FEATURE: Above the crowd

FEATURE: Above the crowd

Source: Payroll World
By Scott Beagrie

Business data has never been more in vogue. This most unglamorous of topics has leapt up the corporate agenda and rather like social media a few years ago, organisations which don’t have a strategy for maximising its benefits can feel distinctly left behind. And just as many organisations took some time to work out how best to implement social media strategies, firms are still getting to grips with how to gather, analyse and use the data meaningfully.

The term Big Data, where datasets are so gargantuan it makes them difficult to interrogate and interpret by traditional means, is responsible for fuelling the debate and generating hype. And although data doesn’t necessarily have to be big to be valuable, the arrival of the concept has at least placed the overall topic of business information in the spotlight and made managers realise its vast potential.

Arguably early adopters of workforce management systems have a head start on many when it comes to realising the benefits of data. They are used to having timely and insightful information delivered to their desktops to better inform decision making and provide far greater visibility into the business. “As organisations continue to understand how time and attendance data can be utilised to improve their decision making and overall productivity, we’re seeing the term Big Data replaced by ‘Clever Data’ to define how managers can transform the data into meaningful analytics to improve business performance,” explains Christian Berenger, business development director at Auto Time Solutions. “The latest software systems support the concept of Big Data by collating high volumes of data and presenting it to managers in real-time as meaningful analytics, which they can harness to ‘manage in the moment’.”

Products have evolved from basic time and attendance systems to sophisticated software-based offerings that not only help to improve productivity but also have a role in other less obvious areas like employee engagement. The latest generation of workforce management systems are more intuitive, easier to implement and can bring far quicker returns on investment. Moreover, their availability in the mobile space is greatly extending their value, allowing managers to gather data whenever and wherever they and their people are based. “WFM via mobile technology is a key trend,” says Nick Reilly, business consultant with Isys Group.

“Employers are no longer restricted to only capturing the hours worked at a site or office. As the smartphone and tablet market continues to grow, employers are looking to use this technology to give full visibility of employee movements. GPS and NFC (near field communication) on these devices helps to pinpoint where that person was at any point in time, as well as capturing the time they spent there.”

In short, workforce management systems tick two of the key boxes when it comes to the hot topics for business today: mobile and data error reduction. Systems integration with payroll has always been important because it helps to eliminate errors and reduce administration but the data provided by workforce management software has many touch points across the business. “It can add strategic value to all departments,” says Neil Pickering, director at Kronos.

“The data can be used to show both direct and indirect labour costs related to a company’s products and services, thereby enabling wasteful activities to be identified. Companies can use the data to measure labour productivity. By analysing the data you can spot trends and the issues causing sickness or absenteeism, thereby helping operations and HR address the issues.” Pickering adds that the data gathered can also be used to measure what impact training has had on production, revenues and profits.

Reilly agrees that such systems are an integral part of the business and are being used for many different functions from job applications, screening and on boarding through to detailed time/activity/ job recording, absence management and scheduling, as well as importing and exporting of data with third-party applications including payroll and enterprise resource planning (ERP). Increasingly, they also have a key part to play in ensuring organisations remain compliant with legislation. Organisations which employ high numbers of temporary workers would have found it hard to remain compliant with the Agency Workers Regulation without workforce management systems recording valuable information, especially around the 12-week qualifying period and they have also eased the administrative burden of RTI and auto-enrolment. With the current focus on flexible working due to the recent legislation extending the right to all workers clocking up 26 weeks service with an employer, such systems will be even more important when it comes to ensuring both compliancy and fairness.

Flexible management
According to Simon Fowler, managing director of Advanced Business Solutions (commercial division), workforce management tools can be used to template the process for requesting flexible working.

“The process can be initiated through relevant policies being made available through the employer’s self-service portal, providing the employee with all information necessary to complete the application,” he says. “Using a sophisticated workflow engine will take a flexible working application and route it to the relevant people for review and comment. Back-end analysis tools can be used to review the potential impact of the requested work arrangement on existing staffing levels, and what the burden would be from an additional cost perspective.”

Fowler adds that with parents able to share statutory parental leave and pay from next April, such system will also help manage another complex piece of legislation. “It allows for up to three separate requests for shared parental leave (more at employer discretion) to be made by the mother or father/partner,” he says. “In a similar way to flexible working requests, it is expected that much use will be made of employee self-service for requests for shared parental leave and split day requests to be processed, further reducing the burden on the HR and payroll departments.”

Meanwhile, Marcello Sambartolo, UK country marketing manager for WorkForce Software, points to the benefits when dealing with further legislative intricacies such as the incoming ante-natal appointment component coming in later this year, as well as overseas legislation that might affect those managing international workforces like the existing Family and Medical Leave Act. “Rules and legislation are rarely static entities, so having the ability to adapt to changing business and regulatory conditions without requiring manual workarounds or a ‘rip-and- replace’ mentality is critical to getting the long-term value out of your WFMinvestment,” he says.

Mobile space

Availability of workforce management tools in the mobile space will also be increasingly important to support the growing numbers of flexible and homeworkers. Fowler identifies employee engagement via mobile devices as a key trend, explaining that an employee working remotely expects intuitive and accessible mobile entry of expenses and also a wish to quickly and easily check absence calendars and request leave over a weekend. “In addition, corporate organisation charts and contact directories are often requested via a mobile delivery platform,” he says.

Kronos predicts that the use of mobile will increase over the next 12 months as more organisations roll out smart devices to their employees, while Isys Group describes the latest generation of workforce management technology as being “all about” mobile access. “Employees can easily declare time worked away from site (via smartphones, for example) while managers can access the system anywhere, any time and from any device with a web connection,” says Reilly. “Having full visibility of their workforce as things happen enables employers to ensure commitments to customers are being met, while at the same time ensuring any issues are dealt with pro-actively in real time before they become a problem.”

Sambartolo also contends that mobile functionality is no longer a “nice to have,” but a business prerequisite. Furthermore, employers expect mobile functionality to be “app-less,” meaning they don’t want their IT departments to have to worry about which version of an app should be deployed to what device and what operating system. “Delivering mobile functionality out of the box removes such frustrations and expense, and allows employees to use personal devices without the associated overhead,” he adds.

While mobile and Big Data tend to grab the headlines, developments in biometric technology also continue to impact how organisations monitor and manage their workforces. The quality of readers still varies but Reilly claims some do offer “an almost perfect enrolment rate” and changes in the way the technology verifies an individual means their suitability is no longer restricted to clean environments and is therefore more viable for sectors such as engineering, manufacturing and construction. “While it will certainly be some time before biometrics overtakes the traditional card/fob solution, it is slowly making inroads into the market share,” he explains, while Sambartolo suggests that standalone fingerprint readers which can connect to virtually any device are also increasing flexibility of use, especially from an employee self-service perspective.

Biometrics has suffered from an acceptance problem by some workers but Pickering claims this is changing as use of biometrics widens in employees’ daily lives for the purpose of border controls, laptop logins and more. “Our personal security is important to each of us, therefore we are recognising the benefits that biometrics can deliver.” Pickering adds that in some companies, which are not using biometrics, there are cases where individuals are turning up to perform the work when someone else has been scheduled, particularly in contractor services or cleaning companies. “This puts organisations at risk of breaching their legal and contractual obligations. Biometrics also ensure the security of employee personal information when they are using self-service termials,” he says, adding that payroll should expect some of the more futuristic concepts to impact workforce management sooner rather than later.

“Wearable technology is still in the trial or concept phase at the moment but like all technology these days, it will advance rapidly and become another standard part of our lives.”

FEATURE: Above the crowd | NOVACON INSIGHTS | NOVACON, The Payroll & Accounting Company