Integrated Workforce Management (WFM) Platforms: Fact or Fiction? - Part 3

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 explained the data collection, time and attendance (T&A), activities, and absence management modules of WFM (and their importance), Part 2 focused on the forecasting and scheduling, reporting and analytics, and talent management parts of WFM. The final part of this blog series will analyze the retail sector’s particular WFM requirements and some vendors’ offerings.

Retail WFM Idiosyncrasies

Kronos’ largest vertical sector is retail & hospitality, contributing 31 percent of total revenues. Its customers in this vertical are leading department stores, food, drug, general merchandize, and specialty retailers, as well as a number of dining, gaming, and lodging places. As mentioned in Part 2, Kronos offers some products for the healthcare sector as well, which is its second strongest vertical, contributing 25 percent of Kronos’ revenues.

For its part, RedPrairie’s focus on the retail sector was explained on a higher-level in my previous blog post on its RedShift 2010 conference and then fleshed out in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series. SAP’s WFM offering is architected as a stand-alone web based store solution and does not necessarily require SAP ERP. The nascent product is based on former Campbell Software’s StaffWorks product, which SAP acquired in the early 2000s and has since rewritten in the SAP NetWeaver environment. Oracle, JDA Software, and Infor have similar value propositions via their respective acquisitions of PeopleSoft/Temposoft, Timera, and Workbrain, but none of them seems as complete as Kronos Workforce Central and RedPrairie Enterprise Workforce Management (EWFM).

Retail-centric WFM products are designed to address key retail operational objectives, such as to control, reallocate, and/or reduce labor costs, enable greater visibility into labor spend, enhance customer service, and improve employee productivity. Other goals are to provide greater control over labor compliance, automate employee data collection such as time and attendance, standardize retailers’ best practices, and the ability to manage operations centrally.

Meeting Demand

As discussed in Part 2, retailers desire to create forecasts based on actual point of sales (POS) and shopper traffic data, with data granularity down to increments of 15 minutes. Of course, forecasts must be generated within the confines of store labor budgets and with the ability to use key historical trending data for forecast generation.

Why do retail labor forecasts matter? First and foremost, for better balancing of labor costs and customer service levels, since more accurate forecasts produce better schedule accuracy. In addition, forecasts must account for events such as promotional campaigns and factors such as the weather. Astute retail forecasting products can detect events automatically and anticipate events based on actual sales data. Needless to say, retail planning is built on seasonality in terms of weeks, months, and years.

Once the labor forecasts are established, the next logical step is to schedule labor tasks in retail stores while taking into account various factors, such as the following: work rules, meals and other legitimate breaks, promotional events, split availability, shifts (and rotations), shared labor, employees’ preferences, skills proficiency balancing, and so on and so forth. As mentioned before, the goal is to optimize task schedules to a “quarter of hour” level of schedule effectiveness.


In addition to an accurate forecast and schedule, retailers need a collaborative budgeting process and the ability to manage non sales-related tasks in an effort to effectively meet customer demand. Kronos’ budgeting solution gives retailers a more accurate and collaborative way to perform sales and labor planning.

It allows corporate, district, and store managers to contribute, revise, and approve planning-related content. This, in turn, allows for the creation of reality-based plans — built from the bottom up — that align store-level staffing and operational needs with corporate sales and productivity goals.

The Kronos solution coordinates analysis of historical business trends with information related to operational planning, labor productivity, and in-store execution. It does this by factoring each store’s demands — operating hours, labor standards, sales/customer volume, and employee data — to create real-world sales goals and labor budgets. The typical results are cost-effective, store-specific plans that are designed to improve service, sales, and employee satisfaction.

While most organizations create budgets annually, circumstances often change during the course of the year. When budgets are fixed, it is difficult to respond effectively to new opportunities and situations. That’s why the Kronos budgeting solution allows organizations to make real-time modifications to their plans in response to changes in competitive activity, market conditions, labor laws, or union rules.

It allows retailers to reforecast and modify sales forecasts and labor plans — for stores, regions, or the entire organization — on a biannual, quarterly, monthly, or weekly basis. This enables managers to quickly react to changing business conditions to achieve corporate goals. It also helps organizations track and manage compliance requirements with minimal administrative effort and cost, and can result in a reduced risk of fines, lawsuits, and negative publicity.

Execution Management (Task Management)

Demands on the retail store workforce are dynamic and increasing. The noble goal is to optimize across all the task- and traffic-driven labor to deliver the highest possible return. In case of the task-driven labor, demand can increase for tasks such as price optimization, promotion execution, local market assortments, customer centricity, stores opening/closing, stocking shelves, and so on and so forth. On the other hand, sales volume/traffic-driven labor can constrain supplies for selling, cashiers, service, training, cleaning, and refacing tasks, to name only a few.

Optimized schedules can bring benefits both within and beyond the retail store. The key store-level benefits come from having a single location for task communication (a so called “One-Stop-Shop”), clear task prioritization, a balanced workload, a store-specific locally attuned content, and from systematic issue escalation and resolution. The key benefits beyond the store come from standardized best practices within the enterprise, the ability to quickly assess task statuses for all stores in real-time, management by exception, easier identification of issues and escalations, improved accountability and execution, the availability of executive scorecards, and improved key performance indicators (KPI’s).

Optimized schedules are tightly related to task labor workload planning, which is based on real data and collaborated within multiple departments to make business decisions. Workload planning applications are based on a task labor budget by store, by product category, and by week as well as on the task labor demand. This demand is calculated in a bottom-up manner by task and store, while taking into consideration labor engineering standards.

RedPrairie’s EWFM suite also offers what-if task analyses and scenarios to bridge the task labor gaps.  Scenarios are performed based on the following scheduling parameters:

  • Up to 20 levels of a business process priority

  • Urgent or normal business scheduling priority

  • Flexibility via + or – flex windows for each process scheduling

  • Auto phasing to find the right fit for processes extending over the number of weeks

  • Storewide blackout dates

  • The ability to recall already scheduled processes with a lower priority

Once the analyses have been performed, planners can finalize the actual planned tasks and efforts by store and category, as well as approve everything for the coming week. Store managers can either reserve some percent of the planned task-based labor for ad-hoc (contingent) labor or simply track everyone’s overall effort. Similar principles were explained in my recent series entitled “The Magic Behind Planning and Executing (Optimal) Service Supply Chains,” which focused on field service WFM.

The Meaning of Integrated Retail WFM

As analyzed in Part 1 and Part2, WFM systems have evolved from point solutions (i.e., T&A, workforce scheduling, absence, human resources [HR] management, payroll, etc.) into unified WFM solutions with a common user interface (UI), integrated modules, and centralized management. Workforce management data often resides in information silos (e.g., HR management software, enterprise resource planning [ERP], or other systems) with little or no real-time integration.

Aberdeen Group’s research brief entitled “Best-in-Class Retailers Benefit from Integrated Store-Level Workforce Management” and sponsored by Kronos highlights the benefits to retailers that integrated their workforce management processes.  For example, of those that leveraged an integrated solution: 80 percent increased same-store sales rates; 54 percent increased labor cost to budget rates; and, 46 percent increased their customer retention rates. Conversely, disconnected systems lead to increased costs, compliance issues, and an inability to respond quickly to changing business conditions.
In addition, a scalable, configurable and integrated solution for all workforce management needs allows for a single source of truth. Because information about the workforce is needed to fuel processes and decisions across the organization, keeping this information centralized and synchronized is critical. In addition, integration equals fast, low-cost, and predictable implementations that save time and money

For its part, RedPrairie touts that for virtually every kind of retail store, the benefits of WFM platforms come from a holistic view of labor demand (service and non-service), the optimized schedule based on specific policies and constraints, and the fact that accuracy matters more than efficiency. Moreover, big-box stores and grocers are better able to control spending, reduce overtime, and schedule critical non-service tasks during the non-peak service hours while leveraging multiple skills and multiple roles (i.e., more efficient recruiting/hiring). For their part, specialty and small-box retailers can also schedule critical non-service tasks during non-peak service hours, but also better align their resources to customer flow.

Dear readers, what are your comments, opinions, and experiences? Do you have a unified WFM suite or a portfolio of point solutions? 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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