Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 33 seconds

For most of the new millennium, the hot topics in HR technology and software have focused on talent management–recruitment, compensation, learning and training, etc. More recently, however, companies are shifting some of their focus to a somewhat neglected (or, more correctly, less "sexy") aspect of the business: workforce and time management technology.

In their day, the introduction of time-punch clocks, payroll management and scheduling systems were considered rather high-tech in manufacturing and other industries. And those innovations pretty much defined "workforce management technology" for several generations. Gradually, however, time clocks gave way to hand-configuration and fingerprint readers; and payroll management and scheduling systems have evolved into sophisticated analytic tools that can help managers sync staffing needs with business demand (like foot traffic in stores correlated to the number of sales people needed at a given time). 

Workforce management applications may be under the radar of many HR professionals, but they have the potential to save organizations serious money in the realm of labor, which is still most companies' leading overall category in the expense column. At a certain point, the real challenge may be for businesses to keep up with rapid advances in technology.

Out of the Back Office

As of this year, a relatively new professional organization aims to add some overdue recognition to time and labor management professionals by issuing national certification programs just for them. The Workforce Educational Organization (WEO) was co-founded a few years ago by workforce management technology and HR transformation professional Lisa Disselkamp.

Disselkamp approached the Independent Time & Labor Management Association (ITLMA), a trade association of workforce management technology vendors, about starting a professional certification program, and the WEO was born, according to an article from Workforce.com.

This past September, the WEO unveiled its time and labor management certification programs. The organization aims to emulate the success of the SHRM and its 250,000-strong membership, but gearing its programs and services to time and labor management professionals.

The two certification programs offered by the WEO are administered by Minnesota-based employee staffing, scheduling and workforce management advisory firm Labor Management Institute (LMI). The programs are designed to develop best practices in workforce management technology–and also provide greater recognition to the professionals who do a lot of traditionally behind-the-scenes work, according to a press release from WEO.

Goin' Mobile

But there are other high-tech trends taking place in the world of workforce management technology and software as well–like in most aspects of the HR business. Beyond hand and fingerprint biometrics for time clocks, a whole new class of cloud-based and mobile access vendors may force long-time back-office stalwarts like Kronos to step up their game (which they have, by acquiring an SaaS vendor).

According to a study by Boston-based Nucleus Research, mobile-device access and analytics are now considered essentials for enhancing labor productivity and risk management. As Nucleus's vice president of research put it rather bluntly: "The time clock is dead. It's now about mobile devices and kiosks and allowing managers to do sophisticated scheduling."

Included in the mix are advances in Global Positioning System (GPS), most typically associated with cars, and biometric technology, as well as innovations like paying some employees with debit cards instead of traditional paychecks. Then, of course, there's the growing dominance of cloud computing technology, which enables employers and their workers to access workforce management software from anywhere–and with less reliance on IT departments, according to this article from Searchfinancialapplications.

The result is that leading software vendors, including Kronos, Ceridian, ADP, Workforce Software, and others) are investing in cloud human capital management (HCM) and incorporating other forms of sophisticated data analytics into their day-to-day operations.

References to software concepts like "fatigue management" and "activity-based costing" will likely be heard more frequently in water-cooler conversations in technology circles in 2015. We'll also likely be seeing many more acquisitions of cloud-computing and other software providers by organizations looking to enhance their workforce technology capabilities.

Either way, time management and workforce technology has come a long way since the first time clocks were installed way back when. This may be the tip of the iceberg of what this niche of HR will look like within a few years. One thing's for sure: there's no going back to the 20th century.

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