Payroll Accuracy: Biometrics Make the Dream a Reality
Payroll Accuracy: Biometrics Make the Dream a Reality
by Bill Spence, Recognition Systems Inc.
It’s a nightmare. You’re eager to reap the rewards of the company’s new timekeeping system. Finally!–an accurate payroll with no more data-entry errors. Employees will be paid exactly what they’re owed, payroll administration costs will plummet, and the new system will eliminate messy time cards and time sheets. You arrive at the office and observe the new system working exactly as planned. But then you catch sight of an employee swiping two badges, his own and someone else’s. And before you can investigate, a worker walks up and complains that he’s lost his badge and he needs another before he can punch in.
After spending 20 minutes issuing a new badge, you wonder: “Have I created a monster? How can my payroll be accurate, if employees can punch in for each other? How much have I really reduced my administrative costs?”
In this white paper, we’ll see how biometric technology eliminates these nightmares–simply, inexpensively, securely, and reliably.
What is Biometrics?
A biometric device compares unique personal characteristics to identify the individual. The technology has been used for decades in government security and access control, but is relatively new to time and attendance.
There are two major categories of biometric devices: physiological and behavioral. Behavioral devices identify unique learned traits, such as a person’s signature. Another behavioral biometric technology is voice recognition, which compares vocal patterns and frequencies to identify the speaker.
Physiological biometric identification measures unique body characteristics, such as fingerprint details, retinal blood vessel patterns, features of the iris, or the size and shape of a hand. A biometric device compares these characteristics against a pattern recorded during an enrollment process.
Traditional identification methods, such as badges, PINs (personal identification numbers), and passwords don’t really identify the individual, since the carrier can transfer any of these devices to someone else. Only biometric readers identify people by unique, unalterable physical characteristics.
The most important benefit of biometrics in a time and attendance system is payroll accuracy. Remember the old computer adage, “Garbage in, garbage out?” Tainted punches result in inaccurate paychecks.
Traditional time and attendance systems eliminate many inaccuracies of old-fashioned manual time-keeping. For example, badge-based systems minimize manual data-entry errors. But payroll inaccuracies persist when employees punch in for each other. A biometric device completely eliminates that possibility.
Tom Fitzgerald, manager of Payroll and Human Resources at JWS Delevau, Inc., says, “Our owners knew there was a problem with people punching in and out for each other. In a system where you swipe a card, your card could be swiped by someone else. Basically, with our [biometric] system, you have to be there.”
With biometrics, your body is your card. Eliminating cards and badges substantially reduces timekeeping costs. Mal Higgins of New York City’s legal offices says, “The problem of retrieving cards from ex-employees and replacing lost or stolen cards just goes away, so you save money there. In addition, the cards themselves cost money. With 1400 people at a $1 a card, we saved $1400–not to mention the yearly turnover of an additional 200 to 300 cards. It all adds up. With a biometric system, you just don’t have to deal with that.”
Critical Factors Favoring Biometrics
1. User Acceptance
The most important factor when considering a biometric time and attendance system is user acceptance. The device must cause employees no discomfort, annoyance, or safety concerns. It must be easy to use, and it must work reliably.
Biometric readers can be a little intimidating a first, because the technology is so new. Tom Fitzgerald recalls, “People weren’t too sure about it at first. No one really likes a change, and there was some ‘high-tech apprehension.’ But after our first payroll run, we had fewer problems than with our old manual time card system. That removed most of the doubts. Now people don’t mind using it.”
Employee concerns generally disappear after a brief system intro. The personnel manager might say, “The Recognition Systems HandPunch time and attendance terminal uses the size and shape of the hand to verify an individual’s identity. You punch in a short user code, then the HandPunch looks at the length, width, thickness and surface area of the hand, identifying unique features from a projected image that resembles the shadow cast by your hand.” A clear description de-mystifies the device and helps users feel at ease.
A biometric device must be easy to use. Did you ever swipe a credit card with the stripe in the wrong position? Frustrating! Some biometric technologies cause similar problems, but such aggravations are very rare with hand readers. For example, RSI’s HandPunch flashes a red LED on a diagram of the hand when a finger needs to be placed closer to a positioning guide. After a few uses, the need for such small corrections tends to disappear. Mal Higgins, whose company has 15 hand readers, says, “One of the most pleasant surprises is their ease of use and how quickly everyone learned to use them. Now, using the hand reader is just second nature.”
What if the reader doesn’t recognize an enrolled user? Some early biometric systems were designed for high-security applications where the priority was to keep the “bad guys” out. Consequently, they made it somewhat harder for the “good guys” to get in. This kind of thinking would cause tremendous frustration in a time and attendance application, where frequent rejections would be unacceptable.
Fortunately, biometric devices can be adjusted to emphasize recognizing the good guys rather than rejecting the bad guys. But, does this compromise security? In biometric technology, the probability of refusing access to an authorized person is called the “False Reject Rate.” A low false reject rate is a good indication of the device’s ease of use. Low false reject rates needn’t cause concerns about unauthorized access, however, since the combination of the user’s hand image plus a short numeric code provides virtually unbreakable security.
After verifying the user’s hand, the RSI HandPunch terminal displays a “score,” reflecting the accuracy of the match between the user’s stored template and the current reading. Scores in the 20-40% range represent good use of the system. This feature promotes user acceptance; in fact, some employees make a high-tech game of competing for low scores. Mal Higgins recalls a woman who called and excitedly announced that she had just obtained a score of zero.
When using a biometric reader, the employee typically enters an ID number in the built-in keypad. The reader then prompts the user to position a hand, finger, or eye. The elapsed time from presentation to identity verification is the “verification time.” Most biometric readers verify in 1-2 seconds.
More important than verification time is total usage time, including punching in an ID number. For speedier use, ID numbers should be kept short. If a long ID number is needed, some biometric devices can scan a card for the number. The advantages of fast throughput must be balanced against the cost and inconvenience of administering cards.
Card-based systems appear faster initially, but as Mal Higgins points out, “The speed difference between a badge and the hand reader is about two seconds, but…your hand is right in front of you, versus fumbling around looking for your badge.” Throughput for the HandPunch terminal, including entering a three- to four-digit ID number, averages four seconds.
Some companies require that employees enter supplemental data on the time and attendance terminal, including department transfer information. The terminal may also require a destination code or job number. The employee might have to specify “in,” “out,” “back from lunch,” etc. Employees should be able to enter such data quickly and easily on the reader’s keypad.
Setting up flexible data-entry modes saves time. For example, not requiring department data saves time when large numbers of people are trying to punch in at the beginning of a shift. But the reader should allow entry of department codes, as needed.
An employee can enter a department code on the HandPunch terminal by simply pressing the pound (#) key, followed by an ID number. The reader prompts the user for department data, then requests hand placement. Readers can be programmed to display the department prompt during each punch, but this wastes time. Readers can also be programmed to prompt for other data-entry sequences. Any biometric device specifically intended for time and attendance applications should incorporate these features.
3. Setting Up a Biometric Payroll System
Enrollment and Template Management
Before employees can use biometric readers, they must be “enrolled.” A reader records identifying characteristics such as hand shape, iris features, etc, and stores this data as a “template.” The enrollment process typically takes from 30 seconds to two minutes, depending on the biometric technology used.
Because this is usually the employee’s first experience with the device, the enroller must give clear, simple instructions. Employees can practice using the reader before enrollment, familiarizing themselves with the unit’s “feel.”
If there are several terminals at the site, the system software should be able to distribute templates to the other terminals. This distribution (called “template management”) allows all employees to be enrolled at a single terminal, whereupon the system distributes their templates to the other terminals they are authorized to use.
A template management system can maintain an employee template database on a central computer, eliminating the need to re-enroll all the employees whenever a terminal is added. Templates can be moved from the central database to other sites (for example, to accommodate employee transfers). Former employees’ templates can be erased or stored in an inactive file. Template management also acts as a secure backup in case of catastrophic terminal failure.
Adding Biometrics to an Existing Badge-Based System
The great majority of badge-based time and attendance systems use bar-code technology. Other systems use Wiegand or magnetic-stripe cards and readers. A few biometric readers can emulate these protocols, allowing biometric units to be installed on existing card-based systems. This is called “card reader emulation.”
In emulation mode, the biometric terminal buffers the employee’s ID number until the user is verified, then forwards it to the card-based time and attendance system. If the biometric reader rejects the user, it doesn’t forward the user’s ID number.
Badge-based systems can’t manage biometric templates. Thus, every employee must be enrolled at every biometric reader. This may cause little inconvenience in small systems, or in big systems where each employee uses just one or two terminals. But large systems obviously benefit from having template management capability.
Some biometric readers provide template management without a central computer. The units are linked via simple wiring, and a designated master unit distributes template data to the other units. Typically, all enrollments take place at the master unit. While this level of management doesn’t offer as many features as a fully integrated system, it is usually more than adequate.
Biometric technology substantially improves on the benefits of computerized time and attendance, guaranteeing accurate payrolls. By verifying each employee quickly and reliably, biometric systems remove the costs and frustrations of badge administration, delivering an impressive return on investment.
Badge-based systems will continue to play a role in time and attendance, but biometrics make the dream of payroll accuracy “from punch to paycheck” a reality.