“We use a time and attendance system with job recording,” says Derek Humble, IT manager at water industry instrumentation and controls manufacturer Wallace & Tiernan Products. “We can work out each day who has done what, and the amount of productive and non-productive time. Every day we can look at the operations completed on the previous day, with reports on targets achieved and targets exceeded. “At first it was thought we were checking up on people, but we involved them so they understood the benefits. It’s important for running the business that costs are accurate, and we can feed this information from job recording to WIP (work in progress) in the business system.” And, although still not mainline, this is sort of approach is becoming much more typical across many manufacturing businesses, pretty well universally across the industrial sectors and company types, particularly among SMEs (small to medium size firms). Gone are the days when most organisations could get by with a paper-based clocking method for registering staff attendance for payroll purposes. Today, time and attendance systems handle all this electronically – and the smarter manufacturers are using them for much more. Quite simply, time and attendance systems have been developed to serve a much broader set of employee, manufacturing and business management tasks. In fact, information about people and the work they’re doing right now is much more than a ‘soft benefit’. And integrated with shop floor and business systems, they are helping manufacturers to improve everything from customer responsiveness and supply chain agility, to production visibility, actual job costing and ultimately customer service. But the different types of integration are happening at different speeds. “Integration with payroll is very common,” says Mike Hawkesford, managing director of time and attendance systems firm Crown Computing. “The most frequent practice is to have the time and attendance system calculate employees’ pay and work out accurately the hours people are to be paid for. “This is then transferred electronically into the organisation’s payroll – first a proof check with the payroll manager of the times at various pay rates, then an electronic transfer to the payroll system. Payroll interfaces are flexible and payroll system vendors have relatively straightforward input procedures which are standard across industry using a simple interface.” Some systems also now integrate with HR (human resources) systems, but it’s a more complex interface, not least because it needs to be two way. The time and attendance system will need information from HR when calculating pay, and will need to inform it of calculations that have been completed. “Linking time and attendance systems with HR is not happening with any consistency at the moment,” says Hawkesford. “The theory of this link is fine, and it makes logical sense. But in practice, the systems can easily get out of step, as time and attendance is right up to date with what’s happening on the shop floor and has better job-related statistics. HR systems never seem fast enough, and anyway, companies want to keep things simple.” Where time and attendance systems can really make a big difference though is in a slightly different sort of integration. Rather than co-operating with another system to get data for their normal task (the link to HR for example), it is in co-operating with other business and manufacturing functions that some of the most interesting benefits are to be found. Often the functionality required for accurate pay calculation, for example, and also for job costing, is now closely linked to the time and attendance system – sometimes reducing the demands on separate HR systems. And it need not be expensive to get the integration required. More functional job-connected time and attendance can feed the results of their cost analysis pretty well direct into manufacturers’ business systems (MRP or ERP), keeping the interface relatively simple. If you haven’t done it already, it’s certainly worth investigating. Fred Auojinrin, IT manager at automotive products manufacturer Hashimoto in Tyne & Wear, speaks for many. “Our first priority was to sort out our payroll mess. Every week, two girls spent two or three days checking and re-checking weekly pay. We had a relatively recent time and attendance system, but it couldn’t cope with the fluid shift patterns. Each of the 40—50 team leaders had to spend an hour a day working out exactly what was done, and it wasn’t possible to be proactive. Payslips were wrong, and we were getting over 30 payroll queries a day.” Getting this right has opened the company’s eyes. “Now we have accurate reporting and payslips, with queries down to under 10 a week. We’re convinced we should move the team leaders to PCs to make it easier to look at loading so they can schedule the right number of staff for particular days.”