Benefits of a Biometric Time and Attendance System

27 June 2022
Attendance issues in an office

What is a Biometric Time & Attendance System?

Keeping an accurate record of staff attendance is an important aspect of any business. Are your staff fulfilling their contractual obligations? Do employees work excessive overtime? Do you know who to account for in the event of an emergency? These are just some of the questions that can easily be answered by introducing a biometric time and attendance system.

A biometric time and attendance system combines the power of biometric identification with time and attendance software. This allows an organisation to gather employee clocking data and process that into accurate payroll records.

What is Biometric Identification?

Each and every one of us are unique. We all have certain physical and behavioural features that distinguish us from every other human being on the planet. For example, even identical twins do not share the same iris pattern. Innovation in hardware that can capture images of certain physical body parts such as a fingerprint, face or eye, or behavioural aspects such as how we walk, coupled with advancements in software and algorithms that can quickly and accurately compare biometric data, has made it possible to automatically and uniquely identify individuals.

There are many types of biometric identification devices: -

  • Fingerprint
  • 2D and 3D facial 
  • Iris 
  • Palm print
  • Voice recognition

For workplace security, identification and clocking-in purposes, the most popular biometric system is fingerprint. However, increased demand, innovation and competition have made facial recognition and iris recognition more accurate and much more cost-effective in recent years.

How do Biometric Attendance Systems Work?

Biometric attendance systems work by accurately and uniquely identifying individuals when they interact with a biometric terminal; such as when they arrive and leave work. Conventional clocking-in devices using RFID or PINs as a method of identifying employees can be easily fooled. Entry swipe cards, fobs and PINs can easily be lost, shared or cloned. This undermines the accuracy of the data and enables buddy punching. However, biometric devices ensure that the right person is identified every time. There is no need to issue an employee with a card or a PIN.

There are many different types of biometric terminals but they all essentially work in the same way. An individual has to be biometrically enrolled into the system. This means creating an enrollment template. Firstly, the user places their finger onto the sensor of a biometric reader which captures an image of the fingerprint (or in the case of facial recognition, they stand with their face in front of the camera terminal.) and the software identifies aspects of the biometric that can be mapped. An algorithm then uses this mapped information to produce the biometric template; a digital version of the mapped data points that can be later used for comparison. It is worth noting that it is an encrypted biometric template that gets stored in a database and the original image is discarded and never stored. There is a common misconception that biometric data could be stolen and used against the individual but the combination of the process and the security encryptions makes biometric identification very safe indeed!

Now that we have the ability to uniquely identify an employee, we can use this data and link it to that specific staff member’s time and attendance data. The identification event gets paired up with a time and date stamp and a context (usually a direction of travel - in or out). These events can be passed to a time and attendance application to determine when employees clocked in or out of work.

What Are The Pros & Cons of Biometric Attendance Systems?

In most cases, the pros outweigh the cons of a biometric attendance system, but it is important when considering implementing any system to understand the capabilities and any limitations.

The Pros

  • Relatively inexpensive hardware (£600 - £1,500)
  • Highly accurate
  • Practically impossible to spoof
  • Eliminates the possibility of buddy punching
  • Simple for employees to use
  • Eliminates the cost of purchasing and replacing cards or fobs
  • Simplifies payroll
  • Increases accountability
  • Very fast processing time (usually less than 1 second)

The Cons

  • Each type of biometric system has different limitations, so it is important to consider your own circumstances
  • About 1-3 % of the population have fingerprints that are difficult to capture
  • Facial recognition can be significantly affected by direct sunlight exposure
  • Iris recognition can be less intuitive to use
  • You may need to address the misconceptions regarding privacy and data security

Exploring The Different Types of Biometric Systems - Which is Better?

The saying that you get what you pay for is relevant to biometric systems. Cheaper options are readily available but they tend to be manufactured using cheaper components or use less sophisticated software and algorithms. However, biometric systems do not need to cost the earth. 

The most popular and often the best fit for most organisations are fingerprint devices. They are relatively inexpensive, simple to use and accurate. It is important to make sure that you can offer a different means of identification on the terminal. A good option is to ensure that the fingerprint terminal is capable of also reading an RFID card/fob and/or PIN. This is a useful fall-back measure for any employee who may have fingerprints which are difficult to capture. Another useful feature of a fingerprint system is that employees can enrol more than one fingerprint. Therefore, if a fingerprint becomes damaged or worn an alternate finger can be presented to the device.

There are also a good number of high-quality facial recognition devices on the market. Avoid cheaper alternatives that may be easier to spoof. Good quality facial recognition devices tend to be 2-3 times more expensive than a fingerprint device, with a typical range of prices from £1,000 to £3,000. However, they can offer fast and accurate recognition and they are contactless. In recent times, there has been a rise in demand for contactless devices that help reduce the spread of germs. There are two additional limiting factors with facial recognition. Firstly, unlike other parts of the body that can be used for biometric recognition, facial features can often change. For example, wearing glasses, growing facial hair or wearing long hair differently. These can ‘confuse’ the system and cause some frustrations when trying to be identified. Additionally, strong, direct ambient light can create certain lighting conditions that may mean that identification could become less reliable.

There is no doubt that when it comes to security, iris recognition is the winner. With iris recognition, the chances of one person being mistaken for another is less than 1 in 1013  (that is 1 in 10,000,000,000,000) so it’s safe to say that it is foolproof. However, iris recognition requires the capture of a very high-quality image, which means a user has to stand at the right distance to the device. This is less intuitive than placing your finger on a scanner. That said, iris recognition manufacturers have worked hard to address this issue and there are now devices on the market that require very little training. As for cost, an iris scanner is 2-3 times more expensive than a fingerprint reader and comparable with a facial recognition scanner, but in some circumstances, this is well worth the investment.

In summary, there is no one device that fits all circumstances, so it is best to seek advice from someone with experience and our staff are always on hand to give you an individual recommendation. However, in general, fingerprint readers are still the most popular for good reason and the go-to for most organisations.

Need help identifying the optimum biometric time & attendance for your business?

Thinking Software is a world leader in biometric time and attendance. We have successfully implemented hundreds of systems for businesses of various sizes. Take a look at our most recent biometric time and attendance case study. If you would like to discuss your requirements, please feel free to call us on +44 (0) 1993 878 671 or better still, why not book a free, no obligation online demo by clicking the button below.

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