At the Kronos user conference, KronosWorks in Las Vegas the next generation of workforce management was revealed formally to its customers by CEO Aron Ain that will dramatically improve the usability of Kronos in new releases next year.

I got an early preview of this technology recently at HR Technology conference where I indicated that this is one of the exciting advancements in workforce related software (See: “HR Tech Brings New Products but HR Budgets May Limit Potential"). Kronos is a leading provider for hourly, labor-based, workforce management set of applications from time and attendance, scheduling, absence management, hiring and labor analytics who recently closed their fiscal year finding themselves with new business as the vendor market for dedicated software companies in this market to be very small.

Kronos keynote at the conference was Dr. Ken Dychtwald, a well known author of books like Age Wave and an industry guru on the dynamics of the aging population. He was very insightful. Ken provided startling facts on the next decades ahead in the U.S. and other countries that have a shifting age population that impact all employers and how they determine their future workforce requirements and available population of talent. In fact, the baby boomer age group of 55 to 64 years of age has grown 73 percent; and 65 and over has grown 55 percent, compared to younger age groups of only 10 to 15 percent. This is all part of the dramatic life expectancy increases in the last hundred years from 47 to 78 years, where these generations are working longer and are re-engaging into workforce to support their lifestyle and needs for income. This plays a dramatic role for those of us in the software industry as new role-based user interfaces must also span across three and four generations of workers in one workforce. Now, this is not just that ‘Boomers’ might need to be considered but that also ‘Generation X’ and more recent ‘Millennials’ demand work-life balance and have less allegiance to one company but to their own needs and personal destiny. This also requires a rethinking of our workforce and talent management processes like annual performance appraisal that should be the quarterly ‘atta-boy’ as current methods do not appeal to newer generations of workers and should be adapted to increase employee loyalty and retention.

The latest release that over 250 Kronos customers have upgraded to in 2009 is version 6.1 where they have advanced a range of needs from improved workforce planning and scheduling to proactive alerts, auditing and biometric support. Kronos who is well known for their labor analytics has improved their reporting and basic capabilities with integration to Microsoft Excel to more sophisticated analytics presented in dashboards and interactive capabilities for easier visualization of trending to root cause and cause-and-effect. A significant amount of focus in this release is on automation of a range of managing time and attendance-related activities like scheduling, overtime, breaks, leave and other elements of workforce management pertinent in retail, health care, manufacturing and public sector industries.

The important event for Kronos was unveiling of their next generation of applications that use a simpler and more intuitive interface for a range of workforce management tasks, including labor scheduling, and address the needs of managers who have to manage workforces and ensure they show up for the job. Kronos is using the latest in Adobe Flex technology to provide a rich user experience for conducting specific activities and for users interacting with their application. Kronos has framed their design of this next release into what they call instant engagement, guided decisions and complete control; but while these describe the benefits of what they have built, the capabilities are definitely advanced for their category of software. How Kronos customers move to a complimentary and not an immediate replacement of their existing applications is something to keep an eye on as the first release is scheduled for January of 2010. This will be followed by an iterative release of updates and in the second half where they bring further advancements into the application for workforce acquisition, internationalization and more administrative capabilities.

I had a chance to get close up to some of the larger deployments of Kronos including La-z-Boy, Starbucks and City/County of Denver who are all good examples of automating the labor and workforce related aspects of their organizations. La-Z-Boy and City/County of Denver have also integrated Kronos with Oracle and Peoplesoft for other ERP and HRMS-related need but agreed that these vendors are still not ready for address their workforce related T&A needs, which is why they are working with Kronos. Starbucks, however, in balancing their talent management needs has decided to only use Authoria for compensation and go deeper with Kronos for broader set of hiring and scheduling needs.

Interesting that Starbucks who is finally moving off of paper-based processes and is in pilot across six states in U.S. is focused on reducing the hire and employee churn statistic but also getting in line with a range of regulatory compliance issues including the Worker Opportunity Tax Credit. All of these organizations have avoided and reduced costs in their organizations while gaining some practical benefits related to employee satisfaction, increased productivity and more effective use of their labor which in most industries is the number one cost to run the organization.

I was also informed that Kronos will expand their hiring solution into the SMB market where they can make it simpler as part of their rental software as a service approach and expand upon their recent acquisition of Stromberg from Paychex. Kronos has been successful with selling this into the enterprise market with customers like Starbucks who like many organizations is transforming from paper to electronic methods for hiring and time and attendance needs. Kronos' focus on hiring challenges many of the traditional Talent Management suite providers who are strongly focused in recruiting like Authoria, Kenexa and Taleo who are not as well fit for the hourly labor market and do not offer the rest of the workforce scheduling, time and attendance needs in manufacturing, retail, healthcare and other industries.

Kronos is expanding its operations and focus into additional vertical industries where their software has unique capabilities to help these industries address their labor nuances. There are many capabilities and applications though that span across industries like their ability to provide scheduling across SMS and text with mobile devices, which is expected to come out early next year. What is most interesting is that Kronos is continuing to expand its capabilities to support salary workers compared to only focusing on hourly workers, which provides them expansion with their existing customers and into other organizations where traditional HRMS and talent management providers currently operate.

I did find that Kronos has some significant decisions to make in their technology direction and supporting their applications to managers and workers on mobile devices thatrequire more than SMS and text-based interfaces. The diversity of the technology and platforms will require advancing into mobile applications if Kronos wants to expand their reach and truly engage workers with their need to quickly examine their work-life balance and determining if they will accept a schedule request. But these technology decisions are facing all application providers as they are under pressure to provide what I call information applications to their workforces (See: "Information Applications: New Focus on Information Availability"). Kronos has been investing in advancing their technology, which they identified at beginning of 2008 as a strategic activity as they were functionally sufficient but needed improvement from a user experience perspective that they have addressed. At the same time, many other providers in their application segments are making minimal improvements and collecting maintenance fees from their customers, which is good news for Kronos.

I found that the insight into the products and customers inspiring, seeing how significantly sized customer deployments of applications to workers can address what I have referred to as the workforce performance imperative. Kronos is a vendor to consider when looking to improve the management of your hourly labor; and now, salary workforces and their specialization in labor analytics and providing insightful metrics for maximizing people-related investments is part of their secret sauce and value in the market. Kronos has built their new software to help bridge across generations of people by using a new generation of technology that will help them advance their business for your workforce needs.

Mark Smith also blogs at