Automating A Retailer’s Workforce Management During A Pandemic

Automating A Retailer’s Workforce Management During A Pandemic

Mo Masud, Executive Director, Strategic Accounts and Emerging Markets, Ness Digital Engineering

The global COVID-19 pandemic has presented a number of challenges to businesses of every industry across the globe. These challenges continue to change and shift as we move from lockdowns and self-isolation through various stages of reopening and recovery.

In partnership with a large retailer, Ness Digital Engineering has been automating many of the manual processes that would have been overwhelmed during the rapid, fast-moving stages of the crisis.

In the early days of the pandemic, it became clear that a significant number of employees and contractors would need to be offboarded as on-site operations halted or resource needs were diminished. From an IT perspective, there were several tasks made challenging by both the need to work remotely and the fact that they were being managed in simple spreadsheets that required manual input. This included:

  • Coordinating the collection and reclamation of IT hardware devices from vendors and associates who had been offboarded
  • Re-harvesting or recovering the cost of unused software licenses or subscriptions
  • Ensuring application access is terminated smoothly across all devices and accounts to prevent security breaches
  • Coordination of the hand-offs across multiple functional areas (Vendor Management, Security and Compliance, HR, IT Project Teams) during the offboarding process
  • Re-distribution of those assets and installing the appropriate collaboration tools to maintain productivity from a remote workforce

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Keeping track of these items in a spreadsheet was both time-consuming and prone to human error. It would surely become overwhelming during both the offboarding and the eventual onboarding that would come when it was time to reopen.  Equally important was the information security risk of all these corporate-owned devices that contained company information and data in the hands of vendor resources that were no longer contracted with the organization.

As the retailer continued looking ahead towards reopening, it became clear that even with accelerated onboarding, there would need to emphasize workforce management to make sure stores are adequately staffed and are operating safely while keeping up with the local, state, and federal public health guidelines.

The Solution

To accelerate off- and onboarding, Ness and the national retailer developed a rapid offboarding solution that synthesized features from their enterprise digital workflow platform, existing HR systems, and modern digital workflow capabilities to consolidate spreadsheets, emails, and disparate data into one master application governed by rules-based workflows. This solution addressed many needs that companies have when offboarding large numbers of contractors and associates by streamlining and prioritizing processes and data – while controlling costs and reducing compliance risk.

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A streamlined and well-designed offboarding process naturally lends itself to accelerating the onboarding process when the time comes. Automated solutions can manage an up-to-date, real-time inventory of people, assets, and licenses, and a backward compatible collection of offboarding catalog items that can be used to efficiently onboard contractors and associates. It also provides features like standard imaging and licensing based on employee role to accelerate access provisioning and software licensing to ramped up resources.

Traditionally, onboarding contractors and employees could take anywhere from 3-5 weeks. The digital solutions, once validated by the customer’s finance department, could cut the time down from 3-5 weeks to less than two days. Reducing human error also mitigates significant risks, like those involved with asset collection. For example, if a laptop with sensitive data or proprietary information isn’t collected, it could wind up in the wrong hands.

The next evolution of the initiative came when it was time to begin opening and running stores again, while still in the midst of a pandemic. This required new protocols, rapid adoption of changing public health guidelines, the additional expense of implementing retail safety standards, and, most importantly, ensuring the health and safety of its employees and customers. This was the genesis of the COVID Exposure Management Solution. A case management solution was designed on the customer’s existing enterprise cloud platform to track potential and confirmed COVID cases across its retail stores and corporate offices. This significantly reduced the administrative burden of tracking this information, allowed for faster adoption of local health guidelines, and helped ensure business continuity by providing insight into potential safety risks or “hot spots” across its store network.

With the COVID Exposure Management Solution, the retailer is able to proactively identify and manage any potential outbreak within its workforce and take steps to prevent business shutdowns in the future, all while reducing the administrative burden and expense associated with implementing new and ever-changing safety guidelines.

If one associate test positive for COVID-19, they can identify any of those that were in contact with them and make sure everyone is tested or given the option to self-isolate, thereby providing the basic contact tracking capabilities. In some cases, this is paid time off that needs to be tracked in order to get reimbursement from the government. With real-time information, talent and workforce management can identify which locations need extra staffing so they can reallocate associates or hire temporary labor, as necessary. As public health agencies start enforcing different guidelines, it will be easier for large retailers to track and implement them and to report them.

Read More: Remote Working – How to Ensure Security While Using Collaborative Tools

What’s Next?

The situation continues to evolve, and that means the technology and solutions will as well. New features, like Bluetooth connectivity to thermal temperature monitors that can automatically populate within their system, add an additional layer of automation to the process as well as peace of mind for employees that want to check and make sure they’re still healthy. There are also opportunities to integrate these automated solutions across their entire retail supply chain. The retailer can make sure these third parties and vendors have COVID-19 safety guidelines in their service agreements.