Why real-time demand forecasting is key to scheduling

What can businesses do to ensure that productivity stays high, idle time remains low and assure that the right people are in the right place at the right time? According to Stacy Huffstetler, you need to have these three key building blocks in place. 

COVID-19 and the new normal of social distancing have caused turmoil around the world. For businesses, traditional business models have been turned upside down and new challenges in labor and demand forecasting have appeared for industries like food delivery, retail, hospitality and logistics. 

In webinar The next normal for food delivery logistics, Stacy Huffstetler (Managing Director North America of Widget Brain) says one of the biggest challenges for all industries right now is being able to accurately predict what’s going to happen next in terms of demand.

“In food delivery logistics for example, we’re seeing a huge increase in online orders and app downloads”, she says. “Restaurants are changing the way they operate to offer delivery and we’re seeing different demand patterns, different types of orders and different order times.

“Alongside this, we’re seeing large scale disruptions from a workforce point of view with employees unavailable to work either because they’re sick or they have a sick family member. This has led to businesses running into staffing shortages and trying to operate with a skeleton crew.

This all makes it difficult to serve customers on time, maximize productivity and minimize idle time. However, food delivery logistics is not the only industry to struggle with this problem. In this blog post you can see how retailers are preparing their workforce for the next steps, as the industry is moving to operating click and collect and curbside pick-ups. Warehouses are also struggling to cope with the huge surge in demand sparked by an increase in online shopping.

This level of unpredictability makes accurate scheduling incredibly difficult and makes real-time demand forecasting more important than ever. 

So what can businesses do to ensure that productivity stays high, idle time remains low and assure that the right people are in the right place at the right time? According to Stacy Huffstetler, you need to - from a technology point of view - have these three key building blocks in place. 

1. Demand forecasting

Demand forecasting is key to a good schedule. In food delivery logistics, being able to accurately say what you expect in terms of orders received, where they come from, what size they are, and where they are going will enable you to create a much smarter and effective schedule. 

With the help of AI in your WFM tool, you can leverage recent actuals to see what’s going to happen next and then schedule for this demand accordingly.

2. Creating shifts

The next step is to create a set of shifts that cover your anticipated demand. These shifts need to take into account labor laws and be compliant. The key is to create shifts that minimize costs while maximizing your desired service levels. 

3. Fill shifts

Next, you need to be able to see who is available and who has the right skillset for the shifts you’ve created while taking into account employee preferences of when they work.

Stacy Huffstetler adds: “It’s not just about creating that initial schedule - it becomes about how you adjust to what you see happening. Forecasting one to two weeks out right now is going to be really tough. As we roll through time we can pull back in actuals and use that information to give an updated projection which can be mapped to what you’re already planning to do."

“You can then see the differences and automatically make schedule changes to reflect them. This gives you the ability, in an uncertain world, to take into account what's actually happening and adjust your scheduling to meet it. And daily real-time updates showing the impact of your current staffing levels alongside suggestions of what you should do, allow you to respond each day.”

These three steps become infinitely easier with a WFM solution that includes scheduling and demand forecasting that’s powered by AI. It gives you the ability to react and respond in an instant to what’s happening on any given day. If something is affecting your business - either positively or negatively - you’ll have the power to do something about it.

Download our free need-to-know guide and discover how AI can help you unleash the potential of your workforce.

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