Magazine Article | July 1, 2003

Turn In Timecards ... For Good

Source: Innovative Retail Technologies

By implementing an online, biometric-based time and attendance solution, equipment rental company United Rentals eliminated a day of keypunching and reduced its labor costs.

Integrated Solutions For Retailers, July 2003

You may know that to get the most from your state-of-the-art POS and CRM (customer relationship management) solutions, you need to add employee time and attendance data to the mix. But, how you capture time and attendance data can make a world of difference in the overall success of your solution. Some retailers capture employee time and attendance data manually; others capture this data automatically. For retailers with only a few stores and a few dozen employees to manage, manual time and attendance data capture may be viable. But, for retailers with more than 100 employees and multiple sites, a Web-based time and attendance solution is a better choice. For equipment rental company United Rentals (Greenwich, CT), it went from the former to the latter in a short time frame. After getting up to speed with an integrated time and attendance solution, the equipment and tool rental company experienced several benefits, which included a sizeable return on its investment.

Don't Leave Time And Attendance To Manual Processing
United Rentals currently rents more than 600 different items ranging from heavy equipment to hand tools. Since its inception in 1998, the company has grown from only a few stores to 750. In 2000, after getting close to the 700-store mark, United Rentals hired Michael Marzulla as director of payroll. Shortly afterward, he was asked by management to help get the company's time and attendance reporting under control. "Our VP of security told me that we did not have a standardized method of reporting time and attendance throughout all of our branches," says Marzulla. "Some used time clocks and punch cards while others kept track of hours on Excel spreadsheets." Each Monday managers would e-mail or fax employee hours to the Payroll Service Centers. Once the time and attendance information was received, payroll personnel would input the data into their payroll system. The data entry would not be complete until the end of business on Tuesday. "Not only was our previous time and attendance system time consuming, it also made error detection and fraud prevention very difficult," recalls Marzulla. "It was nearly impossible to verify managers' reports and to check how they were adding up the hours, enforcing payroll rules, and keeping an eye out for buddy punching."

However, even if all existing locations could be standardized on a single automated solution, United Rentals was also concerned about getting newly acquired locations onto the system quickly to monitor the value of its biometric time clock investments. Additionally, it didn't know how it would manage such a widely distributed application used by 13,000 employees.

Web-Based Time And Attendance To The Rescue
A project team comprising Marzulla, Pat Lourigan (director of training and conversions), and Todd Ehrlich (VP of corporate security) approached Control Module with its challenge. The retailer had already been using a few of Control Module's BioScan II fingerprint scanners at its headquarters for security reasons only, but they knew the clocks had much more functionality available.

Control Module recommended a thin client solution that entailed replacing punch clocks with BioScan devices. After understanding the functionality available from the solution, the team decided to roll out the clocks at approximately 500 of its facilities.

United Rentals met with Control Module in the summer of 2001 in order to establish a rollout plan. The meetings covered such topics as how many BioScan devices would be needed, where the devices should be mounted at each location, and how to coordinate the deployment of the software with the BioScan deployment.

For the time and attendance application, the team selected Workbrain (Toronto). Workbrain has a Web-based ERM (employee relationship management) 3 solution, which is built on the J2EE (Java 2, Enterprise Edition) standard. ERM 3 automates time and attendance functions such as payroll, scheduling, and attendance management. It also supports the development of business rules, custom analytics, and workflow.

"We installed the ERM software on IBM Web/App servers in our IT facility," recalls Marzulla. "The back end sits in an Oracle database and runs on a UNIX platform." Each of United Rentals' locations communicates with the time and attendance application over its corporate intranet.

Online Training Enables Shorter Learning Curve
During Phase I of the rollout in March 2002, the retailer had one daunting task to overcome - employee training. Following September 11, there was an increased concern about the government getting too involved in identity tracking. "Initially, there was concern about why we needed to capture employee fingerprints," recalls Marzulla. "We had to educate our employees about how the devices capture a map of their fingerprint and not the print itself, like the FBI does."

To help convey the message, United Rentals enlisted the help of Answerthink (Atlanta), one of Workbrain's partners. Together, United Rentals and Answerthink designed a distance-learning program that could support both the deployment timeline and keep costs down. In addition to approximately 40 instructor-led Webinars each week, United Rentals' training department (led by Lourigan) developed Web-based documentation and made it accessible from its intranet training site. Users were also provided with a training environment to practice with before the solution went live.

Centralized Solution Provides Labor Forecasting, Rules Enforcement
When employees place their finger on the fingerprint scanner and enter their pass code, "clocking in and clocking out" data is sent to the central ERM 3 application for verification and authorization. The data is now automatically captured in the time and attendance application without the need for manual data entry.

Managers can log on to the password-secured system anytime and see various time and attendance metrics, which previously were unavailable. "A district manager can see who is at work at any store location," says Marzulla. "At a glance, managers can see which employees are on-site, when they arrived, and who is on break. And, weekly reports show us which stores have a high amount of overtime, and how much overtime is forecasted for the future."

In addition to eliminating payroll fraud, this solution can aid security by authenticating identity. In the event of an emergency, this data could be invaluable in locating personnel. Because it is offered as a Web-based application, the data would still be readily available from the central location if the site itself were inaccessible or even destroyed.

If United Rentals makes additional acquisitions, the users from the new location can generally be brought into the system in about a week. Standardizing data collection across locations gives executives insight into how the company as a whole is faring much more quickly than if individual reports had to be compiled. "And, payroll rules are applied consistently," says Marzulla. "The system automatically takes into account overtime rules, union rules, and holiday pay without someone having to manually keep track of all that."