You'd be hard-pressed to find a retailer who couldn't benefit - both financially and in terms of customer service - from a modern labor management solution.
Chain stores, in particular, will see the biggest returns by moving to today's centralized, Web-based, and feature-rich integrated labor management solutions. But whether you've got one store or a thousand, five employees or 5,000, there's efficiency to be gained by upgrading from yesterday's manual or store-specific system to today's automated enterprise one. Kronos Inc. (Chelmsford, MA) is one forward-looking labor management company with solutions that scale all tiers of the retail market. Gil Sullivan, manager for Kronos' retail marketing division, took some time with me to discuss the adoption of labor management solutions in retail. Vito Carrera, MIS manager at Discount Car And Truck Rentals (Montreal) and a Kronos customer, offered his thoughts, too. Carrera led a Kronos Workforce Central implementation in January 2002 that centralizes the management of 200 employees across 30 locations.
1. Who is demanding labor management solutions?
Sullivan: We're seeing a lot of people coming in who are still manual or paper-based. They're waking up saying, "In this day and age, we should be able to better handle and automate these tasks." Every minute a manager spends on a bad labor management application, that's a minute they're not out adding value as a store manager.
We're also seeing retailers who already rolled out decentralized solutions 6 to 10 years ago, where each store has its own database and its own hardware. They're seeing that to gain new benefits, they have to centralize the solution. Centralization reduces IT costs so they're not managing databases, networks, and interfaces for all of these sites.
The benefits of this are the reduced IT burden and the view of a centralized, real-time enterprise. So you can see how store A is doing today in terms of its labor budget versus its actual labor costs. Companies like Discount Car And Truck Rentals can take that information and establish best practices.
Carrera: We went to a centralized system because we have so many locations. It was very time-consuming to manage our labor before because we had to add up card-punch figures from 30 different locations. Each location had to add up all the figures and verify them. There was a delay in sending the information to the head office for payroll. The payroll clerk had to enter the data into another system.
Scheduling was difficult as well. It was very challenging to compare schedules to actual time worked. It became a human resources and management issue. Before, we couldn't accurately break down the amount of time it took to do payroll each month. Now, it's automated, so we don't have to.
2. What are the most important features to look for?
Sullivan: When Kronos took our DOS-based labor management solution and created a "next generation" labor management product, we did so to target those larger enterprises that have multiple sites with something that would be able to scale on a central database.
Next, a Web-based solution is ideal. In today's world, you hear IT pushing for a Web-based solution, and you hear users pushing for a rich, usable solution. IT says, "Let's make it a browser-based system, because I can't go out and touch every PC or every desktop that's going to use it." But then, when some of these users go to Web-enabled solutions, they find that a vendor may have just used HTML to enable their older architecture to interface with the Web. That's a frustrating experience. The user hits delays, and clicks and waits for pages to download. Users are used to a more interactive user interface, so we turned to JAVA technology and used it to deliver a rich user interface through the Web browser. IT loves JAVA because it still satisfies their need for a thin client that keeps them from having to touch desktops. Users love it because it's an interface that looks and behaves like a program, not an HTML interface.
Finally, integration is key. You need something that integrates with your human resources, payroll, and POS (point of sale) systems. Retailers are doing this now, but they're doing it two to three weeks after payroll has been run. Today, you can merge this information on a daily basis.
Carrera: Integration and centralization allow huge savings of processing time between an employee's punch in and the actual processing of payroll. It also gives our managers a better view of and more control over exceptions - late or absent employees. The system gives you this information. What you do with it is a different issue; you have to use it.
3. Does the software dictate the system?
Sullivan: There's this view that, with solutions from larger companies, you have to adopt your processes to fit into these applications. We have this feature called Workforce Genies. A customer advisory board helped us design our Workforce Central Version 4 Web product. We wanted to come up with three or four views of information. We tried to get the advisory board to agree on standard filters. We were up to about the 25th variation of these views when it dawned on us that we couldn't come up with a few views to satisfy everybody. After all, you've got payroll people, store managers, and many different levels of managers with different view needs. So we developed a tool set that allows you to use Workforce Genies without any custom code. We're very sensitive to the fact that, in retail, you can't have a one-size-fits-all approach. We need to develop tools that you can use to adapt a labor management solution into your environment.
Carrera: This is a tool we purchased to work with our system. Workforce Central is flexible enough to adapt to our philosophies and scheduling needs. At the same time, we've adopted it as part of our system. We don't want to beat the system, we want to follow it.