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Workforce Management Solutions Must be designed with Usability in Mind

July 14, 2010

A recent white paper from Dayforce, "Usability in Workforce Management: The Importance of Closing the Usability Gap Between Enterprise Applications and Consumer Web Applications," underscores the importance of having an intuitive user interface on workforce management software applications, as well as the importance of having the appropriate feature sets and capabilities.

As the white paper points out, today's workforce management solutions must be simple to use - but at the same time they must deliver the features and capabilities that are needed to improve operations and deliver return on investment. In fact, it argues that today's WFM solutions should be designed the same way as today's Web-based consumer applications, such as FaceBook, Twitter and Windows Live Messenger, because they are used by so many different stakeholders in the enterprise.

According to the white paper, the workforce management solutions of ten or more years ago were "primitive" compared to the ones being delivered today. Back in those days, "basic functionality, primitive graphical user interfaces and design as an afterthought were considered acceptable." Many organizations adopted workforce management solutions to replace their spreadsheets simply because everyone else was doing it - other than automating the process of scheduling employees, the solutions didn't really improve processes or, for that matter, deliver definitive ROI.

At that time, no one realized the benefits that could be gained by adding new functionality and integrating these solutions with other enterprise systems. As a result, vendors didn't invest much in further development of their solutions after they were released.

In recent years, enterprises have come to understand the value of "comfortable and intuitive application design that allows managers to spend less time on processes, focus immediately on key factors that drive company performance, and ultimately make better decisions," the white paper states. This has led to significant improvements in most types of enterprise software - but not so much workforce management. According to the white paper, WFM vendors still have some catching up to do in terms of making their solutions more "usable."

So why is usability so important when it comes to workforce management software? As the white paper points out, today's WFM solutions need to be designed more like consumer applications than enterprise applications because such a wide range of employees, in a wide range of positions, use WFM software on a regular basis.

"Workforce management solutions are meant to be used by people working across industries and skill levels - C-level executives, payroll administrators, HR personnel, front-line managers and employees," the white paper states. "As a result, it turns out that the market for these applications is, in fact, comparable to that for consumer applications."

Furthermore, today's WFM solutions are used by a wide range from people of differing demographics - young, old, of high technical skill and of low technical skill.

"In this day and age, users have come to expect products that they can immediately understand, that they can use to obtain instant results, and that they are excited to use," the white paper states. "Moreover, the need for highly usable enterprise software is made more pressing by demographic and economic trends. The aging workforce requires applications with immediate impact, because older workers are not interested in mastering complicated applications."

Ease-of-use also factors heavily into employee training: As the white paper points out, "Given that so many people need to understand a workforce management application, it is costly to spend significant time on training. Employees should easily and immediately understand how they are meant to use the application to accomplish routine tasks, such as managing their information and availability."

Although ease-of-use is important, today's WFM solutions nevertheless need to deliver advanced new features and capabilities through integration with existing systems. In the call center the most obvious example is the ACD - but most of today's call centers are actually multi-channel, meaning they also handle email and Web chat, so today's WFM systems need to be able to integrate with these systems as well, in order to arrive at accurate call center forecasting. This is just one example of how the value of a WFM system increases the more it is integrated with key systems.

Also important is that the WFM solution delivers both historical and real-time data. Delivery of real-time data has become particularly important in this age of Internet communications and social networking, where companies (and more specifically call centers) need to react quickly to rapidly changing conditions. As such it has become increasingly important for software vendors to build Web-based versions of their WFM solutions which can carry out fast analysis and forecasting using data from multiple systems - including Web-based systems.

"Like today's leading consumer applications, workforce management solutions should be rebuilt from the core using Rich Internet Application technologies," the white paper states. "If this is done correctly, it can enable solutions to take advantage of unused client-side hardware capabilities to perform calculations that are traditionally done on the server. This improves both usability and scalability by enabling live, instantaneous calculations while reducing reliance on the server."

"Usability makes it possible to meaningfully connect corporate goals to daily execution by front-line managers," the white paper concludes. "While first-generation workforce management solutions are meant to accomplish this goal, they are limited by poor usability, cumbersome interfaces, slow calculations and inconsistent interfaces within application suites. Today's users rightfully expect workforce management solutions to be as usable and as fast as any recently developed consumer web application."

Patrick Barnard is a senior Web editor for TMCnet, covering call and contact center technologies. He also compiles and regularly contributes to TMCnet e-Newsletters in the areas of robotics, IT, M2M, OCS and customer interaction solutions. To read more of Patrick's articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Patrick Barnard

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