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Potential Left on the Shelf

October 10, 2008
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Related Topics: Work/Life Balance, Attendance, Human Resources Management Systems (HRMS/HRIS), Featured Article
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Advanced scheduling software is promising, but just a small percentage of companies tap its full potential.

    So says Lisa Disselkamp, a consultant who helps firms implement scheduling applications.

    Disselkamp, president of Athena Enterprises, says companies sometimes purchase demand-driven scheduling software but fail to achieve optimal shift assignments because of poor project supervision and resistance from managers who must relinquish self-styled scheduling methods dominated by personal relationships.

    "There’s a lot of ‘shelfware,’" Disselkamp says. "They will buy the product, but they’ll leave a lot of it on the shelf unused."

    Advanced scheduling software refers to applications that create employee schedules while taking into account data about an organization’s demand, such as sales volume, store foot traffic or hospital patient counts. The products also can consider employee preferences for shift times or tasks. But there are concerns that the resulting schedules may be so variable that they hurt workers and, in turn, companies.

    No more than 5 to 8 percent of businesses have advanced scheduling software in place, estimates Walter Ross, chief executive of time-and-attendance software company Legiant. But Ross expects the market for demand-driven scheduling products to grow. Advocates point to evidence that the tools can cut labor costs, boost sales and increase productivity.

    "It’s very clear that there’s a very clear return on investment," he says.

    But some companies that have invested in the software are missing out on their full return, suggests Disselkamp, author of the book Working the Clock: How to Win the Race for Productivity and Profits With Workforce Management Technology.

    Too often, she says, information technology departments in charge of implementing advanced scheduling tools are more concerned about staying on budget and meeting a deadline than realizing the goals of the project.

    "I just wish business leaders were more involved in the way these systems are implemented," she says.

    Business leaders often are involved in advanced scheduling projects, argues John Anderson, director of retail marketing for software vendor Kronos. "The typical case we see is that while IT plays the key role in delivery, executive sponsorship comes from store operations, where there is a high degree of focus on the software delivering business value and ROI,"Anderson says.


"The typical case we see is that while IT plays the key role in delivery, executive sponsorship comes from store operations, where there is a high degree of focus on the software delivering business value and ROI."
 —John Anderson, director of retail marketing, Kronos

    Morné Swart, vice president of product management at CyberShift, says his firm can reduce the role of IT by offering scheduling software over the Internet as a service, accessible by Web browser. The "software as a service" approach differs from the traditional method of running an application on a company’s internal computers, and is seen as easing installation and maintenance burdens.

    Apart from technology, though, putting in an advanced scheduling system runs up against shift-assigning methods that are held dear, Disselkamp says. Managers may make scheduling decisions based more on who they like and which workers are fussy than on the best interests of the firm. "Scheduling, it’s a personal art form," she says. "It’s relationship-based."

    But moving to a more scientific scheduling approach is worth it, Disselkamp says. "With these automated systems, you get intelligence," she says. "You base it on business decisions."

Workforce Management, October 6, 2008, p. 38 -- Subscribe Now!

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