Biometric technology has brought a new dimension to personnel management but its’ introduction wasn’t without its’ teething problems.
Conventional fingerprint technologies were traditionally designed to rely on unobstructed contact between the fingerprint and the sensor – something that is not realistic with excess mud and dirt a permanent fixture on the hands of the majority of site workers.
Things have dramatically improved thankfully and a fast growing number of sites, including the London Olympic projects, are using biometrics for their timekeeping, security and health and safety records.
Many construction sites however still use either a paper based sign in procedure or a static turnstile with swipe card access.
Both have their disadvantages. The manual procedure is open to abuse with inaccuracies and legibility and the static turnstiles are unable to be moved easily, typically only offer a single access point, can be expensive and cards can be shared between workers.
With so much more legislative information required from construction sites, it is proving much more challenging for site management to manage a project and complete all the required ‘site based paperwork’ and get it back to the office in the correct format. Data such as time sheets, carbon emissions for travel and waste management are all essential elements to a business’ success.
For businesses to stay competitive, it is the availability and analysis of this information that can give it the edge.
The latest in Biometric technology
The key word in the latest biometric technology is ‘mobile’. With the pace of mobile and smart phone technology and the improvement of biometric algorithms, it is now possible to have robust and reliable devices on construction sites. Whilst they can still be fixed at a turnstile, they can also be moved easily around a site, using GPS to deliver and record location specific information.
The biometrics are combined with a touch screen interface to communicate with individuals and capture critical data. With mobile biometric devices being able to connect to a central server, it is possible to manage a site remotely and instantaneously deal with any workforce issues.
Mobility allows for flexibility of access points on site to fit in with the program logistics. It answers the multiple needs of management needing quality data because, not only does it capture time and attendance but it can also capture travel details of all individuals to ensure carbon footprint management, energy readings, waste management and control of collections and deliveries, so whilst saving money it also drastically improves the quality of data received for environmental, safety and commercial management teams.
Multiple access points can also be set up and moved easily with all data directed to a hosted web service which can be accessed centrally or on tablets or Smartphones. With modern network technology, devices can sync between themselves as well as a central server allowing for faster updates and greater redundancy if any node in the network fails.
Static biometric access points can be effective on single projects where the entry point is fixed and only limited information is needed and where accuracy is not essential. However, the mobile data capacity comes into its’ own when the need for accurate data on one or interconnecting multiple projects within larger programmes is essential.
It is proven than using ‘real time’ biometric technology will provide a 20% improvement in attendance accuracy compared to a paper based system.
The most common hurdles when introducing biometrics to a construction site are cultural – the industry is used to using manual systems and biometrics often raise concerns over privacy, trust and the usability of new technology.
Any concerns have been addressed by hundreds of sites however and there is plenty of information and advice available on how best to implement biometric site security without alienating any workers.
Another barrier for construction firms is the desire to streamline their existing procedures – not introduce additional systems and technologies. To overcome this challenge some biometric handsets have the ability to integrate multiple applications to actually reduce the number of existing devices.
It goes without saying that industry inertia also affects any new investments, including biometric devices.
Biometric devices, such as Simeio, will simply grow the range of applications and functions they deliver. For example an Emissions Module is being developed that enables companies to measure and report on business travel against targets, energy readings and waste management, thus helping to reduce the newly introduced carbon tax.
Real time reporting will also allow for more flexible work force allocation and allow any issues to be dealt with immediately.
In an industry where the number of different cultures and nationalities are working on a single site is growing rapidly, biometrics are also seen as the way forward in overcoming barriers such as language, both spoken and written. Devices can provide multilingual interfaces and automatically display a worker’s native language, as through a biometric interface the individual is known. A contractor has greater confidence that health and safety requirements will be understood as they will be explained in the workers native language.
Mobile devices allow for immediate notification through alerts from a central server, as well as update health and safety information dynamically. This keeps the workforce up to date with the most relevant and accurate information. Through biometrics, individuals can also be targeted with notifications specific to them.
Biometric information is hard to fake. Biometric devices prevent fraud and mistakes on workforce time sheet management. As mentioned, there is some resistance to biometric devices but it is sure to become standard in construction and other remote working industries especially as the hardware and software now provides the accuracy and confidence to use in “non-clean” environments.
Return on investment remains the number one driver for the future of biometrics however with a 20%-40% improvement in the accuracy of working hours reported by sites, it won’t be long before manual systems become a thing of the past.