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 pains, 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. You should 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, because not every vendor handles these features equally well.


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.

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.

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.

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.

Task and 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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

Demerits & Other Points Systems

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Final Conclusions

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.

An 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. And an ideal time and attendance system will be able to scale to meet the needs of your company as it grows.

Ultimately, your time and attendance system should account for your needs, and save your company time and money.

Experts in Timekeeping and Employee Scheduling 

Acumen Data Systems is a leading provider of time clock and employee scheduling software. We help organizations manage their most valuable resources, the human kind. Acumen offers robust solutions for time and attendance, scheduling and leave management. 

We believe that technology is just one quarter of the workforce management pie. Employees, policy, and the environment are just as important. 

Do you have questions about investing in a new time and attendance system? 

Contact one of our experts to discuss the best timekeeping solutions for your organization. You can also reach us at 888-816-0933.