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Time is money: Workforce management systems offer potential labor savings

Used effectively, workforce management systems can boost a company’s productivity and profits.

Labor and workforce issues are becoming increasingly strategic to companies. As the economic recovery gathers steam, few things are more important than ensuring the enterprise has -- and will continue to have -- the right skill sets in the right place at the right time to meet customer demand. Workforce management system (WFM) software could help meet the challenge.

When the orders finally come rolling in, no company can afford to be caught without the staff to fill them. As the corporate footprint goes ever more global, labor tracking and scheduling are increasing in importance, too, along with a rising need for regulatory compliance, experts say.  

Those are just a few of the areas workforce management software is designed to aid. So not surprisingly, workforce management is a broad category encompassing five discrete areas, according to Gartner researchers: labor planning, time and work data collection, leave management, task and activity management, and time and attendance.

Workforce management system capabilities can be found in a variety of enterprise applications and in the form of standalone tools. Many ERP software suites, for example, feature workforce management capabilities. The good news: When used where it’s most needed, workforce management software can provide major benefits, according to users and analysts.

Benefits of workforce management systems

For example, over the past few years Aker Philadelphia Shipyard (APSI), a 1,200-employee manufacturer of shipping tankers, implemented an integrated workforce management suite for time and attendance, absence management and time and work data collection. Affectionately known as Philly Shipyard, APSI was accustomed to building two supertankers per year. With over 10,000 separate work tasks and 1.2 million labor hours involved in building each one, monitoring worker productivity and ensuring worker safety were crucial.

The workforce management system allowed the shipyard to increase its overall efficiency and output by 33%, so that is now builds three supertankers a year, according to Michel Boeckx, chief technology officer. In addition, thanks to closer task oversight, Philly Shipyard was able to reduce the number of hours worked per tanker by one third. Using the tool, managers can home in on ship areas where work is proceeding more slowly than expected, sending more people to help in real time. “The system lets us see labor trends,” said Boeckx. “Then we can reallocate resources to other parts of the ship as needed.”

WFM aids in workforce scheduling, measurement

Boston-based Nucleus Research studied APSI’s workforce management system implementation and confirmed the shipyard saw radical reductions in cost, staff, payroll error, and escrow payments. According to Nucleus, the shipyard spent $163,000 on the implementation (including software, hardware, consulting, training and personnel) and achieved payback of 110% annually on its investment over a three-year period.

Boeckx is quick to point out that these workforce measurement benefits, while impressive, are just a portion of the overall benefit the shipyard has received. APSI employs a large number of union workers. Thanks to the workforce management system, it has been able to reduce the number of grievances and negotiate attendance policies into the union contract. Enforcement of these policies is automated through the workforce management system, as well. The software also tracks attendance trends and alerts management when action should be taken.

Beyond the cost reductions and productivity improvements APSI experienced, one expert believes the most critical potential workforce management benefit is the ability to translate future business strategy into workforce planning and forecasting.

“Organizations need people to execute their business strategy,” said Rachele Williams, senior program manager for Human Capital Management for the APQC (American Productivity Quality Center) in Houston. “If they don’t do workforce planning, then there is a great danger they won’t have the right people to deliver on that strategy.”

Though it can be difficult to quantify, workforce management promises significant benefits like cost and staff reduction, say these experts.  So one sure strategy is to rest the business case on the expected hard returns, while the softer benefits like talent allocation and management come along as bonuses.

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