Workforce planning becomes even
more important during in a recession, when budgets get squeezed ever
tighter and difficult decisions need to be made. Jessica Twentyman
looks at some of the software tools available to help you through it.
can be a pretty blunt weapon if not wielded prudently. Without due care
and attention, the downsides to a reduced payroll bill are starkly
revealed, in the form of customer phone calls that go unanswered, field
service appointments that end in 'no-shows', projects that run on way
beyond expected completion dates – not to mention the stress and
resentment created among remaining staff left to deal with the business
headaches created by understaffing.
In a year of widespread layoffs,
how many organisations would take workforce-cutting measures that
create more problems than they solve? The answer is quite a few, warns
Dilys Robinson, principal research fellow at the Institute for
Employment Studies (IES) and author of the IES' 2008 Guide to Workforce Planning.
companies are under pressure to shed workforce and cut payroll, it's
often the case that they end up getting rid of employees they actually
need to keep to staff vital business functions," she says.
cuts may be unavoidable at many firms, but those that don't measure
their likely impact on day-to-day operations and on projects that are
already underway could find themselves forced to fill the resulting
gaps by paying more overtime, or even using contractors at a higher
What is needed are tools that enable a company to
forecast its workforce requirements ahead of time, taking into account
not just numbers of employees, but also the likely demand for their
individual time and skills. Even better is when they can enable HR
managers to create 'what-if' scenarios that test various redundancy
options against business trend predictions.
That's a huge
challenge, but it's one that plenty of software vendors claim to solve.
In recent years, a lively market for technology tools has grown up
around the need for better workforce planning, encompassing the largest
names in HR software, such as Oracle, plus a host of smaller vendors
that focus on specific business needs and niches, including WorkPlace
Systems, Kronos, Sabio, Infor Workbrain, Softworks WorkForce and
choosing between a baffling array of available workforce planning
tools, it can help to sort your organisation's particular needs into
long-, medium- and short-term categories, advises Paul Lambert, who
leads management consultancy PA Consulting's work in the areas of
workforce planning, talent management and resource management.
this scenario, long-term needs demand tools that enable a company to
plan how the company will attract and retain the best talent over the
coming years, while medium-term needs demand tools that will help it
ensure that the workforce it has in place develops along the right
To meet short-term needs, what is required are tools
that managers can use to decide when, where and how to deploy the
current workforce – an area often referred to as workforce optimisation
or scheduling. The most important point in choosing a workforce
optimisation or scheduling tool is to find one that can take into
consideration all of the factors that managers from across the business
need to take into account when making those decisions: employees'
contracts and preferred working hours, their skills, the cash available
to pay them and the tasks or shifts that need to be covered. And that
information can come from a whole host of existing systems.
Take, for example, supermarket chain Somerfield. Prior to its takeover in March 2009 by The Co-operative Group,
the company had a problem with workforce planning that it urgently
needed to solve. Fixed-hours contracts for employees across its 920
stores had created inflexible working patterns which meant that shop
managers sometimes struggled to ensure they had enough staff available
to serve customers promptly on some days.
problem – combined with the fact that absence levels were deemed to be
too high – led Somerfield to software company Kronos. To create the
optimal schedule for each store, Kronos's tools draw actual sales
figures from Somerfield's point of sales (POS) systems, stock delivery
information from its logistics applications and employee data from a
number of key HR packages. Only by using this full gamut of data can
Kronos match forecast trading levels with the unique customer demand
patterns of each store in the most effective way. Following the
deployment of Kronos' software, Somerfield was able to cut its annual
overtime payments bill by £2.3m.
Workforce optimisation is an
area where the retail industry has historically led the charge, says
Simon MacPherson, senior director of business development and
operations at workforce management software company Kronos.
operations have always needed to deal with seasonal peaks and troughs
and to deploy staff accordingly – for example, in the run-up to the
Christmas shopping period," he says.
"But we're now seeing more
demand for workforce management tools from companies in industries such
as manufacturing and distribution. They're taking principles such as
just-in-time manufacturing – which focuses on having available the
right components in the right place at the right time to assemble a
product – and starting to apply it to workforce issues."
Water is a case in point. Until it deployed employee scheduling
software from ClickSoftware, the utility company was struggling to
co-ordinate a team of 1,180 field engineers across a range of repair,
new build and maintenance projects – with the result that customer
service and satisfaction levels were unacceptably low. The tools from
ClickSoftware use data from a range of systems, applications and
products (SAP) applications – including HR and asset life-cycle
management modules – to assign individual engineers to different jobs,
according their location, skillset, current workload and the tools they
carry with them.
The upshot is that they spend more time
maintaining or repairing assets and less time travelling to jobs. Plus,
Anglian Water has been able to cut overtime payments by 11% and
significantly reduce its reliance on third-party outsourcing partners
to deal with work such as leakage detection.
"We have also
eliminated [the problem of] technicians arriving on the job with the
wrong skills, tools or materials because of better planning, scheduling
and deployment," says David Cooke, Anglian Water's director of water
Other companies might be wise to follow Somerfield
and Anglian Water's leads. Effective scheduling needn't be a case of
throwing huge numbers of people at a particular business goal, but of
ensuring that the right people are deployed on the task in hand. And at
a time when many organisations are struggling with the repercussions of
redundancy, the pressure to use their remaining people assets
effectively has never been greater.
Case study: Addison Lee
company call centre is an environment where the use of workforce
optimisation tools has really taken off. Here, the term is used to
refer to a whole family of applications that deal with all aspects of
running an effective call centre team, from recording and quality
assurance to scheduling agents' shifts. It's a market niche that has
been estimated to generate more than US$2bn (£1.2bn) in worldwide sales
each year, according to analysts at market research company DMG
These applications are widely used in the call
centre industry, where their benefits are well understood. So when
Chris de Souza joined London-based minicab firm Addison Lee in 2007 as
the company's call centre manager, he immediately recognised that
something needed to be done about occupancy rates (the proportion of
time that staff were actively engaged on customer calls), which were
hovering at around 46%.
"Our approach to scheduling was to get
in as many agents as possible when we knew it was going to be busy,"
says De Souza. "While that meant we were able to deliver an unrivalled
service level, we were also paying a bottom-line penalty due to
overlapping shifts, excess occupancy and unplanned over time."
a previous employer, he had used tools from Sabio, a specialist in
workforce optimisation for call centres, and felt these would offer
Addison Lee a better alternative to the time-consuming spreadsheets
that he and his team were at that time using to schedule shifts. Since
using Sabio's consultants to implement Verint's Impact 360 workforce
management software, Addison Lee has seen occupancy rates lift by
around 10%, while overtime payments have fallen to give the company a
30% overall saving on its annual staffing costs.