Is mobile time clocking really so great?

02 Jan Is mobile time clocking really so great?


In recent years, we have seen the rise of mobile applications to the point of ubiquity – these days, it seems there is an app for everything. This phenomenon hasn’t bypassed the workforce management sector, and why would it. Workforce management requirements could have been written with mobile devices in mind. With the workforce dispersed over multiple customer sites and tight budgets often necessitating minimal local supervision, the smartphone can be an ideal way to monitor and direct staff.

One use for smartphones in this sector is to register proof and time of attendance at the workplace. This certainly has its place but, for various reasons, it is not necessarily always the optimal tool for that job.

What mobile is great for

There are some great productivity gains to be had from incorporating mobile apps for workforce management.

Logging on to an app for task instructions, who and where to report to, and so on, is a good way to ensure employees or supervisors receive the right information to enable them to do their job.

For managers and supervisors, apps allow quick access to operational information while on the move – who’s in, who’s out, specific client issues requiring immediate attention, and so on. They also allow employees to raise queries, requests and other non-time critical actions, through employee self-service functionality.

Field service engineers often need to visit a different set of clients each week, potentially from a large customer list and in diverse locations. Then, an integrated workforce management app, with geo-location functionality is a perfect way to book time to a specific task or project.

Why mobile can often fall short for time capture and how FaceGO can be better

Mobile’s advantages have led many companies to choose this as their only choice for employee workforce management, including all time capture (timesheet logging). But buddy punching, advance clocking and other abuse can present significant and unnecessary cost burden in a sector renowned for tight margins.

User issues

Forgotten devices, lost or stolen phones, dead batteries and no phone signal. The list of reasons (or, sometimes, excuses) for users failing to register their presence correctly can seem never ending.

In contrast, FaceGO is generally a (semi) permanent installation. It will connect to a client’s WIFI or Ethernet or can be used with a 4G router where there is no LAN availability.

Buddy clocking

Buddy clocking (clocking in on behalf of a colleague) can be a significant issue for mobile time and attendance, depending on the method of clocking used. If it is just logging on to an app to send the GPS location, it is easy for me to lend you my phone and ask you to falsely clock me in, and most app-based face recognition elements are simple 2D systems that can be fooled by a photograph.

It may seem too extreme to think people would go to that much trouble, but here’s an anecdote, recounted to me recently by a potential customer, to illustrate the incentive for such action:

“We were undertaking an exercise to review some CCTV footage, for a completely separate reason [to checking employee attendance]. As part of this we discovered an individual standing at the time clock and clocking in for himself and 6 of his colleagues. This prompted us to investigate further and we found that, as a conservative estimate, we are losing around 40 hours each month due to false clocking. Agency staff are costing us around £18 per hour, so that’s a significant annual loss.”

This was a business with 30 agency staff only, and 100 employees. Scale that up or down to suit your business. If the reward is there, and it is easy enough to achieve, people will bypass the system.

Unlike mobile clocking, FaceGO is totally incompatible with buddy clocking. FaceGO only registers when a valid user scans their face. FaceGO has built-in live face (liveness) detection, meaning it will merely ignore photographs, masks and similar spoofing methods.

Issues with built-in mobile biometrics

Built-in finger or face detection isn’t as effective as one might first imagine. Look at it from the phone manufacturer’s perspective – the principal requirement of built in biometrics is to make the phone more secure without compromising convenience. So, built in algorithms have to be more forgiving than those found in dedicated face recognition hardware. After all, who wants a phone that they can never unlock?

But there is a bigger issue with built in biometrics. If it fails to recognise for whatever reason – wet fingers, bad lighting (wrong person) and so on – then the manufacturers allow a user to still access the device using their PIN code. As mentioned earlier, PIN codes are easily shared. So, the built-in biometric layer is rendered largely cosmetic.

FaceGO standard setup is to use face alone for recognition, with no requirements for pin codes, so this mobile loophole is avoided. Furthermore, FaceGO’s algorithm is more discerning than those found built into mobile devices.

Economics of staff working at various sites

Mobile phone hardware, with competent biometrics, is not cheap. One device per employee quickly adds up. If your users bring their own devices, you still must contend with the drawbacks – battery failures, theft, toilet mishaps and so on.

A single FaceGO unit can store and identify up to 2000 faces and still be cheaper than an iPhone handset.

Let’s say you have 30 staff, working at up to 10 sites. That’s 30 mobile phones and SIMS versus 10 FaceGO units, with SIMS or WIFI / Ethernet connections. Even if you still need mobile apps for your supervisors, FaceGO would be cheaper, especially if you factor in mobile phone losses, thefts and breakages. As you increase your staff numbers, the economic case for mobile tends to get worse.

Finally, add in the buddy clocking factor to account for those systemic losses. We believe that, for all but the most mobile of workers, dedicated biometric hardware solutions make the most sense.

For those supervisory staff who require a smartphone, you now have the option to choose from much more competitively priced models, so they can still manage their staff while on the move.

Why choose FaceGO

Throughout this article, we have highlighted the advantages of dedicated face recognition for user identification and time clocking.

To summarise:

  1. FaceGO is dedicated and unspoofable (it has been shown to distinguish between identical triplets and it has live face detection – see this video). It can’t be bypassed by passing any information such as PIN codes and fobs. It also cannot be spoofed using a photo or a 3D mask.
  2. No buddy clocking. The employee was either present, or they were not. There is no middle ground and no room for argument.
  3. Large volumes of users are catered for easily. One device can identify up to 2000 users generally, and up to 15000 if the top-level model is chosen. That’s identification, not just verification.
  4. It is cheaper to implement than mobile. You require one unit per location, not one unit per person.
  5. It is reliable. Even if the network goes down, accurate and reliable user identification and time clocking will still happen. When the network comes back up, the FaceGO unit sends the clocking data to the server for processing.

You might be thinking “well you would say that, wouldn’t you?”. You may have a point, but we believe the general case for FaceGO is compelling. We’d be happy to discuss your specific requirements, to see if FaceGO makes sense for you. Please drop us a line or give us a call.