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Dave Foxall Workforce Management Software: Interfacing for Optimization

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 By Dave Foxall

The Under-Utilization of Workforce Management Software Solutions

Workforce management software (WFM) is defined in CedarCrestone's 2011-12 HR Systems Survey as, "those [HR software] applications, such as time and labor, absence management, and labor scheduling that enable an organization to place the right people, with the right skills, at the right time, and at the right cost." A tall order to be sure, but the market seems to be embracing the workforce management system message—so much so that the market is growing at a 5+% annual clip and even passed the $1.5B mark in 2010 (according to a Forrester report). These HR software applications are particularly common in warehouses, distribution centers, retail, contact centers, back offices and the like. However, WFM systems are now extending beyond basic scheduling, time tracking and leave management to encompass strategic and real-time employee deployments that are driven by robust reporting and analytics capabilities.

As this workforce management software functionality expands, the arena of implementation does as well; finding new markets along the way. For example, the Celent 2011 report, Workforce Optimization Solutions for Retail Banking, found that while just 3% of financial institutions overall were using workforce management software, there was a disproportionately high adoption rate in larger banks (74% in those with an asset size of >$50B). However, software implementation is not necessarily utilization and certainly doesn't guarantee payback. DMG Consulting's 2011-2012 Contact Center Workforce Management Market Report found that "Hundreds of contact centers have purchased and installed WFM solutions, but use them infrequently, if at all, because they are too difficult to operate." The fundamental nature of workforce deployment means that if any workforce management software solution is to be fully leveraged, attention must be paid to the wider linkages and interfaces, both technological and human. What follows is HR Lab's quick list of the interface essentials that all organizations leveraging WFM software should consider.

Workforce Management Software Essential #1: Payroll and Performance

Automated time and attendance applications (found in workforce management systems) offer the opportunity of linking directly with payroll software for error-free calculations and data transfer. An Aberdeen Group 2011 study, Time and Attendance Strategies, found that "nearly 60% of all organizations have automated timekeeping. However, interfacing with payroll… emerges as a true driver of performance." Furthermore, the report states that a majority of best-in-class organizations utilize such integration.

Workforce Management Software Essential #2: Employees

Some of the greatest benefits are gained from the interface with the workforce itself. Leave management and shift bidding form some of the basic and common features of employee self-service (ESS) software solutions. A Towers Watson 2011 report, New Horizons—No Boundaries, found, "Employee and/or manager self-service (ESS/MSS) capabilities are in place at nearly eight in 10 (79%) of the U.S. companies surveyed". The Aberdeen Group study also found clear benefits from including ESS elements in workforce management solutions: "self-service access to timesheets improves employee engagement and accuracy" and furthermore, "This positively impacts the manual or transactional burden on the HR organization and managers while also improving employee engagement."

Workforce Management Software Essential #3: Managers

In terms of self-service adoption, the Towers Watson report found that the US figure rose to 94% when those planning on implementing manager self-service (MSS) software during 2012 were included. The Society for HR Management's 2011 study, Transforming HR Through Technology, cited organization's need to, "Provide real-time metrics to allow decision-makers to spot trends and manage the workforce more effectively." From the management perspective, the more sophisticated workforce management applications offer monitoring capabilities and therefore opportunities for that real-time feedback; thus allowing performance efficiencies to flow from the WFM software-manager interface. Add in the proliferation of mobile workforce management software solutions, and the need for this type of manager-system interface becomes even more paramount.

Workforce Management Software Essential #4: Social media

Social media usage has been tracked for basic shift swapping and bidding (effectively as part of the ESS functionality); however, adoption remains low. In fact, CedarCrestone's 2011-12 HR Systems Survey rated that uptake at just 2%; with a prediction of only 3% in 12 months' time. Aside from the potential for wider internal adoption by organizations, workforce optimization systems such as those in use in contact centers which provide (and monitor) external customer contact channels are beginning to include social media (though progress is in its early stages). "All of the contact center workforce management solutions in this report address calls, and all of the vendors claim to handle emails and chat sessions, as well. However, few of the solutions do a good job of handling social media interactions, which continue to grow in importance", says DMG Consulting.

Workforce Management Software Interfaces—The Bottom Line

The broader system interfaces described here are symptomatic of the movement from basic workforce management towards the broader remit of 'workforce optimization' which seeks to incorporate quality monitoring (linking to performance and talent management), training and development (via a learning management system) and even sales and orders; thus bridging the gap between the HR systems and the organization's CRM or ERP system. Ultimately HR and wider business software is approaching a 'quantum physics' model in which everything is interconnected (with its value being derived from the quality of those connections) and nothing is either paramount or fundamental. End

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From the management perspective, the more sophisticated workforce management applications offer monitoring capabilities and therefore opportunities for that real-time feedback; thus allowing performance efficiencies to flow from the WFM software-manager interface.


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