NRF 2011: The Top Three Workforce Management Trends

by | Sep 2, 2011

I spent last week in New York at National Retail Federation’s Big Show.  This was my 10th NRF, and as always, I was amazed at the size and scope of the event, how great New York can be, how crummy the Javits Center is, and how little coverage workforce management gets in the retail press.  Given that last point and knowing that many of you could not attend, I thought I’d highlight the top three WFM trends that I saw at the show this year.


1. Mobile Workforce Management


Mobile technology dominated all aspects of NRF this year, and workforce management was no exception. Every WFM vendor that I visited had something to demonstrate on a smart phone or tablet.


This area of WFM is really starting to evolve. What started as a way to fill open shifts via text messaging is expanding to include features that untether managers from the back office, enable associate productivity on the sales floor, and streamline workforce operations.  From what I saw, Vortex’s mobile workforce management modules offer the most complete solution available today, but it is clear that all vendors are working to add more advanced functionality to their solutions.


I was most excited to see mobile features for store managers are becoming real.  The ability to correct time punches, approve payroll, approve associate requests, and even edit the schedule demonstrated how productive the technology can be.  Also, vendors are showing expanded employee self-service capabilities including viewing schedules and requesting time off.


The big question is: who is using mobile WFM?  It is a technology that is certainly in its infancy in terms of adoption, but things are about to change.  A number of retailers I spoke to are interested in piloting it in 2011 which would point to a number of 2012 deployments.


2. New Task Management Offerings


While I expected to see a lot of mobile WFM at NRF, I was surprised to see two new task management solutions.


The first new entrant is Task Manager from Enfatica. For those not familiar with Enfatica, this is their second application behind Mobile Decision Support for Retailers, a smart phone-based dashboard targeted at executives and field management.


What got me excited about Task Manager is that it is a true SaaS solution.  What I mean by that is that Task Manager is really designed to be consumed on a per-user-per-month basis and completely setup and administered by the retailer.  A lot of SaaS solutions in the WFM space require a commitment for a certain period of time and understanding the pricing is anything but easy.


Enfatica truly offers a different experience.  Do you want to try task management at your organization?  No problem, simply create an account.  The first 10 are free.  Then, you pay on a per user per month basis after that.  This is for task management.  This is what SaaS is supposed to be.


The second new task management solution is from Natural Insight.  To be fair, Natural Insight’s product is not new.  Natural Insight has competed in the Merchandiser MSO space with a complete workforce management platform targeted at staffing agencies.  Now, their CEO Stefan Midford is offering their software to retailers, too.


What makes Natural Insight’s solution unique is its out of the box experience, and I literally mean out of the box.  Natural Insight promises that you’ll be running a store pilot in less than 30 days.  To make this happen, Natural Insight ships a box to each of your pilot stores.  In the box is a 3G-enable tablet and training guide with instructions that tell your store manager how to login and get started that day.


3. New WFM Users, Faster Go-Lives and Contributing to the Bottom Line


Ok, ok…I recognize that I’ve rolled three headlines into one trend, but the three are related.  Let me explain.


First, retailers continue to invest in WFM.  Tradeshows like NRF gives WFM vendors an opportunity to highlight new clients that have bought their software in the last year, and this year, we heard every vendor tout recent wins.  Still, I need to give credit where credit is due: the most impressive announcement came from Reflexis who said it signed 30 new retail customers for their solutions in the last year.


Second, retailers that are investing in WFM are going live faster than ever.  During a BIG !dea session at NRF, Pier 1 Imports said it went live with Dayforce in seven weeks.  Meanwhile, Infor announced American Apparel had implemented Workbrain in 15 weeks.  These are impressive achievements.  It shows that the vendors and retailers are really getting good at getting the technology up and running quickly.  This, in turn, leads to a more rapid ROI which is required to get any project off the ground these days.


This leads us to the third headline in our last trend:  The ROI retailers get from WFM can dramatically improve the business.  The most impressive statements about this was made by Deborah Weinswig of Citi during SuperSaturday, an event for C-level retail executives that raised just under $300,000 for the Retail Orphan Initiative.  In her session, Ms. Weinswig talked about how both Macy’s and Home Depot are using WFM to have a real impact on their bottom line and their company’s valuation.  For reference, Macy’s uses Kronos and Home Depot is using Empower Software.


Now that we have NRF behind us, I’m excited to get to work.  With all that’s going on in our discipline, it is sure to be an exciting year.

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