When it comes to systems for staff and asset tracking there are many different options in the marketplace, each offering a unique way of solving the problem. This can potentially be confusing to the buyer looking to find the best system for their business needs.
Apart from functionality and cosmetic differences in the software, the main difference between various systems is the types of hardware used within in the system, both the recording devices and the checkpoints placed around the location where tracking will occur.
In this article I will give an overview and comparison of all the main checkpoints in use. Further information on each checkpoint type can be found in other articles on the UniGuard website.
What Are Checkpoints and How Do They Work?
Staff tracking systems monitor the movement of users through logging the interactions between a recording device carried by the user and checkpoints strategically placed around the work location or route. The recording device registers the unique identifying number stored on the checkpoint along with the time and date. This identifying number is matched to the location by an application on a central computer system. See How Tacking Works for a more detailed description.
What Are the Different Types of Checkpoints?
There are basically 8 main technologies used to verify the locations of user using a staff tracking system, these are:
- iButton (also called the Dallas Key)
- QR (Quick Response) Code
- Passive RFID (Radio Frequency Identification)
- Active RFID
- NFC (Near Field Communication)
- BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy)
- GPS (Global Positioning System) and geofences
GPS and geofences work in a different way to checkpoints and as such will be described in another article.
How Do the Different Checkpoints Rate?
Each of these checkpoints vary in the method information is stored on the checkpoint and the hardware that can be used with the checkpoints. This affects the cost, durability, reliability, and usability of the systems. A quick comparison is shown the following table, with each of these characteristics elaborated further below.
Which is the Most Durable Checkpoint?
By far the most durable system is the Robust recorders and associated iButton checkpoints. The UniGuard Robust recorder range has been built with the heavy handling of the security industry in mind. Over the years we have had security guards do many things to try and break the recorders including:
- Repeatedly bashed
- Dropped from a building
- Run over by a car
- Thrown in the sea
- Attached to a car battery
- Placed in a urinal.
Each time, the Robust recorder has still worked. The iButton checkpoints are just as tough and are designed to survive being scratched, repeatedly hit, or immersed in sea water. Although iButtons have a 10-year manufacturer’s warranty they last much longer even in harsh outdoor settings.
Which is the Best Value for Money?
This really depends on what you need. Although QR codes and barcodes are cheap, they have a lot of problems that will cost money in the long run, the most notable being that the QR code checkpoints are both easily damaged and copied by the staff. Many businesses are now moving away from these systems as a result.
Another alternative are smartphone apps, used in conjunction with NFC checkpoints which are more durable and much harder to copy than QR codes. Smartphone apps can even be downloaded onto the staffs’ own phones as long as their phone is compatible with both the app and can read NFC checkpoints.
Which is the Most Secure?
This depends on what you mean by secure. In terms of whether or not staff can replicate a checkpoint to swipe away from the work location at the predefined time, the iButton is the hardest. But all of these checkpoints are extremely hard to copy apart from QR codes and barcodes, which can be easily photographed and printed off.
If you are concerned about people getting the data off the checkpoint, then any system that requires specialist hardware is technically more secure. However, the only information contained on a checkpoint, regardless of the type is a unique identifying number. This information is useless to anyone who doesn’t have access to the central database where the tracking data, company information, or the software to access this data is store. UniGuard only uses secure cloud services.
Which System Has the Most Versatility?
That really depends on what you mean by versatility and what you are looking for in a system. All systems, even purpose-built ones can be designed to do more than record the time and location of the staff. It is common for systems to have lone worker features for example.
A good smartphone-based system (that works with NFC and Bluetooth LE) can take this further by giving the user the flexibility to determine the extra information that is collected. This can include custom designed checklists, written comments, photographs and user signatures.
Which is the Best Checkpoint to Use with Phones?
This will depend on the use case. To be able to work, any system that relies on smartphone apps, can only work on newer phone that are compatible with both the software and checkpoint hardware.
NFC checkpoints are small, cheap, durable and don’t rely on batteries, and so are suitable for both indoor and outdoor locations, such as building entrances and bin enclosures. However, staff need to intentionally swipe the checkpoint for a reading. This is good for precise positioning, especially in tight location such as toilet stalls but can be a problem if this impedes their work, for example a cleaner who needs both hands free.
Bluetooth beacons send a signal to the recorder negating the need for the staff member to swipe anything. However, beacons, need batteries and it’s better to avoid using them in some locations such as harsh environments or small rooms where the signal can leak out and cause interference.
Although barcodes and QR codes can be use with smartphones, it is not recommended due to lack of durability, reliability, or security.
My Staff Break Phones, Is There an Alternative?
An inexpensive alternative to staff damaging company phones, is to get them to use their own device. The problem with this is the potential for employees have the excuse to use their phone for non-work purposes during work time, distracting them from what they really should be doing.
Another alternative is to use hardware that has been purpose-built for the job, such as real-time recorders. These devices are tougher and more durable than smartphones and only have the functionality needed to complete the required tasks, no distractions. They are potentially more secure as well.
Real-time systems use RFID, which is just another form of NFC. There are two types of checkpoints, passive RFID which operate in the same way as NFC checkpoints, and active RFID which operates in a similar way to Bluetooth beacons.
Which is the Best Checkpoint to Use?
That all depends on what you want to use it for. The truth is all these different types of hardware have both good points and bad points. However, one system will always be better for any particular application, and many of the pitfalls of using a specific system over another can be avoided with awareness of how each hardware type works.
This is the reason UniGuard offers more than one kind of tracking hardware, so that our customers have the flexibility to mix and match the best system for each situation.
If you would like to find out more about which system is the best for your business, contact our sales team today.