Electronic Time Cards Improve Productivity and Data Collection

Dan Kaplan

For at least a decade, corporations, universities, and other large organizations have been using electronic time sheets, saving time and money in payroll and human resources departments and giving managers a quick and thorough accounting of how their employees are spending their time. Electronic time sheets also conserve paper, eliminate the agony of digging through paper files to find old records, and provide a wealth of other information including logs of used sick and vacation time, and other types of absences.

"They were developed because the paper process was becoming so cumbersome and time-consuming for staff," said Jason Levine, LGC's senior application developer who recently introduced a new electronic time sheet software program to the organization. "Definitely, the return on investment goes up exponentially the longer the company uses electronic time sheets."

The technology expert said that the larger the organization, the more reasons there are to switch from paper to electronic time sheets. For a company already using an electronic payroll system, the transition is relatively easy and quick; likewise, the results are immediate, starting with an improvement in how employees manage their time. "It's easier to see where your time is going and to keep track of it," Levine said. "With a paper system, it's difficult to look back, and you end up either duplicating the recordkeeping or not referring to earlier time records."

Electronic time cards offer a means of analyzing records over time. When a supervisor wants to know how much time an employee spends daily on a particular task, for example, he or she can call up the record, a task that could take days, weeks, or even longer when it requires sifting through boxes of paper.

"It's easier to see where your time is going and keep track of it," Levine said, adding that electronic time cards also make it possible to search for codes and comments. The only way to conduct a search of paper time sheets is by rummaging through a box, Levine continued. By contrast, electronic time sheets can be searched with the use of a data base and search terms.

Not every electronic time card system is the same, however. Levine said that some include a process for requesting time off while others provide a place to track projects and enroll in company benefits programs. In addition, some electronic time sheet programs are hosted externally, while others are installed on-site or depend on a combination of inside and external servers. At LGC, for example, the new electronic time slips depend on Dynamics GP, a Microsoft system that was already being used by the organization, and Green Shades, an externally hosted web portal.

The learning curve is another issue. Levine held a training session for LGC staff and ran a test for two pay periods, when employees filled out both paper and electronic time cards. "Learning it is usually seen as the largest obstacle," Levine said. "You're changing the employee culture." At LGC, he said, he used training to collect feedback and refine testing.

In most instances, the introduction of electronic time sheets improves productivity and saves time. But Levine cautions against rushing in to make a change without first doing the necessary homework, starting with examining how the current system is operating.

"The determining factor depends on the payroll system the company is using. Larger companies with more substantial electronic payroll systems are invested, geared up for a system that ties in," he said. "Smaller organizations without existing electronic payroll systems may be better off with an entirely hosted solution."

But there are certain to be payoffs by going electronic: payroll and human resources are likely to save time and money from the start, while in other departments, the rewards accumulate slowly, but steadily. "They open up a wealth of data you can use for other things," Levine said.

Daniel Kaplan is the Chief Information Officer for the New Hampshire Local Government Center. He may be contacted by email or 603.320.3342.