In an increasingly service-orientated economy, more organizations have large numbers of employees working in front-line roles on a 24/7 basis. For those organizations, the workforce accounts for a large proportion of costs.

The way it is managed and deployed is a critical success factor and fundamental to profitability and growth.

Managers in these companies say their biggest headache is getting the right people working at the right time to meet customer needs. Even when people are contracted to work shifts, it can be difficult to cover certain times, such as weekends and school holidays.

This was evident in a recent Government speech, which highlighted that, despite the demands of the job, there are more police officers on duty on a Monday morning than on a Friday night.

Until now, one of the main problems has been in scheduling hundreds, sometimes thousands of staff.  The sheer complexity has tended to result in a keep-it-simple approach with all staff scheduled to cover all times of the day on a rotation or roster basis.

This produces a situation where employees have different start and finish times every week. While suiting some, it causes difficulties for a great number of people, such as parents who end up requiring highly flexible childcare provision.

Even when employees are scheduled to cover the necessary work time, late notice absences (calling in sick) can impact service levels; a major problem in some industries.

Spare resources can be scheduled to provide contingency, but it costs a lot of money to pay people just in case they are needed.

Technology is key
Fortunately, a new breed of workforce management applications, that enable organizations to up their game, are now available. Paper based systems, still used by many organizations for scheduling and allocating staff, can be replaced with software that allows more complex work patterns to be managed.

The software integrates seamlessly with finance and payroll systems, providing a comprehensive and data-rich picture of human resources. This enables organizations to take a more holistic approach to the way they contract with and optimize the time of their employees.

However, implementing workforce management is just the start. Fully optimizing the workforce requires an integrated human capital management approach, which can only be developed through close collaboration between Human Resources, Operations and Information Technology professionals.

For example, many organizations do not accurately know their optimum size of workforce.  They may think they know, but a quick look below the surface often reveals spurious assumptions based on outdated rules-of thumb about resourcing levels.

Another clue lies in the way that labour expenditure is monitored and controlled. If your organization is still using budget variance reports then you probably have a problem. Just because a department is below budget does not mean that it has the optimum workforce.

This is where the CIO has a key role to play. By approaching human resources applications from a business perspective and collaborating closely with colleagues in HR and Operations, CIOs can ensure that their organizations have the systems and information needed to optimize and manage their workforce.

The first step is to put in place good foundations for information and reporting, which are:

• Integrated applications for Payroll, HR, Resource Management and Time & Attendance.
• Consistent rules for workforce planning and allocation throughout the organization.
• Single source reporting with consolidated resource and payroll data.
• Support for strategic what-if analysis on workforce size and deployment.

Alan Erskine is managing partner at Adventis Consulting, which recently contributed to the joint Department for Transport and Office of Rail Regulation study of the value for money of the British rail sector, Realising the Potential of GB Rail, chaired by Sir Roy McNulty.