Time is money, so they say, and while that age old business cliche may seem like a well worn way to lay guilt on procrastinators, it is also just straight out true when wages are doled out by the hour. Whether a wage slave at a fast food restaurant or high salaried upper-management, a person living in a capitalist society is paid for time worked. The value and ratio of time to money may vary greatly, but they are directly related. Time spent working should be time well paid.
But what if you could trick the system? What if you could work less without a dock in pay? This is the thought process behind time fraud – a futuristic sounding misdeed that is actually quite basic. The idea is, usually with the help of an accomplice, an employee is signed in to work and then proceeds to do something anything) else. The motivation behind such an act can vary, as can the method, but in the end the result is the same: the time-money continuum is disrupted, an employer gives a an employee money for nothing.
Biometric time and attendance solutions address this time crime by their very nature. The basic two-person process described above, colloquially called ‘buddy punching’, relies on the transferable nature of punch cards and PINs. A truant worker wanting a full paycheck just needs to have someone willing to sign him in, as non-biometric systems don’t have a way of detecting human presence. Biometrics change that, though, and bring a higher level of accountability to the process.
Because a biometric factor is something you are instead of something you know (and can tell to other people) or something you have (and can give away to partners in time-crime), buddy punching simply can’t work, at least without some seriously impressive spoofing skills on behalf of the punch-clock bandit.
Time theft stretches beyond the unsupervised shift work, though, and can actually be a symptom of systemic workplace corruption. Imagine a buddy punching scenario in which the person punching the card is actually the boss, and the worker has never stepped foot on work premises. It’s a kind of time theft that is not uncommon in the public sector, and the fraud who ends up draining funds from the state is labeled a ‘ghost worker’.
In a guest feature that FindBiometrics ran last year at this time, Chirs Palmer of Anviz Global cites the following statistic:
It is believed that the Kenyan government is losing roughly 1.8 billion Kenyan Shillings, over 20 million U.S. dollars, per year to ghost worker payments.
That is a serious drain on public funds, which aren’t just about financial bottom lines, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. “Citizens rely on publicly-funded education, healthcare, transport, and security to function on a daily basis,” noted Palmer in his writing. “The loss of public funds, in great-enough quantity surely is detrimental to the development of the state and country as a whole.”
Biometrics, once again, save the day. By implementing a time and attendance system that uses biometric authentication to ensure a user is on site brings accountability to the books and helps weed out corruption. Indeed, even when claims of corruption would be deemed an exaggeration this kind of biometric attendance tracking can bring a refreshing level of transparency to government work.
That is, as long as deployment goes according to plan. As accurate as biometric time and attendance systems can be, and as much as they highlight the efficiency gaps and fraudulent behavior in business and government, they still require acceptance. Unfortunately, a more scrutinizing eye on time tracking has been met with resistance, sometimes in the form of simple rejection.
In India, this is certainly the case. In October, the Modi government implemented biometric attendance tracking in order to increase the transparency of its operations. The effect was a government working for its people: the employees would have their time sheets posted online for all to see. However, last we heard update on this initiative, some departments were lagging behind in terms of actually clocking in at all – with the Defense Ministry being particularly low on user acceptance. The Department of Personnel and Training, which is in charge of the initiative has cracked the whip, convinced that biometrics will work in cutting down on graft despite the tech’s acceptance being less than ubiquitous among its own employees.
India is not alone in facing this sort of resistance. In North America, biometric time and attendance tracking has been met with protest and conflicts with workers unions. Arguments of fairness, transparency and cutting down time fraud are met with the old stigma of biometric privacy concerns. On both sides of the debate there are issues of trust, and the divide is presenting an adoption barrier for large enterprises like Air Canada and municipal governments in the United States that would like to implement biometric time tracking.
That having been said, the one thing that can be agreed on from all side fo the topic – the employers, the employees, the righteous protesters and the guilty frauds – time is money, and biometrics are capable of making sure it stays that way.
Join us throughout May as we continue to examine biometrics in time and attendance. Be a part of the conversation by following FindBiometrics on Twitter and tweet using the hashtag #FBTimeMonth.
May 13, 2015 – by Peter B. Counter