Kronos Welcomed Customer Input for iSeries Central 5
by Alex Woodie
A new version of Kronos' time and labor management software for OS/400 should make it easier for both employees and managers to interface with the system. iSeries Central 5, which was announced last week, contains several new features--such as a new HTML interface, navigation "genies," and a new graphical scheduling system--that are the result of requests made by a new iSeries Central customer advisory board that was formed earlier this year.
iSeries Central is an industrial-strength suite of time and labor management applications that run exclusively on OS/400 servers. Its core module, iSeries Timekeeper, replaces manual timecard systems, while a collection of other components provide further labor management efficiencies with integrated scheduling and reporting capabilities, and connectivity to Kronos' line of biometric or card-reader terminals and third-party ERP systems.
The Value Add
The new features in iSeries Central 5 have been eagerly awaited at the Eastridge Group, a temporary staffing agency in San Diego, California. Eastridge is something of a unique user of the iSeries Central software, since the company sells access to the application as a value-added service for larger clients purchasing labor contracts from Eastridge.
The value-add for Eastridge clients comes in the form of offering daily tracking and automated billing capabilities, says Brad Taylor, a senior systems engineer for Eastridge. Other staffing agencies relying on manual data collection methods can't match Eastridge in terms of automation and speed, and as a result, Eastridge today can attribute $44 million in increased revenue per year as a result of iSeries Central, which Eastridge runs on a uniprocessor iSeries Model 270. Eastridge first installed the Kronos software in 1997.
"When we started with Kronos, only high-end clients with 75 employees or more" would get access to iSeries Central, Taylor says. This is because Eastridge would need to install a $5,000 Kronos time clock and maintain a network connection. Over time, Kronos has offered other ways of accessing iSeries Central, including through the Web, over the phone, or from a PDA. As a result, Eastridge lowered the threshold of clients who used iSeries Central. Today, iSeries Central manages the hours worked of nearly half of the 4,200 employees Eastridge writes a check for every week, and now clients with as few as 10 employees are being offered the value-add service, Taylor says.
Awaiting Version 5
New features in iSeries Central 5 will assist Eastridge with its goal of automating employee data collection and reporting for 70 percent of Eastridge's employees, Taylor says. The new HTML interface with iSeries Central 5 is near the top of the list. Previous releases offered a Java interface, but the Java version had its problems, Taylor says. "Java's a hassle. It comes across on a different port," which clients had to manually configure. "The new version comes across on port 80 and is a much more user friendly interface."
Adding to the user friendly theme are new "Genies" that debut with iSeries Central 5. Taylor is looking forward to using the Genie feature to offer Eastridge clients customizable screens that give them quick access to the information they need, such as their employees' names and hours worked. "Before, you had to give them access to Kronos, and then restrict access to certain parts of it," he says. "Now, you give them the view that they need."
There is also a new graphical scheduling tool in iSeries Central 5 that should cut down on the time it takes labor managers to set up their employees' schedules. Instead of typing in the exact hours to be worked for each employee, managers can now use a mouse to drag names off a list and drop them onto a graphical calendar. "It's much easier and user friendly to do that, much more graphical," Taylor says.
Lastly, it will be easier to implement biometric authentication techniques, such as fingerprint scans, with iSeries Central 5. In previous release, one had to connect the biometric device to the iSeries via a PC server. Now the biometric devices connect directly to iSeries Central, Taylor says.
Getting the Ear of Kronos
Taylor had a hand in guiding Kronos to develop the user-friendly features in iSeries Central 5. About a year ago, Taylor helped set up a Southern California Kronos user group, which provides a place for about 120 people from 60 Kronos shops in the Los Angeles and San Diego areas to discuss problems and swap solutions. Most of the organizations represented use Workforce Central, Kronos' popular Windows- and Unix-based time and labor management system, but there are some iSeries Central shops there, too.
As president of the user group, Taylor is acutely aware of the differences between iSeries Central and Workforce Central. "They are two completely different things," Taylor says of iSeries Central and Workforce Central. "We have a lot of functionality they don't have," such as the capability to run multiple customer databases with DB2/400. But Workforce Central has its own advantages, too. For example, Kronos' new payroll and human resources package, which it licensed from Best Software, is integrated tightly with Workforce Central, but not iSeries Central. That fact doesn't bother Eastridge, which uses a payroll package designed specifically for temp agencies.
Kronos has reconsidered a strategy that would have given iSeries Central greater integration with the new HR and payroll packages, if not other applications on OS/400. Two years ago, Kronos was considering a long-term strategy of migrating iSeries Central to Workforce Central. Jim Kizielewicz, vice president of marketing and corporate strategy for Kronos, at the time said the company was looking at "blending" iSeries Central with Workforce Central, which would result in heightened, if not total, integration between the two suites. However, since then Kronos has cancelled any kind of migration plan, because "our iSeries customers expressed their desire to run natively in that environment," a Kronos spokesperson says. "We will continue to update iSeries Central as we update Workforce Central so that all of our customers are benefiting from the most advanced features and functionality." Workforce Central 5 officially shipped a week before iSeries Central 5.
While at one point the iSeries was not getting the attention from Kronos it deserved, today things are looking up for iSeries Central users. Earlier this year, Taylor helped form another group of users, or a customer advisory board (CAB), to provide iSeries Central-specific feedback to Kronos. "They've had a CAB for the other platforms," he says. "Probably because we complained so much, we talked about putting a CAB together for iSeries, to give them a real world idea of what we're using their software for." Taylor serves as a member on the iSeries Central CAB.
On Top of the Food Chain
While there are many more Workforce Central users, iSeries Central holds the honor of being the most successful standalone time and labor system for the OS/400 platform. More than 4,000 organizations around the world use iSeries Central, including CompUSA, the San Diego Zoo, and Maple Leaf Foods. In fact, Kronos owns a big chunk of the market for time and labor software on all platforms, with a 40-percent market share, according to the former Giga Research, which is now part of IT consultancy Forrester Research.
Kronos' grip on the market is so tight it estimates there is no real competitor for 43 percent of its prospects, many of whom are still using paper timecards or cobbled-together PC-based systems. There doesn't appear to be much to block Kronos--which had revenues of nearly $400 million in 2003, up 16-percent from 2002--from continuing its impressive streak of 96 straight quarters of year-over-year revenue growth and 67 consecutive quarters of profitability. Over the last two years, Chelmsford, Massachusetts-based Kronos has gobbled up many of its regional resellers and acquired most of its competitors. It would be easy for Kronos to sit back and reap the rewards from being on top of its particular software niche. The company spent $38.5 million on research and development--about 10 percent of its total revenues. That is a decline from 11 percent the previous year.