Business

Time clock handles pizza orders, too

Kronos system offers tablet-like multitasking

Besides checking employees in, InTouch lets them do things like check schedules, request time off, or pay for pizza with payroll deductions.

No amount of high technology will ever make it fun for workers to punch a time clock. But a new device from Kronos Inc. in Chelmsford could help employees and employers better manage their work lives, by doing a lot more than checking workers in and out.

The InTouch looks more like a tablet computer or a smartphone than a traditional factory timekeeper. An employee can manage a host of workplace services through the clock’s touch-screen terminal. He could check his schedule for next week, ask for time off, or request pizza from the company cafeteria and have the cost deducted from next week’s paycheck.

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InTouch can also display training videos or news headlines and place a phone call to a human resources staffer if a worker needs a human response.

And businesses can create custom software apps tailored to their specific needs.

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“It’s much more than a clock,’’ said Aron Ain, Kronos’s chief executive. “We really think we’ve invented something here that’s going to take an everyday business practice and revolutionize it.’’

Kronos specializes in “workforce management,’’ the business of ensuring that workers do their jobs and get the pay and benefits they deserve. The company introduced the first computer-controlled time clock in 1979. Today, it employs 3,200 people worldwide, with 1,000 of them in Massachusetts, and serves half of Fortune magazine’s 1,000 largest US companies.

InTouch is the company’s first new time clock design in a decade, but time clocks generate only one-third of Kronos’s revenue. The rest comes from the software that runs the clocks, which must be tailored to the thousands of companies that use Kronos products.

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Workforce Central, the company’s management software, lets personnel managers track crucial variables like vacations, sick time, and overtime. The software also helps businesses comply with local, state, and federal labor laws and with union contracts.

Like many other software companies, Kronos is shifting to the Internet cloud.

Instead of buying software and running it in-house, a customer can pay Kronos to provide the service through a remote data center.

Kronos is also adding mobility to the traditional time clock. It offers software apps that let employees check in and out through their smartphones, using the phone’s satellite navigation feature to ensure that the worker really is at the work site.

Kronos’s services cost between $60 and $150 per employee, plus annual fees for running and upgrading the software.

Once publicly traded, Kronos was acquired by private investors in 2007 for $1.74 billion.

The company still reports annual earnings publicly, which it is not required to do, maybe because the numbers are so good. Kronos earned $217 million on revenue of $799.8 million in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. Revenue for the year rose 8 percent, and profit grew 14 percent.

And while many other US companies seem allergic to hiring, Kronos added 567 workers to the payroll in the last fiscal year and is looking to hire 200 more.

Bersin & Associates, a California consulting firm that tracks the industry, estimates the total North American market for Kronos’s services at $1.6 billion, giving the company a 50 percent share.

Analyst Josh Bersin said there are 18 or so rival companies, but none are large enough to represent much of a threat to Kronos. “They have become so dominant that the smaller companies can’t keep up,’’ he said.

Kronos’s fastest-growing markets are overseas. It is already established in the United Kingdom and France and is finding more customers in the rest of Europe. Brazil is another promising market.

And then there are the giants of Asia. Kronos entered the Chinese market in 2007 and began selling in India a year later. Ain estimates Chinese companies employ 840 million people, but that only 10 percent use modern workforce management systems.

“They’re just tremendous opportunities for us,’’ Ain said.

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at bray@globe.com.
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