Punch it! A hole opens up in a deployment plan

A company's plan to implement RFID cards checks out perfectly back at HQ, but onsite, an unexpected hiccup arises

Punch it! A hole opens up in a deployment plan
Credit: Anton Novikov/Thinkstock

You have to wonder how long a list of potential pitfalls you can expect for a new tech rollout. You can test and retest, keep an eye out for bugs, train employees, and do everything right, and a snag can still get through. Take the time we rolled out a new system for recording employee hours and fixed a puzzling problem with an off-the-wall solution (almost literally).

I've been around long enough to appreciate tech's advances, and I look back fondly at how far we've come -- such as our method of recording employee's time worked.

When I started at this company 20 years ago, salaried employees' hours were reported on a printed sheet that was filled out each day, and hourly employees used a manual clock with cards that would slide in for recording the current time. These were then delivered to payroll, where several employees would spend a day or more calculating the hours worked before entering them into the payroll software.

As time marched on, we advanced to a bar-coded swipe card that was passed through a reader attached to a clock. The clock was then polled remotely, passing the punches into the payroll software. The payroll employees were ecstatic at this improvement.

Tech upgrades march on

Recently, we were happy to roll out the latest change to make employees' lives easier -- a to move to near-field RFID (radio frequency identification) cards that would not need to be swiped and were less prone to the effects of dusty environments. These are cards with an imprinted magnetic stripe that the reader can detect when the worker waves it near the device. This is similar to the credit card readers a lot of stores are deploying.

Our company has multiple locations throughout the country, and we were to roll out the new cards one site at a time. All of our preparation and planning seemed to have paid off: The first several installs went flawlessly.

User error

It was beginning to feel routine ... then we had a hiccup.

The reader and cards for the next location were tested at our HQ and found to work perfectly. Therefore, we moved on to the next step: The cards and devices were transported to the location, installed, and run through several test swipes to assure the software at HQ could see the punches. All worked perfectly. It looked like another job well done.

But the next morning, we got a call from that location. One of the first employees to arrive for work that day said their swipes were rejected.

Puzzled, we went through the steps with him again and couldn't uncover anything unusual. Next, we asked him to try another employee's card: same result. After several more cards were rejected, there was nothing else to do but to check out the location ourselves. We ran a new batch of cards and grabbed a car for the road trip, completely perplexed as to what could be the cause.

Once we arrived, we very quickly detected the problem. The old swipe cards with a bar code had hung on a board beside the time clock. When they'd been delivered initially, we'd left the new cards in a stack beside the clock. One enterprising employee had taken it upon themselves to punch a hole in every new RFID card so it could be hung like the prior cards. The problem was they had punched through the magnetic strip, which voided the data and made the cards unusable.

We punched holes in the new cards in a nonvolatile area, rehung them, and went home with an old lesson reinforced once again: Always expect the unexpected. And know that in tech, you will continually be surprised one way or another.

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