Best Buy Canada is preparing to eliminate an aging time and attendance system it inherited from Future Shop in favour of a product that will also handle labour management for 13,000 associates in 130 stores across the country.

The retailer will begin the formal rollout of the software from Chelmsford,

Mass.-based Kronos Inc. early next year in a phased approach.

Information generated from the Kronos product will be integrated with Best Buy Canada’s HRIS system, which included PeopleSoft applications to manage payrolls and Oracle applications to manage financials.

Tom Kemp, Best Buy Canada’s project manager, said installing workforce management tools is part of a wider company initiative to improve processes across the organization following its merger with Future Shop in early 2000. Future Shop has for years used an internally developed time and attendance system based on Business Basic, which didn’t seem like a good long-term option, he said.

“”It’s pretty much an outdated technology,”” he said. “”It’s pretty hard to find any BBx people around anymore. It’s becoming more and more difficult to support.””

Finding the right product proved difficult, however. Few vendors were able to provide an off-the-shelf solution that would support the French language and comply with provincial labour laws. Some tools, for example, weren’t very good at handling changes in payroll during Canadian statutory holidays.

“”(Most of the vendors) are more targeted towards the U.S. than Canada,”” he said. “”Let’s say Best Buy decides to acquire somebody in Australia or Europe or who knows where? We were thinking of the international aspect of it as well.””

Workforce management tools have traditionally been aimed at contact centres, but retail now makes up more than 20 per cent of Kronos’s revenues, according to its retail industry manager, John Anderson. The emergence of mega-retailers such as Wal-Mart and Web-based retailing have forced many customers to raise the bar in terms of driving revenue and maintaining profitability, while also differentiating themselves in terms of the quality of in-store experience.

“”Labour costs traditionally for retailers have been their largest controllable expense,”” he said. “”There’s such a high percentage of their employee work force that is part time, and the store-level environment is so dynamic, optimization in terms of costs has always been a priority.””

The Future Shop acquisition has taught Best Buy Canada to prepare for the future, Kemp said. “”Now you have basically two separate business models that have to be handled by the software,”” he said.

“”Who’s to say that’s not going to happen again? We need software that’s going to be flexible enough to accommodate that,”” Kemp said.

There are still retailers using manual or spreadsheet-based methods, and Kronos is seeing demand from customers who want to automate these processes, Anderson said. “”In Best Buy’s case, they have 130 locations across Canada. They don’t have one workforce management process, they have 130,”” he said. “”They are now standardizing that process in each of their locations.””

The Kronos software rollout will include the headquarters, regional offices, distribution centres and stores for both chains, Kemp said.

Best Buy will wait a few months to begin as it usually enters a “”blackout period”” during quiet periods when no new projects go into production and potentially jeopardize holiday sales.

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