In general, workforce management solutions are software that helps in managing a workforce with features ranging from forecasting and budgeting to long-range staffing and employee engagement. Some are more human resources-centric and some combine many other kinds of functions from time clocks to appointment setting, accepting payments, etc. There are many different packages, often specializing in the type of workforce each manages such as call centers, service and field management, and retail store environments. For our purposes, we’re talking about workforce management software as applied to the warehouse.
What are workforce management solutions for the warehouse?
With every advancement in warehouse automation, there’s a need for advancement in how we staff our supply chains. Workforce management solutions are relatively new to this side of the supply chain. It’s not new software; it’s been used in retail and the foodservice industries for years. Likely the store you buy your clothes in and the coffee shop you went to this morning were staffed using workforce management. Workforce management solutions assist companies in managing employee scheduling, planning, forecasting, utilization, and compliance. It lets you understand what employees are needed based on your expected demand through real-time data points, historical analysis, and in some cases using advanced artificial intelligence capabilities. It can provide a balanced roster to meet anticipated demand and can also assure employees are compliant to federal, state, and local laws. As we move towards the transient or “gig” workforces of the 21st century, workforce management supports functions such as picking up shifts, requesting time off, and allowing employees to swap shifts or volunteer for overtime.
What’s the difference between Workforce, Labour, and Warehouse Management Systems?
Warehouse management, or WMS, has been at the center of the supply chain industry since the ’80s. It’s the in and out and everything in between in relation to the warehouse. The WMS determines how product arrives, where it’s stored, details like how product ages, and, finally, how it leaves the warehouse and arrives at a store, home, or another distribution spoke. Labour, on the other hand, is the ultimate measuring tool for warehouse activity. Labour management tools provide advanced metrics such as how well a user or team is performing, where and when more labour is needed, and supervisory tools for coaching, quality scores, and report cards. Together, warehouse management and labour management are two tools that any modern supply chain will invest in and utilize heavily to drive their business. With changes to the warehousing industry such as e-commerce, the 2-day delivery promise, and the introduction of advanced automation, we’re seeing the need for more granular workforce management in warehousing and this newer software gets a lot of its information from the WMS and Labour systems.
What are some of the benefits of those systems?
Warehouse management systems are the brains of a warehouse, which may not have meant much 20 years ago, but when you consider today’s supply chain landscape, you realize the immense intelligence that needs to be applied to manage product at the level the market is demanding. It’s astonishing to think of what is required to manage the inbound arrival, sortation, production, storage, reconciliation, picking, and shipping of a product. A good warehouse management system will provide a configurable, sustainable and supportable solution to today’s and tomorrow’s supply chain challenges. Labour and workforce management benefits can really be summed up together. They’re tools that make sure you have the right people in the right place at the right time. Labour will be the system that measures your people to say who is best, or better yet, helps you build employees to be the best. Workforce management takes those same employees and makes sure they’re where they perform best and where your business needs them. Both systems will help you retain that talent. Almost every warehouse project we do now, their largest challenge is employee retention and staffing in general. We’re seeing extremely low unemployment rates where our industry needs to be centered; areas such as California’s inland empire, Dallas, Chicago, Atlanta, the list goes on and on. . . You have to implement tools that deal with that challenge. Give employees tools to make their jobs easier. Give employees tools that make their schedules more flexible. Give supervisors the tools to manage more efficiently. The industry is telling us we need to make warehousing jobs more attractive and that’s part of what these systems help accomplish.
What might a company be experiencing that indicates they could use a Workforce Management System?
Companies we see implementing this software are competing with warehouses down the street for employees. They’re seeing turnover and all the challenges that come along with that. They’re also seeing a change in the type of personnel. Companies that need a workforce management system are likely adapting to the e-commerce push into warehouse-based distribution. They’re likely implementing automation and they’re likely growing. These pressures create challenges around who and how we’re employing. There’s still so much talk about the move away from brick and mortar, but where we see brick and mortar dying, we see concrete and racking growing. The warehousing industry needs those employees, and they need to give them a similar or better working experience than what they had before. This means flexibility, scheduling, and compliance. It’s no coincidence we’re seeing a retail tool moving to the warehouse. It’s because we’re seeing that business and those employees move to the warehouse. The companies we’re implementing this software for are growing and adapting to the new consumer habits of this day and age, and need to hire, retain and thrive. Software tools can help with all of that.
How does Open Sky Group see Workforce Management software evolving as more and more companies begin to use this in their warehouse?
Currently, many of these offerings are already SaaS-based – and more and more software is headed in that direction. This is perfect to use in a SaaS environment because we’ll continue to see advancements and innovations throughout the lifecycle of the product and it’s the best way to take advantage of these innovations easily. Many of these products are incorporating predictive capabilities and leveraging AI, ML, and IoT. Humans can only predict so far. AI can help us predict even more – and more reliably. Picture a workforce management solution that combines the impacts of weather patterns, holiday trends, and historical analysis – what can you do with your workforce and business when you have that kind of information at your fingertips, working for you every day? We may also see a strong movement to campus-based staffing. We’re already seeing this in some markets where staffing agencies, third-party logistics companies or e-commerce giants are running four or five distribution centers within the same city or even within the same zip code. This type of approach allows the movement of workers by skillset so instead of working in one warehouse at one type of job all week, it might be one warehouse on Monday and possibly a different warehouse the rest of the week. That type of approach is a major shift from where we are today and one that will be very difficult to manage without software.