Combining time and attendance (T&A) systems with resource planning and other enterprise systems is set to become one of the hallmarks of enlightened manufacturers. Integrating these different systems not only brings benefits, but often at a low cost that can be quickly recouped. And where it really scores is with companies having flexible or shift-based working patterns: knowing who is available and what skills can be deployed at any time can mean the difference between completing the workload easily, or suffering difficulty. David S Smith Corrugated is one that has successfully done this – integrated T&A with resource planning and operations based on staff working flexible hours. Says Vince Badcock, IT manager at the firm’s Fordham site – considered the flagship plant – the company first had to upgrade its system from basic clock-based T&A so that features like resource planning and rostering could be introduced. It did so with Open Options software from T&A software vendor Crown Computing. The new system went live this spring. Staffing at David S Smith involves around 190 employees being contracted to work 1,880 hours per year, spread over a variety of shift patterns. While Badcock says that the company’s absentee rate – mostly due to illness – is only 3.2%, any absence can impact operations. But now, says Badcock, machines can be manned to the required level and the company can continue to meet its daily and weekly production targets irrespective of absence. Whereas before, the firm had to rely on its personnel department to provide contact details for staff not on duty but with the necessary skills to fill the gap, all this data is now on the system, making it much easier to make decisions. “We know what skills people have and what machines they generally operate – as well as someone who is not expected in but has the required skill. This helps us prioritise and we would go for someone on standby rather than rest, keeping in mind the number of hours already worked,” explains Badcock. Badcock says the firm has derived several benefits. Crucially, trust in the T&A system has been restored among administrators. Improved data availability and accuracy makes key business decisions easier. Report generation has also become much simpler, and Badcock reveals that staff also have access to their records, making the system transparent. The firm is not alone: a recent survey by enterprise software (ERP) vendor McGuffie Brunton of manufacturing firms shows 21% focusing on T&A as a key investment, and an even more on product tracking – well ahead of, for example, e-business. Meanwhile, advanced T&A systems should have the functionality to enable planning and resource management, according to Mike Hawkesford, managing director at Crown Computing. With labour representing 50—90% of a manufacturer’s cost base, he says the key to success is shifting to a skills-based manufacturing model. And that means delivering the information to support decision making, even on the fly. “The key is knowing who is in and who is expected over a particular timeframe,” he says, “which will allow you to deliver the right resources levels.” Higher efficiency and enhanced profitability become possible with a better matching of staff resources and the demands of the business. Otherwise companies can easily fall into a couple of cost traps, says Hawkesford, like over-resourcing for safety, using agencies to fill any gaps, or under-manning, leading to expensive overtime or jobs simply not done – with a knock-on effect to customer service. Companies like David S Smith can expect a return on investment within the year – often equating to a fraction of the overall labour costs. Making this move has to be one of the more logical choices in manufacturing today. The question remains – would you prefer to wait until things get worse, or are you prepared to change now?