With the prolonged economic downturn squeezing margins across the construction industry, firms looking to stay competitive are seeking means to streamline their operations and drive efficiency. This process is stalling however, due to a lack of transparency up and down the management chain. One area of the business that poses a particular challenge is onsite time and attendance reporting. Conventional systems are only adding to the confusion, and in a climate where clarity and efficiency can make the difference to a construction firm’s bottom line, it’s high time they were reassessed.
Current methods of tracking time and attendance are outdated and inefficient. The traditional paper based approach is still used widely, despite the fact that the underlying process is time-consuming and ineffective. Records can be lost easily and inaccurate data is often submitted – either due to error or deliberately. More up-to-date alternatives, such as keycards, have been introduced, but they share many of these faults. A majority of these systems only have the capability to capture the data locally on the site, so each project’s data is effectively isolated from the other and businesses cannot get a company wide perspective, which is now an essential for future success. For example, although they can be used to gather quantities of accurate data, it is often stored in a proprietary database and cannot be accessed quickly or easily. The information is predominantly locally stored on the site and can also be manipulated without too much difficulty, making these systems insecure.
Applying technology as the solution may yet be the correct course of action, however. Advances in the field of biometrics and cloud-based platforms mean that, for the first time, users can gather large amounts of accurate time and attendance data across a multitude of sites and store it securely. Not only can this make site management easier, but when collected data is mined effectively, it can reveal patterns and anomalies that can impact future business decisions.
Up until recently, biometrics was the preserve of science fiction and, to some extent, the devices and applications of today’s technology are indeed straight out of a 60’s sci-fi show.
Despite the futuristic feel of the concept, biometric technology is in reality simple to use and cost-effective, and when integrated with a cloud-based software solution it can deliver an excellent ROI.
A fingerprint or alternative biometric hardware can be used to collect the data and send it to a hub via a secure network for storage and analysis. In the context of a building site, the software needed to process and present this data can be integrated with existing hardware and installed at points of site entry and exit, or on handheld wireless devices. It can also be integrated with an organisation’s management business processes and software. For example, when used to track time and attendance, users can build definitive reports detailing all workers’ actual hours on a single site or multiple sites. This data can then be integrated with the payroll system to automate the process and improve accuracy.
The data collected via devices equipped with biometrics can be accessed via a web interface at any time, with customised reports showing live, up-to-the minute data, including hours logged, absences, qualifications and lateness sorted by individual, team, contractor or site. It can also be secured and stored centrally in the cloud. Not only is the data secure, but it can be accessed by the user and stakeholders via a secure web interface.
Another advantage of cloud storage is that once a worker is registered at one site, their data will be stored centrally. If they then move to another, their data can be accessed quickly and easily by the site manager at the new site.
Crucially, cloud-based software is extremely scalable; it can be used across any construction site regardless of size, scope or duration. For example, it could be used by a contractor for just one construction site or by a subcontractor wishing to track time and attendance across a number of different projects. As the capital expenditure is minimal it is an extremely attractive proposition to firms of all sizes as they only have to pay for what they need so the ROI is immediately recoverable.
The benefits of installing biometrics with time and attendance software can be felt not only in the office, but also onsite. Accurate time and attendance tracking can lead to better communication on the ground. For example, as all workers have to gather round a fixed point at a set time, site managers have a guarantee that they can speak to the whole work force at least twice a day.
In addition, as biometric data is processed and delivered to users in real time, those signing in and out of a site must communicate their desire to leave early or arrive late in advance. It is also possible for managers to have notifications sent to their mobile phones when a worker arrives late or has left the site before the end of the agreed working day.
Improved visibility of attendance also makes it much easier for site managers to prove the worth of the teams they employ. Those working onsite must keep to deadlines and work efficiently if projects are to be a success. A team of workers who show up on time and work the agreed times can be invaluable to contractors and subcontractors. With biometric data, it is possible to prove beyond doubt that your team is the right one for the job. The data can also be used to protect workers. If a client disputes the time it took to complete a project, site managers have a large amount of accurate data they can give as evidence of who was on site and for how long.
When one contractor replaced its traditional paper-based timesheets with a software based system, it found that 26% of contracted hours were in fact inaccurate, resulting in unnecessary costs. Independent studies have also found that 74% of employers experience payroll losses due to ‘buddy punching’, or falsely signing in for another person. This is a system of time theft that cannot be performed through a biometric system. For subcontractors working onsite and managing a large number of contracted workers from various suppliers, this type of system can provide peace of mind. And as the data comes from biological characteristics, it cannot be forged, meaning only authorised workers can access a site.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the application of biometrics to time and attendance tracking is that the potential of the data goes far beyond the creation of reliable time sheets.
When a large quantity of employee data is mined and analysed it can reveal the story of your business over time. Trends and anomalies can signpost areas that need attention, or where efficiencies can be realised and ultimately, money can be saved.
Recently, one of our clients was able to use the data collected by biometrics to settle final accounts with their subcontractors. There was a slight dispute with one particular contractor concerning the man hours they were putting in on site. Historical data suggested that workers were travelling to and from the site during work hours on a Monday morning and Friday afternoon, as the workers lived a considerable distance from the project. The managing company was grateful for the information, and our client also used the experience to assess its supply chain and took the decision to use more local suppliers for future projects.
Accurate time and attendance data can also be invaluable when it comes to pitching for new business. Proof of an effective reporting system and reliable data on the number of people you employ and the time they spend on site can significantly enhance your bidder profile because you can demonstrate efficient project controls.
For a construction firm to be successful today it needs to do more than undercut its rivals. Firms need to closely manage their projects to ensure employees are delivering on time and to budget. Key to achieving this is clear communication of accurate data. Although time and attendance is only a small piece of the puzzle, it is undoubtedly a critical element and is currently an area where money is being lost due to inefficiency and the use of outmoded technology.
Biometric solutions present construction firms with an unprecedented opportunity to make these issues a thing of a past, while offering business owners a unique insight into the day-to-day running of their firm – and the business intelligence to improve the bottom line.