Next-generation workforce optimisation (WFO): A Definition
The phrase ‘next-generation workforce optimisation’ (WFO) is generally accepted to have been coined by workforce management (WFM) software vendors looking for new terminology to describe their advanced product set.
For most of these vendors, next-generation WFO is enterprise-wide WFM: where a WFM supplier has the technical capability to apply the principles and functionality of WFM outside of a client’s contact centre, across the rest of their business.
In layman’s terms, this means giving an organisation the ability to forecast, schedule, manage and report on the workloads of its back-office teams, field staff and branch office or retail workers in much the same way that it forecasts, schedules, manages and reports on the workloads of its contact centre agents.
The technology creates efficiencies when it is integrated with a unified communication platform and applied in conjunction with strategic human capital management (SHMC) practices – that is, the tactical recruitment, hiring, on-boarding and ongoing development of people with the right skills to deliver effective service.
By doing this, an enterprise can achieve total visibility of staff across all departments and can allocate work to employees according to their availability and skill-set – regardless of whether they are working in a contact centre, branch network or out in the field.
How next-generation WFO technology differs from today’s workforce management (WFM) kit
To date, WFM has been very much focused on forecasting, scheduling, managing and reporting on telephony – specifically inbound telephony – using an automatic call distributor (ACD) as its data source. Some WFM systems integrate with other data sources so that they can be used to manage outbound calls and other front-office contacts, such as email.
However, the main difference between today’s WFM technology and next-generation WFO systems is that the latter can be applied outside of the contact centre and across the enterprise as a whole – for example, across back-office teams, field staff and branch office or retail workers.
As outlined in the section above, this potential is achieved through advanced systems integration, which provides the enterprise with a more holistic view of which employees are best suited to deal with specific tasks and then allocates work accordingly.
The table below (adapted from material supplied by InVision Software) provides further detail of the key differences between today’s WFM systems and next-generation WFO:
|Today’s WFM||Next generation WFO|
|Workload drivers||Typically hard-coded to deal only with ‘contacts’ or ‘calls’ in the contact centre, not with other work types outside of the contact centre||Can cope with any workload drivers the user wants to apply – for example, ‘incidents’ in the field or ‘sales’ in the branch network|
|Workload parameters||Data parameters tend to be contact centre-specific and, as such, are limited to labels such as ‘calls offered’, ‘calls abandoned’ and ‘average handling time’||Data parameters do not have to be contact centre-specific, and can be driven by the labels set by the user|
|Workload calculation||Erlang-C calculation method is generally the only one used||Unlimited choice of methods, including Erlang-C, average speed of answer (ASA), constant, linear and threshold calculations|
|Source of workload data||Typically only interfaces with the automatic call distributor (ACD)||Provides a suite of interfaces, which will integrate to any external data sources|
|Summary||WFM is hard-coded for the contact centre. Application in other areas requires ‘bending’ and compromises efficiency||All elements can be adapted to the needs of different enterprises and different departments within those enterprises – for example, the contact centre, branch network, field staff and so on|
Key problems facing today’s enterprises
The sections above allude to the fact that many of today’s enterprises are limited by the functionality of their existing contact centre WFM systems, which typically only work effectively to forecast, schedule, manage and report on inbound call activity.
Some enterprises do attempt to use their existing contact centre WFM systems to manage other workstreams, such as those in the back-office. However, in many cases the technology is hard-coded with contact centre terminology such as ‘calls offered’ or ‘average handling time’.
This can ultimately cause confusion among managers outside of the contact centre who have to use the pre-set terminology rather than applying that which is most relevant to their part of the business – for instance ‘white mail received’ or ‘white mail processing time’.
An alternative is to use different WFM systems to manage different parts of the business. However, this can quickly become an expensive option. It also presents integration issues for enterprises that want to create efficiencies by ‘sharing’ workloads between departments.
For example, a business may feel it can create efficiencies by up-skilling its retail or branch network staff so that they can answer telephone calls – essentially acting as a ‘satellite contact centre’ – during quiet periods. This is only going to be effective, however, if all employees are managed by the one WFM system or if distinct WFM systems are fully integrated with one another.
If there is not a single next-generation WFO platform or integrated WFM systems in place, organisations will not be able to build a comprehensive picture of employee competence and their relative ability to handle specific tasks or types of interactions.
How next-generation WFO can help overcome these issues
Because next-generation WFO systems can integrate with a unified communication platform to provide total visibility of staff across all departments – both customer- and non customer-facing – it means that enterprises can start cross-training or up-skilling staff and deploying them in other parts of the business as and when is necessary.
For instance, employees outside of the contact centre can be engaged to handle customer calls when call volumes rise and service levels might otherwise be adversely affected.
Furthermore, most next-generation WFO systems capture data relating to the performance of all the staff they oversee, therefore presenting the enterprise with a holistic view of performance across the board.
Some next-generation WFO systems also come with a suite of additional tools such as speech analytics, which helps the enterprise pinpoint root causes of employee or customer behaviour – for example, poor first contact resolution (FCR) resulting from insufficient contact centre agent training.
Once this component of the next-generation WFO system has identified the problem, managers can request that the system builds additional agent development time into the schedules it produces as part of its WFM capability. The same system can then be configured to measure the success of those training sessions as part of its reporting functionality.
For more information on WFO scheduling in the contact centre, read this article, Workforce Optimisation: 10 Ways to Improve Your Contact Centre Schedules.
The future of next-generation WFO
Next-generation WFO is still in its infancy, to a certain extent. The reality, according to industry expert body the Professional Planning Forum, is that many enterprises are not yet using their existing WFM systems to their full potential and, until they learn to do so, will be resistant to investing in and migrating on to next-generation WFO platforms.
That said, more and more vendors are beginning to offer the newer technology as an option and, as the functionality matures, are promising ever greater integration between field, front- and back-office activities, so further reducing data silos across the enterprise.
The next-generation WFO proposition is likely to become more compelling still as and when different vendors begin offering it as a hosted solution – so shrinking the level of capital expenditure that enterprises need to make in order to benefit from this state-of-the-art kit.