Biometric VARs: Beware Of Hidden Challenges
Installing hand scanners to track time and attendance in 140 factories worldwide is easy. That is, easy compared to convincing 38,000 employees that biometrics is a good thing.
This is the story of a contract pulled from the wreckage of a deal that went bad on many fronts. Owens-Illinois, Inc. (O-I) (Toledo, OH) is a producer of glass and plastics packaging products with more than 140 locations and 38,000 employees worldwide. O-I gave the green light to a VAR to install a Recognition Systems, Inc. (RSI) (Campbell, CA) biometric time and attendance solution in several of its plants. With a mix of religions and a union mentality at O-I, it was anybody's guess how the system would be received. To make a long story short, it wasn't received well at all, chiefly because the objections raised by the employees proved too much for the VAR to overcome.
Experience Pays Off
One VAR's failure is another's victory, and for that Jim Wendt, president of Time and Technology (T&T) (Neenah, WI), is grateful. As a matter of fact, he's made search and rescue missions part of his business philosophy. "We often find our customers in a bit of desperation, and we capitalize on the problems they're having," he explains. But what made Wendt so confident he could succeed where failure had come so quickly for the first VAR? "We had been working with RSI for 12 years. Psychologically, we have the experience to do this kind of installation in a multicultural, blue collar, union workforce," he said. "If you're not familiar with what people are concerned about, it can cause problems." Wendt set out to convince the masses at O-I that the hand scanner was the best thing for the company and its workers, and that no one was going to get hurt using biometrics.
In 1999, Wendt approached the first facility. "We turned the mindset around because we're comfortable enough with the technology to answer the questions and alleviate fears," he said. Those fears included religious distress regarding interface with the technology and union concerns with management's control of the device. "I'm used to engineering questions, not flipping through chapter and verse of the Bible to prove putting your hand in a scanner won't harm you," Wendt said. "I've learned more about religion while implementing biometric systems than I did in 12 years of Catholic school."
A union workforce posed another barrier to winning acceptance of the hand scanner, but that hurdle was cleared by proving biometric solutions keep all parties honest. "The union's concerns were alleviated when we showed them this neutral device eliminates any chance for management to say, 'I'm not going to pay you because you didn't punch.' If it says you scanned, you scanned. It protects the union as well as it protects the company."
A time and attendance VAR has to be diplomatic, and beyond cultural, religious, and union concerns it must tread lightly when it comes to the "buddy punching" sales pitch. "The last thing I'm going to do is walk in and tell a manager his employees are buddy punching. Some managers would acknowledge it, but if you walked into some companies and said that, they'd throw you out. They believe they have the best people on the planet working for them," Wendt relates. "The truth is, buddy punching can't be quantified, but biometrics prevents people from even trying it."
Plugging It In
O-I's corporate office mandated all its facilities make the switch, on their own time, to the biometric solution. To date, T&T has completed 34 installations in the United States. The solution calls on RSI's HandPunch 3000 hand scanner running T&T's biometric control and management software. Employees clock in by placing a hand in the scanner, sending two-way data in real time via standard CAT-5 Ethernet cable (which also delivers power to the low-voltage unit) to the company's IBM RS 6000 mainframe. From there, T&T-configured interfaces integrate time and attendance data with other enterprise applications, including accounting and payroll.
Built-in controls report problems within four minutes. Wendt estimates 70% to 80% of the problems are rectified from T&T headquarters within 20 minutes. Customers who have been running the system for more than a year claim 1% in payroll savings, which will translate to $10 million company-wide.
The investment of time and effort preparing its workforce for the biometric system was most likely a bigger concern for O-I than the $30,000 to $50,000 it pays per installation. Fortunately the company had confidence in Wendt, who knows that investment very well.Questions about this article? E-mail the author at MattP@corrypub.com.