I often check in with my past consulting clients to see how things are going. It's a good way to build client relationships as well as to generate additional business. Recently, a call to one of my clients went something like this: "All the computers are working fine. Now, if only we could say the same for our old mechanical time clock machine!"
Fortunately, I was able to turn this reply into new business. You see, some time earlier in the year, I had read something on PunchClock, a neat piece of software from Smart Software Development designed to computerize the entire time clock system—from tracking employees' hours to compiling payroll reports. When I mentioned it to the client, his first response was that it would probably cost too much. After I told him that the software only costs $50 and requires just one dedicated computer, he was definitely interested in learning more. It turns out that he happened to have an older Pentium system sitting unused in the storeroom and enough money in his budget to purchase the software and hire me to implement a computerized time clock system for his business.
Installing the software and setting up the system went so smoothly that my client was extremely happy to trade in his old mechanical time clock for a new computerized system. Also, the automated payroll report system saves him and his office manager time and money each week. The entire operation was such a success both for me and for my client that I thought I would let my fellow consultants in on this great product.
About the software
PunchClock is compatible with Windows 95/98/Me as well as Windows NT/2000/XP, and it comes in two versions: PunchClock and PunchClock Professional. The standard version supports up to 150 employees and is designed to run on a dedicated computer, meaning that all employees have to punch in and out from a single computer. The Professional version, on the other hand, supports up to 200 employees and runs over a network. This means that employees can punch in and out from multiple locations in the office. The five-workstation package sells for $59.99 while the 70-workstation package sells for $299.99.
Of course, in the situation with my client, I used the standard package and set up a dedicated computer running PunchClock by the side door right where the old mechanical time clock was mounted to the wall. A demo version of PunchClock is available for download from their Web site. The demo version will allow you to experiment with all of the features in the program but will only allow you to manage a maximum of three employees.
Once you've downloaded and installed PunchClock, you're ready to configure it. For this part of the operation, I sat down with my client's office manager after hours and, together, we set up the program for all of their 17 employees. For the purposes of this article, I'll use the demo version and some phony employees. So, to begin, just locate the PunchClock icon on the Start menu.
The first step in the operation will be to create an administrator password, which you'll do in the Administrator Log In dialog box. Once you click OK, you'll see the main PunchClock window, as shown in Figure A. You'll notice that the only available menus are File and Help—the other two menus are unavailable.
|When you first start the program, you see the main Punch Clock window.|
To continue, pull down the File menu and select the Activate Administrator Functions. You'll then see the Administrator Log In dialog box and will be prompted to enter your password. Once you do so, you'll find that the Manage and Reports menus are activated.
At this point, you'll pull down the Manage menu and select the Options command. When you do, you'll see the Options dialog box, where you can configure the program to adhere to the client's payroll rules. As you can see, on the General tab, shown in Figure B, you'll begin by entering the company name and address.
|You enter the company name and address on the General tab.|
While I won't show it here, on the Passwords tab, you'll find a single check box, which allows you to activate the employee PIN feature. This feature is designed to require that employees enter a personal ID number before they can punch in and out. If you want to discourage employees from punching each other in and out, it's a good idea to enable this feature. You can also change the Administrator password on this tab.
On the Employees tab, as shown in Figure C, you can specify whether you want to use time rounding on the payroll report. You can choose 15-minute and 30-minute rounding. In addition, you can configure how overtime is accrued in the company—either after a 40-hour week or after an 8-hour day.
|The Employee tab allows you to configure how you want to handle time rounding and overtime on the payroll report.|
On the Security tab, shown in Figure D, you can lock down the computer running PunchClock to prevent improper punch ins and outs as well as to prevent unauthorized tampering with the data recorded by PunchClock and stored in the report. As you can see, you can remove everything from the desktop and configure a password prompt at both startup and close. I recommend choosing all of these options when configuring a stand-alone system.
|You should select all the options on the Security tab to completely lock down a stand-alone computer running PunchClock.|
To complete this part of the configuration, click the Apply button. When you do, you'll return to the main window.
To add employees, pull down the Manage menu and select the Add An Employee command. When you do, you'll see the New Employee Record dialog box. As you can see in Figure E, you can assign each employee a PIN, set the hourly and overtime rate, specify a shift, and enter a social security number.
|The New Employee Record dialog box contains every setting you need.|
Once you've entered all the employee records, you'll need to disable the administrator functions. To do so, pull down the File menu and select the Deactivate Administrator Functions.
Once you've configured PunchClock, teaching the employees how to use it is a snap. As you can see in Figure F, all employee have to do is select their name from the list and click the In button. You'll notice that the Out button is unavailable.
|If you've enabled the PIN feature, a number pad will then appear and prompt employees to enter their PIN. To complete the punch in, click OK.|
Once the employee punches in, the In button becomes unavailable and the Out button becomes available. In addition, you'll notice that the status bar shows you the time and date of the last action. As you can imagine, this will make it easy for the miserly office manager to see at a glance who is punching in late and out early as well as to quickly find out who is in and who is out of the office. Punching out is just as simple. Employees just select their name from the list and click the Out button.
Handling everyday goof-ups
Of course, there will be days when an employee forgets to punch in or out. Fortunately, PunchClock takes that into account and provides you with the Employee Time Editor, available from the Manage menu, which allows the administrator to easily fix these types of errors.
Creating payroll reports
PunchClock has two payroll report formats—a single employee report and a multiple employee report. The single employee report format features two report styles—daily hours and time card. The latter shows all time entries. At the end of the pay period, all the office manager must do is log in as the administrator, pull down the Reports menu, and select one of the payroll report formats. The report is then displayed in a window where it can be viewed and printed.
The office manager I was working with was amazed at how easy it was to generate each of these reports. However, she mentioned to me that, in most cases, using the multiple employee report would be the quickest way for her to complete payroll since it automatically totals all employee hours. She said that she would still use the single employee reports for record keeping and to look for problem areas.
With that in mind, let's take a look at how you go about generating a multiple employee payroll report. To begin, pull down the Reports menu and select the Multiple Payroll Report command. When you do, you'll see the Multiple Payroll Report dialog box, as shown in Figure G, and you can choose the pay period as well as several other options.
|Once you choose the pay period, you can opt to include social security numbers and the company address in the report.|
After you've made your selections, just click the Create button and you'll see the Payroll Report window, as shown in Figure H. To get a hard copy of the report, just click the Print This Report button.
|The Multiple Payroll Report offers a quick way to automatically total all employee hours in one fell swoop.|
Don't forget the backups
While PunchClock's security features allow you to keep the data safe from unauthorized tampering, you still need to implement a data backup program of some sort. In my particular case, I choose to install a second hard disk in the dedicated computer and schedule a backup program to automatically back up PunchClock data files after hours every day to the second hard disk. PunchClock stores all its data in the C:\Program Files\PunchClock\data folder.
On the first payroll day, after using PunchClock for the entire pay period, I spent the afternoon with the office manager going over the results and answering questions. One of the questions had to do with whether it was possible to export the data from PunchClock. She liked to track and graph payroll data in Excel.
Unfortunately, PunchClock doesn't provide any exporting capabilities. However, each employee's time entries are stored in a non-encrypted plain text file, which makes it simple to import the raw data into Excel. Of course, once in Excel, the data needed to be massaged a bit to make working with it easier. I later spent some time creating a custom template in Excel into which she could easily import the data and immediately begin working with it.
Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.