This posting is contributed by guest blogger Drew West, Product Marketing Manger at Kronos, Inc.
Can technology help? Of course it can. You’ve probably already optimized the layout of your operation; why not optimize the layout of your information? Look for technology approaches with the following attributes:
Data Capture: Get to the Details
Workforce efficiency and labor cost control start with data collection: You need information about the work, who’s doing the work, and the outcome of that effort. Of course, collection of this information can’t be cumbersome- inefficient data-capture defeats the purpose of improving productivity. Seek out labor management providers that offer streamlined devices- timekeeping terminals that capture information with a simple badge swipe, barcode read, RFID, or even a fingerprint ID. Can the workforce management application leverage devices you already have, collect data possibly captured by your existing technology- scanners and barcode readers? Look for easy integration- simple ways to pull data into the labor management system, as well as easy approaches for getting data out. Ideal labor management systems blend together with your existing environment into a holistic approach to managing the workflow– not a fragmented labor management silo that creates more “work.”
Monitoring: Continuous Improvement
Data is just data- you need insight and direction to guide the labor decisions that will drive efficiency and maintain profitability. Look for applications with a decision-support layer; a monitoring approach that not only captures data and processes labor transactions, but alerts you to the “so what” and “what to do” as a result. You’ll typically see this in the form of dashboards, which should clearly be web-based and available on-demand- with information that’s current to the minute. Even better is when that information is segmented by role or security to the user’s role and business need. True guidance comes from Key Performance Indicators, ideally prepackaged, with performance targets to set expectations and gauge results against those targets. Managers can see to-the-minute status, know where to focus attention, and take action.
Adaptability: Adjust to Change
Adapt to change: An ideal labor management system offers approaches for streamlined configuration that allow it to adapt quickly in a changing environment. Consider how you might respond to new labor regulations, task definitions, pay rules, or new performance measurements. While almost all vendors claim “configurability,” a simple sniff-test of some key attributes can tip you off the validity of that claim: Is the application based on configurable rules, or are processes hard-coded? Are views simple to change? Are rules, security, and access to functions defined through profiles, or embedded deep in hard-to-access and harder-to-modify programming logic? Don’t hesitate to put solutions providers to the test: Envision a likely possible change in your work environment- ideally not a simple one- and see how well the application can respond “on-the-fly.”
Visibility: Actionable Data, At Your Fingertips
Imagine the volumes of valuable data a good labor management system can collect and keep, on thousands of labor-related transactions. But if this information is locked away, difficult to access without complex report-writing, it will be of little value to your planning, execution, and continuous improvement efforts. Look for solutions that go beyond mere reporting, and solutions providers who understand the importance of the data in supporting decisions. You’ll recognize this in solutions that provide a good analytics environment, which allows both managers and savvy business analysts alike to drill through the data quickly and easily, to identify root causes behind issues and recognize areas for improvement. Look for information-access approaches that work the way you do, that can integrate easily with desktop tools like Excel, to free data from the confines of the application itself, and let you put it in context of other warehouse management information as needed by your decision-making process and business needs.
Ownership Cost-Effective for Your Environment
A significant capital expense, a months-long or years-long deployment, and on-going internal support expenses aren’t going to work in most environments. Expense pressures won’t allow for big cash outlays and stakeholders won’t wait for real returns. Any technology you might consider needs to fit as well in your business environment as it does in your information environment. You want choices and options, and a ideal technology partner can provide them.
Deployment could be on your premises, or hosted by the vendor in an offsite location. Increasingly, savvy vendors are providing value-added services of their own, with system monitoring services, proactive upgrades, and application maintenance- ideal for warehouse and distribution environments with scarce IT resources.
An “optimal” labor management approach may mean distinct capabilities, often provided in individual modules. Without sacrificing integration, look for systems you can deploy in reasonable phases- so instead of having to wait long periods for tangible returns, stakeholders across the logistics operation see value in incremental “quick wins.” Even procurement options can align to your requirements; look for subscription-based payments that convert a large capital outlay to a manageable monthly expense, and new “rent-to-own” options that give you ultimate ownership, but spread over time.