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9/27/2002
11:15 AM
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Counting The Employee Hours

Scheduling applications help supermarkets offer better customer service and rein in labor costs

Profit margins in the grocery industry are razor thin. So effectively managing employee hours and schedules is crucial for ensuring good customer service and profitability. Until recently, supermarket scheduling focused on cash register and checkout personnel and was done with pen and paper or perhaps with a spreadsheet.

But now that's changing. Two New England supermarket chains are deploying workforce-management applications that automate scheduling, monitor employee hours, and help companies keep labor costs in check.

Big Y Foods Inc., which operates 48 grocery stores in Connecticut and Massachusetts, is rolling out RetailERM time and attendance software from Workbrain Inc., an employee-relationship management vendor. Big Y plans to use RetailERM in conjunction with forecasting and scheduling software from TempoSoft Inc. to accurately forecast and schedule staff needed in its stores and warehouses. It will also use fingerprint-scanning time clocks from Control Module Inc. to track time and attendance.

Photo courtesy of Angela Wyant/Getty.Using technology to track time and attendance isn't new for Big Y, which formerly used PeoplePlanner software from SimplexGrinnell LP, a unit of Tyco International Ltd. This is the first time the company is extending automated scheduling beyond cashiers and bag packers. Big Y is using the scheduling capabilities in departments such as meat and produce, where scheduling used to be done manually, labor-planning manager Jim Killian says.

Better scheduling can translate into dollars, Killian says. "If we want to sell items that take a long time to make but we get a good return on gross profit, we make sure our employees have the time to make them." Knowing the cost of labor also helps Big Y set prices.

Shaws Supermarkets Inc. also is saying goodbye to an older version of PeoplePlanner from SimplexGrinnell that it used to keep track of supermarket checkout employees, and it's introducing the Workforce Central suite, a new time and attendance app from workforce-management vendor Kronos Inc.

Shaws' IT department is building custom interfaces to connect its time clocks and payroll and human-resources systems to the Kronos time and attendance application. The software lets Shaws "add more or less staff to the deli department depending on traffic and give better service," says Jeffrey McGovern, director of retail process and systems improvement.

The chain will test the Kronos application in November at one location before rolling it out to all 187 stores by early next year. Shaws is looking forward to the online features that the Kronos software offers, McGovern says, because it will let workers "check their schedules without having to visit stores." Self-service and Internet access to employee or scheduling data is an aspect of employee-relationship management not commonly found in the retail sector because of Internet-accessibility issues and high turnover rate, says Paul Hamerman, Giga Information Group's research director.

Pricing for Workbrain's RetailERM is based on the number of users. A license for 10,000 to 20,000 employees can cost $1 million to $3 million, including software and services, the company says. Kronos' Workforce Central costs about $50 to $100 per employee, but pricing depends on the number of employees using the system, the amount of professional services used, the type of data collection, and employee self-service methods purchased.

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