This is the final article in my Workforce Management (WFM) series. If you missed any of the previous articles in the series, they focused on What is Workforce Management?, The Value of WFM & Why is WFM so misunderstood?.
In this final, I’m casting my eyes to the future and will share some of my own personal opinions and insights on where I believe WFM is heading as an industry. I’ve broken the article down into short, medium and long-term predictions and like any good weather forecaster or business futurist, I don’t make any claims that all of my predictions will come true!
Transition to Cloud
The transition to cloud will continue at a rapid rate. There will be a race for the vendors to provide multi tenant solutions which are scalable and elastic so that client and vendors can leverage efficiencies associated with this. Some WFM vendors have already achieved this outcome while others are moving to this space. Examples include Kronos Workforce Ready, Ceridian Dayforce and smaller players such as Deputy. It is important to note that just because a vendor has emerged or transitioned to a cloud platform, doesn’t imply they are the right vendor. The traditional considerations such as size of vendor, ability to support, investment in R&D, client base etc, all still hold true.
In my view, these solutions will fade out over time, but some customers will still prefer access to this option for an extended period of time. To stay competitive into the future, cloud technologies are undoubtedly required. There is a long runway for some of the larger WFM products such as Kronos Workforce Central and Workforce Software Emp Centre that are entrenched into the Tier 1 space and these vendors also offer hybrid cloud solutions for these products.
Point Solutions, Integration, Solution Extensions, Marketplaces
There are a plethora of targeted cloud based point applications existing and appearing on the landscape. Examples include specialist applications and services for onboarding (eg: hronboard), contingent worker management (eg: upwork), learning and change management (eg: walkme), applications that bolt onto vendor software, solution extensions, marketplaces etc. We have also seen the emergence of organisations who specialise in linking these systems together via cloud to cloud, cloud to on-premise etc. The challenge here is to ensure that if multiple applications are adopted into an organisation the end user is not forgotten, the solution is usable and the business objectives can be met.
We’re already seeing more organisations offering solutions as a service. This is typically contracted on a per employee per month (PEPM) basis to gain access to a WFM Cloud technology. These solutions are typically delivered via the three key cloud services of Infrastructure (IaaS), Platform (PaaS) and Software (SaaS).
In addition, we are starting to see service providers supplementing talent into the client side roles to provide or support business operational functions. For example, the WFM administrator who will ensure operational managers complete their sign-off prior to payroll extract.
Real Time Chat
Customers are expecting real time chat options 24x7 whether in a buying cycle, implementation or BAU. We will see an increased uptake of this option via inside sales teams, delivery teams or virtual support teams. Some of this service may also be available via Solutions as a Service
My Prediction: In the near future the technology is unlikely to change too dramatically, however the delivery options will continue to increase, leveraging different platforms and increasing the levels of service provided via PEPM pricing.
There are significant opportunities to tie operational WFM data into supplementary business systems such as HR, Sales, Finance. WFM data is at the lowest level of granular detail associated with an employee. For example, we know when employees actually start and stop work, what time they arrive, what jobs they are doing, how long it took to do the job etc.
We will be able to predict:
- how long jobs will take,
- what type of employee profile will get the job completed the quickest with maximum quality,
- what is the best team composition to work a particular shift.
- You will also be able to predict employee performance and proactively address in review cycles.
A simple example of this is the ability to automatically generate entries in the HR system to remind managers to speak to employees who are regularly late. If the issue persists, the system it could automatically generate a performance review record to discuss late arrival, which could then also trigger a salary review discussion.
The WFM system could proactively alert a manager that a particular employee is working on a shift where the rate of sickness is increasing. The system could suggest to the manager that the employee takes some leave. This will in turn reduce the leave balance, minimise the chance of the employee getting sick and improve employee satisfaction because their employer is thinking about their well being in a proactive way.
Certain industries are dependent on the weather. For example, on a rainy day patrons to a cinema will increase because there are fewer options for outdoor activities. The forecasting system could take a weather feed and dynamically ensure that there is an increased number of staff available to service the demand.
Wearables, while not new, will become more intelligent. They will respond in real time to data triggers. For example, a wearable could vibrate when you need to take a break, display the time you have been working on a job. A worker will be able to move around their work area and the technology will be able to determine information related to location, cost tracking etc. These wearables will in future become integrated with work attire such as embedded into work boots, hi-visibility vests etc.
Self Learning systems
Future WFM systems will learn what function to direct you to, based on characteristics such as the time you log in. A particular manager may login each day between 7-9am and complete the same task. The WFM system could predict that the manager will continually do this and set this as a default. It could also learn that the first task completed is to replace those workers that are sick on a given day. The system could automatically determined which alternate workers are available that day and propose them to work on a shift.
The software could ask you simple questions about your self each day. For example, Do you have spare time today? Are you in a good mood? Based of this mood setting the system could alert fellow workers who will become cognizant of this.
Strategic Business Operations
We will see the introduction of specialist industry operational teams augmented into business executive teams to drive operational improvement. These specialists will be lead by seasoned professionals with many years of experience. The teams will leverage extensive business operational knowledge aligned to optimal use of WFM technology. Examples may include Director of Nursing, Nursing Unit Managers, Call Centre Management Team and these specialists will know how to strategically enhance business value.
University Degrees and Formal Qualifications
The WFM industry is slow to offer any formal degrees or qualifications. We are however seeing more structure, rigor and standards appearing globally which will see the introduction of this specialist skill at academic levels. A personal passion of mine ! Refer to my previous post on Why is Workforce Management so Misunderstood? On-Line learning will become prevalent.
My Prediction: In the medium term we will see more prediction and pro-active management of talent. Businesses will have access to highly skilled industry specialists aligned to technology who can drive operational improvements at the executive level. The industry will start to become more formally recognised, with stronger customer advocacy and a greater understanding of the critical role WFM can play in delivering consistent business performance.
Communicative Interfaces & BOTS
In the not too distant future, we will see the large scale introduction of artificial intelligence into WFM systems. I vividly remember 25 years ago, when I completed my first computer science degree hearing about the possibility of AI impacting certain areas of life, today we see practical examples of this everywhere.
A worker will be able to send an email or provide a voice prompt that says. “Find a replacement worker for my shift this Friday”. The command will trigger a set of behind the scenes functions to find a suitable replacement (potentially a contingent worker) and complete the necessary approvals and automatically replace the worker on the shift.
Another example may be triggered via a manager. For example “See if Barney can start ½ an hour earlier on his shift tomorrow. If Barney can’t do this, use the call list based off minimum cost”
We already have publically available examples of this with technologies such as Siri, Google Voice etc. My colleague Rob Scott recently wrote an insightful article on Chatbots.
Over time the contingent, freelance and “gig-economy” workforce will grow with people having multiple jobs, especially Generation Z - our future workforce. Generation Z appreciate life, are comfortable with technology, ready to do things now, like to be in control and can multi-task with ease. With this in mind there will become an increased and desirable requirement on the individual to manage their own time and for employers to respect this. The individual will control their availability and those organisations that the person works for, will pick up their availability from the individual's own master data record.
There is a trending concept known as a Personal Data Repository (PDR). All my personal information, availability, skills, preferences, are all available to myself (and others I grant access to) via a platform. A realistic example of this: On Monday I drive for Uber, Tuesday and Wednesday I will be available to work shifts at the cinema, call centre and/or manufacturing plant. Thursday I will be updating my first aid certificate which I will store on my PDR and Friday I’m unavailable (because I am competing in a surfing competition). I also believe an opportunity exists for platforms like Linkedin, Google, Facebook and others to provide a more enhanced PDR. There is some very interesting research on PDR, google it !
In the medium term I noted that we would see the introduction of university degrees and qualifications. In the longer term we will see the introduction of formal standards. These may come via organisations such as ISO, but will become increasingly important as WFM permeates more and more areas of the business world.
A massive opportunity exists to tie detailed operational WFM data to data from other systems such as HR, Sales and Finance systems. We have spoken about Big Data for years and I think we are still some time away from truly being able to harness this data to deliver something meaningful for WFM.
Big data will be available from two different perspectives a) from the WFM technology vendor and b) the specialist analytics vendor. Visier is an example organization I have been watching for a number of years, who is making significant advances in the specialist HCM analytics vendor space. They are well positioned to exploit WFM Big Data.
In the future, we will be able to generate focussed statistics and benchmarks for an Industry. An example could be: absenteeism average is X days per annum with a standard deviation of Y days per annum. Industry Best Practice would indicate Z days per annum.
Management dashboards will be available where Metrics and KPI can be set based off industry best practice. This data will continually update based off real time data collection. Businesses will be able to see how they are tracking against their Metrics and KPI and how they are tracking against others in their industry.
There are privacy considerations here, especially when you bring in operational WFM data as it is detailed at an employee level. I’ll be happy for others to work through these implications!
Outcome Based Compensation
Linking many of the areas discussed previously, the vendors and service providers will start offering organisations outcome based fee-payment options. For example, based off industry data, using a defined process we can increase sales by X% and decrease costs by Y%. We will guarantee this and payment will be fixed based off the defined outcome.
Another example could be related to client augmentation with an executive level strategically focussed business operations team where operational efficiencies can be defined to increase sales revenue by X%. In return the service provider will be compensated with a fixed payment and a share of the increased revenue.
My Prediction: In the longer term we will see very practical use of technology, as workers become increasingly responsible for themselves, employers move from a reactive to a proactive approach to WFM, big data provides tangible metrics and KPI alignment to the industry level and a move occurs from PEPM to Business Outcome and formal WFM industry certification.
Whatever changes or technological advances are ahead for the WFM industry, I strongly believe that the future is bright. As WFM continues to become more mainstream and it’s sphere of influence increases, businesses, WFM practitioners and technologists will continue to push the boundaries of what is possible and deliver unparalleled value back to the businesses and people touched by the WFM system.
This concludes this series of WFM articles. I hope you’ve enjoyed the ideas, stories and perspectives I’ve shared? I’d like to extend my thanks to Rob Scott and Cian Mcloughlin for their feedback and counsel along the way.
Thank you to those of you that have read, commented and shared these articles or contacted me directly to discuss. The feedback has been tremendous and it leaves me in no doubt that the future of WFM is in safe hands.
First Published on Linkedin, August 22, 2016