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Workforce scheduling, compliance among WFM software benefits

ERP-based, SaaS, standalone -- the choices are bewildering. Workforce management software comes in many different shapes and sizes. Here’s a guide to selecting the right WFM option.

Workforce management software can help companies ensure they will have the right people to carry their organization into the future. There’s a lot more to workforce management software than talent management, however. The software can also help companies comply with labor regulations and, at a granular level, get a better handle on workforce scheduling, including time and attendance issues.

Workforce management (WFM) is becoming ever more critical to companies as human capital becomes a bigger part of the complex equation they must master to meet customer demand. Manufacturing is one sector in which the need is acute. “Talent management is now a strategic asset for manufacturers,” especially in the context of supply chain planning, said Joshua Greenbaum, principal at Enterprise Application Consulting in Berkeley, Calif.

Choosing workforce management software

Once a company is sold on the benefits, the next step is choosing workforce management software. It’s not as straightforward a process as it might seem. Many ERP vendors -- specifically first and second tier providers -- have included WFM capabilities in their latest product suites. Other enterprise applications such as customer relationship management (CRM) and even project management have been adding workforce management features.

Then there are the standalone, “best of breed” vendors, who have made knowing all the ins and outs of workforce management their lives’ work. If a company is inclined to go best of breed, the next choice will be between on-premises deployment and on-demand Software as a Service (SaaS), with the latter winning points for its low up-front costs and flexibility to add or subtract users as needed.

Where to begin? According to Greenbaum, for companies  already running an enterprise application that now offers some workforce management functions, it makes the most sense to start there. “If you can find something from your incumbent vendor, that might be the way to go,” he said. It is also possible the company might have some WFM capabilities -- workforce scheduling and work data collection, for example -- already sitting on the shelf, unused. Either way, it pays to start the conversation with your vendor.

Besides simplicity, another advantage to going with an existing vendor is integration. If workforce management is one component of a suite, IT won’t have to worry about connecting the workforce management system to other systems such as ERP, avoiding one headache down the road. This approach is particularly appealing if all of the company’s shops are running the same ERP instance, said Greenbaum, as it provides the desired WFM capabilities without adding complexity to the IT environment.

But there are situations that call for the specialized, standalone approach to workforce management software. For example, companies that have complex labor situations --  such as multiple unionized employees or operations in numerous countries governed by diverse regulations -- would do well to pick a workforce management software system that can handle workforce scheduling nuances with ease. Niche offerings typically have the multilingual and multicurrency capabilities needed by companies with global workforces, experts say.

With a highly unionized workforce of 1,200 employees, Aker Philadelphia Shipyard (APSI) chose a dedicated WFM application.  As chief technology officer Michel Boeckx explained, the shipyard needed only time and attendance tracking initially, but chose an option with room to expand. Now, APSI uses the workforce management software’s payroll and absence-management features and is looking to add talent management.

The rise in workforce management reflects the reality that companies need to do a better job managing their human capital to have the most flexible and responsive supply chains, according to Greenbaum. This is especially critical for companies that are trying to keep their production facilities on shore.

“You have to be able to do the complex labor planning that offshore contract manufacturers have been doing for years,” Greenbaum said.

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