Jim Courtwood
Author of the Time & Attendance Consultant's Guide Series

It can be very tempting to purchase a time clock from sites such as Ebay as they can often appear as well featured as the more expensive alternatives.

In some cases the cheaper option looks, at least to the untrained eye, identical to the more expensive option but in practice that is usually far from the truth.

Perhaps it is understandable that smaller companies with smaller budgets may fall in to the low-cost option trap, but I have encountered many larger organisations that have purchased time clock hardware at a budget price only to find that reliability and integration issues create significant operational issues.

I have discussed in other articles, the pitfalls of purchasing budget priced products from Ebay. These include poor documentation, lack of support, incompatible power supplies, missing software  and product quality issues.

Perhaps a more concerning issue stems from the product manufacturer's internal policies surrounding pricing and distribution. The bulk of time clocks products are manufactured in China and many of the manufacturers have a pricing policy that favours the local Chinese market. To prevent local Chinese resellers from purchasing discounted products and reselling them in Australia for example, they install firmware that is region specific.

To get around this, the resellers hack the firmware to overcome the region issue and install their own proprietary "key".
This key will be required to re-access the time clock firmware.

This "custom firmware" is like a ticking time bomb in your time and attendance system. At some stage, the firmware will become outdated, a bug will surface, or a security update will be required and support from the reseller will be very unlikely. Furthermore, the manufacturer will not be able to assist because the firmware will be locked with a "hacked" key.

It is almost certain that at some stage, the saving achieved through buying a cheap time clock will be lost as the result of a product failure, loss of data or the cost of technical  assistance to resolve the issue...if that issue can actually be resolved.

As I write this article I have two very significant clients that have independently purchased time clock hardware that is incompatible with their requirements.

One client has a product that is not SSL compatible and while there is a firmware patch for this issue the locked firmware prevents us from applying the security patch. This client has a system with fifty retail outlets and while we have overcome the issue by introducing other secure communications methods, it is certain that the cost to our respective companies far exceeds the cost benefits of purchasing cheap time clock hardware.

The second client, a major food retailer, purchased discounted hardware as backup devices only to find that they were eventually installed they were incompatible with the approved version of the hardware.  This system became unworkable until approved products were installed.

The issue of incompatible product versions has become magnified in the last twelve months. The most common cause of product incompatibility is security issues.  SSL compatibility has become a vital requirement of time clock hardware. This requirement has become more important as IT Managers see a greater threat from hackers attempting to infiltrate their networks.

In many applications, while physical time clock hardware is located on site, the software is often cloud based and as such, secure connections are an imperative. In other applications, multiple sites may be involved and secure communications between sites are a requirement.

Every company that sells quality products has a clear idea why their products are better than the cheaper alternatives.
If they are well-informed they will know all the competing products and where their product sits in terms of pricing and quality. They will argue the merits of the quality product in very tangible terms.

For many though, when buying products for their business there seems to be an assumption that the cheapest product is the best buy. Perhaps this is because if there is uncertainty regarding the product it is best to minimise the risk by minimising the investment.

Time clocks and time and attendance systems are very complex products. For many reasons, end users are not likely to know how complicated their employee attendance is particularly when automation is required. My experience is that the better informed a client is the more they will gravitate to a more fully featured , well-supported and more costly time clock alternative.

If you would like to be more informed regarding the purchase of a new employee time clock or attendance system you can download a free guide here.

Jim Courtwood

Time & Attendance Consultant