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Our research agenda for 2012 in human capital management outlined the importance of workforce management for all organizations. One provider, WorkForce Software, provides systems that support scheduling, time and attendance, leave and absence and fatigue management. As I noted in my last analysis on WorkForce Software, the company’s focus on the fatigue aspect of workforce management, especially in white-collar environments such as transportation, utilities and healthcare, has provided them both recognition and growth. I attended the company’s first technology analyst summit this week to get a deeper view into the company and its products and see how it is shaping up in light of our research on the key applications providers in this market.

WorkForce Software continues to grow its customer and employee lists, with now hundreds of customers and rapidly growing cloud computing adoption through software as a service. The company continues to advance its core EmpCenter application, which provides a range of capabilities. Part of its unique approach is the configurability provided in its Advanced Scheduler, and its ability to monitor workers that might have multiple responsibilities that organizations need to account for cost or job tracking, which is critical for finance and activity-based costing where grants and budgets need to be closely tracked. This configurability is available without the need for custom programming; the policies and rules are defined by the business users who are held accountable for them. It’s easy to switch between activities and do costing for work at potentially different rates – a critical requirement for organizations such as universities and service businesses that use labor for a variety of needs. The application integrates pre-developed content from labor law and industry regulations to help ensure that scheduling complies with these policies. It’s predictive and policy software approach can assess any potential conflict that could happen with planned schedules is unique.

EmpCenter 9 was released this year with a major focus on supporting global and mobile deployments, and it provides a more open and integrated approach with other applications. On the global side of advancements, EmpCenter now supports 10 languages in addition to English. On the mobile technology side, the company has enhanced the mobile aspects of Workforce Management. It now uses HTML5 so that EmpCenter Mobile can operate across compliant browsers on Android and Apple devices. The company has indicated that HTML5 will replace native support of Android and Apple-based technologies. I am still a little skeptical on a complete move to HTML5, as it has not yet proven its stability across browsers, operating systems and Android devices. In addition, HTML5 cannot leverage local mobile hardware features for camera, video, field communication (NFC), gesturing and other technological advancements the way a native approach can.

The new release provides some critical productivity improvements. For instance, in what it calls one-touch callout, shifts can be announced to workers across multiple channels, such as email, text, phone and even social media, This helps address the preferences of workers; for instance, millennials often respond faster to texts than emails. Event-based scheduling can help plan one-time events or projects that need immediate attention for staffing, and can use one-touch callout to reduce the time it takes to get workers with specific skills. Across the board EmpCenter 9 has improved usability, from simplified steps in prompted wizards to more use of dragging and dropping in the application interface.

At the analyst summit, I got a deeper technology review of the software’s badge and biometric reader options. I got to see the new EmpCenter Engage Tablet, which uses an Android tablet for a range of time and attendance and other necessary worker interaction tasks, and which has a video camera that can be used for identification. This technology supports global deployments in regards to power and network connectivity, and supports attachments for other interaction needs. The Windows-based EmpCenter Touch Screen provides a simple kiosk-based approach that can be used in many environments. The company also can support time and attendance tasks at the desktop, allowing for easy checking in and out of projects. This variety of choices is part of the unique value in WorkForce’s approach compared to others, and it is an area that we focus on in our benchmark research on the needs of organizations in next-generation workforce management.

With regard to openness, WorkForce Software has expanded integration with ADP, IBM, Oracle, SAP and even Kronos to help make its software easier to integrate. I recently came across WorkForce Software at SAP Successfactors conference and saw how the two companies are working to integrate the talent management and new global payroll offerings. These technical partnerships help WordForce Software ensure the highest level of productivity and advancement for organizations who want to employ workforce management. As the company continues to advance its applications, it will need to address the concerns we have found in our data in the cloud benchmark and the broader needs we uncovered in our information management benchmark.

My review of version 9 provided some critical insight into its flexibility for meeting a range of needs across industries, especially those that need to track time and allocate costs. It has many nice capabilities for managers and employees for keeping track of information and alerting them to potential issues that could arise, such as when overtime could occur with a current schedule or when issues arise based on policies and compliance. It also can support a blended rate based on tasks and place of work. These are critical needs for varying industries, and point to the software’s flexibility for business users. Still, nothing is perfect – I believe EmpCenter could use technological advancements in its workforce analytics; specifically, usability and interactivity for a range of needs should have a higher priority than what I have seen. The company should also explore further ways in which it can help organizations engage employees, which will require some examination of social collaboration, and where it can integrate further with the onboarding of workers, to speed the process and find ways to limit the administration and paperwork required.

Workforce Software is doing a great job to advance the workforce management software market. Its challenges are less in its software and more in advancing the visibility of the breadth and depth of its offerings and gaining further adoption in white-collar industries, where businesses still manually handle many of their workforce’s scheduling, tracking and monitoring tasks. WorkForce’s fatigue management feature is a critical distinction for its software, and its approach can be used in many industries. Now, as it is fully engaged in the software-as-a-service approach, the company can gain new customers who don’t want to worry about technical implementation or resource issues at their sites.

If you are ready to reassess your current approach to workforce management and have not considered WorkForce Software, you should examine it more closely, as it has a good reputation and a solid offering in the market.

Regards,

Mark Smith – CEO & Chief Research Officer

The recent buzz around business analytics has generated resurgent conversation about what businesses need from their data to optimize business processes and make better decisions. Our benchmark research on business analytics in more than 2,500 organizations produced unprecedented information about business and IT usage and competency with analytics. It confirmed that effective use of business analytics requires a balance of people and skills, processes, information and technology not just to provide capabilities but also to engage business analysts and users across the organization. The research also identified significant challenges facing organizations in terms of inefficient analytics processes and ineffective technology. 

Making the most of business analytics means enabling the business analysts who support the departments and processes of the line of business. These individuals and teams may be found in finance, operations, the supply chain, sales, customer service, marketing and other areas; in each they are the ones accountable for using analytics to determine the metrics and key indicators that they need to present to management and collaborate closer together. These individuals usually work with their IT organizations for data access, but in some larger organizations they work with line-of-business technology groups. In recent years businesses have hired data-focused analysts to support their thirst for analytics across a range of data and sources.  

Unfortunately, many IT departments are unable to provide automated data feeds fast enough to support the analysts, and that creates gaps in the analytic process. Our research found this to be a serious issue, as people spend 69 percent of their analytics time in data-related tasks, not only preparing data and reviewing it for quality and consistency but also just waiting for the data. This leaves too little time for analytic tasks such as determining root causes of issues, assembling scenarios for analysis and determining the impact to business from planned changes. The best path forward is to ensure that these data-related activities are automated or streamlined to meet the business analytic needs. In addition, IT should spend less time trying to dumb down and standardize delivery of data through business intelligence and spend more cycles helping business analysts get the data at the frequency they need. In other words, IT needs more focus on data governance, which our benchmark found to be critical to bring data integration, data quality and master data management into a single, standard process. 

Beyond the data gap in business analytics, the analysts have to deal with the issue of what technology they use to conduct analytics. As technology spending has gotten more controlled, centralized and standardized in IT organizations, fewer organizations have purchased specifically tailored analytics tools. Instead, our research shows more use of spreadsheets; they’re the most often used technology in 60 percent of organizations, followed by business intelligence in 49 percent. Line of business or analyst-specific software is used in less than 20 percent of organizations. It is clear that this has to change, as more than half (55%) of organizations are dissatisfied with their analytics process, saying it is hard to build and maintain and too slow. Well, that is what you get with spreadsheets, along with disorganized business processes.  

What do business analysts need from their analytics technologies? Our benchmark research found the top request was access to source data for analytics (52%), followed closely by the ability to take action on the outcome of analytics (47%), the ability to design and maintain the business model (42%) and to quickly generate presentations and other analytics reports (41%). These might sound straightforward, but it’s not if you are using Microsoft Excel, and it’s even worse in a shared work environment. A growing base is looking for analytics to be delivered in an on-demand, software-as-a-service mode (27%), though more than half (52%) of organizations still prefer the status quo of buying and installing software on-premises.  

All of this leads me to urge analysts to stand up and demand the tools they need to be more efficient in their analytic modeling and planning. Ask yourself how easily can you make changes to your analytics model and recalculate a forecast that links to the integrated business plan? Can you adjust and decrease a metric such as days sales outstanding (DSO) by one day to see the impact on cash flow in the business? Can you adjust the sales and operational plan by adjusting the forecast by one day? You should be able to make these and other model and variable updates in minutes, not days, and be able to share the results with others to determine actions and outcomes. Knowing that you can do the what-if and planning based analytics should be easy and straight forward. 

At the same time, the speed at which analytics get computed and information generated needs to improve, and the assembly and deployment to business users must be made more efficient. Our research found that businesses want the basics; searching for specific answers was the top priority of 83 percent, who deemed it important or very important. Also important is exploring the data underlying analytics through drilling and navigation, cited by 78 percent of organizations. These are not standard functionality in spreadsheets, presentations and documents, and not what you get in reports or most dashboards.  

Our research indicates that the more innovative the organization, the more sophisticated the results. We performed our own root-cause diagnostic on these mature organizations and found that they have automated the data aspects of business analytics from data access to data quality. They also are able to generate more sophisticated analytics and metrics, and perform more frequent reviews. These organizations also foster great relationships between their analysts and their IT teams, which work collaboratively on business analytics. These organizations are also the ones expanding their deployments to smartphones and tablets, integrating forecasting and planning and using predictive analytics. 

The time has come for business analysts to lead the fight to improve business analytics to ensure their organizations have the information they need. Instead of having silos of reports, dashboards, spreadsheets and other data points, organizations need unified analytics and planning capabilities built into a common set of technology using a sophisticated modeling for representing the business and integrating data efficiently. Our recent business intelligence and performance management benchmark research found that this need to bring analytics and planning together is a top priority in more mature, sophisticated organizations.  

So put the uncontrolled use of spreadsheets into the box it came out of and focus on working together to ensure that business analytics is like any business process – documented and automated to meet the majority of an organization’s needs. Look for simple and sophisticated means for analysts to work together on the business analytics journey and ensure you vocalize your needs for better investments. If you are not sure if you have the business analytics you need, let me know. The self-assessment is easy, but planning to adapt and change, well, that might take some work. 

Regards, 

Mark Smith 

CEO & Chief Research Officer

Mark Smith – Twitter

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