Web-driven workforce management software branches out

Support for mobile devices and SaaS workforce management could expand the use of workforce management software and help position it as a core enterprise platform.

Workforce management software will continue to emerge as a core enterprise platform as new delivery models, Software as Service (SaaS) workforce management and support for mobile devices expand its use, according to analysts.

With the number of remote workers on the rise, vendors of workforce management software are revamping their product lines to add support for mobile devices and offering the option to deploy the application as SaaS. New mobile workforce management apps that run on smartphones and tablets can facilitate collection of time data and processing of time-off requests and approvals by allowing workers to attend to such tasks when out of the office and even off the company clock.

“Lots of people are working remotely, and the ability to give them self-service and do as much as possible over the Web is really important,” said David O’Connell, senior analyst at Nucleus Research in Boston. “If employees want to ask for a day off or change something on their 1099 [tax form] and they can do it on their Blackberry in the parking lot or on their PC at home, they can spend more time on the job.”

On-demand workforce management software is also catching on as a way to deploy the software on a broader scale. With IT budgets remaining tight, the SaaS licensing model of a monthly, per-user subscription fee enables manufacturers to fund deployment out of their expense budgets instead of having to gain time-consuming approval for a major capital expenditure. In addition, workforce management software is typically quite complex, and SaaS workforce management implementations, which are managed and run by a third-party software provider, free up manufacturing IT departments to focus on other important systems.

Out on the horizon, social media technology is also likely to play a role in shaping workforce management software. New, Facebook-like collaboration features will be folded into existing workforce management software to give companies better insight and access to the expertise that resides in their talent pools.

Evolving use cases for workforce management software

Beyond technology advances and support for new platforms, workforce management software will evolve in other ways, according to analysts. The continued globalization of the workforce will have companies seeking a more standardized approach so they can optimize labor use on a global scale instead of managing it in silos, be it by business unit, regional plant, or country.

Continuing economic pressures will also have manufacturers looking to deploy workforce management software in new ways. As SaaS and mobile support make the software more accessible, manufacturers will begin to experiment with the technology beyond the traditional uses of tracking and scheduling hourly employees. Having proved the return on investment from deploying workforce management software to optimize labor on the plant floor and in the warehouse, manufacturers will seek to leverage their applications to manage salaried labor, where punch clocks are not involved.

Manufacturers will also begin using the software for the detailed time tracking needed for activity-based costing, which will give them a clearer picture of profitability on a customer or product level. In this way, they’ll gain visibility into such metrics as the amount of time it takes to produce a particular product or the quality issues of one manufacturing line.

“Manufacturers want to go to a lower level of granularity [in looking at labor costs] to support product and customer profitability,” said Jim Holincheck, vice president at Gartner Inc., a research firm based in Stamford, Conn. “Especially in industries with tight margins, there’s an increasing desire for organizations to get better at doing this so they remain competitive going forward.”

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