From Punch Cards to Smart Clocks

Businesses like yours have been adding up their employees’ time cards or turning in time sheets or simply using the honor system for a long, long time—most of the 20th century in fact. Or you use an automated time and attendance solution but one that no longer works like it used to. Your company has grown, say, or changed its focus.

And like many, you and company managers might think that replacing the system will be too expensive, time-consuming and painful.

When you look to replace a broken or outdated system, many people default to the system they have been using rather than demanding a more customizable, innovative solution.

Let’s face it: buying new time and attendance software and associated time clocks is just that: investing in your company’s future. It’s something you don’t do on a large scale very often. In fact, the time and attendance system you buy today will be used for five or ten years or more.

So before sign a purchase order for the newer version of your same old time clock and software, ask yourself this:

“What do I need to know before buying a time and attendance software system?”

In this guide, we’ll answer that very question. We’ll discuss reasons why traditional time clocks are no longer the best choice. Then, we’ll introduce you to the benefits of a variety of solutions, from SaaS to cloud-based smart clocks.

Finally, we’ll highlight questions and issues you’ll need to know as you embark on your search for a time and attendance system that’s right for your unique application.

Getting It Right the First Time

There’s a lot to consider– everything from functionality to interoperability to cost must be weighed carefully.

One basic rule of thumb any company can rely on is that if you need anything beyond basic functionality, if you need true automation, or complete system integration, free software is not going to suffice.

And many of these systems are little better than using a spreadsheet to manage time and attendance.

Whether you’re at the enterprise level or an emerging business, the purchase process is relatively similar – though it may include greater or less detail. A large company probably requires functionality and interoperability that would go beyond the scope of a small deployment.

What Type of Buyer Are You?

If you’re looking for employee time tracking software, you may want to consider some of the other features that may be beneficial to you. Generally speaking, time and attendance tracking software buyers fall into one of the following categories:

• HR departments. Time and attendance management could be one of many functions you need: your ideal system might include benefits admin, applicant tracking, employee education, and many other features HR professionals will find useful.
• Workforce administration. This is where smaller buyers typically find themselves. Your
company has grown, but you haven’t quite reached the level where you need a complete human resources management system. You do, however, want time and attendance tools that feed into your payroll, possibly with a scheduling or job costing tool as well.
• Self-employed. Vendors increasingly offer free employee time clock software—both computer-based and smartphone-based—for individuals looking to make more efficient use of time.

Typical Deployments

When “time and attendance systems” are mentioned, different people think of different things.

• Basic Time & Attendance – Ideal for small companies, the most basic time and attendance system consists of a self-standing time clock that uses paper time cards to record each punch. Some perform basic calculations to compute the amount of time worked each day. They are not integrated with software.

• Integrated Time & Attendance – Ideal for any sized company, an integrated time and attendance system consists of networked time clocks that are integrated with time and attendance software.

This guide will provide some helpful hints for purchasing a basic time and attendance system, but is truly focused on integrated time and attendance systems.

While going far beyond mere features, this white paper will cover many basic and advanced features that you will be able to prioritize based on your company’s unique needs. We’ll also discuss delivery model, reporting, integration capabilities, customization ability, vendor reputation, regulatory compliance, and continued support.

Before diving into the features to look for in employee time and attendance software, we’re going to start with some of the more fundamental criteria to consider when purchasing time and attendance software.

Fundamental Purchase Criteria

Let’s be realistic. Without even reading this white paper, you already know a lot about the time and attendance system you’re going to buy. You know whether you want a simple solution just to track employee labor or if you want a fully integrated biometric system for several locations.

It’s the process of sifting through the features, determining what you need, and the reality of deploying a successful solution that makes the process of buying a time and attendance system daunting.

Luckily, that’s exactly what we’ll cover in this white paper. By highlighting some of the features
that are available out there, you’ll be able to evaluate the usefulness of each feature.

In addition, we’ll provide you with detailed background on some of the industry-specific purchase criteria you may not consider otherwise.


We might as well discuss pricing right away since that’s always the first thing that comes to mind when buying anything. As industry insiders, we know that in the time and attendance industry, you get what you pay for. We also know that some companies lowball price but hide additional fees for everything from equipment rental to system integration. There is a lot to watch out for when buying employee time and attendance software.

Regarding complete time and attendance systems – including both the software and the employee time clocks – you won’t find anything decent for under $800 these days. $800 will buy you an integrated time clock and basic software via Software as a Service (SaaS) delivery. Of course, this means you’ll be paying a fee per employee per month in addition to that upfront $800 payment. Anything lower than that would definitely fall into the “too good to be true” or “there must be a catch” categories.

Price shouldn’t be inhibitive, though. Especially at the $800 level. According to Nucleus Research, employee time and attendance systems can save approximately 2.2% of an employee’s gross yearly salary. For a company with 25 employees earning an average of $22,000, that equates to a savings of $12,100 in the first year alone. Chances are, this company’s time and attendance system will pay for itself within the first year.

It’s important to remember that time and attendance systems are money savers – unlike other most capital equipment expenses. Still, many small companies opt for a simple system instead of a biometric system to save a mere few hundred dollars. These companies, however, are just not considering the total cost of ownership. A few unscrupulous employees with a buddy punching scheme can easily negate any savings incurred from buying non-biometric terminals.

Let’s move on to some of the purchase considerations of medium and enterprise-level companies regarding cost. Many of these companies are already using biometric time clocks – so for many medium and enterprise-level companies, complete integration, automation, and features are key drivers in their time and attendance initiative. Perhaps the company wants to track and manage mobile employees. Maybe they have complicated remuneration schemes such as shift differentials or weighted overtime needs. This article will help you identify the features you need to evaluate the choices out there – and get the best price at the same time.

System Integration & Automation

Some systems just don’t play nice with others. One of the fastest ways you can weed-out a time and attendance application from your list is by asking the question, “will it integrate smoothly with my payroll system?” Further, can you automate processes between the two systems? Your ROI can be improved dramatically – and your data entry nightmare will be eased considerably – if you can synchronize employee data between systems.

How about ERP, MRP, and other manufacturing systems? Databases? Can these be seamlessly integrated as well? Many time and attendance software developers list the business systems with which their software will integrate. Make sure yours is on the list – or you may be stuck with an incomplete, dysfunctional system until your contractual obligations allow you to switch one of the systems. Either way, management (and, therefore, YOU) won’t be happy.

Advanced time and attendance software like Acumen’s ViewSUITE allow complete integration with manufacturing, baking, and production environments. Processes, box routing, inventory tracking, and much more can be fully integrated with your time and attendance system. Enabling you to track and report each employee’s productivity, this type of system integration provides employers with powerful reporting capabilities that will help introduce further savings.

Another level of system integration synergy exists between time and attendance and access control. Most employee time clocks double as access control terminals, making it very cost effective to deploy both solutions simultaneously.

Licensed or SaaS?

While some companies make data privacy a top priority and opt to host no company data on an external server, many of those same companies are already doing this with sensitive payroll data. Hosting your time and attendance data with a Software as a Service (SaaS) provider is safe and secure as long as the datacenter is a top-tier facility.

However, is it appropriate, financially? For small companies, it is far more cost effective to subscribe to a SaaS employee time and attendance application. Once a company grows to a certain size, however – and the licensed software will pay for itself in a comfortable timeframe – it makes more fiduciary sense to opt for the licensed version.

Surprisingly, then, instead of being a decision made by the CIO (“Are we comfortable with the data on an external server?”), the question of “Licensed or SaaS” quickly becomes a decision made by the CFO.

And, really, with most providers, it doesn’t matter which you choose. With the exception of a few providers whose SaaS version differs slightly from its licensed version, the features and reporting capabilities are the same between the two. At Acumen, SaaS subscribers also have access to the newest version of the software, with all the newest features.

In addition, with the SaaS delivery method, you’ll have access to the software anywhere in the world, any time of day – regardless of your provider. With Acumen’s licensed software, you’ll also have access to many of the web-enabled portions of the software anywhere in the world, any time.

Complementary Products & Services

Ask each prospective vendor if they offer complementary products and services to learn more about the company. Some time and attendance providers opt to focus solely on their core competency while others branch-out to provide related services.

Neither practice is necessarily good or bad; it just depends on the company’s focus. Will you get good support if you’re a small fish only purchasing one of their twenty services? Does the company’s spread of focus diminish the quality of its time and attendance product?

But the real questions here are: “Does my company need any of these supplementary services? Will we down the road?” Some common related services include:

• Employee Scheduling
• Facility Access Control
• HR Management
• Employee Self-Service
• Payroll Systems
• Pre-Employment Services

Company Practices

Of course, along with all these other complementary services comes the wedding ring and ceremony; Once you’re locked-into several of these services, it’s nearly impossible to switch if you’re unhappy or require better functionality.

Many of the large payroll providers do just this – they’ll tell you that you have to use their time and attendance system in order to use their payroll system. In most cases, this is simply not true. Acumen, for instance, can integrate with nearly any payroll system out there (even the ones that say they’re completely proprietary).

Another questionable company practice to watch out for is the rental of employee time clocks. Since they have you locked-into their other services, many of the larger payroll providers will not allow you to purchase your employee time clocks outright. This inflates the total cost of ownership significantly and should be taken into consideration when comparing proposals prior to purchase.

We’ve heard of companies renting employee time clocks for as much as $500 / month. If any of those companies chose Acumen instead, the HandPunch would have paid for itself within five months.

This brings us to the topic of vendor reputation. It’s interesting how even the players with great reputations – such as these large payroll providers – can get away with practices such as renting time clocks, failing to provide adequate support, charging extra if more than one administrator is to use the system, and refusing to customize the software even for large clients.

When evaluating vendors, you can evaluate reputation by using any search engine. Type in the company name, then the word “problems” or any synonym. On the company’s website, look for testimonials and case studies. And when you’re toward the end of the purchase cycle, ask for a customer reference.

Vendor Services

One question to ask a customer reference is “How would you rate their integration and support services?” Acumen has rescued several companies lost in an integration nightmare that was over-promised by the vendor. If you’re looking to integrate several different services, make sure the vendor has experience in the area and a track record of success – as well as flexible software that can rise to the challenge.

Regarding integration, support, and other services, look for testimonials and ask for references. Don’t be shy to ask for a reference that closely resembles your intended deployment.

Common services offered by time and attendance providers include:

• Implementation
• Integration with Payroll, ERP, & Other Systems
• Training
• Software Customization / Engineering
• Maintenance
• Hosting

Software customization and software engineering are not commonly found in the industry, but are a valuable service for many companies looking for time and attendance. Many time and attendance applications are setup in a specific way – and it’s up to you to make your business structure and nomenclature match the system.

Further, the software may be missing essential functionality (or something as simple as one field) that is required for your deployment. If you notice early-on that the software you’re evaluating is missing functionality, ask if they offer customization services immediately to reduce the vendor qualification process.

Superior hosting services are essential for companies providing time and attendance on a SaaS basis. Ensure your data will be hosted in a top-tier datacenter with 99.99% or – preferably –
99.999% uptime (Acumen meets the most stringent criteria for its datacenters).

Next, look for repair and maintenance services. Some time and attendance vendors will provide you with a “loaner” time clock if needed. That way, if you don’t keep backup time clocks in case one breaks down, you can call your vendor (like Acumen) and get a loaner employee time clock shipped to you overnight while your broken terminal is repaired.

Regarding maintenance and support, a good provider is going to offer several levels of well- defined support and maintenance for any questions you have down the road. With something as important as employee time and attendance / payroll, you need to make sure your data, reports, and payroll exports are there when you need them.

If you’re an enterprise-level company, you’re going to need 24/7/365 support to ensure valuable time – or data – isn’t lost. Ask what levels of support are available, and the services associated with each level. Remote desktop assistance is essential for fast maintenance resolution, so be sure to ask if it is available.

Regulatory Compliance

If your company is held to mandates set forth by Sarbanes-Oxley, HIPAA, PCI, FairPay Rules, or the Fair Labor Standards Act (which covers just about every company), a time and attendance system can help you facilitate compliance.

By providing accountability, reliability, access to historical records, and secure systems, an automated time and attendance system complete with time and attendance software helps you meet the requirements of these acts and governing bodies.

Since all wage and labor information is accurately recorded and maintained for future reference, a complete time and attendance system will help in any audit or litigation process. Acumen’s employee time and attendance software even includes a convenient Auditor Report to quickly and easily create a report for auditors.

Purchase Criteria and Software Functionality

Undoubtedly, the project to update or roll-out an employee time and attendance system stemmed from some pain or inefficiency your company is facing. Everybody has different needs, unique “pain,” and specific features that are considered essential. The problem is that every
time and attendance application is different – and many aren’t going to satisfy every feature
wish list.

At the same time, there are going to be some features that are nearly universally found in time and attendance software. One would expect to find functionally like storing employee information, recording punches, and managing time off.

We’re going to skip the “no brainer” features and skip to some of the items that are really going to be the deal sealers or deal breakers. Feel free to make note of how important each feature is for you to make a better purchasing decision when comparing time and attendance software.
We recommend prioritizing features and noting which are essential.

1) Biometrics

Can the software integrate biometric time clocks? Are you limited to certain brands of time clocks? Do you have to rent the time clocks from the time and attendance vendor?

Even if you’re currently not using biometric time clocks, you may down the road. It’s important to at least check and see if the software can be integrated with biometric time clocks. Since there’s no better way to eliminate buddy punching than implementing a biometric time and attendance system, it’s better to be prepared to make the transition eventually.

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2) Real-Time Functionality
The most useful time and attendance software is going to give you a real-time look into your employees’ labor. Address late arrivals the moment they log in or catch an early bird leaving at the door if their time off hasn’t been approved.

Plus, for auditing purposes, nothing can beat real-time performance. If you experience a network outage and you aren’t using a real-time system, you’re going to be missing punches. So, once you’ve resolved the network problem, you’re going to have to resolve your payroll / time and attendance problem.

In addition, if you have more than one administrator managing your account, you don’t want to have a conflict if two administrators are trying to update the same item at the same time. A real-time system will reduce this type of conflict considerably.

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3) Advanced Payment Capability

Sure, pay rules are a basic function of time and attendance software – but if you’re looking for anything beyond the most basic functionality, you’re going to need to ask the vendor if their software can handle your specific pay rules.

If you want to assign more than just one pay rate per employee, free time and attendance software isn’t going to cut it for you. And if you want to manage and automate shift differentials or weighted overtime, you may not find that functionality in entry-level software.

Good time and attendance software will allow you to do just about whatever you want regarding pay rates and pay rules. Good time and attendance software will allow you to automate the system by creating pay rules based on time of day (shift differentials) or employee position.

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4) Advanced Benefit Accruals

Some free time and attendance software applications allow basic benefit denotations, but none provide the functionality most of us think of when we talk about benefit accruals.

If you need to create additional designations for time off, you need more advanced time and attendance software. For instance, if you want different categories of Bereavement Time to be available, you need to upgrade from free software. You need to quickly and easily distinguish, for instance, jury duty time off from regular time off.

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5) Task / Labor Tracking

Many companies need visibility beyond the simple “in / out status.” Companies such as marketing agencies, engineering firms, and repair / maintenance businesses need to have insight into how long an employee worked on a specific project.

This information is useful for more than just the companies that need to track employee labor for client billing purposes. Companies can hold employees accountable for time worked on a given project and question projects that took unusually long amounts of time. This can benefit a company both from a disciplinary standpoint as well as from a training standpoint; perhaps the project took longer than normal because the employee was never properly trained on a given task.

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6) Employee Scheduling

The majority of employee time and attendance software applications available today offer some level of employee scheduling. Some include employee scheduling with the software as a default, others provide it at an additional cost.

It’s important to determine whether the level of employee scheduling functionality that comes standard with the software will be adequate for your needs. Most employee time and attendance software features basic employee scheduling only.

Look for employee scheduling features such as schedule defaults and schedule templates. Obviously, also make sure you can create schedules for individual employees as well as groups.

Next, ensure that you can view data based on coverage. Can the software show you the total number of hours worked by day – by employee or by department? Can you view break times? Can schedules easily be printed for display in the workplace?

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7) Labor Costs

Tracking the costs associated with labor is an advanced feature that is not commonly found in time and attendance software. Nevertheless, it is a powerful feature that can help drive-down labor costs company wide.

By analyzing costs of shifts, you can identify inefficiencies and optimize your scheduling based on labor cost. If you have too many highly paid employees working on a given shift, then, you can identify the employees that might be better-off working another shift.

Tracking labor costs can also help identify internal costs to produce your products, enabling tighter control over profitability.

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8) Minor Employees

Special rules apply to minor employees, dictated both at the federal and state level. Even entry-level time and attendance software probably won’t have special rules to manage and control labor for minor employees.

However, if your company hires a decent amount of minors – grocery stores and quick- serve stores, for instance – choosing a time and attendance system that incorporates rules for minor employees is a necessity.

Denoting school days, available hours, earliest availability, latest availability, and maximum consecutive days worked are all essential features to manage minor employees and comply with state and federal law. If minor employee management is critical for your business, make sure you ask your prospective providers the capabilities of their minor management functionality.

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9) Restrict Access for Punches

If you’ve experienced the problem of having an employee punch-in a half hour ahead of time, then just sit around and socialize until they’re supposed to start working – you need to be able to restrict access for punches.

With advanced time and attendance systems, you can specify appropriate times for employees to clock in and out. If the employee tries to clock in or out at an unscheduled time, the system will automatically deny the punch. Obviously, this is just one of the ways a time and attendance system can save your company money.

When researching time and attendance companies, be sure to ask about this useful feature.

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10) Skills & Certifications

Designating employees with skills and certifications allows you to speed scheduling, ensure proper coverage, and eliminate errors. An advanced feature not commonly found in entry-level time and attendance software, skill and certification designation enables you to identify the specific employees possessing a special skill, certification, degree,
etc. that qualifies them for a specific task.

To make this feature truly powerful, many time and attendance providers combine skill and certification designation with scheduling to ensure proper coverage. For instance, if
certain lab procedures require a doctor with a specific degree, the scheduling manager can create a rule requiring the scheduling of a doctor with that specific degree. Much the same way, let’s say a restaurant designates all managers as having a special “skill” – they can then create rules governing how many managers are to be working a given shift.

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11) Demerits / Point System

In every industry, HR has the unfortunate job of disciplining employees for everything from tardiness to straight-up brawling. A good time and attendance system will provide a way to track and manage demerits (also called “points”) and automate some of the processes to make it a little less painful for all parties involved.

Ask prospective vendors if their demerit system can notify administrators and users with customized messages when a demerit is issued. Ask if you can create rules governing demerits – such as generating a termination letter if the maximum number of demerits has been exceeded.

The demerit system can be another powerful way to manage your workforce, keep your employees in line, and improve profitability.

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12) Automated Alerts

Automated alerts help keep busy HR managers on top of their game. Good employee time and attendance software will include a messaging system to alert or remind managers of time and attendance related events.

For instance, alerts could be setup to alert managers and the employee when a demerit is issued. Conversely, an alert could be setup when an employee reaches a milestone (10 years with the company) or goes a length of time without receiving a demerit.

Be sure to ask your prospective time and attendance system providers about automated alerts and the events for which you can create alerts. They’re one of the most useful – really essential – features available in proper employee time and attendance software.

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13) Employee Communication

Employee communication is a fundamental tool used in managing employee time and attendance. Surprisingly, then, employee communication via embedded email, plug-in email (to Outlook, for example), or instant messaging application is not found in basic
time and attendance software. If you’re looking for this essential feature, be sure to look
for a reputable time and attendance provider.

For auditing and record-keeping purposes, be sure to ask prospective time and attendance vendors if historical communications are available for future reference. Also ask how the messaging works – embedded email or plug-in email, and whether IM is available (and what platforms are supported, if not embedded).

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14) Email Templates

Many aspects of HR management can be redundant – welcome kits, insurance information, etc. – but can be automated with good time and attendance software. Anything above entry-level time and attendance software should provide you with the ability to create email templates to automate many of the tedious, redundant aspects of time and attendance management.

Ask your prospective time and attendance companies how many email templates can be made, if they can be automatically sent if an event is triggered (say, a demerit is issued), and how the email is sent.

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15) Employee Access & Employee Self-Service

One fundamental way time and attendance software helps companies save money is by reducing data entry redundancy. Advanced employee time and attendance software should be easily configurable to display only what is appropriate for a given employee. The administrator, then, should be able to specify what managers can view and edit. Likewise, administrators and managers should be able to specify what employees can view and edit.

Allowing employees access to the time and attendance system is beneficial in several different ways. First, allowing employees to edit their own personal information (address, phone number, marital status, etc.) reduces the management burden on HR. Secondly, employees could potentially (at your discretion) clock in and out via computer (connecting to the time and attendance software). Next, employees can view HR-related
documents and resources, such as insurance and benefit information. Lastly, employees and HR managers can communicate conveniently through the time and attendance
application to request time off, for example.

When researching time and attendance software, be sure to ask about the capabilities of
the software’s HR management and employee self-service functionality.

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16) Advanced Reporting Capability

Reporting is a core function of time and attendance software. Still, if not scrutinized, you may find that the reporting capability of the software you choose is entirely inadequate. Consider your current and future needs for reporting carefully. Consider reporting options (like report types), reporting functionality (like searching and sorting), and export capabilities.

Advanced time and attendance software may offer an easy button to prepare a report for auditors. Acumen’s time and attendance software not only has an Auditor Report, but it also features 35 standard reports, including the Timecard Report, Break Time Report, Project Time Report, Excused Time Report, Monthly Overview Report, and more. You can also create completely customized reports.

When researching time and attendance software, ensure it has the reporting functionality you need so you’re not left out in the cold post-purchase.

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17) Customization Capability

The reality is that once you’ve committed to a time and attendance solution, you’re going
to be using it constantly – so it better fit your wants and needs.

The thing about time and attendance software is that it tries to be a “one size fits all” when there is no such thing when it comes to time and attendance. Every company is different. Some companies are merged and run almost as independent companies. Some companies have extremely complicated hierarchies. Some companies have odd names for groups or divisions that won’t match your time and attendance software.

That’s why you should ask about the customization options for any time and attendance software you review. Good time and attendance software will allow you to customize several aspects of the software. It goes beyond having color schemes to choose from.

Remember, you’ll be using the software day and night – make sure it fits your unique needs.

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18) Mobile Employee Time & Attendance

Field service employees and mobile workforces are notoriously difficult to manage when it comes to time and attendance. But bringing accountability to your mobile workforce is essential for businesses with a large percentage of mobile employees.

Many of the better time and attendance companies provide solutions for mobile employees, typically utilizing cell phones for clocking. Many smartphones can even allow managers to make updates to the system itself.

If you have more than a handful of mobile employees, the investment pays for itself quickly. Ask your prospective time and attendance companies if they offer a secure solution for your mobile workforce.

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19) Easy Integration

Systems as complex as time and attendance are never fun to integrate. That’s why
anything that helps ease the integration process is a blessing.

When considering hardware, ease the integration process by choosing plug-and-play time clocks or have the time and attendance provider program the time clocks.

When it comes to the software, the painful part is the importation process of employee and company data. Entry-level software will require you to enter all of the information manually. For a company with more than 10 employees, you can imagine what a nightmare this task would become.

Luckily, the better time and attendance companies provide automatic synchronization with other business systems. When speaking with prospective time and attendance companies, ask which systems can be synchronized with the time and attendance system.

The best time and attendance companies will be able to seamlessly synchronize and run alongside payroll systems, ERP and MRP systems, manufacturing systems, business systems, and databases.

Be sure to get a list of systems with which any prospective time and attendance software can be synchronized when reviewing vendors.

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20) Active Directory Synchronization

Active Directory synchronization allows a single sign-in to access both your company’s
network and your time and attendance software. For those of us who have to remember
200 different Username / Password combinations for every email, social media, and – oh yeah – work-related websites, Active Directory synchronization can be a very compelling
selling point.

Active Directory synchronization also simplifies workforce management. If an employee works two different roles, they can easily clock out of one role (say, at a higher rate) and clock into another role as easily as switching user accounts on a computer.

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Purchasing time and attendance software often seems like a huge undertaking when you first start the research process. You just don’t know what you need, what’s out there, what’s feasible. We hope this white paper has made the process seem a lot less daunting by providing you with industry insider hints, advice, and features to consider.

When it comes to bottom-line advice regarding purchasing a time and attendance system, the truth is that the ideal solution depends on the company. One company will find the feature set of a given system to be perfect while another will find the same software to be completely unusable.

The ideal system, then, offers a wealth of features while offering the flexibility to be customized to meet any company’s unique organization. An ideal system is easily integrated and interoperable with just about any time clock, payroll system, business system, or database. An ideal time and attendance system will be able to scale to your needs.

Lastly, your time and attendance system needs to save your company money. Contact Acumen at 888-816-0933 today to get started saving right away.