Magazine Article | November 16, 2006

Combine Time Clocks With Store, Corporate Systems

Source: Innovative Retail Technologies

Time and attendance systems join POS, workforce management, and ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems – some enable an SOA (service-oriented architecture) concept.  

Integrated Solutions For Retailers, December 2006

Ensuring you have the right employees placed in the right positions at the right time can increase sales. Meanwhile, accurately accounting for employees’ time is crucial to effectively analyzing labor expenses. Additionally, providing managers with real-time data (e.g. POS, attendance) facilitates modifications to labor assignments. Conveniently, time and attendance solution providers, time clock manufacturers, and software development companies are making these goals more attainable than ever.

Hardware, Software Improvements Abound

Today, time and attendance systems must complement a retailer’s workforce management objectives. By enabling time and attendance hardware and software to integrate with other corporate and store systems, a plethora of possibilities exists. “The time and attendance solutions of the past are being replaced with applications that focus on all aspects of workforce management,” says Jon Clements, product manager at Stromberg, a provider of time and attendance hardware and software solutions. “This includes scheduling employees to meet ever-changing customer demands and providing managers with instantaneous data on targeted goals, so they can react promptly to uphold sales and service levels.” For example, if POS volume exceeds projected levels, and all sales floor employees are providing POS support, a manager could reassign employees to fill support gaps. This increased awareness also enables managers to compensate for those reassignments themselves. Consequently, workforce management has spread beyond hourly employees to include all employees in retail organizations through enterprise scheduling.

Part of this evolution includes a focus on the budgeting and planning of labor throughout the organization. “Previously, retailers sought to eliminate buddy-punching and, as a result, focused on employees arriving and departing,” says Clements. “Now retailers are realizing that having the right employees assigned to the proper jobs at the correct time is the way to achieve higher profit levels.” For example, at a wholesale club, the majority of purchases require minimal customer service. However, that same store sells electronics and jewelry, which necessitate service and skill to make sales. Using a time and attendance system to forecast customer service needs at the product level, thereby maximizing labor costs, is proving effective for many retailers, especially as historical data is gathered. Additionally, having access to forecasted data from on the sales floor enables managers to make labor-scheduling changes based on immediate customer needs. These improved capabilities fulfill the retailers’ need to analyze real-time information throughout their organization.

In conjunction with that overarching theme, time clock hardware has also evolved. “From a hardware perspective, today’s systems are built for tomorrow’s needs by incorporating terminals that are powerful Internet appliances capable of more than merely collecting data,” says Mike Glynn, corporate marketing manager at Accu-Time Systems, Inc. (ATS), a biometric and time clock manufacturer. “Rather, the terminals serve as both input and output devices empowering employees to handle daily requests such as vacation balances, schedules, punch history, time off requests, time card approvals, and messages from management, through the terminal. This capability allows retailers to reduce compliance problems by tracking the receipt of messages and approval of time cards, ensuring a secure audit trail is in place.”  

Web-Enabled Clocks Allow Integration, SOA Approach

Time clocks that communicate over the Web allow integration with all other Web-based systems. “Time clocks were built on command sets in the past,” says Rich Cardita, VP of sales and marketing at Control Module, Inc., a biometric workforce management and data collection technology provider. “Those command sets focused on typical time clock functions, such as clocking in/out and tracking lunch breaks, which limited the clock’s capabilities. Today, Web-based terminals have a completely open platform, so Java code can be written to make the clocks perform in any way the company wishes. This allows full customization of the clocks and interaction with any other Java-based software.”

Typically, time and attendance systems integrate with payroll systems to reduce human intervention and improve accuracy. However, Web-based clocks have spurred interfaces with POS, ERP, sales/budgeting/forecasting, and workforce management solutions. By interfacing with these systems, store managers can view a single screen of forecasted sales, actual sales, budgeted labor, and actual labor. They can then drill down by department or employee. Additionally, some retailers interface all HR systems, including time and attendance, to create human capital management systems, which focus on employee performance optimization.

Many retailers are adopting an SOA approach, which can connect once-disparate systems. Improved time and attendance systems available today may fit right into this approach. The SOA concept uses Ethernet connections and the Web to integrate or deploy functionality and data from  different software packages and databases. Not only does this allow flexibility with time clocks and other Web-based software, but the maintenance of time and attendance systems can be reduced. “Clocks are automatically configured when connected via Ethernet,” says Cardita. “No matter whether you have a hosted server or you host your own Web server, the server and the clock need to communicate. This now occurs directly through the Ethernet connection. In the past, a separate PC, which ran a middleware engine, was needed to connect the clocks and server. Eliminating this PC is beneficial for setup and maintenance, because the risk of that PC crashing is removed.”

No matter which workforce management goals your company has established, the time and attendance systems available today can be customized to meet your specific needs. If you’ve adopted an SOA approach, combining the data gathered through your time and attendance system with that of other corporate systems can provide real-time data to managers, which allows them to react quickly to your business objectives.