Human Capital & Careers

Managing the Distributed Workforce

Software helps companies trim payrolls and improve control over their staff, which today may include telecommuters, flex-shift employees, and overs...
John EdwardsMay 18, 2006

While ATMs and the Internet have enabled banks and other financial institutions to pare down the size of their staff, employee expenses remain a significant bottom-line burden. Just ask Steve Schreiner, a business analyst at the New Mexico Educators Federal Credit Union in Albuquerque.

For Schreiner, squeezing the maximum efficiency out of the 150 or so tellers who work at the credit union’s 12 branches can make the difference between profitability and a dip into red ink. That’s why he uses workforce management software to guard against overstaffing while ensuring that enough tellers are on hand to cope with the current workload at each branch.

Schreiner isn’t alone in recognizing the potential of workforce management software. It’s a rare industry in which companies are not searching for ways to trim payrolls and improve control over their staff, which today may include telecommuters, flex-shift employees, and overseas workers all putting in hours at different locations. “With many businesses having trouble finding qualified workers and facing heightened competition, workforce management software provides a relatively painless was to track down and eliminate needless expenditures,” says David O’Connell, a senior analyst at technology research firm Nucleus Research. “The software also allows businesses to standardize rules and procedures across different work sites.”

More than a dozen vendors offer various workforce management applications, including stand-alone products from GMT and Kronos as well as components in the product suites of Oracle and SAP. Most such software covers three basic processes: planning, forecasting, and scheduling. The applications can help enterprises optimize worker schedules and routines, untangle overtime and work-rule pay schedules, distribute workloads across time and locations, coordinate and track vacations, sick days, and personal days, and match employees with available equipment and other resources. Typically, reporting and graphics functions give managers further insight into practices and trends.

At his credit union, Schreiner uses GMT Planet software to track transactions at each branch; the application then suggests the number of tellers needed to handle the projected workload. By providing balanced work schedules that compensate for daily, weekly, and seasonal ebbs and flows, GMT Planet has saved the credit union at least $500,000 in salary and benefits expenses since its 2001 deployment, says Schreiner. “The biggest return on investment comes in the first couple of years,” he notes, when the software “brings you to the point where you’re properly staffed, and then you stay there.”

Butch Henry, director of accounting at Little Rock-based Baptist Health, uses Kronos software to help manage about 1,500 workers at more than 120 facilities, ranging from medical centers to neighborhood clinics. Calculating employee overtime once meant juggling 70 different pay rules — a time-wasting, frustrating process. Says Henry, “We were spending 60 to 80 hours each month distributing various forms of paper,” such as timesheets, reports, and manual checks.

Now the process is streamlined and handled automatically. Henry estimates that the Kronos software has trimmed Baptist Health’s payroll, benefits, and related expenses by about $2 million per year, including some $30,000 in paper costs. “We could hire extra people with the money we’ve saved,” he observes, “not that we’d necessarily need them immediately.”