It’s 2018 and every workforce management (WFM) vendor has a cloud service offering. “Cloud” in this context means your WFM system is not installed in your own data center, but rather in a remote data center that you have access to via the internet. Remember the adage: “There is no ‘cloud.’ It’s just someone else’s computer.”
These cloud offerings are managed by the vendors and typically include IT services like technical support, upgrades, and direct technical administration for the database, servers, and network. ROI can be straightforward, once you consider the cost of hosting the infrastructure yourself and the cost of the internal IT services required to administer it.
However, there’s a catch. When a vendor manages your cloud system, the access you have to your WFM data and system is limited. Part of the vendor’s responsibility is to protect your employee data while maintaining system stability and performance. That means they must keep you out of your cloud environment so you don’t accidentally cause problems.
In the world of WFM systems, this can have a significant impact on your existing business processes. There are a number of things we tend to want to do with our WFM system when we have it in our infrastructure that are no longer options when it’s implemented in the vendor cloud.
Below I’ve outlined three concepts to consider when integrating your WFM system in a vendor cloud that will help you start to think differently.
1. Batch your data movements
For the most part, moving bulk data into and out of your WFM system in the vendor cloud will need to be batched and scheduled. This is because you’ll have to FTP data files back and forth or use other manual data management tools, like Excel, for bulk data delivery and receipt. (There are some exceptions to this, of course. See the “Secret Trap To Avoid” below for more details.)
Outside of the few exceptions, most of your data will move around in files. If you’re used to real-time bulk data access, there will be an adjustment. Without the database in your own data center, there are limitations to connecting your enterprise reporting tool (like Business Objects) up to the WFM system and pulling out reports whenever you want. The new process needs to consist of bulk extracting data out of the cloud database, passing it back to your network (probably via a scheduled job), loading it in a new database (i.e. data warehouse), and then reporting against your data.
Depending on your expectations for data access, this all may be difficult to get used to since you’ll be giving up the ability to easily move data in and out of your WFM system.
2. Leverage scripting power
Moving files back and forth to the vendor cloud doesn’t need to be as painful as it sounds. Most tools that handle FTP processes give you the ability to perform complex scripting, which is old style DOS- or Unix-type file manipulation.
This is more than just “COPY” or “MOVE” commands, IF…THEN logic and file validation, for example. This lets you check for the existence of files, but more importantly the completion of files so you don’t accidentally pick up a file still in the process of being generated. Other functionality can help you with file encryption, archiving, and alerting.
Bottom-line: Get familiar with the tools and functionality you have available to you for cloud file movements because there’s a lot of power that can help administer your data flows.
3. Don’t forget about end-user authentication
When we talk about integration, we tend to stay focused on data integration. But integrating a WFM system with your network should also include security integration. Though your end users need the ability to log into the WFM system in the cloud with PCs and mobile devices, they don’t need a separate password. So, integrating the WFM user security into your corporate authentication protocols must not be overlooked.
Secret trap to avoid
Carefully consider your expectations and capabilities around “real-time integrations.” Earlier when I said the majority of your data integration will be bulk data movements that are batched, note that some WFM vendors offer API services with which you can interact. However, this only works if you have that capability and expertise to leverage it. Here’s what you need to know first:
WFM APIs are usually fine for loading individual data elements into a system but are not designed for bulk exports.
You can’t assume that the APIs will be sufficient to allow you to avoid batch data movements. That’s a trap! Whether you need to get a payroll file out of the cloud or to see all future schedules for reporting, batch data movements are the way to solve it. The APIs will simply not be fast enough or robust enough to let you get your data in sufficient quantities to meet your needs.
In the end, remember that shifting the way you think when your WFM system resides in the vendor cloud will ensure an easy transition. And if any of these leave you feeling frustrated, don’t forget that technology is constantly changing and improving. The limitations of today may easily be resolved tomorrow.
Chris Flanders is a Director at Axsium and has over 17 years of WFM industry experience.