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Workforce management software vendor Kronos released its financial results at its 15th annual KronosWorks conference (#KronosWorks12) this week. As a private company Kronos had $870 million in revenue for its 2012 fiscal year ending in September, making Kronos one of the largest software and technology companies in the world. Our benchmark research into next-generation workforce management finds the most important technology priorities are collaboration (70%), analytics (68%) and mobility (43%). Kronos addresses these trends with its portfolio of workforce management applications.

Building on its introduction of Kronos InTouch at last year’s conference, Kronos meets a new generation of managers’ needs for overseeing and analyzing the contribution of workers. Its new Workforce Tablet application provides analytics, geosensing, scheduling, staffing and time card approvals via a native iPad application available from the Apple App Store. I tried the demonstration and found the application easy to use. It’s designed for a range of competencies and skills across industries. Our research finds 28% of organizations use tablets today, and another third (34%) plan to use them in the next year. Since the iPad is the preferred device in almost two-thirds (63%) of organizations, Kronos has made a smart bet on Apple. Android devices are a logical next step and beginning to show up in business; currently Microsoft has little to no mindshare and it just introduced its Microsoft Slate that it hopes will gain adoption in organizations.

This has been a big year for Kronos. The latest release of Kronos Workforce Analytics, as I assessed, was a significant point of expansion. This week’s released of workforce analytics that operate on a tablet should help managers get better insight into labor and high-level worker performance metrics. Kronos’ labor analytics capabilities, accessible now via tablets, can help with overage and compliance metrics. Our latest research found that almost two-thirds (61%) of organizations plan to improve workforce analytics; most currently use spreadsheets. Kronos provides prebuilt content for specific industries but can also provide its analytics technology for any organization that wants more sophisticated analytics.

Kronos’ InTouch device can be used as a time clock and for a range of worker interactions, from notifications and access to service and applications. I would expect to see even more options from Kronos to support capabilities like WiFi and playing learning vignettes through video streaming which are natural expansions for its technology. Kronos has new partner applications for InTouch, such as Wayfinder, to help guide employees to work locations; EnrollMe, to help with benefit enrollment; and Employee Survey, to provide employee surveys at point of check-in. These applications help demonstrate the viability and extensibility of the InTouch platform. I hope that Kronos can demonstrate its own expansion of applications and services that could extend to what workers might need after punching out from ordering food for home delivery or pickup to providing reminders on life events or what might be coming up at work on the following day.

Kronos also has released Kronos Workforce Task Management to give managers and workers in the retail and hospitality industries better management of tasks that need to be completed. Our research finds that Kronos is addressing organizations’ top three workforce management priorities: aligning workforce to business goals and objectives (29%), increasing productivity (14%) and improving the efficiency of workforce processes (11%). Kronos software helps guide workers and goes beyond just depending on communications to ensure tasks get completed. I hope to see Kronos take the next step and integrate recognition and rewards to provide further acknowledgement for those who complete tasks satisfactorily and use social collaboration techniques to engage managers and workers.

Kronos makes its applications accessible through software as a service (SaaS) and cloud computing efforts, which our benchmark research finds is a priority in 19 percent of organizations, versus a preference for on-premises in 42 percent. Kronos announced it now has more than 6,000 customers in the cloud, where it provides a new core HR and payroll offering called Workforce Ready. Its expansion into cloud computing and even providing a hosted service that sometimes is called a private cloud are smart moves to ensure it provides its customers the choices it wants in using its technology. Kronos had no lack of customers at the conference vocalizing support for its cloud computing efforts.

Kronos’ largest challenge is less about technology than about educating existing and potential new customers on the productivity and performance improvements they can gain. Our search found the demand for productivity improvement was the number one motivation for new investments in workforce management (63%). Kronos will have to provide more examples and measurements of time to perform tasks, as competitive technology providers are quickly moving to communicate what they do to address a new generation of worker applications. Vendors are not sitting still: Oracle offered some recent demonstrations of its future directions with its Fusion applications, SAP is partnering with Workforce Software, Workday announcing they are supporting workforce management, Ceridian has expanded with Dayforce HCM and SumTotal is reenergizing its efforts; meanwhile, Red Prairie could be distracted given its recent merger announcement with JDA. Kronos will also need to examine methods to expand collaboration methods so workers and managers can interact more through a range of channels, from forums to new broadcast and activity streaming, which our research has found to be growing in importance. Kronos is also making it easier for customers to use its latest mobile and analytics advancements on older versions of its Workforce Central platform and not requiring an upgrade.

Kronos has made significant technology advancements to help make workforce management simpler. It has addressed usability, which our research found to be most important consideration in 81 percent of organizations. Kronos is focused on increasing productivity; now it just needs to promote its advancements better to ensure it can take credit for the inclusion of innovative technology in its applications. The move to embrace mobile technology like tablets and supporting tasks and direct support of daily tasks are critical steps to be a leader in the workforce management technology market. If you have not seen what Kronos is doing, just download and run the demo yourself to see what they are doing to advance applications and usability for their customers.

Regards,

Mark Smith

I attended Oracle’s annual OpenWorld conference this week. The company claims it holds the world’s largest technology conference, with 50,000 attendees and a million people viewing sessions online. It was a great opportunity to get close to the Oracle Fusion Applications, which the company presented as proven and ready, with customers using them on-premises and in private and public cloud computing usage methods. In keynotes from executives Larry Ellison, Mark Hurd and Thomas Kurian and application-focused sessions with executives Steve Miranda and Chris Leone, Oracle repeated the message that Fusion Applications are not just for cloud computing and web services but are also accessible through mobile technology called Oracle Fusion Tap that operates natively on the Apple iPad. The company left no confusion about its applications’ readiness for cloud and mobile computing, and provided insight into future advancements.

After last year’s Oracle OpenWorld I made a cloudy forecast for Oracle Fusion for CRM and HCM due to Oracle’s lack of clarity in its message, the applications’ lack of readiness for cloud computing and slow progress on its on-premises customer deployments. These items have been addressed over the last year. The company presented significant customer and partner validation on deployments of Oracle Fusion Applications in HCM and some in CRM for Sales. Oracle discussed marquee Fusion HCM customers such as ConAgra, Nikon and Red Robin, and boasted about overall progress on adoption. Oracle Fusion for HCM has expanded with the company’s acquisition of Taleo, which has been progressing nicely. Oracle recently announced its intention to purchase SelectMinds, whose software adds depth in recruiting and hiring processes through the use of social media to promote a company’s brand and attract talent. Oracle is rapidly filling any possible gaps in its ability to meet the expanding need to manage human capital effectively.

On the Fusion CRM side, especially for sales, I didn’t find as much validation from customers at OpenWorld, though the application is ready for faster adoption, as it proved by earning our highest-level Hot rating in our Sales Performance Management Value Index research; you can download the executive report at no cost and see for yourself. Oracle discussed its own transition to using Oracle Fusion CRM for Sales, which for any sales organization the size of Oracle would not be easy. Oracle also has embedded in the application a spectrum of analytics including predictive ones to provide indicators of retention issues with employees, just as it can help predict the potential behavior of customers in sales.

Oracle also showed off advancements for offerings in the contact center and marketing, but we will talk about those offerings and provide deeper analysis in the future.

On the mobile side, Oracle officially unveiled Oracle Fusion Tap, which provides an intuitive approach to using Oracle applications on the iPad. Oracle made a demonstration version of the software available on the Apple AppStore in August. I tried it out after seeing the demos at the conference. The application took seconds to start and was easy to use. The demonstration is focused more on sales organizations than on broader human capital management. Oracle takes advantage of Apple’s swipe and gesture support, and its organizational selector makes it easy and fun to assess a team and their activities. Oracle Fusion Tap is well ahead of offerings from many other companies that compete in sales and human capital management. It should be on HR and sales organizations’ evaluation lists, especially since they can try it in seconds themselves without having to do any complex configuration or waiting for approval by Oracle.

Oracle’s largest challenge with Fusion Tap is in the performance indicators part of the application. It provides easy access to key areas of focus, but its metrics charts are not well presented and not designed for autosizing and interaction. When you try to examine a chart more closely, it does not size to the maximize size of the display, nor does it let you explore charts interactively. On the plus side, eventual integration with Oracle Social Network will make Fusion Tap more powerful by adding collaboration features. The other challenge with Fusion Tap’s performance indicators is a problem I have written about recently and tried to educate people about for years: Performance is only one type of indicator necessary for action on analytics. I hope Oracle will address these issues and make the analytics more actionable and engaging. I wrote about this same issue of usability of mobile analytics in my analysis of Oracle Business Intelligence Mobile earlier this year.

I decided to see if the underlying Oracle Business Intelligence Mobile has advanced since much of this technology is used in Oracle Fusion Applications. Oracle had updated its mobile business intelligence for the iPad in August, but it appears the offering has gotten more complex in many areas of presentation and interactivity, and the demo performance compared to Oracle Fusion Tap was very slow. This could be compensated for with Oracle server computing power unless Oracle has placed the burden of processing locally on the iPad. Also, unlike Fusion Tap, Oracle still makes quick access to try its mobile business intelligence cumbersome with required configuration and registration, which leaves more room for improvement.

I found it refreshing to see the embedding of Oracle Social Network within Oracle Fusion for CRM and HCM. I was pretty harsh on Oracle last year for not being ready in its presentation of the software. I thought that we would not hear a lot more about the product until this year’s conference, and I was pretty much right. Now Oracle seems to have learned that simply providing social collaboration software by itself is not as valuable as embedded in the applications. Social collaboration should be part of business processes, as we have found in our business-specific research across sales, customer service and human capital management. According to Oracle it plans to make it available inside of Fusion CRM in 2013; it’s not clear yet when it will be available for Fusion HCM, but I expect also in 2013. I believe that Oracle Social Network is enough of an advancement that offering a trial of the software on the Internet via public cloud computing, as Salesforce.com has done with Chatter, would help give customers and us in the industry more confidence in its human and technological advancements. It would have been great to have everyone at Oracle OpenWorld using it to socialize and engage about Oracle advancements. Maybe next year.

Oracle also sees the importance of engaging employees and managers on a routine basis to increase the efficiency of their interactions. Oracle previewed what appears to be a Fusion employee and manager self-service set of applications. I liked what I saw but I am not sure when the company plans to release this, but competitors such as SAP, Workday and even Salesforce, with its Work.com and Do.com, already have similar existing approaches in the cloud today. Oracle also showed the future expansion of its footprint in traditional workforce management, where worker time and absence are tracked no matter whether they are salaried or hourly employees. This expansion beyond what Oracle already offers in Fusion HCM today, informed by its experience with previous Oracle and Peoplesoft approaches, is critical to helping the company stay competitive, and could be especially useful as organizations blend their focus on talent and workforce management together.

After two days of Oracle and customer sessions, along with a visit to the demonstration stands in the exposition area, it was clear that Oracle has made an important change in its approach to the market and its executive-level commitment to Fusion Applications. I saw more dialogue with partners to complement its applications, and many announcements, including Oracle’s on partners in Fusion CRM, who were also visible during presentations and demonstrations.

Oracle largest challenge is marketing to a business audience and being seen as a friendly and effective supplier of business applications. Businesses that have established relationships with other cloud computing application providers will not be easy to gain as customers just because Oracle is Oracle or their IT departments say it is a good idea.

Oracle Fusion is worth your consideration whether you are considering a move to cloud computing or still run applications on-premises or use a hybrid approach which provides more choices to customers than just a cloud computing only approach. We are now in a renaissance of business driving what it needs from business applications, and vendors that convince business they can be trusted will be at the center of a new world of cloud, mobile and social computing.

Regards,

Mark Smith

CEO & Chief Research Officer

Mark Smith – Twitter

Ventana Research

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