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Evolving Technology and Time and Attendance Systems
Prior to the invention of mechanical time and attendance systems companies were forced to monitor attendance and hours worked using a variety of manual means. This included visual checking, paper based time cards, or sometimes no system at all. Any of these methods tended to be innacurate because they relied on the honesty of employees when filling out their time cards. This of course lead to false records, while visual checks were open to dispute because it was simply a matter of one persons word against another.
These shortcomings lead to the requirement for automatic time and attendance systems that could automatically track attendance data. As a result a number of mechanical employee attendance tracking systems were invented, and later computerized systems followed.
The first mechanical time and attendance tracking systems used a heavy cardboard time card that was inserted into a machine that printed the attendance information (time and date) onto the card. The printing was triggered by pushing the card to the back of the machines slot, and lead to the term 'punching' in and out. At the end of a pay period supervisors would collect the time cards and deliver them to the payroll department for processing.
These mechanical employee attendance systems were a quantum improvement over the previous manual systems, with the information collected far more accurate than what could be achieved previously. However, they still required a large amount of processing and tallying by the payroll department which lead to areas of human error and disputation. The main failing of the system was abusing it when one employee would punch in or out for another. This is known as 'buddy punching' and is very hard to prevent with mechanical time and attendance systems.
The evolution of cheap computer technolgy in the 1990's has taken time and attendance systems to a new level of sophistication. A computerized system can be easily integrated with a magnetic swipe card or bar code reader for faster and more accurate data collection. Collecting attendance data electronically helps to eliminate the element of human error when tallying payrolls, as the tallying process could be largely automatic.
In addition the relative ease of use of computerized systems allowed automatic tracking of rest breaks, meal breaks, vacation accruals, and allowed easy tracking of activity based costs. Who is and is not at work can be seen at a glance, overtime calculations can be done automatically and are not open to dispute, and all manner of reports can be delivered to management that help to understand and impprove the business. Time and Attendance software had truly solved the problem of tracking and tallying the attendance information and were now delivering real productivity benefits in other areas of the business that were not previously possible.
The latest evolution of attendance tracking systems has allowed the use of biometric devices to eliminate buddy punching, full integration with online payroll processing companies, and even web based data collection to allow for widely distributed companies. It can be truly said that the realizable benefits of time and attendance systems are advancing as quickly as the technology itself.