Unlocking the Big Value of Big Data

Guest blog contribution by Kristen Wylie, Product Marketing Manager, Kronos. Inc.

There’s been so much overuse and misuse of the term “Big Data” that it can be difficult to understand exactly how Big Data can help solve specific business issues. Many organizations are simply drowning in a sea of unorganized information, unable to leverage its full potential.

When it comes to workforce management, the problem isn’t just collecting the data; the real challenge is making the data easier to access and understand so that you can easily identify and resolve workforce challenges. To generate value –whether that’s decreased overtime, cost savings, a more productive workforce, or simply improved day-to-day operational management — you need to combine data with effective analysis and take action based on information-driven decisions. In other words, you need to bring order to the chaotic data for it to have any value.

It’s not just what you look at, but how you look at it

The Workforce Analytics dashboard provides on-demand visibility for KPIs in critical categories like overtime, absence, scheduling, productivity, staff fatigue and timeliness.
The Workforce Analytics dashboard provides on-demand visibility for KPIs in critical categories like overtime, absence, scheduling, productivity, staff fatigue and timeliness.

After workforce data is gathered, it needs to be viewed in context. The first step is to find a technology solution that has the ability to integrate multiple sources of data and present a consolidated view of relevant information to end users without eliminating the ability to dive down into details when needed. Your Big Data strategy needs to incorporate a workforce management solution that can provide on-demand visibility for KPIs in critical categories like overtime, absence, scheduling, productivity, staff fatigue and timeliness.

It’s important to ensure that front line managers can interact with the data they need to make decisions – even when they’re away from their desks. (See Workforce Tablet Analytics at http://www.kronos.com/labor-analysis/workforce-tablet-analytics.aspx.) Don’t assume that more reports are the simple solution to Big Data challenges. Traditional reports don’t yield necessary insight because they’re created in rigid, purposefully inflexible formats to present standard answers to straightforward, repetitive questions. Traditional reports reflect simple information points without any context. For example, a traditional report can tell you that OT is above expectations, but you can’t tell why. Was it bad scheduling? Increased demand? But a true analytics solution enables you to work with your data. Managers need to be able to drill into the data quickly – without combining multiple fragmented reports. When the data is viewed in context, you have actionable data so you can make the right decisions to keep cost, productivity and service on target.

Remember that data is only useful if it’s presented in such a way that decision makers can take action. An Analytics environment, unlike traditional basic reporting tools, extracts and organizes workforce data in a format that allows labor managers to easily access and work with it in the context of their business issues. Managers who have visibility to real-time status can make adjustments to better control labor costs and improve workforce productivity.

Turn data into insight

Data Visualization_Heat Map
Data visualization tools make it easier to spot trends, understand relationships and identify problem areas.

Data visualization tools, such as those available in Workforce Analytics, enable users to easily create a dashboard and visually explore workforce data using a variety of interactive charts and graphs, helping managers to find meaning in otherwise raw, hard-to-understand data. They can easily spot outliers, patterns and trends. And uncover problem areas at a glance. This kind of visual interaction is much more engaging than traditional grid reports and makes it much easier to diagnose problems, understand root causes, and take action to improve workforce performance. (Watch a demo of data visualization tools in action at http://www.kronos.com/labor-analysis/labor-analysis-software.aspx.) Used effectively, Analytics is more than a simple query and report tool; it’s a decision support system that presents actionable information so that you can continuously improve your business.

Data-driven decisions

Big Data is re-shaping the way decisions are made. Managers have traditionally made “gut-decisions,” or they rely on a trial and error approach rather than use fact-based judgments when managing their workforce. This is mostly because managers today can’t easily see how their decisions impact workforce productivity or labor costs. There is no status to guide decisions. There are no expectations – no performance targets or thresholds. Across departments or from month to month, results are unpredictable and performance is inconsistent.

But this all changes when you have data presented in the context of acceptable thresholds. You’ve now empowered managers to be accountable for workforce performance, and they know what action needs to be taken. Visibility to actionable data leads to evidence-based decision making. Now you can tap into the potential of Big Data to make intelligent decisions that lower labor costs, improve workforce productivity and boost profitability.

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How the labor waste stole profits

‘Tis the season of giving. And nothing pleases a company more than receiving gifts of gold in the form of wasted payroll being identified that can go directly to the bottom line. Or, when operations managers can show higher profit margins through accurate job costing. With bonuses and earnings results on the line, opportunities to reduce labor waste and improve cost allocations become the gift that keeps on giving all fiscal year! For many companies, these hot gifts of 2012 are the result of detailed labor activity tracking being added to their workforce management strategy.

Presents for payroll & operations – labor cost details

What is an activity? While most organizations use scheduling systems to put staff onto shifts and time & attendance systems to convert worked hours to payroll, many lack visibility into what each employee actually does on the job. In other words, what is the data between the punch-in and the punch-out?

tws9-600-reindeerAn activity is a work order, grants, task, project, job number or part number that is assigned to labor and has a measurable output. The results of a completed activity can include measurements of quantity, scrap, waste, or quality. Even greater detail can be tied to a labor activity, such as equipment used, location or campaign. Measuring “productive time” provides the foundation for labor expense tied to a job. Tracking activities within the workday tells how much direct time (and expense) is spent on work orders, by labor and equipment. You can tell how productive your workforce is, and if that productive output costs more than you expected – and if it’s impacting profit margin. However, what is often lost is the wasted pay for non-productive paid time.

There are some types of activities that cannot be tied to measurable output. And, whether it’s planned or unplanned, these indirect charges and labor variance (often lumped into “overhead”) can have a dramatic and costly impact on profits. Activity such as meetings, set-up time, training, downtime, clean-up, maintenance, and administration/paperwork can skew labor standards and forecasts, potentially impacting job bids, quotes or service quality. Organizations must ask – how is this time and labor cost allocated? Is it tracked at all?

Reconciliation, WIP Visibility, Validation,

The addition of automated labor activity tracking to your workforce management strategy enables organizations to reconcile every minute of every shift, and allocate all labor costs appropriately and accurately – direct and indirect, planned and unplanned, regular and OT. Real-time visibility into current activities and WIP, including labor, equipment and output, allows organizations to make data driven adjustments based on status and progress towards delivery times, output or utilization rates. And provide accurate, confident commitments to external stakeholders and customers. Activity tracking can also provide labor with real time validation on expected output, task duration or sequence of events, ensuring quality and timeliness.

Electronic data capture tracks labor activity

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.  Leading labor management providers offer a variety of data collection options as part of a workforce management solution. Timekeeping terminals that can capture activity information with a simple badge swipe, barcode read, RFID, or even a fingerprint ID. More advanced organizations are leveraging mobile technology – on-board computers, handheld scanners, smartphones and tablets, to provide even greater data capture flexibility.

Increase profits, reduce labor waste, and reconcile expenses

Successful organizations not only plan in advance, they execute in the moment with agility to react to real-time situations. Using accurate labor forecasts and budgeting based on detailed labor activity to plan ahead, but then leverage their workforce as needed based on changing conditions (increase in patients, higher store traffic, a slow manufacturing line, employee absence, power outages, etc.) Today’s workforce management systems provide new levels of visibility into the activity status, resources and staff on hand to identify areas that need to be addressed – allowing managers to optimize their workforce and drive higher profitability.

How do you Manage in the Moment?

No matter what industry you are in, the status quo in the workplace has changed. As organizations are running leaner, looking to maximize productivity and efficiency with their existing (or reduced) workforce, the demands on labor have sky rocketed. The combination of routine incidents like unplanned employee absences, combined with the real-time influences of online change orders, social media marketing campaigns, and even unusual weather have caused chaotic management challenges for labor managers.

How do you (or your managers) react to changing conditions in the workplace? How can you redirect labor resources instantly, when and where you need it, and still keep schedules, paycodes and labor levels accurate and up to date? How can manufacturing line managers track work-in-progress in real time, and make adjustments in mid shift to ensure maximum operational efficiency and completion of orders on time and at a high quality?

With virtually every workplace subjected to dynamic work conditions and unpredictable labor impact, the ability to manage in the moment is more important than ever; which is one reason why the iPad has infiltrated the workplace.

“Employee demand for iPad in the corporate environment remains strong, and CIOs continue to embrace iPad in an unprecedented rate. In just over a year since its debut, 75% of the Fortune 500 are testing or deploying iPad within their enterprises.” – Peter Oppenheimer; CFO, Apple April 2011

The iPad has evolved from a mobile device used to simply surf the Web, watch movies, and read ebooks into a professional, productivity-driving device used around the globe across many industries. Business managers who depend on enterprise software to do their jobs are now untethered from the confines of the back office with access to operational information wherever they are in the workplace. Businesses in turn have also realized that managers are much more productive when they can leave their office and work directly with employees and customers.

With a client-based, desktop computer application, managers are often faced with the challenge of addressing operational situations while being removed from the action – and often the reactionary changes can’t be made to the workforce management system until it’s too late to impact operations. To be most effective, managers need the ability to make informed decisions and take action on issues in real-time where and when the activity happens. Make adjustments to schedules on the fly when employees go home sick. Adjust staffing to cover visibly busy departments – or check to see if any other departments are overstaffed and can spare some coverage. View reports and drill down into information in the moment, to see how overtime is directly affecting your operations. Tablet-based analytics apps deliver on-demand visibility and insight into your workforce’s impact on business-critical metrics and trends like labor costs, sales per labor hour, overtime costs and more, allowing retail district or regional managers to make fact-based decisions from any location at any time.

Expect this trend to explode in 2013, as more and more enterprise software vendors extend their connectivity and visibility through the use of tablet applications.

Workforce Management Maturity Evolution Part 4 – Innovate

This is the final installment in a four-part series on workforce management maturity. With advancements in cloud-based technology, mobile applications and simplified enterprise applications, organizations are able to transform their workforce from a cost of doing business into a competitive advantage. Part 4 discusses the final phase of workforce management maturity – innovate.

In Jim Collins’ bestselling book Good to Great, those few companies that distanced themselves from the competition all had common traits among them. The concepts of “Level 5 leadership”, having the right workforce “on the bus”, and transformations that were the result of focus and continuous improvement over sustained periods of time eventually led to achieving greatness.

There are many organizations that have evolved through the first three phases of the workforce management maturity curve, getting the value of their workforce to one of a Flexible asset, and perception of their workforce into an “Agile Workforce.”  However, the best-in-class organizations that have moved into the Innovate phase now view their workforce as a vital workforce and a competitive advantage. For them, their employees are their most critical asset who, when provided with the right tools, training and support enable these organizations to achieve great results that their customers value and their peers and competitors envy.

Big Data and the Workforce

Throughout this series, the application of technology and process change has enabled organizations in each phase of workforce management maturity. Most organizations in the Innovate phase are embracing Big Data initiatives to identify triggers that influence growth, profitability, brand reputation, and operational excellence, as well as organizational transparency and accountability. In the Innovate phase, organizations incorporate labor metrics into their big data strategies, to transform their workforce into a network of individuals all working together to achieve a desired result. (Consider Southwest Airlines, where every interaction with their workforce is one that is focused on delivering a high level of customer service).

The correlation of labor data with operational measurements of inputs & outcomes can yield powerful insight into the impact of your workforce on business growth, brand perception and ultimately shareholder value. However, basic data mining does not equate to a big data strategy that will enable business innovation and continuous improvement. Lack of understanding of how to use analytics to improve the business is the biggest obstacle in achieving success with big data. Organizations must transition the analysis from an IT function to a business operations function – combining measurements, analytics and business intelligence tools with visibility and controls for business leaders to understand and act on.

Workforce Analytics drives Innovation

When workforce analytics is combined successfully with operational data, actionable information will lead to operational comparisons and adjustments. Initial tracking of labor metrics like absenteeism, turnover and overtime can evolve into industry-specific trends and analysis. Retail stores can see the impact in increased operating margins, profit per employee and a stronger brand reputation. Healthcare providers can correlate treatment procedures, provider education/training, and technology with patient diagnosis and outcomes. Manufacturing firms can achieve operational excellence through lean labor principles.

When your workforce evolves from a cost of doing business into a competitive advantage, your organization can make that leap from good to great!

Workforce Management Maturity Evolution Part 2 – Planning

This is the second in a four-part series on workforce management maturity. With advancements in cloud-based technology, mobile applications and simplified enterprise applications, organizations are able to transform their workforce from a cost of doing business into a competitive advantage. Part 2 discusses the next phase of workforce management maturity – planning.

The second phase of workforce management maturity evolution is Planning. This phase is about putting your best team on the field to try and address the challenges in managing overtime and ensuring the right amount of coverage.  Once you have automated many of the manual processes that are obstacles for your workforce, the focus should turn to deploying the right person in the right place at the right time – or in other words provide structure to the important business process of matching labor to volume.

Organizations that are in the Planning phase see the value of their workforce as beyond just an expense, and more of a resource – categories of people with certain skills & hard to retain. Similar to an asset like equipment or materials, the workforce is an important component of their business with skills and capabilities that need to be deployed the right way in order for financial objectives to be met. 

Within the planning phase are processes that drive organizational complexity. How these processes are managed can determine an organization’s maturity.  Planning how to deploy a workforce effectively begins with matching labor to volume – short-term labor planning. Based on past data and trends, they should translate business/activity volume forecasts to labor forecasts and create labor standards. This information combined with workforce constraints and requests should yield a labor schedule.

Mature organizations have typically developed sophisticated labor standards, accurate forecasts and schedule optimization capabilities that provides standardization, centralization, visibility and control. By eliminating manual scheduling processes, organizations can reduce excess labor costs from over scheduling and the quality or service level impacts of under scheduling. Overtime and supplemental labor usage is reduced and balanced schedules greatly improve staffing. Moreover, employees are much happier. The time and effort required in manual scheduling processes is eliminated, and schedules automatically adhere to rules, requests, skills, certifications, availability and experience.

How does your workforce know when they are scheduled to work next? How is the right level of coverage for each shift determined? Are employee shift requests and seniority taken into account when a schedule is created? Are there any seasonal or external influences that could impact demand on your business this scheduling period?

With cloud-based workforce management on demand, even small to medium sized organizations can leverage and benefit from enterprise-class technology at a fraction of the cost and resource requirements.

In part three we will review the next phase of workforce management maturity – Execute.

More on Moneyball & Workforce Management – Impactful Workforce Analytics

Moneyball -the movie based on Michael Lewis’ bestselling book spawned countless articles over the past year comparing the Moneyball concept to HR and the approach to hiring by leveraging the “big data” concept. (Yes that is my obligatory buzzword of the year usage!) While the comparison is definitely valid, there are even more concepts from Moneyball that apply to Workforce analytics, beyond just recruiting.

Payroll – That was Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane’s primary challenge from the outset, a limited labor budget, right? He was faced with the challenge of gaining more productivity out of the workforce without increasing his labor cost.

Labor productivity – A core component of Beane’s strategy was to maximize the productivity and efficiency of his workforce. The concept of on-base percentage vs batting average, runs batted in and stolen bases may have changed baseball, but the idea is applicable with any workforce when productivity metrics are collected. Once the analysis is done, and the preferred personnel with the desired skill sets are identified, schedule optimization is critical (put in the right place at the right time). This challenge can be seen in the film, when Oakland’s manager continually ignores Bean’s request to play a certain player at a particular position (Scott Hatteberg at first base).

The Street.com – “You can measure every single event and you can measure the value of that event, which is not dissimilar to every single business,” he said. “Especially now — you can get information at your fingertips as it happens.” Billy Beane, General Manager, Oakland A’s

Visibility and accountability – this is a critical component to workforce management, and is illustrated well in the movie. Beane was innovative. He was visionary. He had a strategy to achieve their organization’s goals which was not being implemented by management. He wanted certain players in the game, at specific positions to execute his strategy. While the outcome of his plan and vision was visible in wins, a think about a retail company with hundreds of stores, or a manufacturing company with dozens of plants. The ability to measure performance and compare results based on implementing certain programs provides the visibility needed to hold management accountable and make the changes necessary to achieve organizational goals.

Moneyball inspired HR leaders to embrace analytics for recruiting and create new metrics for performance management. However, the impact on business operations and the insight into more mature workforce management opportunities seems to be inspiring organizations to evolve their processes and technology strategies with workforce analytics.

The Role of Big Data and Managing Labor

CEOs, CIOs, CTOs and CFOs across the globe have been the target audience for Big Data messages for the past twelve months – putting the latest IT-related fear, uncertainty and doubt in their minds. “How will you survive the data tsunami that is looming unless you mine that data to find the actionable information to grow your business?” (Not bad huh?)

The truth is taking a closer look at the new data streams available to multiple roles in an organization is a natural evolution thanks to new data being collected and made accessible to a broader audience. Applying this to workforce management makes perfect sense, and is now much more of a reality.

Successful organizations make critical business decisions based on facts, not anecdotal information. Facts derived from sound empirical data. Whether it’s about generating revenue, building budgets or attacking costs, analytics drives business performance. So, why are most organizations still not leveraging analytics to control and improve upon their largest manageable expense – their workforce?

Imagine having the ability to prove that increasing labor dollars in a retail store can directly drive increased revenue?

Suppose a manufacturing plant could pinpoint the location, shift, line and staff that had the highest quality output in a given month, and correlate that to employee training and average hours worked at that time?

By analyzing today’s workforce data, hospital staffing levels can be linked to patient outcomes. Retailers can gain insight into the correlation between staffing for store promotions and sales. Manufacturers can understand the true margins for their product. And, government officials can apply to budgeting the Lean Principals that industry leaders have used for decades.

Now front-line managers have instant visibility to labor data that can help them proactively rein-in labor costs. At the same time, C-level business leaders can make fact-based decisions regarding the workforce to drive innovation and growth through continuous improvement and increased profitability.