A guide to workforce management solutions and software
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Given the diversity of choices in workforce management software, it is imperative that manufacturers key in on their core objectives and specific industry requirements to select a vendor and tool set with staying power.
One of the more critical points is deciding between adding workforce management through add-ons to existing enterprise platforms like ERP, manufacturing execution system (MES) or customer relationship management (CRM) software or opting for a separate program. Analysts say companies with complex payroll environments or a highly distributed, global workforce are best served by best-of-breed vendors, specialists who tend to stay current with the ever-changing rules of regulatory compliance.
“Here’s the main thing to keep in mind: If your payroll environment is even moderately complex, then you should go best of breed,” said David O’Connell, senior analyst at Boston-based Nucleus Research. “If you have more than a couple of unions, if you operate in more than a couple of states, if you have many different pay grades -- all of these scenarios mean there is some rule complexity. Like anything else in the software world, if someone builds ERP applications, they are likely not as good at taking on that level of rule complexity. Only best-of-breed vendors can.”
Focus on business process
Companies with globally dispersed workforces also have special considerations. Some experts say enterprise suites with integrated workforce management systems typically lack the functional breadth to have the multilingual and multicurrency capabilities in best-of-breed packages, and they can fall short in addressing international labor-compliance rules.
Manufacturers also have to consider functional scope and their need for integration when evaluating products. While a manufacturer might kick off a workforce management software deployment with basic time tracking and attendance, it might soon want to broaden the implementation to support absence management or detailed labor management requirements. The workforce management software must be able to scale to address such impending needs. Manufacturers must also fully understand their integration points so they can choose a vendor and platform that can sync up with their human-resources systems, outsourced payroll provider, and other enterprise software.
For Aker Philadelphia Shipyard, the need to automate time and attendance tracking drove its initial implementation of workforce management software, but its selection process hinged on choosing a vendor that had a broader suite of features so the company could expand its program.
“You have to have a long-term vision,” said Michel Boeckx, chief technology officer for the Philadelphia-based commercial shipyard. “It’s important to see if your software can handle what you need to do. You need a five-year plan.” Aker eventually added human-resources, payroll and absence-management capabilities.
Because Aker’s business is heavily regulated, it was also critical to have a vendor that makes it a priority to stay current with evolving payroll and personnel laws. Boeckx advises companies with complex requirements like Aker’s to seek out workforce management software providers that understand all the nuances of labor management in their specific markets. Talking to reference customers, particularly those in a related industry, is a crucial part of vendor selection, as is exploring the vendor’s support policies, since these are mission-critical systems with little room for downtime, Boeckx said.
Making the right selection really boils down to an exercise in understanding, not just your business, but your business processes, Boeckx explained. “Put your problems down on paper and understand all the rules before you decide what system to buy,” he said. “That’s how you make the match. The software vendors can say they do this, but if they don’t support your business processes, it doesn’t much matter.”