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Integrated Workforce Management (WFM) Platforms: Fact or Fiction? - Part 2

Written By: Predrag Jakovljevic
Published On: July 23 2010



Part 1 of this blog series analyzed the major modules of integrated workforce management (WFM) suites that organizations can deploy to better schedule and assign work in their production and distribution facilities, and in retail stores. Concrete examples of commercially available products included those from Kronos and RedPrairie Corporation, given those two vendors’ notable recent moves in the WFM field.

While Part 1 detailed the data collectiontime and attendance (T&A), labor activities, and absence management modules of WFM (and their respective importance), Part 2 will focus on the forecasting and scheduling, reporting and analytics, and talent management parts of WFM.



Forecasting and Scheduling applications are all about deploying the right personnel to the right place and at the right time.  The idea here is to generate optimized work schedules based on forecasted labor demand by considering the staffing needs, employee skill level/availability, and work rules (and by possibly sharing resources across stores and other facilities).

Similar principles were explained in my recent series The Magic Behind Planning and Executing (Optimal) Service Supply Chains, which focused on the field service workforce. In fact, with its recent acquisition of AiPoint’s shift planning capabilities, ClickSoftware Technologies hopes to expand beyond its field service strongholds into retail, health care, and other vertical segments.

In any case, the RedPrairie Enterprise Workforce Management (EWM) suite features a strong labor forecasting module, which allows companies to select the forecasting model with the lowest error. Namely, companies can use the Fixed Model, i.e., manually assign a forecasting model, whereby the configured algorithm and settings will be used to generate all forecasts.

The alternative is Auto Selection, in which case the forecasting engine iterates through a list of forecasting models and optimizes the model parameters for each of them. The engine then selects the model that provides the smallest mean absolute percentage error (MAPE) measure. Planners can then run their forecasts using their selected forecast model either on per metric or per business unit basis.

Schedule Shifts, Crews, Etc.

Based on the established labor forecastworkforce scheduling applications then automatically schedule required employee breaks, automate application of state and federal leave regulations with paid time off, and restrict available clock-ins. Simply said, under-scheduling at peak hour results in lost revenues and low customer service levels, whereas over-scheduling translates into wasted payroll expenditure.

The automated scheduling engines’ primary default objectives are to provide the most accurate solution to meet labor demand, comply with US Federal and State laws, rules and regulations, and adhere to the client’s own and industry best practices, all while incorporating employee preferences and attributes. To that end, RedPrairie EWM applies the customer’s configurable constraints to build the optimal formula and produce the best possible weekly schedule for the company.

Every business has constraints that must be satisfied, which come from the way the company has defined its business and/or the environment in which it operates its business. Constraints can come from availability, seniority, punch rules, government regulation (i.e., mandatory breaks, considerations for minors, etc.), employee contracts (e.g., minimum hours), employee preferences, and budgets. Constraint can be solved either by imposing fixed priorities (e.g., availability vs. minimum hours) or by weighting some factors as more or less critical, and as defined by the customer.

For its part, Kronos Workforce Scheduler allows managers to plan staff coverage by shift, employee, or job description and to react promptly when unforeseen circumstances put productivity at risk. The offering also features a dedicated forecasting engine that enables retailers and other service-oriented businesses to match employee labor to business volume efficiently while adhering to predetermined labor standards. Furthermore, Kronos' optimization-based offering features comprehensive business and labor forecasting engines that can accurately forecast business, calculate labor needs, and create a schedule that matches labor to volume more efficiently.

Kronos' Workforce Scheduling Product Family

Kronos has recently rebranded its Workforce Scheduling family into individual modules so that customers can use the product(s) they need today and add additional modules as their needs progress. The following is an overview of the Kronos Workforce Scheduling family:

Workforce Scheduler -- Automatically creates optimized schedules and call lists that place the best-fit employees in the right place, at the right time, and at the lowest possible cost.  Workforce Scheduler considers a wide range of factors while building schedules, including the forecast of anticipated traffic, labor costs, budgets, staff availability, and automatically applies a comprehensive set of configurable business rules, including employee preferences and compliance with appropriate laws, skills/certifications, policies, and collective bargaining agreements. These same compliance factors are taken into consideration with the solution’s single-click Call List feature to identify available, qualified employees to fill open shifts.

Workforce Mobile Scheduler -- Automates the process of filling shifts that become available after the schedule has been created (e.g., employee calls in sick).  With a single click, managers quickly (and fairly) fill open shifts using two-way mobile communication.  Open shift requests are made to all eligible employees (identified via the Workforce Scheduler Call List), and the employees use their mobile devices to accept or decline the shifts. Scheduling managers are then notified of shift acceptance in a single message, completing the communication loop. This is a big time-saving factor for managers, allowing them to focus on more strategic activities, while at the same time maintaining the appropriate staffing levels to ensure high quality customer service or patient care.

Workforce Forecast Manager -- Accurately forecasts business demand and staffing requirements expected across each day in increments as small as 15-minutes.  These granular forecasts are based on a wide range of definable demand-based metrics, and can even take into consideration complex patterns, trends and seasonality, or special events.  The forecasts are used as a basis to create schedules in Workforce Scheduler that are designed to meet anticipated demand.

Workforce Operations Planner -- A fiscal period planning tool used to facilitate the sales and labor budgeting and approval process.  It generates long-term (annual, quarterly, monthly) sales and labor forecasts using historical demand data, such as volume (sales/customers/patients/plates), employee data, operating hours, labor standards.  It streamlines the planning cycles by allowing corporate, district and local managers to contribute, revise, and approve planning content.  It also improves budget compliance across the organization by constraining schedules (in Workforce Scheduler) to agreed-upon budget.

How Does It All Fit Together?

The modules of Kronos' Workforce Scheduling family are fully-integrated.  Workforce Scheduler is the core module of the family, consuming the budgeting and granular forecasts from Workforce Operations Planner and Workforce Forecast Manager, respectively.  Workforce Mobile Scheduler adds Call-List automation and the ability to have two-way communications with employees via mobile technology.  Simply put, here is how they fit together:

  1. Start with the right sales/labor budget (Workforce Operations Planner)

  2. Forecast accurately and granularly using sophisticated adaptive forecasting algorithms (Workforce Forecast Manager)

  3. Automatically create an optimized schedule that meets forecast demand, is constrained by the budget, takes into account employee preferences, certifications/skills, corporate policy, labor laws, collective bargaining agreements, etc. (Workforce Scheduler)

  4. Automatically handle last-minute contingencies by automatically sending open-shift requests to the most appropriate/compliant employees via mobile technology (Workforce Mobile Scheduler)


Kronos introduced its line of scheduling products in fiscal 2004 and added the absence management product (mentioned in Part 1) in fiscal 2005. In 2005, Kronos also released customized WFM solutions for the federal government and airline industry through the respective acquisitions of 3i Systems and AD OPT Technologies, Inc.

Thus, Kronos Altitude is a suite of customized crew planning, management, and optimization solutions designed exclusively for the airline industry. Altitude can handle the complex crew deployment and management functions of the airline industry, from mainline carriers to charters and low-cost carriers. The product also helps airlines lower costs and reduce manpower planning time.

Finally, Kronos Workforce ESP (formerly Total Care) is a staff scheduling solution designed specifically for the Canadian and Australian healthcare markets. This suite of applications allows healthcare facilities to more effectively manage their largest expenditure, i.e., the workforce. Workforce ESP helps healthcare organizations optimize staffing, control budgets, improve employee satisfaction, and make better decisions when it comes to patient care.

Analyze This

Specialized Labor Reporting & Analytics applications provide visibility to staffing levels to monitor, diagnose, and address issues (i.e., reduce under- and over-staffing). The well-known shortcomings of traditional reporting & analytics methods to date have been invisible (unclear) key performance indicators (KPIs) and data-rich, but information-poor reports. Also, earlier generations of solutions required excessive user input and were slow and iterative.

Conversely, the major benefits of the modern operational analytics are proactive visibility, more accurate information, and speed through dashboards and analytic drill-down capabilities (see the related blog post from my colleague Gabriel Gheorghiu) . For instance, RedPrairie EWM calculates data for over 40 KPIs, while the Weekly Schedule and Daily Coverage reports are generated automatically.

For its part, Kronos Workforce Analytics is a decision-making platform that provides managers, decision makers, and other key stakeholders with actionable, real-time intelligence extracted from vast workforce data. Using data warehouse technology to consolidate workforce information into a single source for analysis, the offering gives managers access to customized information that allows them to automate the calculation of workforce metrics, enables ad-hoc analysis capability, and delivers information through visual dashboard and scorecard interfaces.

Furhtermore, Kronos Workforce Analytics for Healthcare is a labor analytics system optimized for organizations in healthcare, where balancing labor costs, productivity and quality of care is a significant challenge. Workforce Analytics for Healthcare enables organizations to manage productivity, reduce labor costs, and most importantly, align labor decisions with strategic objectives. Workforce Analytics for Healthcare one of three vertical flavors of Kronos' Workforce Analytics Suite – the other two being Workforce Analytics for Retail and Workforce Analytics for Manufacturing.

Encroaching Into Talent Management

Apparently, Kronos, which began over 30 years ago as a hardware-centric time-clock vendor (as mentioned in Part 1), has transitioned into a prominent force in helping organizations increase employee productivity. Kronos’s strength is WFM, but the company has expanded into hourly labor acquisition, performance management, and career development to round out an entire strategic human capital management (HCM) suite.

Kronos first introduced its human resources (HR) and payroll products during fiscal 2002 after acquiring Abra Enterprise source code from Sage (at the time called Best Software). Kronos Workforce HR [evaluate this product] nowadays consolidates employee-related information, and manages and automates HR processes, from recruiting to benefits administration, so that organizations have more time to focus on strategic initiatives.

By empowering employees to manage their own personal information, Workforce HR helps reduce operational expenses while fostering employee satisfaction compared to a manual HR system. The offering allows control over critical HR admin processes, including benefits administration, performance management, and compensation planning, and enables real-time sharing of employee information, all of which contribute to better decision-making and improved organizational performance.

Moreover, Kronos Workforce Payroll manages the complex information required to administer and complete payment of wages, bonuses, and other forms of compensation. With streamlined payroll processing in house, organizations can have more flexibility and control, with quick and easy access to critical payroll data.

Kronos also offers a number of self-service products, such as Kronos Workforce Employee, a browser-based interface that employees can use to enter time and labor data and access HR and payroll information and processes. The self-service portal allows them to view their hours worked, approve timecards, or even sign up for available shifts. Workforce Employee also provides convenient web access to a breadth of HR information, including available training, job openings, and benefits enrollment.

On the other hand, Kronos Workforce Manager alerts managers to issues that require immediate attention, such as an employee approaching an overtime threshold. Workforce Manager provides managers with visibility into their staff, including skills, experience, and completed training, all of which is essential to optimize the workforce.

Find, Select, and Hire the Right People

Kronos’ acquisition of Unicru and Deploy, two of the leading providers in the high volume hiring market, added a talent management offering and allows Kronos to expand its business opportunities with a solution that complements its traditional WFM offerings. By selecting and hiring the highest quality people and then deploying and managing them most effectively, organizations can gain a unique competitive advantage.

Kronos talent management solutions integrate with Kronos’ abovementioned WFM products to link sourcing, selection, and hiring strategy with actual employee performance and labor planning. The talent management solutions are designed to help achieve continuous improvement in workforce quality and performance that can help increase labor productivity, augment customer service levels, reduce absenteeism and turnover rates, cut hiring time, and enhance both top- and bottom-line results.

Kronos Workforce Acquisition allows clients and candidates to access this always-on solution from wherever they happen to be, around the clock, using a web-enabled device or a portable in-store device, which does not require an Internet connection. This integrated solution is designed to enable companies to cast a wider net for applicants, select in people who fit well and have good potential, pass on people who fit poorly or present risk, screen and onboard quickly, measure results, and validate effectiveness.

The final part of this blog series will analyze the retail sector’s particular WFM requirements and some vendors’ offerings. In the meantime, please send us your comments, opinions, etc. We would certainly be interested in your experiences with this software category (if you are an existing user) or in your general interest to evaluate these solutions as prospective customers.
 
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