Workforce Scheduling: Automating for Results

Source: Aberdeen Group | Workforce Scheduling: Automating for Results | June, 2012

Every day, companies around the world must solve the jigsaw puzzle of scheduling – matching up availability, skills and business demand to create an efficient, effective schedule that meets the needs of various involved stakeholders. After hours spent creating schedules, many organizations still find themselves struggling with overstaffed shifts, or shorthanded rushes. Based on data from 163 organizations collected in May and June 2012, this Research Brief will look at how organizations are optimizing and automating scheduling to improve business results, customer satisfaction, and employee engagement.

Scheduling Automation and Integration

If the right workers with the right skills are not in place at the right time, the organization cannot deliver a profitable, engaging and satisfying customer experience. But building a schedule to accomplish this can be a huge burden, particularly on operational managers. People in this critical role have to balance time spent on customer facing and revenue driving activities with time spent on internal processes like schedule creation and management. So it’s not surprising that organizations seek to automate this important, complex, and time-consuming task.

Best-in-Class organizations in Aberdeen’s June 2012 workforce management study were 29% more likely to indicate they used an automated scheduling solution, compared to all others. And for good reason, given the impact to revenue and customer retention illustrated in Figure 1.  And as Figure 2 shows, organizations automating this process are also reducing the administrative and time burden on operational managers by ensuring greater schedule accuracy, but are improving workforce utilization, allowing organizations to be more productive. The need to improve overall workforce productivity was the top workforce management pressure cited by 69% of respondents in the 2012 workforce management study, and investment in automated scheduling is clearly addressing this critical need.

Automated scheduling can improve the lives of scheduling many stakeholders. Operational managers who are held accountable for creating schedules must do so quickly and efficiently. Financial and business executives want to deliver performance at an acceptable cost. HR leaders need to streamline tactical activities and focus on strategic priorities. And employees want a transparent and fair scheduling process. Automated scheduling addresses all of these issues.

Improving Scheduling Performance

Not only can automated scheduling improve efficiency and performance, it also allows organizations to use scheduling data in new ways (Figure 3).

Organizations with automated scheduling solutions are more than twice as likely as organizations without automated scheduling to provide self-service access to employees – a critical element to improving employee engagement and schedule accuracy. When employees can see and correct scheduling problems in advance, and feel their voice is heard in the scheduling process, they will be happier with the overall experience.

Organizations with automated scheduling are also more than four times as likely to use dashboard tools that can share workforce management data with executives. Labor is the biggest expense in most organizations, and this expense must be balanced against business results. Workforce and labor data dashboards help executives understand how labor budget is spent, and enable better conversations between operational and financial managers about talent needs and investment. This data can also help with future labor forecasting. Understanding past patterns, and the business and financial results of various schedule scenarios, helps organizations plan better in the future. While this can be done manually, organizations that automated scheduling were more than three times as likely to use automated tools to forecast future labor needs, improving accuracy and results.

Automated solutions can also offer additional functionality to manage complex issues like variable customer demand or other factors that may require organizations to staff up or down rapidly to meet business needs. By integrating data, modeling demand, and automatically and dynamically creating and modifying schedules, this functionality can rapidly improve productivity and workforce utilization. Forty-two percent (42%) of organizations with automated scheduling tools also use scenario planning software – solutions that calculate the most effective combination of shifts or day models based on staffing needs. Only 2% of organizations with manual scheduling are taking advantage of this kind of functionality, so clearly automation is critical to optimizing schedule performance. This capability is also a critical differentiators of Best-in-Class performance. Automated solutions also save time and improve efficiency by helping managers fill open shifts. Organizations with automated scheduling in place are nearly 10 times as likely (29% vs. 3%) to enable managers to automatically send notification of open shifts to employees via text, interactive voice response or email, helping to avoid managers spending hours tracking down employees to fill in for an unexpected absence.

Key Insights

Automation is a logical choice for improving efficiency, and, when done well it can also have a significant impact on effectiveness and customer and employee engagement. When evaluating automated scheduling solutions, consider the following points:

  • Implement with all stakeholders in mind. Automated scheduling solutions can be a significant investment, but this investment can be justified easily by building a business case that focuses on all key stakeholder groups – operations, finance HR, IT, employees and customers. By creating efficiencies and using schedule data to improve effectiveness and business impact, organizations can quickly measure the impact of automated scheduling. As shown in the case study, it’s smart to know how projected performance improvements will pay for the investment in automation when building a business case.
  • Make automation the foundation for integration. Scheduling does not exist in a vacuum. Automation of scheduling alone can result in less manager time spent on manual processes, happier employees and more accurate schedules. But automating scheduling and using scheduling data along with data from other workforce management processes (such as time and attendance) can have an even greater impact. Feeding performance data into the schedule and correlating schedules with business output creates a feedback loop that helps improve not only scheduling but overall business performance.
  • Know your business drivers. In organizations that are highly schedule dependent –where the right person with the right skills to meet the customer need is critical to business results – HR and the business must be completely aligned. If HR and operations don’t come together to design a scheduling process that speaks to key business drivers, scheduling solutions will never have the desired impact. A bad process, automated, will only produce disappointing results faster. Organizations must understand the business drivers and critical inputs to their scheduling process before automation begins.

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Best Practices – Deploying Mobile Field Service Software Strategies

Best-in-class companies are capitalizing on mobile technologies for field service operations to drive margin, top line revenue, and customer retention for their organizations. The process of implementing a mobile field service software does require careful evaluation to help companies optimize integration with existing ERP solutions and realize maximum return on investment.

Leverage existing and new technology to synchronize four service pillars

Businesses that are building ties between service and logistics are working towards consolidated “command centers” that overlay parts and technician planning and tracking systems and serve as a unified front end for visibility and exception handling.

In addition, leading businesses are exposing inventory management capabilities to field workers through mobile devices. In this model, field technicians can report parts usage data from the field. The system then automates the process for restocking vehicles by monitoring parts usage and adjusting stock counts.

Businesses that have already deployed Enterprise Resource Planning, order management, or CRM systems are well-positioned to add mobile field service software functionality. These internal systems house critical customer and product data that is best leveraged by field technicians. When evaluating service technology providers, businesses, in particular mid-market companies – should ensure that full integration with existing systems is possible.

Address process deficiencies before deploying technology

Without exception, businesses following their partner’s best-practices recommendations understand that changing an aftermarket service operation from a tactical cost center to a strategic profit center has as much to do with creative and efficient business processes as it does with technology selection.

The implementation and rollout of a mobile solution should be designed around proven best business practices.

Clearly define requirements and success criteria before evaluating technology solution

The adage about an ounce of prevention also holds true for planning a service transformation. To select the appropriate technology solution and continue to derive maximum benefit from it over time, businesses must take the time to document and prioritize their requirements and criteria for success.

For a business seeking a high-speed, remote service platform that provides a rapid time to benefit, the essential components include:

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