Workforce Optimization: Refining Products, Revolutionizing Delivery?
Brendan B. Read
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.
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
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
At the same time, companies have been enriching their WFO solutions
with new analytics and dashboard capabilities, integrated into
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 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
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
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.
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
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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