February 28, 2005, 12:00 AM

Keeping Time

(Page 3 of 3)

While other industries are using web-based scheduling systems, the needs of the retail industry are especially in sync with the benefits offered. Retailers often have many sales outlets, require multiple skills, have a large number of employees who work full-time and part-time, have a number of shifts, and have fluctuating schedule needs due to sales and seasonal considerations.

"Retailers are leading the way in implementing these systems, especially the big-box retailers," says BlueCube`s Reilly. He notes that with small profit margins and often higher labor costs, the grocery industry often finds the quickest payback.

Time and attendance

Indeed, the executive with the regional supermarket co-ops notes that his company uses the system for employee scheduling for more than 200 stores. But because these are co-ops rather than corporate-owned locations, there are additional challenges. The system has to consider more 200 variables in scheduling as well as factor in union rules. Still the co-op is able to use the scheduling programs to gain continuity. "We`re able to develop basic schedules for all the co-ops, then the managers can adjust them if needed," the executive says.

For the future, many developers of web-based systems say they will be working with retail customers to better integrate employee work schedule programs with other computerized systems that retailers use related to employees. Again, while such integration could have occurred with other computer systems, such efforts would be more difficult to achieve. "The web`s open system architecture facilitates the ability to integrate work force management with other processes," Garf says.

CyberShift`s system, for example, is already integrated to computerized time-and-attendance programs. This allows management to verify that employees worked the schedules that were originally posted. It also allows management to make sure that work, labor and pay rules that it scheduled were correctly followed.

Most technology developers say they are working to integrate the computerized scheduling programs into personnel hiring programs. Then, the system could make note if it had a difficult time scheduling employees for positions that required certain skills. The system could use the web to communicate to the personnel department what skills are in short supply and even match those required skills with resumes on file. Personnel could then be alerted to take another look at those prospects.

"Interfacing to personnel is not difficult, but there is more discussion about this than retailers who are actually doing it," says CyberShift`s Farina. "But there is a tremendous turnover in retail, so it could be a real advantage to do it."

Indeed, now that the accessibility and usability issues have been addressed, greater integration may be next on the agenda.

Lauri Giesen is a Libertyville, Ill.-based freelance business writer.

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