ScheduleSoft: What about Workforce Management on the Shop Floor?

My recent article entitled “Workforce Scheduling & Optimization: The Missing Link on the Shop Floor?” analyzed the importance of manufacturing workforce scheduling & optimization solutions and stated that many manufacturing enterprises still use rudimentary tools and practices (if that) to manage their labor. The article stated that most manufacturing organizations do not yet understand the strategic value that workforce scheduling could provide to them.

Often, manufacturing companies (complacently or ignorantly) think that the existing practices and tools that they have in place for labor scheduling are “good enough” or that workforce scheduling for their environment is so unique and complex that it cannot be properly automated. Until recently, a few percentiles of improvement in labor utilization or productivity hasn’t been much of an incentive for manufacturing executives to invest in sophisticated workforce management (WFM) systems. Labor has been customarily viewed as a constraint (or even a necessary evil) to the successful movement of goods through the supply chain.

What a difference in attitude a protracted economic downturn can make. Because labor represents a large percentage of any organization’s controllable costs, many manufacturing companies have lately realized that the benefits of implementing automated workforce scheduling can be significant.

Enter ScheduleSoft

Recently I had a chance to talk to the top management of ScheduleSoft, a Madison, Wisconsin, United States (US)-based privately-held provider of workforce scheduling software, currently with about 40 employees. Although the company has been in existence since 1997, it has finally seen more promising times and an up-tick in customers during the last several years. ScheduleSoft’s first commercial implementation was for the public sector industry. The company has since expanded into other industries with a particularly strong presence in manufacturing.

ScheduleSoft has not had any major strategy shift since its inception – the vendor has always been about workforce optimization. However, ScheduleSoft believes that a shift in the mindset of its prospective customers needs to take place. Manufacturers often start by wanting to automate their scheduling rules, but do not necessarily have the knowledge of how to optimize them.

True labor optimization requires the following: change managemententerprise integration, and appropriate complex scheduling algorithms that require interaction with the business process people in the plant who understand how to optimize schedules. Full optimization of a large manufacturing facility or an entire enterprise can take months, but the return on investment (ROI) can be significant. 

What ScheduleSoft Offers?

ScheduleSoft provides an integrated suite of products for automated workforce scheduling that is demand driven, rules-based, and user-configurable. Thus, the scheduling software allows a manufacturing facility to more efficiently schedule a workforce to meet fluctuations in demand that could be based either on seasonality and/or sales-driven events.

The vendor has recently trademarked its tagline: “Scheduling for an agile workforce,” which sums up the flexibility of its rules-based configurable solution. ScheduleSoft’s software is robust enough to meet the requirements of the most complex work environments, and flexible enough to address changing business needs. In addition, because it is rules-based and configurable, the solution can accommodate the unique run-rules and labor standards of any particular facility. ScheduleSoft’s suite includes the following offerings licensed together:

The company also provides professional services to help its customers obtain the highest and most rapid possible ROI. ScheduleSoft currently markets and sells to North American companies, but is expanding into Latin America via its global customers’ division. The vendor is in the process of localizing the software and translating its website and marketing materials.

About a year ago, ScheduleSoft made the major decision to move from its initial Java-based environment (and some older Microsoft technologies) to Microsoft .NET Framework to allow the vendor to more rapidly deploy its solution. Multi-tenant software as a service (SaaS) capabilities are also in the pipeline.

Who Uses ScheduleSoft and Why?

ScheduleSoft has over 150 customers scheduling more than 50,000 workers, with about 10 marquee corporate customers that are large global companies, such as Kraft, Nestlé, ConAgra, Lamb Weston, Welch’s, and Georgia Pacific. In addition, organizations with complex union rules and staffing schedules are good candidates, such and Port Authority of New York (NY)/New Jersey (NJ).

These types of organizations represent ScheduleSoft’s sweet spot: complex production or work environments with complex labor scheduling requirements.  The vendor has an optimization engine that is based on over 10 years of development, and allows manufacturers to have more agility and maneuvering space with their workforce.

ScheduleSoft offers workforce scheduling for many industries, but it is a particularly good fit for the food manufacturing industry because of its ability to generate labor schedules based on fluctuating demands, multiple constraints, and complex labor agreements. One area where ScheduleSoft has unique experience is in the bakery category. This is an area that often has quite complex union rules that can make overtime scheduling, vacation planning, and even straight time scheduling difficult to automate.

A Frank Discussion with ScheduleSoft’s CEO

What follows now is my discussion with Gregory Flessas, ScheduleSoft’s founder and CEO. My questions and Flessas’ answers were as follows:
PJ: How do you view your competitive landscape, and why do you win over or loose to these competitors?

GF: Our largest competitor has been internal to the customer, since companies often decide to “do nothing” or create a “home grown” solution. Customers are often under the impression that their organization or facility’s labor scheduling is so complex and that it cannot be automated - or if it could, it would be too expensive. They may have even looked at other packaged solutions and found them lacking.

All of this is possible with ScheduleSoft, because our system is rules-based and easily configurable. We also understand that no two facilities are the same – no matter what. Even if they make the same product in the same geographic market, there could still be differences in the interpretation of labor rules and scheduling nuances that are unique to each facility.

PJ: Why has labor scheduling and optimization in field force and call-centers thrived for all this time, which is not necessarily the case with manufacturing?

GF: Because many people don’t think labor scheduling for manufacturing is even possible. The retail stores, field service, and call center markets are cluttered with workforce scheduling solutions providers. These solutions address scheduling issues that can be forecasted. There is little variability and these solutions typically don’t have the optimization engine, the smart “math” behind them to solve truly complex shift scheduling.

ScheduleSoft has cultivated a strong customer base in Food Processing and Manufacturing where we have developed expertise in the complexities these organizations face (labor laws, regulations, complex shifts, continuous production, etc.). The following message is beginning to resonate with manufacturers: it is not just a human capital management (HCM) issue, but workforce scheduling should also be part of an overall agile manufacturing strategy.

PJ: What is your mobility strategy (technology and platforms supported), perhaps in light of the SAP and Sybase merger and your important relationship with SAP?

GF: We have taken a bit of a unique path on this one. In the past, we had partnered with an industry standard that most other solution providers are using for their mobile solution, but we found that it wasn’t well suited for our customers’ dynamic environments.

Our current philosophy is to provide a mobile offering that supports the complex scheduling rules and strategies executed in ScheduleSoft and not the other way around. Our interactive voice response (IVR) offering leverages the power of a customer’s scheduling algorithm. So we start by identifying the best candidate for the job and go from there, which requires the least amount of calls, confirmations, and notifications to meet the staffing requirements.

PJ: Although the trends seem positive lately for you, what issues/challenges are still keeping you asleep at night?

GF: Because we have a strong focus on manufacturing, one competitive concern is the fact that SAP has selected ClickSoftware as its global workforce scheduling and optimization solution, SAP WS&O.  As you stated in your recent article series, ClickSoftware has become a leading provider for field service businesses. But because it is resold by SAP, ClickSoftware is being marketed to all SAP customers, which muddles our message.

Another major challenge is educating the market about the uniqueness of our solution. ScheduleSoft is a strategic workforce scheduling solution that doesn’t just address HCM and HR issues, but it also provides visibility into the Supply Chain and the ability to have a flexible workforce in support of agile manufacturing. We optimize labor resources to allow organizations to produce the same amount of product with fewer resources or produce more products with the same number of resources.

PJ: In light of my recent series on the link between ERP, lean manufacturing, advanced planning & scheduling (APS), and manufacturing execution systems (MES, see the article for more details) , how would your solution fit in amongst these technologies (and to solve what)?

GF: This is core to our differentiation. We agree with your recent statement that these systems (ERP, APS, etc.) are good for long-term planning and transactional accounting, but not necessarily for scheduling and execution on the shop floor. How we fit in is in the following way: we can take a production schedule that has changed and generate an optimized workforce schedule to produce exactly what is required.

In each of these systems (ERP, MES, etc.), labor is viewed as a constraint. We believe that there should not need to be a variance in labor and that labor should be seen as an ingredient in producing the final product. In a manner of speaking, ScheduleSoft can be regarded as the “six sigma for labor.”

PJ: Is there anything else you are at liberty to volunteer on the company's future moves, i.e., new functional scope, verticals, etc.?

GF: Really, we think it will be more of the same for us. We are confident we can grow significantly with our current focus and differentiation in the marketplace.

The “WFM Platform vs. Point Solutions” Debate Goes On

We should note here that ScheduleSoft provides manufacturing workforce scheduling as a point solution. It does not offer its own T&A solution, and thus requires  integration to disparate T&A, HR, ERP, Warehouse Management System (WMS), and other related solutions. As discussed in my previous article, years ago T&A and labor scheduling were commonly deployed as point solutions.

This practice is now becoming the exception rather than the rule based on the increasingly lopsided tradeoff on the complexities of developing custom scheduling functionality vs. custom integration. In other words, i.e., the need for vertical-specific functionality drives either customization from a WFM platform vendor (e.g., Kronos, Infor Workbrain, Kaba, CyberShift, etc.), or integration from a point-solution scheduling vendor (e.g., ScheduleSoft). The question is whether the scheduling and optimization capabilities of WFM platforms are good enough out-of-the-box.

One big advantage of an integrated WFM platform is higher quality of the information and consistent user experience. With a single database system, all changes to schedules, timecards, accruals, and leave requests are updated in real-time, so there is always only one version of the truth. With a number of point solutions needing integration to T&A and back-office accounting and HR systems, there is always the question of whether everything is up to date.

To that end, ScheduleSoft provides the aforementioned integration module, which allows the company’s optimization capabilities for large manufacturers to overcome the integration hurdle. As far as database updates, ScheduleSoft can send and/or receive data as frequently as a customer requires to ensure all data is consistent.

Still, it is only a matter of time before Kronos catches up with ScheduleSoft’s superior optimization capabilities for manufacturing. Demand forecasting and workload calculation are already key components of Kronos’ workforce scheduling solution.

Although Kronos sees the highest demand for optimization in retail, hospitality, and services, over the past eight years the giant has gradually implemented industry-specific functionality in its scheduling applications to meet the needs of businesses from all industries. These include long range sales and labor budgeting for retail, shift-based and priority staffing engines for healthcare and manufacturing, and functionality for schedule editing, compliance, and employee self-service.

Dear readers, what are your views, comments, opinions, etc. about the current economic climate in your region/industry and about your approach to workforce management? What are your best practices and experiences with particular WFM applications? If you are a ScheduleSoft user, I would appreciate hearing about your experiences with the product and the company.
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