A brief synopsis of the Time and Attendance industry


The Bundy Clock

A Bundy clock is the name given to a device designed by Willard L. Bundy in 1888. It is essentially a clock which can also stamp the time onto a card, recording the exact time that the stamp was made. He and his brother started the Bundy manufacturing company which eventually through mergers and name changes became IBM.

Currently similar devices, most commonly referred to as clock card machines, are still available. They are simply time stamping clocks of which the basic technology has been around for over a hundred and twenty years.

The use of these systems is only a part solution because once their job is complete the timekeeper is left with a bunch of clock cards with times stamped on them. These times need to be transformed into hours worked and ultimately wages required to be paid to the respective employees. Which is neither a small nor simple task and requires vast amounts time of skilled wage clerks.

Time and Attendance

It was around about 1990 that things started to change and devices began to emerge which, combined with software, provided more automatic forms of employee time recording. South Africa was a major player in this movement and various clocking systems became available starting then.

These systems usually linked a somewhat autonomous magnetic card reading device to a computer allowing the recorded card swipes to be periodically downloaded to a computer for further processing using custom written time and attendance software. The time and attendance software would then accomplish all of the previously manually performed calculations required to determine the wages of hourly paid employees. One of the very first fingerprint time and attendance systems


When fingerprint readers became available, shortly after the turn of the century, one of the most obvious applications was the time and attendance industry. Once again, South Africa was at the forefront of a new movement and fingerprint clocking systems were commercially available here as early as 2002.

The picture to the right is one of the first commercially available fingerprint time and attendance systems in the world and it was designed and built in South Africa using a component fingerprint reader which is the white protrusion mounted on the right hand side of the clocking machine.

This product was successfully installed in a number of sites and most operated reliably for years. The hardware could not perform identification with reliable speed and so employee tags were used to identify the individual who was then required to verify his identification using his fingerprint. Modern systems are sufficiently fast to use pure fingerprint identification.

Current Market

Time stamping clock card machines

Yes I know the Bundy clock is antique but some of them are still working and you can still buy them brand new. It's amazing but it seems that the world is far more conservative than most people can imagine. So the time stamping, time recording, "ding dong" clock card machine is still commonly available and people are still spending valuable time adding up clock cards with times stamped on them. Go figure.

Time-and-Attendance systems

It seems like the magnetic card systems have faded into oblivion which makes sense because magnetic stripes were never well suited to the industrial environments that most clock card machines are required to operate within.

There appear to be a number of radio tags around which allow people to clock in by holding their tag near the reader. This is cool for about five minutes until you realise that it actually saves you nothing by not touching the tag to the reader.

The iButton tag is probably one of the most reliable methods of identification around and a number of time and attendance systems use them.

There are many different forms of connectivity available too. Wireless systems are available but you need to be aware of the range and extra costs involved and be wary of the wireless systems that require you to run back and forth with a data dongle to gather the data. Beyond that any form of connectivity is fine - they all achieve the same result - which is information at your fingertips.

The most important thing about any time and attendance system is whether the reports are well laid out and easy to understand. Beware of the trap that lots of buyers fall into, being lured by a copious number of complicated and/or customisable reports - ultimately you will end up using only one - the time-sheet report, which shows the times clocked and the working out of the paid hours.

Backup and support should also be a prime consideration so make sure you choose a supplier that has been around for a while and has a good track record.

Biometric Systems

Biometric identification seems to have finally been widely accepted and is gaining momentum to the extent that it should be the norm within a few years. There have been a few different biometric identification methods surfacing such as hand recognition, iris recognition and facial recognition but it seems that the market is stabilising on fingerprint identification probably because it is relatively simple and becoming cost effective to implement. The modern eClock Fingerprint Time and attendance system.

What next ?

Unless there are some drastic changes ahead, the future of time and attendance should move toward fingerprint clocking systems almost exclusively in terms of new sales but the existing systems which are reliable, cost effective and easy to operate will remain in use for a long time to come. There is also a small segment of the market involving extremely rough environments where fingerprint recorders are not effective. e.g.: People who spend their days loading bricks do not have any fingerprints and will need a tag system.

In summary, there has been a lot of progress made in the employee time recording industry over the last twenty years and South Africa has been at the forefront of that progress and will probably remain a leader for some time to come.

If you are in South Africa then buy South African.

If you are elsewhere then you would do good if you bought the right South African product.

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