| By Micah Fairchild
An Independent Surface Review for OptTek System's OptForce Software
OptTek Systems Software Company Overview
Headquartered in Boulder, CO, OptTek Systems, Inc. is a software and services company specializing in developing optimization and simulation solutions for Human Resources, supply chain, finance, and IT business process planning and improvement. Founded in 1992 by internationally recognized optimization leaders and professors Jim Kelly, Manuel Laguna and Fred Glover (representing backgrounds in Mathematics, Engineering and Artificial Intelligence respectively), OptTek began as a 3-person consultancy—that was born out of the necessity to find a solution to the question (asked by simulation firm Decisioneering) of how to solve "real-world" organizational problems under uncertain conditions (e.g. supply/demand, inputs/outputs, turnover/retention).
Armed with a wealth of industry knowledge, the professors began their work through the creation of an optimization system called OptQuest, and originally operated the consultancy as a glorified awareness forum until word had spread to the point of leading simulation companies choosing the OptQuest solution as their business method of choice. In turn, this initial success led to operational expansion in 2000 (i.e. the engagement of a CEO Jim Kelly, a CDO, and 2 software developers), and the first of many upgrades to the flagship software offering OptQuest. Eventually, in order to further investigate optimization solutions, SBIR grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the U.S. Navy, and others were obtained which resulted in innovation gains for numerous applications and markets—the last of which resulted in the creation of the strategic workforce planning software solution OptForce.
OptForce Software's Target Market for Customers
Designed specifically for SaaS (software-as-a-service), OptForce's target market appears to be SMB all the way up to large enterprises. The company is actively seeking channel partners for both sales distribution and implementation services. As these partners range from boutique consultancies to value added resellers (VARs) to OEM (original equipment manufacturer), it is likely that OptForce will further cross target markets—from small and midsize businesses (SMB) to the enterprise market. Given the high benefit rating of workforce planning software, and Gartner's Thomas Otter's ringing endorsement that, "Line managers, HR personnel and executives should use strategic workforce planning tools", OptForce's target for its market could be on the move.
OptForce Software's Application Purpose
The OptForce system is designed to assist organizational management in finding, developing, and placing the right people in the right place at the right time. This is accomplished by creating workforce planning models of the "people movement" in, out, and within the organization via factor-analysis of any and all possible influencers on the organization or the workforce. Employee attributes, environmental elements, economic drivers, generational features, and countless other factors are combined and re-combined into a "decision-making optimization-based model" that allows for multiple vantage points to be seen for any given strategy. These models are then in turn used to create action plans for any people-centric decision. For example:
- What are the best steps to take to find the workforce requirements and manage the transition time directly after an M&A?
- What are the highest yield recruiting channels for diversity candidates?
- What is the ideal portfolio of practices, policies, and perks that will retain the organization's most valued employees?
Overall, the application software is structured so as to liaise with business goals, production targets, and HR initiatives—providing strategic functionality by spanning the entire employment lifecycle.
OptForce Software's Perfect Prospect Profile (PPP)
Though OptTek products are heavily leveraged by the simulation software industry (in some areas seeing upwards of 95% integration); OptTek's OptForce is a relative newcomer to the commercial market. Indeed, their first version was released in April 2010 and while it is currently being used by several channel partners (e.g. Halliburton, HP, and Oracle), those companies involved are simply providing data for testing. Their greatest success thus far though, and perhaps the single biggest indication of OptForce's ideal customer, is the summer 2010 wrap-up of a 2-year pilot with CH2MHill—a project which netted a 95% accurate workforce projection.
OptForce Software's Technical Specs
Driven by The OptQuest Engine, OptForce uses metaheuristics (general algorithmic frameworks that have wide-sweeping optimization applicability) to guide and improve solutions. Essentially what that means is that OptForce remembers the good solutions and uses them in infinite combinations to come up with new solutions through the OptQuest Engine's use of Tabu search (i.e. memory structures); scatter search (i.e. rejoining solutions), and neural networks. In keeping with the companies theme of multiple solutions, the OptQuest Engine is available on varying platforms.
- OptQuest.jar - Written exclusively in Java.
- OptQuestNET.dll - Written exclusively in .NET C#.
- COMOptQuest.dll - A COM interface to the above-referenced OptQuetsNET.dll that has the capability of being used by any Windows application with COM object interactivity.
OptForce Software's Primary Competitors
Like most HR software categories, the workplace planning software sector is seeing increased competition, often in the form of new and lower cost cloud or Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions. Key competitors include the following HR and workforce planning software vendors:
- Allocate Software;
- SuccessFactors; and
Strengths of OptForce Workforce Planning Software
- Unlike many other software solutions that use complex algorithms as a means of solution finding, OptForce (and the originating Opt-Quest functions) leverage integer programming. In a very real but basic sense, this simply references the fact that when it comes to people—you can never have anything other than a whole number.
- OptForce uses client company-developed, organizational-specific parameters to integrate strategic planning with the workforce planning process.
- The metaheuristics used have the ability to factor in historically qualitative metrics like diversity goals.
Weaknesses of OptForce Workforce Planning Software
- Though more of an awareness announcement than a statement of weakness, organizations considering OptForce workforce planning software should recognize that the initial phases of the workforce planning process (i.e. alignment to strategic business/financial planning and demographic figure gathering) must be completed before engagement with application software can begin.
- Probabilities that are used within the software have been defined by past employee movement and behavior. While no current software has the ability to imprint current (or emerging data) onto these probabilistic scenarios, the problem remains that OptForce's use of past data could potentially cause their scenarios to be skewed.
Bottom-line for OptForce Workforce Planning Software
OptTek's OptForce software solution is no doubt young. While the product has seen praise for its innovative approach to workforce planning, additional testing could reveal design errors, system flaws, or implementation hurdles that make mainstream adoption all but impossible. That being said, as Gartner's own HypeCycle attests, workforce planning is an emerging area—and as such, working out the bugs of any software solution is not only likely but frankly, expected. Given the fact that the workforce planning process revolves around the ability to gather multiple variables and run those variables through multiple scenarios for predictive values; it would be surprising if more upgrades weren't needed or additional features weren't sought to be added onto the existing infrastructure. For forward-thinking organizations though, these inconveniences will likely not matter, as few products on the market today can come close to demonstrating planning capabilities equal to those of the OptForce software solution.
Categories: Workforce Planning Software
Tags: Workforce Planning
Author: Micah Fairchild