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October 2008 | Volume 27 / Number 5
Workforce Optimization

Workforce Optimization: Refining Products, Revolutionizing Delivery?

By Brendan B. Read
Senior Contributing Editor, Customer Interaction Solutions

The suppliers of workforce optimization (WFO) also known as workforce management (WFM) solutions, defined as software that enables staffing forecasting and scheduling, are like those fine retailers who have been adding to their lines but who have not yet embraced the web channel.

WFO vendors offer new and updated solutions that improve schedule adherence, bolster, schedule management for contact center teams, add more functionality for home-based agents, and supply more support for agent activity.

These applications aggregate and integrate staff scheduling data from all sources. TDI’s Encore CenterPlus holds and charts this information against actual agent login and logout times captured from PBXes, ACDs, and predictive dialers, and from HR system timecard information.

Suppliers have also made their software more affordable so that small contact centers can benefit from these tools and use them to replace awkward spreadsheets for staff management.





Some of this innovation has come about as a result of mergers. Not long after Verint and Witness Systems merged, in 2007, the new firm released Impact 360. The WFO/WFM solution includes new features such as outbound forecasting and scheduling, integrated desktop application adherence, and extended workflow capabilities across the suite.

One of the keys that suppliers have been using to create these enhancements is service oriented architecture (SOA). SOA, reports Wikipedia, is a systems development and integration methodology where functionality is grouped around business processes.

“Innovative WFO vendors are using SOA to make their solutions easier to develop, integrate, and to speed up the delivery of new functionality to the market,” says Donna Fluss, President, DMG Consulting LLC.

At the same time, companies have been enriching their WFO solutions with new analytics and dashboard capabilities, integrated into other functions.

Envision’s new Centricity product unifies Envision’s core WFO applications and significantly expands performance management capabilities by capturing, aggregating and displaying valuable information at the agent, contact center, and enterprise levels.

Most WFO suppliers continue at least for the present to deliver their software via customer-premises equipment (CPE) as opposed to hosted software as a service (SaaS) though several leading providers are investigating that channel.

SaaS has become a popular delivery method for other solutions such as CRM because it is less costly up-front, more flexible and scalable, and requires less administrative and IT support. Its downsides are chiefly less customization, high bandwidth requirements, and latency risks.

A Gartner study, “SaaS Impact on Contact Center Workforce Optimization” published in July 2008 predicts that suppliers will be slow to offer SaaS. The key reasons are that their technical efforts are instead focused on integrating suites of products as a result of acquisitions and with other features, such as with call recording, and on plugging remaining functional gaps. There is also a lack of interest in SaaS from enterprise customers.

“As SaaS-based offerings emerge, organizations should assess their suitability as part of planned upgrades, paying attention to particular aspects, such as call network and operational system integration,” recommends the report.

WFM enhancements
WFM suppliers have been devising ways to make managers’ work easier while improving efficiency and productivity.

IEX, a NICE Systems company, has done just that with two enhancements to its TotalView WFM solution.

The Express Messenger function sends automated e-mail alerts to agents and supervisors to communicate last minute schedule changes. This method is far faster and more productive than individually e-mailing, or calling agents, or stopping by workstations. The Intraday Shrinkage Management feature stays on top of daily staff shrinkage, caused by factors such as tardiness, sick calls, and early departures for illness or personal reasons. It identifies opportunities to schedule meetings and training sessions while maintaining service levels.

Workforce management entails medium to long-range planning, such as for vacations, seasonal demand, and major new product or service launches.

Calabrio’s Workforce Management release 8.3 has applications to enable managers to accomplish these tasks. An enhanced vacation planning module helps them approve agents’ vacation requests based on the total number sought, allocated vacation time and staffing forecasts. Agents can bid on up to three vacation times, including the type and dates requested. The bids are sent to their supervisors to approve or deny the requests. E-mails containing the decisions and the comments are automatically sent to agents’ inboxes.

The strategic planning module uses historical data to produce a forecast of the required resources for a given period: usually six to 24 months. Inputs can be adjusted based on historical trends and configured adjustments applied by contact center management, such as planned call volume increases or labor reductions, sales growth initiatives or special programs. What-if scenarios can be used to project forecasts and distributions based on various conditions.

Multiple contact centers, and programs entailing a combination of in-house and outsourced sites can pose schedule adherence challenges. Each site has typically required their own analyst or requires time from local supervisors who stay in touch by e-mail and phone with their counterparts, with no single view of schedules and adherence to service standards.

Pipkins has made it possible for one person to view schedule adherence from a single screen in all locations, including that of outsourced providers, which frees up management resources while ensuring quality, without poring over text-based adherence reports. Its Vantage Point Real-Time Agent Adherence Global solution, an addition to the Vantage Point WFM software, displays adherence levels for each center on a single color-coded map and allows for drilldown to individual sites. Schedule violations at any contact center in the network are instantly spotted and investigated with a click from a map that portrays each center’s location and its compliance levels graphically instead of through text-heavy reports.

There is a graphic seating chart with each agent’s name, color-coded adherence status and optional data such as non-adhering time displayed in the appropriate seating location. With this functionality managers could see for example if nonadhering agents are sitting in a group: a telltale sign that service standards are not being met by socializing.

Meeting Agent Needs Anywhere
Globalization for contact centers means that programs can be managed from anywhere to and serving customers anywhere. The challenge from a workforce management perspective is to schedule those agents and supervisors in accordance with a vast and changing menu of local, regional, and national labor regulations.

Aspect’s eWorkforce Management 7.1 allows contact centers to meet those requirements with new flexible work rules and equity scheduling capabilities. It also has improved agent schedule management using drag-and-drop schedule editing and a schedule trade bulletin board.

Aspect eWorkforce Management will soon address another staffing need: ensuring occupancy of workstations to control facilities costs. The 7.2 version, to be released in December, 2008, will have a new feature, called Reserve that will automate the assignment of agents to seats and ultimately reduce related office space and administrative costs.

eWorkforce Management 7.2 will also allows agents to be located in proximity to their supervisors, which ensures quality and productivity by preventing team members from being scattered across contact centers. Supervisors and coaches, and agents, will not have to walk across the floor to confer face-to-face.

Yet another staffing requirement, effective team scheduling, will be met as well in 7.2. With it managers can set up team schedules up to a month in advance instead of daily at present. Aspect developed this capability from 7.1 and from the experience of clients’ offshore contact centers where staff arrive and leave on buses.

Anywhere also means home. The growing popularity of home-based agents has prompted new solutions that utilize their increased flexibility, such for part-time work. IEX’s TotalView allows these agents to bid for the schedules they want to work, giving them the ability to control the number of hours they work each day of each week.


WFO for SMBs

In the past WFO has been limited to enterprises and large contact centers because of high license and installation costs.

Now small/midsized businesses (SMBs) and small contact centers can repurpose their spreadsheets from scheduling to other purposes and obtain faster, more accurate and more functional WFO software thanks to new solutions aimed at them.

The following companies participated in the preparation of this article:

Aspect
www.aspect.com

Calabrio (News - Alert)
www.calabrio.com

Click Software
www.clicksoftware.com

DMG Consulting
www.dmgconsult.com

Envision Telephony
www.envisioninc.com

Gartner (News - Alert)
www.gartner.com

IEX
www.iex.com

ISC
www.isc.com

Pipkins (News - Alert)
www.pipkins.com

TDI
www.tdirect.com

Verint (News - Alert)
www.verint.com
For example Verint’s Impact 360® Express, released earlier this year, contain the same core components as Verint’s enterprise-level Impact 360 solution, including automated and simplified forecasting and scheduling, and schedule adherence monitoring. Yet it is less costly, easier to support, and quicker to deploy.

Impact 360 Express is also modular, enabling contact centers to add components as they grow and needs change, such as call recording, screen recording, or eLearning. More features will be on the way as technology processing and costs evolve and hardware can support them at SMB-friendly price points and deployment schedules.

The only significant differences is that the Impact 360 offers some additional technology options which frequently appeal to enterprises but did not meet the stringent requirements Verint laid out for the Impact 360 Express. They include for example performance management scorecards, speech analytics and customer feedback surveys.

For small organizations or contact centers that want these features the Impact 360 is scalable both down as well as up. And for those organizations who buy the Impact 360 Express now then later acquire the Impact 360 can easily migrate the data from one platform to another.

To SaaS (News - Alert) or Not To SaaS

There are at present few suppliers who offer SaaS version, and most of those that do provide it indirectly through resellers.

ISC’s Irene WFM solution has been hosted from the get-go, when she came onto the scene in 2001.

Irene has had some recent cosmetic surgery including a new user interface and has had her report capabilities uplifted to provide more detailed information on agent activity.

Don Koosis, vice president of operations, says demand has been slow if steady. It has been coming from both ends: small firms that need workforce management but cannot afford CPE solutions and from enterprises that want flexibility and reduce administration costs. Mid-sized contact centers that have their own solutions have seen less need to change.

“What we are finding is that our small firm clientele are staying with us as they grow to become midsized companies because our scalable solution has worked for them,” explains Koosis.

Other suppliers have been looking at SaaS. Aspect (News - Alert) has gone the furthest down the road. It launched a hosted e-learning and hiring solution through PerformanceEdge in July 2008. That has given Aspect experience in devising ways to make performance optimization platforms available to a wide range of clients.

“It takes a certain infrastructure, billing, and management setup to make SaaS successful,” explains Aspect PerformanceEdge (News - Alert) vice president Bob Kelly. “We’re learning this with our new offerings and you’ll see in time that we will move into that area.”

Field Service WFM
Forecasting and scheduling field service employees are quite different than for contact center agents.

Field service managers must take into account unique factors such as varying customer demand, repair complexity, facilities access, security, weather, and traffic that impacting on staff availability and scheduling, and parts availability on top of absences and staff skillsets. Staff must be scheduled to match customers’ service level agreements
and customers’ availability. On occasion more than one employee or contractor or subcontractor may be needed on a call.

Yet what happens in the field also has a knock-on effect in contact centers. A repair person who is late or who does not show up will almost always prompt inbound calls, which if there are large numbers of them will impact agent availability and leading to scheduling changes.

There are specialized field service solutions. ClickSoftware (News - Alert) offers appointment management and workforce management. Click- Schedule’s optimization abilities enable narrow, reliable service slots to be offered to customers in realtime. ClickForecast enables customer demand forecasting based on history, trends, sales and marketing plans. This serves as input into ClickPlan which shows if you have the capacity to meet the forecasted demand. It delivers gap analysis, what if-scenarios and decision support for adjusting staffing levels, optimizing skills mix, managing vacations and nonavailability, and managing subcontractor and overtime usage.

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