Manufacturing & Logistics IT spoke with a number of leading spokespeople from the Workforce Management solutions community about current trends, recent developments and possible future innovations within a technology world dedicated to facilitating greater staff efficiencies.
With many organisations regularly declaring that their workforce is their greatest asset, it is hardly surprising that IT systems able to bring about greater efficiencies in staff management are becoming increasingly popular. The systems in question come in many forms – tools to better schedule workforce capacity in the factory, systems that look to optimise the activities of field service personnel during goods distribution or solutions mainly geared to ensuring staff simply adhere to the right shift timetables. And many of these systems are to be found as just one part of a wider solution suite aimed not just at improving workforce activities but also a host of other production or logistics processes into the bargain.
So to begin, let’s survey some of the current central technology trends and general discussion points within the Workforce Management space. Dwight Klappich, vice president of research at Gartner, makes the point that labour is a significant cost for many supply chain organisations and labour productivity is a major contributor to improved performance. “For brand owner companies labour is often the third highest cost behind inventory and transportation,” he states. “Many organisations have focused most of their attention on inventory for the last decade and with rising freight costs transportation more recently. The next target area is labour.”
However, according to Klappich, the focus is not slashing labour, though this has been a fear of workers and unions; it is rather about more effectively using the labour a company has and not having labour proportionally growing as the business grows. “A 10 per cent improvement in labour productivity, which is not unreasonable expectation, can either allow a company to run today’s business with 10 per cent lower labour costs or grow the business 10 per cent or more without adding labour,” he said. “Both are strong objectives. I will say however that I have personally seen few instances where Workforce Management was used to slash the work force by 10 per cent. I have seen few layoffs directly linked to a Workforce Management project. More typically what happens is attrition takes care of any excess and the WFM allows the company to add more people for, say, seasonal peaks like the holiday season in retail.”
Klappich also points out that Gartner has seen WFM expand beyond its traditional focus area in warehouse management. “We see large growth in retail stores (e.g. RedPrairie’s solution) and now more transportation fleet operations,” he said. Klappich added that WFM has historically focused on execution (Time & Attendance) and reporting, and less on the planning and optimisation of the work force. “While these remain important we now see more innovation and investment around forward planning (i.e. what labour is needed when, where, and doing what),” he remarked. “While reporting remains a key aspect of these systems, being able to make sure I have the right labour in the right place and the right time to support the needs of the business is a valuable use of these tools. This focus will also mitigate some of the backlash we have seen from labour unions who have long felt that WFM was a ‘big brother’ tool to make labourers’ life miserable.”
Jonathan Orme. sales operations & marketing manager at Exel Computer Systems, considers that arguably one of the key developments within the WFM space is the growth in solutions that help companies deal with managing workforces that are increasingly mobile. He comments: “Field Service Management solutions especially need to reflect the reality that a mobile workforce needs access to the very latest, real-time information in order to deliver the best, not just for the customer but also for the company. Integrating this with sophisticated workflow, intelligent automated worker/job scheduling, time and stock management and including real-time links with back-office business management systems joins up a company’s ability to put the needs of its customers first like never before.” James Hannay, managing director of Schad, believes one key current trend is for wider deployment of mobile devices, providing access to information ‘on the go’ with real-time connectivity to operational and business systems. He also sees a desire for more accurate and timely management information and the replacement of paper-based processes with purpose designed mobile systems.
Mike Novels, chairman & managing director of Preactor International, observes that within manufacturing and other sectors many companies need to manage different people with different skill sets, required at different times and in a particular sequence. Added to this, says Novels, is the fact that there are often complex rules as to who can work when and where, and for how long. He explains that Preactor offers a standard configuration, multi-constraint system that allows companies not only to manage machines as the primary constraint but also the operators as additional constraints. Novels points out that these operators might have many different skill sets, so, with this in mind, Preactor can allocate a member of staff from a specific team or resource skill group for particular tasks during particular time slots.
Stephen Szikora, IT director at NFT, believes the current generation of Workforce Management enables businesses to identify performance in a far better way than simple productivity rates. He maintains that work content and its impact benefit end users in two ways. “First, it can be used to allocate work in a fairer manner,” he said. “Secondly, when analysing the work content data its effects can be clearly demonstrated, ensuring fairer treatment all round.” Szikora adds that with the advent of WFM companies can see that the poorer performing pickers in productivity terms can actually be the best performers when looked at performance through work content metrics. “A simple example would be picking a case of yoghurt versus a joint of ham,” he said. “Both would be ‘pick 1 unit’ but the labour content is vastly different.”
Stewart Hill, director of product marketing at ClickSoftware, considers the topic of Workforce Management from the perspective of device trends that can also produce greater user efficiencies. He makes the point that there are currently a number of key talking points within the Mobile Workforce Management industry, one of the most common being Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). “BYOD is transforming the way data is received and acted upon in the field,” said Hill. “Field resources use the device of their choosing in performing their role. While mobile devices have been used in the field for many years, this choice improves employee satisfaction because they are using devices which they prefer, know, and are most comfortable with.”
However, adds Hill, these are not the only benefits. “Importantly, this drives additional productivity,” he remarked. “Often the device that they are allocated by their company cannot perform many of the tasks that we now take for granted, and cannot use Apps that further increase productivity.” Hill points out that BYOD can get around this without the need for the company to recall, reinvest, and redeploy potentially hundreds or thousands of new devices. Additionally, he explains that the company’s data can be accessed and interacted with on multiple devices. “Let’s say that a field engineer is issued with a laptop and needs to carry this hundreds of metres into a field; which is both heavy and cumbersome. By bringing their own smartphone they can often perform the same task in the field and more without needing to carry their laptop. The fact that two devices can access and use the same data without conflict is of significance and a benefit that drives productivity and employee satisfaction.” Hills maintains that, for the company, not only does this mean that a BYOD policy reduces its investment in devices that can quickly become out-dated, but it also increases the flexibility when using contracted resources. “In the past, the service business would typically mandate the mobile device(s) that the contractors would need to use,” he said. “In today’s BYOD environment, however, this stipulation is negated. Contractors can use whichever device they choose, so long as it enables them to perform their role by using the Apps required and accessing the right data. Not only does this increase choice and flexibility but it also reduces costs all round.”
So what are some of the key drivers for the trends and developments cited above? Klappich reflects that labour is expensive, and that while in an economic downturn it is plentiful this is not always the case. “Companies would like to improve retention of good people and not have to hire as many temporary workers as they have in the past,” said Klappich. Also, he adds that in times of turbulence productivity can drop and WFM tools can be good ways to help keep productivity high. For example, he makes the point that many of the tools can report on notable deviations between planned and actual work by worker. “This can be used to suggest improved training or other process improvement activities,” he said. In Orme’s view, recent WFM developments have been driven by the symbiotic relationship between business need and technology capability. “Mobile communications technology has undergone tremendous development in the past decade,” he said, “which in turn has allowed workforce management solutions to take advantage of this. And, as customer expectations increase both businesses and the vendor community need to respond; after all, customer satisfaction in these challenging times must remain the priority.”
Simon Macpherson, senior director, operations EMEA at Kronos, comments that the Kronos development strategy is always focused on three key areas. These are intuitive ease of use, guided decisions and mobile. “The first, intuitive ease of use, is very much driven by expectations set by consumer applications,” he said. “The workforce of today expects business applications to be intuitive and easy to use, set by the standards of consumer applications from Apple, Facebook and Google for example. It is no longer acceptable to have a complex user interface that requires lengthy training and a huge user manual. There is absolutely no reason why business applications should be any different to consumer applications. At Kronos, we place a lot of emphasis on ease of use.”
Then there is the second key area cited by Macpherson; guided decisions. “By this, I mean our Workforce Management system will not only highlight issues in the business in real time – for example staffing challenges or absence issues – but the system will go on to suggest what action should be taken by the manager to correct that issue or mitigate its effects,” he said. “This may involve moving staff or skills from one area of a warehouse or manufacturing plant to another to even out the work flow, or identifying a training requirement or performance issue for a particular department or member of staff.”
Mobile is the third area of focus for Kronos. This, says Macpherson, provides native applications through the app stores to enable staff to carry out key functions on a mobile device. “For example, employees can track hours worked, request annual leave, and transfer between jobs, staying on the shop floor or from remote work locations,” he said. “Managers can use a mobile device to monitor operations on the production line for example, respond to employee requests and resolving exceptions. Try it for yourself from the apps stores of Blackberry, Apple and Android.” Szikora believes on the key drivers for change is the requirement for leaner, more core processes. “The focus on this has enabled solutions to be designed to forecast, manage and monitor against standards,” he said. Hannay also recognises the need for leaner, more efficient and speedier processes, pointing to the wider acceptance and availability of mobile technology and enhanced communications and network infrastructure.
For Hill, the revolution in smart mobile devices, including tablets and phones, is the catalyst behind changes in WFM. However, he considers that technology itself is rarely sufficient; therefore user adoption is also required. “In this area, adoption, acceptance and passion are prevalent,” he said. “Users like their smart devices and are very attached to them. Even if a BYOD policy does not officially exist, such passion is still making mobile field resources find a way to use their devices instead of the company-issued (and less attractive) alternative. This is a change that is therefore being driven by the field and not by the corporate decision-makers.”
And what about the actual WFM-related solutions our commentators either use or develop? In addition to the well-respected workforce capabilities of Exel’s EFACS E/8 ERP system such as mobile CRM and Sales Force Automation, Orme comments that the greatest area of interest is in Exel’s Eagle Field Service Management solution. “This is a complete field service solution, incorporating advanced engineer scheduling and optimisation, device-independent mobile functionality and fully integrated workflow and customisation toolkits to future-proof a customer’s investment,” he said.
Orme then gave an example of how a typical mobile worker, a sales engineer, needs to interact with a customer. “It is not enough to just access activity data in real-time,” he said. “You need the ability to constantly update, recreate and edit jobs in relation to each and every customer. And, because the flow of data is 2-way the moment an order or quotation is confirmed with the customer the back-office system needs to be updated, thereby ensuring the next request for information has access to the very latest data.” Orme added that the time savings should not be underestimated. “The preparation involved prior to every sales visit can often be extensive,” he remarked. “Not only might a sales rep have to familiarise him/herself each time with the customer’s history, credit details and current service issues, he/she would also have to update their knowledge of any changes to the customer internal hierarchy. Even so, no one can anticipate every question that may be put to them. But make all of that information accessible in real time, while the rep is with the customer, then the business has every opportunity to boost productivity, accelerate sales cycles and increase customer satisfaction. Furthermore, there is no need for the rep to be loaded with brochures and fact-sheets as catalogues can be viewed on-screen via a document management system; and even product demos can be provided.”
In addition to the functional robustness of Eagle, Orme considers that one of its main USPs is the strength of its integration with a sophisticated back-office management system that is the product of over 25 years’ industry experience. “Customers need systems and solutions that operate seamlessly and fault free across the entire enterprise and utilise the same shared data,” he said. “Disparate systems tend to lead to points of weakness in system interfaces and data ownership issues, which leads to a reduced lack of confidence.”
Hannay explained that a key benefit of Schad’s SCADA-based Extend 7000 mobile middleware application is that it is able to route information between a central automated/maintenance system and mobile devices. He made the point that by using such a system the right information can be allocated to the right engineers according to existing workloads and their availability; and all this is achievable in real time on their mobile device wherever they are working on the shopfloor. Hannay then considered the benefits of putting in place what he refers to as an enterprise-wide asset management strategy. “An organisation might have a group of engineers at one location working on a particular type of system, and it might have another group of engineers on a different site working on a different system. And these different groups of people might be making the same mistakes time and time again and not learning from their inefficiencies. If people from different locations are able to share their knowledge and experience by putting valuable information into the collective pot then the quality of the stored data will improve, and so will the performance of the workforce.”
Hannay added that by being able to access the right information almost immediately engineers can improve their response times when, say, a piece of equipment breaks down. “What we are finding is organisations are increasingly keen to drill down to a more detailed level to determine why things go wrong, when they go wrong and what can be done in order to ensure downtime is minimised,” he said. “Engineers need to know not only how to solve problems but also how to improve their response times.” He added that by being able to access all the required information via a single platform on a mobile device an engineer can then make decisions much quicker, know precisely the right store to go to in order to access the right part, and not have to spend time trying to find the right paper-based information (manual, electronic diagram, etc.) for the job. “By being able to access information in real time on a mobile device, both the engineer’s planned and unplanned tasks can be carried out more efficiently and much quicker,” he said.
In essence, Hannay explained that Extend 7000 facilitates a holistic approach that considers all aspects of maintenance engineering mobile requirements for both unscheduled and planned activities. In terms of core USPs, Hannay cites these as independence from other software vendors and ability to integrate with most commonly used automation, control and maintenance systems such as IBM Maximo, SAP PM, Siemens, Mitsubishi, WinCC, InTouch.
Szikora comments that in NFT’s market, 3PL time-critical chilled logistics, the company needs to be able to plan and react to changes very quickly without being integrated upstream with hundreds of suppliers. “Our main focus is to integrate tightly with available forecasts, operational systems and deliver centralised views to manage throughput, service and quality on a near live basis,” he explained, adding that in transport NFT achieves this through a Microlise telematics solution. Szikora also explained that NFT is currently in the process of installing a new Workforce Management system at its Daventry warehouse. This is a rule-based solution which coordinates skills, forecasts, availability, Working Time Directive regulations and actual demand. “This will enable colleagues to share fairly in the opportunities that arise whilst ensuring the business operates at its most efficient,” he said, adding: “Previously we were running the business using various operational and planning systems and then realised there had to be a smarter way of doing this. So we went to the market and discovered a product by Eleventeenth called Resource DLM. We have had some good success during the pilot stage and are currently moving towards full deployment. Resource DLM provides us with an ideal functionality mix. It allows us to work with forecasts and real orders and also allows us to work with historical transaction data.”
Szikora also point out that the solution has a very compressive database and understands NFT’s workforce resources and skills. It also understands calendars, pay rates, wages and shift rotors. “Additionally, the system knows which customers we’re picking for at any one time and knows the carton sizes involved and the pick rates of our individual pickers,” he said. “Therefore it can predict hour-by-hour what shift patterns we will need in order to load the orders onto the trucks and distribute to our customers. What we don't want to do is flood the warehouse with people. However if we don't deploy enough people then the job doesn’t get done. And the work mix is very different from customer to customer. For example, for one customer we might be picking large joints of ham for one customer and packs of yoghurt deserts for another. Resource DLM knows the best people to undertake different tasks. It can point out someone who has proved very efficient at picking the ham or someone who is better at picking smaller items in larger volumes etc.” Szikora added that another benefit is that Resource DLM is being used as a Software as a Service (SaaS) solution, so there is no physical deployment involved. “It will be run as a single version, so we will benefit from all the latest upgrades as well,” he said.
According to Hill, one of the core USPs of ClickSoftware is the company’s patented concept of ‘continuous planning and scheduling’ which incorporates customer demand forecasting, long- and short-term capacity planning, shift planning, real-time scheduling, mobility and location-based services, and analytics, as well as on-going communication with the consumer on the expected arrival time of the field resource. “We call this ‘service chain optimisation’,” he said, adding: “You cannot expect to be able to deliver great service against a given demand without having the right quantity and profile of people available to be able to deliver this when required. If your workload peaks during certain hours, then you need more people available and fewer during the quiet periods.” This, he says, is one of the key benefits of ClickSoftware’s ‘continuous planning and scheduling’ concept.
Novels explains that Preactor offers workforce management functionality as part of its wider Advanced Planning & Scheduling and Finite Capacity Scheduling application offerings. Novels points out that one highly beneficial aspect of this functionality is in Preactor’s ability to better schedule staff with different skillsets in order to ensure they are deployed as efficiently as possible. He cites Preactor customer helicopter manufacturer Eurocopter as just one example of this process in action. As well as spending a great deal of time on changeovers on machines and suffering a number of other production-related constraints, Eurocopter also needed to reduce unnecessary movement of staff in the workshop and improve the scheduling of staff activity – ensuring the right people were in the right place at the right time. Novels explained that Eurocopter started to use spreadsheets to manage these tasks, but quickly realised that the application in question quickly reached the limits of its capacity.
Preactor then became Eurocopter’s scheduling solution of choice and has proved invaluable for a number of production requirements; including the management and assignment of operators with specific skill sets for certain tasks. With the help of Preactor, the company divided the shop in to areas or departments. Then, taking into account the skills of the operators, it assigned them to specific areas and specific tasks in the schedule in order to reduce unnecessary movement from one area to another.
Macpherson explains that within its application Kronos focuses on four key areas: planning, deployment, execution and analysis. And, he adds, inevitably Kronos is often integrated with ERP, HR, Supply Chain etc. Indeed within the workforce central suite is a sophisticated integration engine. “In planning phase we often use sophisticated algorithms to forecast the requirements of the business and then feed actual data back into the forecasting engine to adapt the algorithm to make it more detailed and accurate going forward,” Macpherson pointed out. “We capture employees’ skills, competencies, preferences and availability and use the information together with rules around working time, breaks and holidays in the complex area of employee deployment. This provides the organisation with the right people, in the right place, at the right time – in all areas, from goods in and the production line right through to enough drivers making deliveries.”
Macpherson added that the execution phase is often neglected but captures what is happening with a company’s labour in real time. He explains that a whole host of data can be accessed through managers’ dashboards: from the basic recording of people coming and going, working hours, and identifying labour shortages, to the sophisticated capturing of what is being manufactured on a production line, what work has to be scrapped, through to what is being picked and packed in the warehouse and how performance compares to pre-set labour standards. Macpherson states that this data shows exactly what is going on in the warehouse or manufacturing plant in real time – and, when analysed, it can highlight bottle necks and quality issues in time to make a difference. Macpherson also explained that over time a vast amount of data is captured at a very granular level. “And this can be sliced and diced with our BI tool to identify best practice and feed back into future planning,” he said. “For example areas of high productivity, low overtime, low inactive time and low scrap can all be analysed to see how staff might be better deployed around the business.”
As an example of the benefits Kronos has afforded a particular customer within the manufacturing space, Macpherson cites Hozelock. He explains that Hozelock is an example of a company very much driven by seasonal and day-to-day changes in the weather and which needs to forecast production at a moment’s notice; producing component parts in the UK in a just-in-time basis. Hozelock uses Kronos to monitor all labour-related activities on the production line and has seen some great benefits. The solution implemented was a real-time workforce management system, fully integrated with payroll and ERP solutions and designed to drive significant efficiency and real-time data visibility improvements across the organisation.
According to Macpherson, key benefits for Hozelock have included a 2 per cent increase in assembly productivity; detailed KPI data on labour utilisation and efficiency – by company, product, line and employee; and 100 per cent reconciliation of payroll to production hours. Additionally, there have reportedly been zero delays in approving overtime – down from five days; nine man-days saved per week on data entry, chasing and approvals; 0.5 man day per week released back to HR as a result of reduced data entry requirements; and the elimination of payroll queries through automated time and attendance tracking.
And have ways of best integrating Workforce Management-related solutions with other systems developed to any notable degree over the recent past? Orme observes that integration possibilities have improved and that some vendors have started to add additional modules or areas of functionality to older systems. However, he adds that in many cases this has businesses being faced with the possibility of the easier linking of disparate systems that may vary markedly in design and execution. “For example, your underlying ERP system may have been designed and built at a time when what is possible with a modern Field Service Management solution would have seemed like something from a science fiction film,” remarked Orme. “Integrated modern solutions that are designed and built to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow will always deliver better results. Plus, you get all the additional benefits from dealing with just one supplier.”
Klappich considers that WFM is mature in Warehouse Management (WMS) but less so in areas such as transportation. He adds that it is also growing strength in retail for store level WFM. However, he makes the point that even in WMS WFM was historically relegated to the high end of the market (e.g., more than 250 employees in warehouse) because of the cost and time to implement and support engineered labour standards based WFM. “We have seen a couple vendors looking to exploit the WMS’ task management capabilities to allow the system to capture a lot of the data needed to start monitoring labour productivity,” said Klappich. “For example, in a traditional environment a company would need industrial engineers (either their own or a consultant’s) to conduct time studies to capture labour standards. Now the system could capture actual performance for, say, hundreds of transactions and then analyse this to determine what the average or mean might be; which is then used as the starting standard. This makes it much easier to implement for less complex environments.”
The SaaS effect
And returning to the SaaS theme, what do our commentators think about the current state of play regarding this deployment model within the Workforce Management space? Szikora makes the point that NFT has increasingly witnessed is a trend towards SaaS solutions. “SaaS was a major criterion in our partner selection as we wish to share in all software development going forward and not worry about deployment,” he said. Szikora again referenced the benefits of NFT’s SaaS-based Resource DLM deployment: “I don't have to store the application in my computer room and I don't have to back it up. So effectively I'm saving on IT people and I'm not making any capital investment in a pair of servers. Of course, the system needs to be bullet proof so once the pilot stage has been completed and we get into full production then if we had chosen to deploy an on-premise model we would have to invest in mirrored servers and mirrored disks etc. to make sure the system was 100 per cent available. However, by sharing all of the benefits of the system through the Cloud we have none of these on-premise hardware and software commitments.”
Hill also recognises the growth in Cloud-based solutions. “Mobile Workforce Management in the Cloud is generating additional interest from potential buyers and attracting a small number of new competitors into the market,” he said. However, Hills adds that from a demand perspective this isn’t really having a material difference. “On the whole the level of demand is the same; it’s just that Cloud gives another option,” he said. “Rarely do you find a brand new enterprise-level customer who is suddenly showing interest because of the Cloud. They may however show renewed interest by now considering and comparing Cloud versus on-premises alternatives. I would say that Cloud is an added stimulus.”
In the SMB market however, Hills observes that Cloud is having more momentum because it is making Mobile Workforce solutions more affordable. “In the past, smaller organisations may have invested in cheaper and less sophisticated solutions simply based on costs,” he remarked. “Now, with the ability to fund via operating expenditure and having the management and maintenance of the IT environment handled by the vendor, this removes any material financial outlays and offers a sophisticated optimisation and mobile solution through recurring monthly payments only. The Cloud is potentially making great technology available to the mass market.”
Macpherson reflects that there was some initial reluctance in the area of Workforce Management to consider the Cloud, due in part to concerns over the security of hosting HR data. “This is no longer an issue and the Cloud is now widely accepted and recognised as a viable way forward,” he said. “At Kronos, we are making the options and choice as wide as possible for our clients so that they can have the solution to suit their business. We have broken up the component parts and offer a choice as to how the system is acquired, perpetual licence or subscription; where it is hosted on your site or by Kronos; and who manages it. Kronos can manage just the technical infrastructure or, if the client prefers to host the system in house but use us to provide the IT skills to manage it, we can do so from the client environment. It is that flexible.”
Standalone or integrated?
Is there still a case for standalone WFM or are there now more benefits to be had within a wider integrated model? Szikora believes a standalone case exists through the need for phasing and differing return on investment measurements. “Not all operational solutions (legacy) can be integrated,” he points out. “Performance issues can arise when tightly integrating Workforce Management with live systems.” Similarly, he considers that synchronisation issues can occur when reporting and feeding from operational solutions. “This is also impacted by having centralised versus local solutions,” he said.
Looking at Field Service Management as a Workforce Management solution, Orme considers that for most companies the information used within the FSM system is information that already exists and is being used elsewhere in the company. “Decisions made by mobile workers also have direct impact on other areas of the business,” he said, “and unless the combined systems within a business can act quickly, smoothly and securely, you are not operating to your maximum potential. This means you’re not as competitive as you ought to be. An integrated approached gives you the best potential to look at how the business as a whole currently works and ought ideally to work.”
In Hill’s view, standalone systems create data silos and inconsistencies. “They are inefficient and limit any productivity, efficiency, and cost improvements,” he said. “It is therefore essential that service businesses seek a solution that is part of a wider suite. This does not mean that they cannot seek the ‘best-of-breed’ in a given discipline, on the contrary. But they must select a solution that easily integrates into a wider enterprise-wide system. For this reason, integration is an ever-improving discipline – it is essential. In fact, integration should be considered a given, invisible and seamless. It should not be feared as the pain-point that it once was.”
According to Macpherson, Kronos’ experience shows that an organisation should always go for a specialist in a particular area. “So for a Workforce Management system, go to a Workforce Management specialist,” he said, adding: “When choosing a supplier make sure they have expertise in your business sector, and do make sure you get reference visits in your industry. Go and meet people who are actually using the system and listen to what they have to say. Ensure a suitable range of plug-and-play data collection is available. Finally, ensure the solution you work with is able to integrate with all the systems you have, for example major Supply Chain systems, Materials Planning systems, ERP, HR and Payroll.”
Workforce Management of the future
And might be the next key developments to look out for within the world of Workforce Management-related solutions over the next year or two? Szikora believes that workforce screening and verification will be the most significant development that will impact the UK market over the coming years as WFM becomes more integrated with Employee Management solutions. Macpherson anticipates that there will be more intuitive, easy-to-use applications, and more guidance to managers in different environments on how to best run the business. He also believes the market will see increased use of mobile applications designed for tablets.
Orme considers that as mobile devices continue to increase in power and functionality and affordability, workers wherever they are within a business – be it shop floor, warehouse, mobile engineers, sales engineers, home or in the office – will be updating information as and when it happens. “When this occurs you will get many more companies that genuinely run on a company-wide, real-time basis,” he said. “This will expose any weaknesses in the underlying business management systems and we will see increasing numbers of companies moving to a fully integrated system to remain competitive.”
Hill makes the point that, in the past, Time & Attendance, Capacity Planning, Shift Planning, Field Service Scheduling & Optimisation and Mobility Solutions were provided by different vendors. “Today, the market is less fragmented where the best Mobile Workforce Management vendors will provide multiple solutions such as Scheduling & Optimisation, with a robust and flexible mobile solution,” he said. “But Mobile Workforce Management does not need to remain disparate from Workforce Management in general and this is where one of the developments of the future will exist: the ability to offer enterprise-wide Scheduling & Optimisation across the organisation and from one vendor.” Hannay foresees further encroachment by ERP systems working alongside specialised solutions targeting specific user communities with rich process oriented functionality such as Schad’s Extend 7000; a mobile middleware application that routes information between the central automated/maintenance systems and mobile devices.
Orme concluded: “Companies need to keep their focus on the fact that WFM, like any aspect of technology, is a means to an end and not an end in itself. And it needs to be sensitively and intelligently implemented. Get it right and you will have an empowered workforce across the enterprise, freed to do their best as and where the business of doing business is taking place. This can only be good news for your company, and your customers.”