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Vertical industry drives time and attendance software best practices

Beyond the usual practices for nailing requirements and garnering stakeholder support, organizations must pay special attention to vertical industry expertise and compliance needs.

The usual best practices about requirements analysis, change management and stakeholder buy-in apply to deploying time and attendance software. But to an unusual degree, time and attendance software best practices are geared toward aligning with vendors that have the right vertical-market expertise.

Given the huge variations across industries -- the rules governing hourly workers in retail environments can be quite different from guidelines for factory workers, for example -- experts say companies can get a huge leg up on deploying time and attendance software by finding a vendor with a package that is easily tailored to meet their compliance needs.

Rebecca Wettemann, vice president of research for Boston-based Nucleus Research Inc., said, "Beyond that, you have to consider the profile of your workforce, their skill levels [and] the complexity of your pay rules. All of those impact how you implement the software today and how you evolve it moving forward."

The rules can be challenging. The core of time and attendance software is the rules engine, which determines employee pay based on the number and type of hours logged in the context of the relevant regulations to the industry, geographic location and job type. Depending on the makeup of the workforce -- a union shop versus a non-union environment, for example -- or the geographic location, the regulations governing employment vary in sophistication and require due diligence to ensure that the time and attendance software supports the rules.

"Companies tend to underestimate the complexity of the rules involved," noted Paul Hamerman, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc., based in Cambridge, Mass. There can be national rules related to fair labor standards, for instance, or internal rules regarding unions, according to Hamerman. "You need to be able to codify all of those rules and build intelligence into the system. You have to do rigorous testing to make sure the system can do what it's supposed to do."

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Integration with other core enterprise systems, such as human capital management, payroll processing, ERP and even retail point-of-sale systems, is another core requirement that warrants heavy consideration. Companies with time and attendance platforms that are well integrated with core enterprise systems can mitigate expensive consulting fees and avoid redundancy of data, Hamerman said.

Deploying time and attendance software a two-way street

Beyond addressing any technology challenges, there are the usual cultural and change management issues of getting employee buy-in so the system, once deployed, doesn't languish. Here, many of the tried-and-true best practices for enterprise software are applicable, with some variations. One of the biggest differences with deploying time and attendance systems is that unlike human resources or retail systems, there is no direct owner. That can have ramifications for every aspect of deployment, from not fully understanding business requirements to not managing scope optimally.

"What we've found in most organizations is that time and attendance software is like an orphan in the company -- there isn't a time and attendance group," said Brian Koniuk, a principal with The Hackett Group Inc., a Miami-based consultancy. "The overall lack of governance as to who owns this and who the key stakeholders are is a challenge."

To get around the problem, Koniuk said it's imperative to have a keen understanding of what exactly the organization is trying to accomplish with the system, to have a well-conceived strategy and to ensure proper awareness of the system and its benefits throughout the organization.

Communicating how the time and attendance software makes life better for employees is essential to addressing the change management challenge.

"If you implement a clocking system and it's perceived as putting the squeeze on employees, then you are going to get pushback," said Thomas Otter, a research vice president at Gartner Inc., which is based in Stamford, Conn. "People may think you are trying to cheat them or you don't trust them. You have to communicate what the benefit will be for the employees and that it's a two-way game. You can't just do what's best for the company without considering the employee ramifications."

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