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Biometrics for Construction

Enterprises are increasingly implementing biometrics into their workforce management solutions for access control and to eliminate both intentional and error-driven time theft, which by industry estimates amount to 1.5% to 10% of gross payroll. Biometric readers offer the only effective means of dealing with buddy-punching, the practice of one worker clocking in or out for another.

We have been implementing biometric timeclock solutions for the past twelve years, working with construction companies, shipyards, and other enterprises.   Our biometric solutions are fingerprint based, due to reliability and the ease and speed of use by employees.  For any construction company interested in implementing biometrics for the work force, there are a number of questions that will need to be answered, such as:

  • Do you need a fixed timeclock, a mobile solution or both with inter-operability?
  • How many employees will be using each device and how will it be used?
  • Do you need to be able to operate when there is no network connectivity?
  • What functions besides basic clock in and clock out will you need to satisfy Payroll, Human Resources as well as job costing?
  • Do you need the flexibility to modify the functionality over time as your requirements may change?

The answers to these questions may direct you from a limited function wall mounted timeclock to a completely programmable PC or tablet solution with fingerprint reading.

Responding to customer requests, the PowerTrack team has developed a range of biometric solutions including a web-based Touch PC kiosk solution for fixed job sites and a iPad solution for mobile workforces that also need the ability to work offline.

With our iPad biometric application, a supervisor can pass his/her iPad around to the crew and each can clock in to the job.   No need to swipe a badge or enter an employee ID number – just have the worker touch a finger and he or she is instantly identified.  For clock out, custom questions can be answered like “were you injured today?”

Since the introduction of these biometric solutions, our customers have been keeping us busy adding more features to them.  We see an increased interest in biometrics along with a shift from the traditional limited function timeclocks to more flexible fuller screen solutions.    With our experience, the PowerTrack team is well positioned to meet these needs.

Construction Companies Barcoding Inventories – Where to Start?

Our company has deep roots in barcoding. In fact, we were helping retailers and manufacturers with their barcoding systems long before we introduced our first mobile solution for the construction market.

It is exciting for us to now be working with so many construction companies on their barcoding needs – whether for inventories, tools or equipment. We’re finding that barcoding is especially helpful in the electrical and HVAC contractor segments, where managing parts inventories is so important.

When we help a customer with their barcoding plans, we cover the following areas:

1.  Objectives

What will be barcoded and why?  If inventory is being barcoded, when will it be scanned and for what reasons – inventory transfers, inventory consumption, cycle counting?  In order to design an effective barcoding system, it is important to know up front the expected functions of the system.

2.  Applications

Are we adding barcoding to existing (key entry) applications or will we need to design new applications that integrate the barcode scanning functions. Who will be doing the barcode scanning and what degree of mobility will they need? Will the application need to work even if there is no connectivity to the host database?

3.  Symbology

There are several different barcode standards, called symbologies, which differ primarily by the type and amount of data that they can represent. These symbologies are either linear or 2 dimensional, with the 2D codes holding much more data. We will recommend an appropriate symbology as required by the data to be encoded.

4.  Scanning Hardware

If scanning will take place at a desktop computer, we will normally recommend a cordless hand held scanner, connected via Bluetooth wireless to the computer.

For workers that require a mobile device, there are several options. In scan-intensive environments, we will normally recommend a rugged Android smartphone such as the Zebra Technologies TC52 with integrated scanner. For scenarios that are not scan intensive (i.e., only occasional scanning) and where the customer has chosen a consumer-class smartphone, we will design a barcode and labeling solution that will optimize the scanning experience using the smartphone’s integrated camera.

5.  Label and Printing

One of the common questions that our label experts ask is “what does the label need to do?” This question encompasses many things, such as the length of time the label must survive, environmental conditions, dimension requirements, required barcode and human readable data, type of surface that the label needs to adhere to, etc. Based on the answers to these questions, we will recommend a label material, size and adhesive combination that is best for the circumstances.

We will also recommend the appropriate barcode printer based on the type of labels to be printing and the amount of printing to be done.

As can be seen, there are quite a few considerations in designing a barcode solution. It is important to make sure that your solution provider has the expertise to design a barcode solution that is right for your situation.

Grid-Style Time Entry

Not all customers are the same, and this is certainly true when it comes to mobile timekeeping.   As time entry using smartphones continue to grow in popularity, we have found that there are some cases where a different approach may be warranted.   I am referring to a grid-style timesheet entry, which necessarily requires a larger display area than is available on a smartphone or even a mini-tablet.

The typical use-case for grid-style entry is a construction company where field supervisors are currently using a spreadsheet for crew time entry, where crew sizes are large and/or involve work on many different phases or cost codes during a shift.   This will result in supervisors entering a large amount of information each day.   By laying out employees and equipment on one axis, and the phases/cost codes on the other, the grid style provides an efficient method for entering and viewing timesheet data.

There are two PowerTrack grid-style daily timesheet applications – one runs on the iPad and the other is Windows based – for PC’s, laptops and the Microsoft Surface tablet.   These applications are designed for rapid entry of time and daily journal information; and then by submission, instantly creating potentially dozens of records for subsequent review and importing into the customer’s accounting/ERP system.  The PowerTrack daily timesheet applications are highly configurable, and are designed to work in a disconnected environment – where a network connection is unavailable.

How do we determine what is the best mobile timekeeping solution for a particular customer?   We accomplish this through our discovery sessions with customers, where we explore both their timekeeping requirements and IT infrastructure plans.  In these sessions, we may ask questions such as:

What is the average crew size and the variety of work on a shift?

What is the technology that crew supervisors will have at their disposal – laptops, tablets, smartphones?

What are the shortcomings of the customer’s current paper-based time entry method, and what are they looking to achieve with the new system?

With a completed discovery engagement, we will have a good understanding of the customer’s environment and can recommend a suitable path for their time entry automation and mobility requirements.   Combined with our complete line of mobile time entry software, we are then well positioned to deliver a solution that will be right for the customer.