Keeping Tabs With Finger Scanning

Woolworths, an Australian food retailer, scans more than groceries. The company installed a biometrics system to keep track of its 80,000 employees.

With more than 760 supermarkets, food stores, and liquor and petrol outlets – staffed by more than 80,000 employees – Woolworths is a leading food retailer in Australia. To keep track of these employees, the company incorporated biometrics into its time and attendance system. Today, Fingerscan biometric identification units from Identix (Sunnyvale, CA) are used to increase labor efficiency and accuracy.

Previously, the company used old-fashioned timekeeping books at each store. Employees signed their names and documented the time they started and finished their days. An office clerk keyed in information at a later time. Scheduling was also done manually by branch managers using corporate guidelines.

Increasing Accuracy
According to Peter Ives at Identix in Austrailia, Woolworths wanted more accurate scheduling of its huge workforce. "A large part-time workforce in a multiple-shift environment requires flexible staffing during public holidays, school holidays, and sale periods," Ives explained. "Scheduling accuracy is essential in an industry where gross margins are 3% to 5%. Woolworths doesn't want to be overstaffed at any time. Coupled with scheduling is the need to know exactly who's scheduled to work and what skill sets they have. It's useful to identify exactly who's working during a particular shift to ensure they are working in the correct department. Biometrics provides a solution to this requirement."

According to Ives, systems integrator Fujitsu Australia, which since disbanded, was responsible for developing custom software for Woolworths' front end and back office in-store retail system. Woolworths presented Fujitsu with its need for an integrated payroll and rostering application. Fujitsu Australia was responsible for the rollout and development of custom software to integrate the system over an RS-485 local area network (LAN). Data output is integrated into a labor management system that also ties into Woolworths' scheduling system. According to Ceslo Fraga, Fujitsu Australia's former business development manager (now Identix's regional director for Latin America) there were no other biometric units available in the market at that time. The only competition came from traditional time and attendance clocks.

In February 1994, the rollout started with a Sydney-based store. The bulk rollout took about one year, placing one Fingerscan unit in each store. Fraga said that, over time, more units were added to each store, and more stores were added to the Woolworths chain.

Justifying Costs
Fujitsu Australia kept a log of all calls related to the Woolworths project, categorizing them into product failure, operator error, software failure, or power failure. "From a product perspective," explained Ives, "this tracking showed a mean time between failure (MTBF) rate of greater than eight years. The fact that Woolworths is continuing to roll out this project is an indication of its value."

As far as future plans for upgrades or additions, Woolworths plans to purchase additional Fingerscan units as new stores are built or acquired. Ives said the customer is looking at purchasing another 50 units – 45 for time and attendance and five for access control.

Nancy Senger