To stay competitive in a sluggish economy, many construction companies are looking for ways to cut expenses by automating and streamlining processes. Harnessing the largest expense - payroll - is a good place to start. As more companies look for ways to do more with less, it makes sense to look at time tracking as an efficient method of increasing operational control and improving efficiency.
Companies shopping for a time-tracking solution should look for one that fits their needs affordably. Time-tracking systems come in a variety of flavors; no system is the right solution for every company. Low-priced systems may not meet all the company’s needs. High-end systems may meet requirements but might also include unneeded features.
CONTRACTOR'S EXPERIENCEWhen Superior Mechanical, Inc., Birmingham, Ala., started looking for a time-tracking system to replace timecards, the mechanical contractor had clear objectives: improve financial controls by recapturing lost time in the field and reduce the workload on the back office.
“We knew that inaccurate employee time recording in the field was costing us money, and our office staff was spending three days a week checking, correcting, and inputting time card data,” said Richard Drennen, Superior’s president. “We also needed a system that would interface with our Sage Timberline accounting system and enable us to track projects more efficiently.”
Company size is a key factor in selecting a time-tracking application. A small company’s needs are generally very basic. Often, small contractors are merely interested in capturing the time their employees work in order to pay them. Some also want to know what jobs employees worked on, or they want to track tasks performed at a specific job. A system that allows field employees to physically synchronize their timecard data to an office workstation can be very effective.
Larger companies generally have more jobs and larger crews, so it’s important to have a system that allows employees to quickly clock in and out of jobs and tasks. Jobs may be spread across the state or even the nation, so wireless data transfer, both to and from the jobsite, is a necessity. Other factors to consider are weather, site conditions, access to electricity, wireless accessibility, and whether foremen will be onsite to process and monitor time-keeping transactions.
At Superior Mechanical, 50 field employees work on projects lasting from two or three months to as long as two years; the company needed to track labor and material costs by job zone. Superior looked at several time-tracking systems and solicited input from another contractor that was already using a system successfully.
NARROWING THE SEARCH“Knowing what questions to ask time-tracking providers helped us weed out those that didn’t meet our needs,” said Drennen.
One key consideration is whether the application offers two-way data transfer with the accounting/payroll system. It should pull employees, jobs, cost codes, and other data from the accounting system and push timecard information to it. Low-end systems that require users to manually re-enter all the accounting data to the time-tracking application may not realize much time savings or return on investment.
The types of hardware used by a time-tracking application are a crucial factor in system selection. Some applications run only on specific or proprietary devices. The most-flexible systems are device-independent, enabling field personnel to use combinations of PDAs, smart phones, laptops, desktops, time clocks, and/or biometric devices on the jobsite.
A company’s accounting software system can influence many of the organization’s business procedures, including what data is tracked and the level of detail required. The more flexible a time-tracking software program is, the more likely it is to meet a company’s needs.
The success of a new time-tracking application may well depend on its ease of use. Simple, uncluttered screens, frequent default options, and clearly labeled text boxes help reduce employee resistance, especially among those with limited technical expertise.
GROWTH AND SECURITYAs a business grows, it adds customers, jobs, employees, and users, so system scalability is important. The software should be able to accommodate increased transaction workloads and larger amounts of data without compromising performance. A system using structured query language (SQL) technology can meet increased demands and provide excellent security.
The way the system transfers data is another very important consideration. Establishing a connection and synchronizing data to and from the office should be accomplished in a matter of seconds. A preventive measure should also be in place to ensure that data can be retransferred without duplication in case of dropped connections or other technical problems. Using these kinds of features, a company can realize tremendous time and money savings over the course of a year.
Some systems require clock-in, clock-out dates and times; others accept elapsed time data. The most advanced systems provide multiple methods for collecting data, allowing for the use of time clocks, card scanners, badge readers, desktops, laptops, PDAs, or smart phones.
Companies should also consider what other data they want to track, such as equipment, a daily log, multicompany/divisions, employee signature capture, multilevel approvals, flexible overtime calculators, audit trails for edited transactions, and reporting capabilities.
TECH SUPPORTTechnical support is the final, but not least-important, consideration. Depending on the sophistication of the system, some providers use remote support applications that allow for live troubleshooting, reducing resolution time by connecting to the user’s system (whether it’s a desktop, laptop, or PDA). At the very least, users should expect and demand timely and capable support via phone or e-mail.
Superior Mechanical’s new wireless GPS-enabled time-tracking system was implemented last year. Built on a fast, secure, scalable SQL database, it allows foremen using PDAs to collect and transmit accurate employee time to the accounting system. The three-day manual payroll process has been eliminated, freeing office personnel for more productive work.
“Since implementing time tracking, we spend about one hour a week on payroll,” said Drennen. “We have much more accurate and timely information, and we’re actually beating our own forecasts.”