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Open Mic: Invest in employees, not new software

Mon, 09/16/2013 - 3:21pm
Tom Gorman president, opXL

 Tom Gorman president, opXL  

“Last night somebody broke into my apartment and replaced everything with exact duplicates.”

Stephen Wright

In spending time with operators I’ve seen an interesting phenomenon related to the continual changes in the industry, the constant need to reduce cost and the desire to be more efficient. That is, that whatever we have now isn’t good enough, so we must buy something new to replace it. Yes, there may be certain legacy issues that keep a software from being as fast as a new version, but the alarming observation I have is that operators don’t fully utilize the software they have in order to achieve the benefit they were looking for when they bought it. An example near and dear to my heart is automated workforce management systems. A typical scenario that is being played out with several operators is to look at newer solutions for complex workforce management systems (WFM) because the installed one isn’t doing what it promised. There’s a reason for that, that companies should consider. As a matter of fact, there may be other complex applications that are in the same situation.

Five years ago, maybe 10, when the WFM application was installed, it was thought of as on par with curing cancer, solving world peace and putting a man on mars. There were great expectations and for the most part many of the benefits were realized. This is related to the focus and attention given by the leadership team who bought it. They were on hook for operational improvements and made certain that every user was trained properly to get the most benefit for the company. Over time, the leadership moved on, to new roles, new companies, maybe even out of the industry. The next generation of leaders and users move in, but may not have the same interest as the original team. Training may move from formal to casual, in that the next generation of users are trained by sitting next to an experienced user and learning by observing. In this case, they learn only the elements that the “trainer” shows them and may miss other areas that can help them to do their job in a more efficient and automated manner.

As time goes on, the powerful capabilities of automation are eroded. I’ve observed companies using spreadsheets and tick marks to track things that are all automated, if only those features were used properly.

The end result of all this is that the application that was once the solution is now the problem! The next logical step therefore is to replace it with a new one. A new one that does exactly what the existing one does. It will have a different user interface, but it does the same thing as the one that exists.

Has any business decision maker ever encountered a vendor who had a solution that “increases OPEX?” I doubt it. Every solution I’ve ever seen, somewhere in the presentation promises to reduce it. The new application that is replacing the existing one will promise to do so. Can it really reduce cost if it does exactly what the current application does? Is the disruption and re-training on new tools a cost that is considered? I have a different thought. Re-invest in the employees who use it. Pay for experts to train and re-train the users to be absolute in-house experts. A few weeks of business process analytics from the vendor will uncover all the areas where simple re-invigoration will once again allow the operator to realize the results that were intended. The choice for the operator may be to spend $100,000.00 for a well managed re-start, versus $1,000,000.00 to replace the tool and achieve exactly what was already possible. That is money better spent.

In order to make a tool such as workforce management culturally significant, techs, dispatchers and managers must use it as it was designed. The best way to ensure that is to measure something that must be used as designed is through compliance management. Measure usage by each individual to verify that they are taking advantage of all it has to offer.

Measure tasks, feature usage, and reductions of unnecessary activities (like a tech calling to provision a device that can be done using the tool.

Finally, all these things are intended to save time. They don’t. We cannot save time, only spend it. Looking at how the workforce is spending its time may be an indicator that a tune-up is needed.

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