Magazine Article | November 1, 2004

Cross-Scheduling Brings Flexibility To Labor Management

Source: Innovative Retail Technologies

When your stores are many and your labor resources few, cross-scheduling helps ensure the most bang for your payroll buck.

Integrated Solutions For Retailers, November 2004

any retailers with locations in reasonable proximity to one another, or multiple departments in one large store, are rediscovering the value of cross-scheduling, or assigning employees to shifts and/or tasks at various stores and/or departments. But it takes the right labor scheduling application to cross-schedule effectively. Real-time connectivity and consistent interfaces from location to location are imperatives. Here, Brad Friedman, VP of information services at Burlington Coat Factory Warehouse Corp. (Burlington, VT), and Jimmy Bianco, executive VP at time and attendance vendor Control Module, Inc. (CMI) (Enfield, CT), discuss the ins and outs of cross-scheduling.

What implementation/installation challenges must a retailer consider when contemplating a cross-scheduling-compliant time and attendance system?

Friedman: Obviously, a system that can be easily maintained across the enterprise is critical to cross-scheduling success. In our case, we needed to make sure that a person who was cross-scheduled was paid out of the home office or store, but that the payroll dollars were allocated to the location where that person worked.

Bianco: To ensure a successful real-time cross-scheduling-compliant system there must be a reliable, broadband connection from the data collection device (the clock, PC, or other device at which an employee punches in) to the server. With this kind of network in place, associates can clock in at one location and clock out at another, producing validated and accurate transactions.

What are some common end user (employee) objections to cross-scheduling? How are they overcome?

Friedman: I do not think we ran into many problems at all from the end users. Clearly, there is some more work and time required by the employee, but the accountability for hours and time spent well outweighs the objections. Like any other potentially unpopular business decision, it needs to be managed to your employee base.

Bianco: In some systems that aren't real time, associates don't have accurate transaction responses when they have to change locations, leaving doubt as to the accuracy of the data captured and the respective compensation. This is obviously a sensitive area for employees. These concerns are alleviated with accurate, real-time transactions processed on a single, enterprise-wide server.

With what retail systems must cross-scheduling time and attendance systems integrate? What special considerations need to be addressed? How is this integration best facilitated?

Friedman: Our time and attendance system is fed by our HR (human resources) system. The HR system will pass a new hire's record to the time and attendance system. The time and attendance system then feeds the payroll system, which, in turn, has a back feed to our HR system. The integration was facilitated by a standard API (application programming interface) between the applications.

Bianco: Control Module's cross-scheduling and time and attendance systems are integrated with all retail applications through the CMI ClockServer® application interface. This product allows integration across most existing and legacy applications. CMI offers professional services for these types of application interfaces as well.

What factors go into determining whether cross-scheduling is necessary? When does it make sense for a retailer?

Friedman: Cross-scheduling makes sense when you have multiple locations or tend to shift your employee base to different areas within a single four-wall location and want to track this movement. Sharing team members from location to location may be executed for several reasons, such as seasonal shift, new store openings, or just overall shortage of resources at a particular time.

Bianco: Typically, a cross-scheduling system is beneficial or required when employees day trade or shift between multiple locations or departments. It is the logical choice when associates with certain skill sets are required at other locations or departments that lack these abilities or are short on personnel.

What kind of theoretical results could a typical retailer achieve a year after deploying a time and attendance/labor scheduling solution that accommodates cross-scheduling?

Bianco: Labor is one of the most important assets to a retailer because appropriate assignment of skill sets can result in improved customer experience and loyalty, which translates to increased revenues. In addition, savings can be realized by reducing time abuse, which is critical in optimizing resource allocation. Scheduling and associate authentication have been estimated to save a retailer somewhere between 3% and 5% of annual payroll (based on an unofficial estimate from the American Payroll Association).

What are the three most important features any retailer should look for in a time and attendance/ access control solution that facilitates cross-scheduling?

Friedman: The solution should meet the retailer's technical environment requirements, allow easy integration (and migration) to existing applications or toolsets, and allow dynamic changing of parameters and remote management of time and attendance systems.

Bianco: Retailers should look for an industry standard, network-ready data collection device capable of meeting enterprise-level transaction traffic. They should also demand a high level of reliability and accuracy in the collection of transaction data and the ability to provide operations and support personnel easy remote management of the system with little or no intervention.

What's the future in labor scheduling/time and attendance systems for retailers? What's the vision?

Friedman: I truly believe that biometrics plays into labor scheduling. But smart scheduling based upon past sales and payroll costs to help predict the needs through the retail store is also important. Cross-functional training in order to be able to add resources to areas that require them at short notice is essential. Being able to track the payroll dollars spent in particular areas of the retail store will allow for better analysis of efficiencies in those areas.

Bianco: In the future, biometric data collection and authentication, combined with proactive labor scheduling, which uses dynamic algorithms to assess and allocate resource needs, will ensure the right personnel are in the right place at the right time.