Clocking In Systems: Traditional vs. Cloud Based

Discover the benefits of moving from traditional clocking in machines, to cloud-based timesheets...
Sean QuinnPosted on Friday, July 8th 2022

If you're looking to move your business away from old-fashioned paper time sheets, you may be wondering what the differences are between traditional time-card clocking in machines and newer cloud-based systems. Or perhaps you're currently using a traditional system, but want to explore other options. We've compared the pros and cons of both systems, so you can make the best choice for your small business.

The basics

Traditional clock in machines are fixed terminals in your building, which employees can clock in to in various ways. This might mean keying in a unique pin code, swiping a card or fob, or using their fingerprint.

Cloud-based systems tend to rely on an app for your employees to clock in. These apps may run on a tablet at a fixed point (in a similar set-up to a traditional system) but most importantly, can also be run on a mobile device. This has lots of benefits, which we'll go into later. Employees may log in to an account using a password or pin, and will usually clock in with some kind of biometric data (like facial recognition).

Which clock-in system is more secure?

The main flaw with traditional clock in systems is the opportunity for buddy clock-ins. If another employee knows their colleague's pin or has their key fob, there's nothing to stop them clocking in on their behalf. Not only does this mean they'll be paid for time not spent at work, it also creates serious safety issues. It's vital to have an up-to-date and accurate list of employees on site at any one time, should there be an emergency or an incident which needs investigating.

With cloud-based systems, buddy clock-ins can be eliminated by the use of modern facial recognition software. Even if an employee shares their pin with colleagues, the biometric security ensures they're the only one who can clock in.

How can employees clock-in if you have multiple sites?

App-based clocking in systems really come into their own for businesses that operate on multiple sites, especially if those sites are temporary or change daily, such as construction sites or engineers visiting call-outs.

Whereas traditional machines require permanent installation at a site, cloud-based systems can run on any tablet or mobile. A new site can be set up with minimal effort, and employees visiting multiple sites can clock in at each one with their mobile device. You can also add as many sites to your account as you'd like, without increasing the cost of running the system - something that can't be said for traditional machines.

Worried that employees might clock in whilst they're still at home? Most cloud-based systems alleviate this concern with geofencing. As the app can detect the device's GPS location, employees will only be allowed to clock-in once they're within the boundaries of your site. You'll also be able to view the GPS location at each clock-in from your administrator account, for added peace of mind.

What if my site is in the middle of nowhere?

Unfortunately, as they usually require WiFi or 4G data, you might run into issues if you're hoping to use a cloud-based system and your site has no signal whatsoever.

You might want to consider a traditional clock-in system which stores data locally in this case - or you could utilise the manual functions on most app based systems, where employees can add their own timesheets once they have internet connection.

How will the timesheet data be stored?

Many traditional systems store your data locally, so it must be retrieved by plugging a USB into the machine to download it, then uploaded to your computer. This adds an extra administrative burden to you, and also means you're only able to access recent data when you're on site.

App based systems store your data in the cloud, using modern encryption methods. You'll be able to access it either via an app or a central web-based portal, which will be kept updated with live information including your employees' clock-in times and locations. Being cloud-based gives you the flexibility to check the information you need quickly, whether you're on site or away from your desk.

Can I integrate them with my payroll system?

For both traditional and cloud-based time keeping software, you're usually able to export your data in a CSV format and view it as an Excel spreadsheet. Most modern systems also integrate with online accounting software such as Xero and Sage, so you can run your payroll and rest assured that all the correct timesheets have been carried across seamlessly.

How much will it cost to set up and run?

As traditional clock-in machines are purpose built machines which may require professional installation, the inital outlay can be huge. This can be a particular problem for small businesses, as you might only have a handful of employees clocking in and would struggle to justify the cost of purchasing a machine. You'll also need a machine at every site you operate on, which can quickly multiply the cost of set up further.

On top of this, lots of systems charge separately for the software which is required to make use of your clock-in data - and you'll often be locked in to a monthly or annual contract, with costly cancellation fees if you change your mind.

In contrast, app-based systems can be very low cost to set up, making them a great option for smaller businesses. As they can run on your existing hardware, you may not need to purchase anything at all. If you don't already have devices to hand, you can opt for low-cost tablets or smartphones, so long as they fit the basic requirements for the app you're using (usually a front facing camera and internet connectivity).

Some cloud-based systems do charge annually, so it's worth checking what you're signing up for. If you'd prefer to try before you buy, TimeKeeper offer a 14 day free trial, with no card details required, and your subscription is monthly with no tie-ins or cancellation fees.

What if I need support?

If you do opt for a cloud-based system, it's also worth checking where the business is based. The last thing you need is for issues to arise at 9AM when your employees are trying to clock in for their work day, only to find out that the customer support for your system is based in another time zone. TimeKeeper specialise in providing timesheet software for small businesses in the UK and Ireland, so you can always access human support during business hours.

The bottom line

There are pros and cons to both traditional and app based time and attendance systems, so you need to understand your own small business' needs before investing in either.

Have any questions about how cloud-based time tracking could work for your business? Get in touch at

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