HQ-Based Control: Shifting from store-based to enterprise-level workforce management

Streamlining workforce management and taking a more centralized approach to operations is enabling retailers to save time and money while providing more efficient and targeted service to their customers.

Best Buy Canada recently upgraded its workforce management system in just that manner. "Hosting the application at headquarters enables less complexity but more functionality at the store," notes Greg Buzek, president IHL consulting in the IHL report, The Future of Workforce Management for Retailers.

The new system replaced an old solution that was struggling to keep up with the needs of the company's 13,000 employees. Best Buy's move to a centralized system is in line with industry trends, according to the report. "IHL research indicates that more than half of Tier One retailers have store-based (versus headquarters hosted) workforce management applications, but the research also indicates that this is changing rapidly towards a HQ-hosted scenario," says Buzek.

To choose a new system, the retailer surveyed the marketplace and looked to Best Buy U.S. for help. "The system had to be intuitive and simple to implement," says Tom Kemp, project manager, Best Buy Canada. "It also had to meet various business requirements, including supporting the French vernacular and adhering to Canadian labor laws."

After outlining the business case and undergoing a thorough vendor selection process, the retailer began a six-week pilot of Kronos' time and attendance and optimized Web-based scheduling solution throughout its Best Buy stores. Once implementation is complete, the retailer will pilot and then roll out the solution to its Future Shop stores. The information generated from the solution will be integrated with Best Buy Canada's HRIS system including PeopleSoft for payroll and Oracle's financial application.

While surveying the marketplace, the retailer quickly realized that a centralized solution would be especially useful in administering labor laws consistently from store to store. The Kronos solution also enables Best Buy Canada to centrally administer schedules, while giving individual stores the chance to modify them at the local level. "This is useful because the store managers know their own stores best," says Kemp. "Managers can update availability changes and input local events like sidewalk sales or other traffic-increasing events."

The company has high hopes for the new system, anticipating increased availability and access to store productivity data.

Scheduling to Make the Sale
In addition to ensuring the right associate is in the right place at the right time, Holt Renfrew also wanted to ensure consistent fairness rules throughout its stores, according to Anne Hodkin, director of IT at Holt Renfrew.

The retailer has a number of company rules that are not government mandates, but should still be consistently carried out across the enterprise, including how many days an associate can work without a day off and how many late shifts an employee can be scheduled per week. However, the retailer discovered that managers were allowing their own preferences to influence schedule-making.

Holt Renfrew decided that upgrading to a centrally-controlled, Wed-based workforce management solution was necessary to achieve its goals. In order to optimize workforce management processes and enhance customer service levels while reducing operating costs, the Canadian-based department store chain implemented Time and Attendance from Workbrain and began rolling out Workbrain's Labor Forecasting and Schedule Optimization in May.

The forecasting and schedule optimization application forecasts store labor requirements and applies advanced linear programming technologies to match employee schedules with customer traffic. Control of the rules and preferences for the system is governed by the head office. "The centralized control helps us ensure equity and fairness across all stores," says Hodkin. Centralized control also simplifies processes for the retailer. For example, if there is a change in policy, the retailer can consistently distribute the same rule throughout the company.

Although schedules will be created from the system at the head office, individual stores will have the right to override the schedule or make changes to forecasts. "We're currently working with the users to get them comfortable with the system before any changes are made," says Hodkin. "They have to trust that the system will schedule correctly." According to other companies the retailer surveyed with the system, it only takes a few weeks for managers and associates to embrace the change.

"After seeing how the system operates," says Hodkin, "they realize we're not looking to reduce staffing, but rather schedule the right people in the right place at the right time to make the sale."

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