Magazine Article | November 1, 2002

Optimize Labor Scheduling

Source: Innovative Retail Technologies

Retail labor management is not simply about recycling last week's labor schedule. Integrated solutions reach deep into the enterprise to optimize scheduling efficiency.

Integrated Solutions For Retailers, November 2002

In a recent Integrated Solutions For Retailers/Island Pacific retail software survey, labor management solutions ranked high on the list of retailers' priorities. Fortunately for them, they also ranked high in terms of end user satisfaction with existing software solutions. And why wouldn't they rank high? Modern labor management is one of the great success stories of retail, and the leading providers of software are among the industry's elite when it comes to forward-thinking solutions. Mathematical philosophers bent on making retail labor arrangements as efficient and fluid as man and machine will allow lead the space. The end results of the mathematical approach are integrated labor management solutions that offer retailers labor savings, sophisticated reporting, and increased customer service while giving employees scheduling flexibility and "anytime, anywhere" Internet access to store managers and schedules.

Smart Scheduling Solutions Abound
Kevin Schock, strategic marketing manager at labor solutions provider Timera Solutions, Inc. (Irving, TX), calls this the "next generation" of labor scheduling. "We've evolved the marketplace from a sophistication standpoint," he says. He explains that even in their simplest form - scheduling - good labor management solutions are now tight and edit-free. By tight, Schock means retailers can optimize customer service even at a lower cost of labor than they might now see. "This comes from the ability to do skills-based and seniority scheduling," he says. This kind of scheduling draws from the old mantra of having the right person, at the right place, at the right time. "Modern labor management solutions give retailers the ability to use the power of the computer to assess the whole scheduling situation," says Schock. "Through complex mathematical algorithms, we can now optimize all the thousands of labor-related decisions a retailer has to make [i.e., who's working what shift and when, break scheduling, etc.] and how these decisions relate to other facets of the retail enterprise [such as inventory management, receiving, and customer loyalty]."

Labor Scheduling Is Integration-Dependent
Integration, therefore, is an important part of labor management optimization. Labor forecasts are based on sales history that comes from the POS, for example. CRM (customer relationship management) integration helps retailers know which demographic shops when, and allows them to match specific employees to certain groups of shoppers.

John Orr, general manager of labor scheduling provider TempoSoft (Alpharetta, GA), agrees. "Integration with CRM is big. It's important to identify different profiles of customers and what they need, then match the right employee to that demographic. Senior citizens' day, for instance, requires a special kind of employee," he says. "You have to know when and how your business has occurred - this is where the projection element happens."

"My ideal scenario is one accurate, timely, relevant, and available data source," says Schock. "We need to forecast and model future business on past data. In a pharmacy, for example, this could be POS data or the number and type of prescriptions and when they wrote them, etc. Integration points are key. You need to integrate with your retail systems, your general ledger, your payroll, and so on so that you're working off the main game plan."

Labor consultant Bob Haworth of Labor Solutions International, Inc. (Sandy, UT) agrees. "Retailers have been spending billions on transaction systems, POS, distribution, store delivery, and so on," he says. "These applications hold a wealth of data that can help them better run the store from a labor standpoint. Data from these systems can be leveraged and used to more efficiently schedule and manage labor in the store." While retailers must make a huge commitment to integration if they are to benefit from this data, Haworth says the payoff is "enormous" if they get it right.

Both Schock and Orr emphasize that the keys to successful labor scheduling are sophisticated, mathematically-based solutions and integration with other retail systems. And, according to Haworth, retailers are realizing the benefits and buying into the technology. "We see retailers refocusing significant dollars on the core, traditional technologies that have achieved an ROI over the years. Labor is at the top of the list. Some of the vendors we've worked with have had banner years recently because of this trend," he says.