient. Your hardware is more likely to last longer if it’s protected from extreme environments.

Does the system support the needs of your supervisors, managers and system administrators?

Will you want or need more than one system administrator? Do you require managers and supervisors to approve employee time before it’s submitted to payroll? Do you plan to have a single individual run and distribute reports, or would you prefer managers to be able to run their own reports at will? Do you need different levels of security for different types of administrative or managerial users?

Be sure the solution you’re considering can support the way you organize and manage your business.

Does the system supply the reports and data you need — in the format you want to use?

A good time and attendance solution provides you with information vital to manage and grow your business in a format you can use. It gives you the option of running scheduled reports or producing reports on-demand. It will allow you to easily export your data, so you can work with your business data as you see fit.

Consider what data you need to see, how you prefer to organize it, and whether you prefer to view reports on-screen, print them out or save them to a hard drive — and make sure the solution you’re considering can support your choices.

Does the system easily integrate with your in-house payroll system or service provider?

You’ll see much greater cost savings much quicker if your time and attendance system provides a built-in interface for your payroll system or service provider. A strong time and attendance system will also come with built-in interfaces for many other popular payroll solutions, allowing you to change from one provider or application to another as your business needs dictate — without having to also change your time and attendance system.

Of course, if you’re in the market for a time and attendance solution, we invite you to consider the Acroprint family of workforce management solutions: our web-based service, AcroTime, and our installed software solutions, timeQplus and Pendulum. Each offers a unique set of features and options designed to meet the needs of businesses of all sizes and types; one is bound to be ideal for your organization. Give us a call at 1-800-334-7190 (or 1-919-872-5800) or visit our web store to find out more and make a purchase.

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