Android tablet gives the old punch card time clock a facelift

by David Needle

November 18 2011

Replicon's CloudClock combines QR codes, facial recognition and a Galaxy Tab tablet
Replicon's CloudClock combines QR codes, facial recognition and a Galaxy Tab tablet

Punch in, punch out. For millions of workers, time clocks bookend their workday as they “punch in” a card to a time clock device to record they’ve started work and “punch out” when they’re done. The basic technology is over a century old and hundreds of thousands of time clocks are sold in the U.S. every year.

The time clock system can be effective as a way for management to track worker’s hours, but it’s not without flaws. Employees have been known to enter so-called “buddy punches” to cover for someone who isn’t actually there either because they’re running late or perhaps planning to skip the day all together. Also, time clocks aren’t necessarily well-suited to track overtime and irregular work situations like temporary and contract employees. 

Enter Replicon which has been offering time sheet and billing management solutions since 1998. The company is leveraging the latest tablet technology to modernize time clocks and make them more useful in the process. If you've seen a time clock in a while, don’t think this is a small industry. Replicon says industry estimates are that some 350,000 time clocks are shipped in the U.S. every year. 

“We were constantly getting requests to offer a complete solution with a time clock,” says Replicon’s co-CEO and cofounder  Raj Narayanaswamy. “Then we realized we could use a tablet as the form factor rather than make another custom device like everyone else has that uses swipe cards. By using tablet we would have a full-fledged computer we could design to do a lot of different things.” 

The result was the Replicon CloudClock featuring a full-color multi-touch screen with a built-in camera that captures employee punches and communicates in real time with Replicon's Time & Attendance software. The camera also creates a photo audit trail to discourage buddy punches.

“One of the key problems with traditional solutions is that there is no upgrade path, you just have to buy a new one to get new features,” says Narayanaswamy.  That may be one of the reasons he says there are roughly 350,000 new time clocks sold in the U.S. every year. 

Leveraging Android’s readily available source code, Replicon programmed the Galaxy Tab with specialized soft buttons and other features. “You wouldn’t even know it’s a Galaxy Tab,” says Narayanaswamy. 

Another aspect was to keep the system simple. The CloudClock is designed to just plug into the wall, no drilling holes in the wall, and comes with its own secure pedestal. It also connects to the cloud via WiFi, no Ethernet network connection. “We’ve designed this for the HR lady tired of chasing after people to fill out their time sheets,” says Narayanaswamy. 

How it works 

The way it works is an employee waves a card embedded with their unique QR code in front of the CloudClock which takes their picture and registers their arrival or departure. Narayanaswamy points out managers would have to review the check-ins to see if a picture didn’t match an employees name. “This isn’t a big brother thing, an alarm doesn’t go off if the picture doesn’t match the name,” he says. “But it reminds the employee that there is a record that can be checked and that’s a deterrent to buddy punching.” 

Analyst Charles King is impressed. 

“This is a really interesting example of the kind of common day-to-day function that a cloud computing infrastructure is actually very good at doing,” says King, Principal Analyst with Pund-IT. “There are a lot of Shangrala-ish visions of cloud computing we’ve been hearing about that aren’t hear today, but if a company can use the cloud to manage, access and monitor this relatively simple data stream on a 24 x 7 basis, that’s all to the good.” 

Narayanaswamy says that while it’s going to be a challenge to displace traditional time clock suppliers that are firmly entrenched at many big companies, Replicon is getting plenty of interest from small-to-medium-sized businesses who are looking for more flexible solutions. 

“Every month we hear from customers who are having problems with overtime,” he says. One common example are lawsuits related to overtime pay where the employee has been keeping a record but the employer has none. 

“We make it easy to keep track of these kinds of things and maintain a record of it,” he says. Another example of potential use are states like California that require workers get a break every four hours. You can configure the CloudClock so an alert goes out when an employee hasn’t taken his or her break. 

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