The complete guide to buying the right rostering software

As every business grows and matures it faces new challenges. What wasn’t on the radar as a small business, is now a major hurdle as a medium or large one. The answer to a lot of the problems growing businesses face are better systems and processes (which often means software). But while many business owners know this, it can be hard to see what you’ll need in a system before you start implementing it.

If you’re in this position, you’ve no doubt Googled ‘rostering software’ (or something similar), seen a few options and browsed a bunch of websites. Fortunately in this day and age, there are lots of choices available (especially for rostering and workforce management systems – we track around 200!).

Many of them are run by teams of passionate people, sold using beautiful marketing and are full of great features; and it’s great that so many are available. But the downside to all of this is that while it seems to be a benefit, having so many options can actually make the decision process harder; taking weeks to truly compare just a few systems.

The solution seems simple: Why not just ask competing software providers how they differ and save yourself some time? Because while it seems like a good way to approach it, listening to the answers providers give you just doesn’t work, and here’s why:

Why asking providers doesn’t work

The problem with asking providers directly how they compare is that they’re prone to give you a somewhat biased view. Even if they don’t straight up lie (unfortunately, we’ve heard this happen), they’ll only focus on the areas they’re excelling at, giving you a skewed view.

We don’t mean to blame providers, after all it’s natural to focus on your qualities – we are just as guilty of focusing on our strengths as anyone when someone springs the question on us over the phone or in a sales presentation.

But even if providers aren’t giving you a biased view, it’s doubtful that after a single call or email they truly understand what you need. To be honest, you may not even know what you need at this stage!

So, with all of that in mind, we’ve done our best to take an objective view (one that fairly sees things from the customer’s perspective), and written the below guide to not only help you compare solutions, but to pick the right ones to compare in the first place. As a side note: We appreciate the irony of a software provider guiding you on how to pick software, but few outside of this space are going to have the insight as to what you need/don’t need, and are able to shine light on areas you may not have thought about.

1 Be mindful of the factors that are critical to you when doing business with a software company

One of the biggest oversights many companies make when choosing a B2B product or service is in the experience of working with the organisation. It’s a significant factor, because in many cases you’ll be dealing with them on a monthly, weekly or even a daily basis in the beginning.

If communication or delivery breaks down, this can lead to significant delays and inefficiencies resulting in lost revenue or added expenses.

To help you assess this, we suggest thinking about:

  1. Are they headquartered in your country?
  2. Do they have a support team covering some or all of your working hours?
  3. How big is their team?
  4. Do they have an actual phone number you can contact them on?
  5. Is pricing in your currency?
  6. Is your data stored within or geographically close to your country?
  7. Do they provide on-site training?

It’s definitely not a bad thing if none of the above points are critical to you. Think about other day-to-day software you use (Facebook, Twitter, Google Maps), they probably don’t tick any of points but are perfectly reliable.

What you do need to keep in mind however, is if any are critical, because it’s going to be the fasted way to shortlist the solutions you have to compare.

How does Ento compare

  1. We are headquartered in Australia.
  2. We cover 06:00-19:00 GMT+10 Monday-Friday.
  3. Email support outside hours.
  4. Depending when you read this, our team will be between 10-15 staff.
  5. We have Australian, US and UK support numbers.
  6. We accept AUD, USD, GBP and EUR.
  7. Depending on your location, we store data in Australia, USA or Ireland.
  8. To clients in Australia. Screenshare training to clients in other countries.


2And the type and size of business you are

In our experience, most potential clients overvalue the uniqueness of ‘rostering for in for businesses of’ and end up prematurely eliminating decent options. That being said, if a software provider you’re looking at can’t tick 2 of the 3 below, they might not be right for you.

  1. Does the software provider specifically mention working with clients in your industry?
  2. Does the software provider specifically mention working with clients in your country?
  3. Does the software provider mention working with clients that have a similar amount of staff to your organisation?

How does Ento compare

  1. Industries: Retail, Hospitality, Seurity, Events, Community, Leisure, Health & care, Services and more
  2. Check out countries Ento works in ad client numbers here.
  3. Clients with staff numbers from 10-2,000.


3What features are critical, important or just nice-to-have?

There are an array of features available from a variety of different systems on the market. The features are often more or less applicable to your business in three areas:

  1. Your industry
  2. The size of your business, and
  3. Your location

It’s important not to mistake a ‘critical’ for an ‘important’ or a ‘nice-to-have’ feature because it can remove great options from the pool. And while you may not need certain features now, it’s important to consider what features you’re likely to need in the future, as your business grows and faces new challenges.

Here are a couple of features we recommend checking for. Feel free to add your own when looking for a system:

  1. Is the software web-based (SaaS)? (the software shouldn’t have to be installed on your computer)
  2. Does the software calculate labour costs on your roster in real time?
  3. Does the software SMS and/or email shifts to staff?
  4. Are there tools to find replacements and make other last minute changes?
  5. Can you capture time and attendance?
  6. Can you configure your pay rules?
  7. Are there apps your staff can download to access their roster?
  8. Does the software integrate or export to your payroll system?
  9. Can you feed sales data from your POS for demand based rostering?
  10. Can you add multiple managers and control their permissions?

How does Ento compare

  1. –   10.    Yes


4Work out what ‘category’ of rostering provider you are looking for, based on the first three steps

We track 200 competitors and can break them into 4 broad categories. The answers to step 1, 2 and 3 as well as your sensitivity to price will usually guide you on which category to look at.

Note: We have made some fairly sweeping generalisations, there’s always an exception to the rule!


Category 1

Young guns

Young guns are startups in the true sense. They are usually comprised of a couple of super hungry, smart, young people, looking at making one specific element of workforce management (such as rostering) beautifully simple. This incompasses approx. 60% of the options on the market.

Key indicators that show you’re looking at a ‘young gun’:
Been in business
1-3 years
Size of the team
1-5
Largest customer
~50 staff
SaaS first?
Yes
Price
$$$
How to spot them in the wild:
  • You can’t find an ‘About us’ page and there’s no phone number listed
  • Website seems unfinished
  • Transparent pricing
  • Very little web presence outside their website
  • Sporadic usage of company social media accounts and blog
Strengths Weaknesses
Super cheap pricing
Open for input on product direction
Simple software aimed at one problem
Rostering
Support options limited
Software unpolished and buggy
Product lacking depth and integrations
Rostering >20 staff

Category 2

Mature innovators

Mature innovators are the young guns that ‘made it’ or at least didn’t not make it (being careful not to use the word ‘fail’ here). This incompasses approx. 20% of the options on the market.

Key indicators that show you’re looking at a ‘mature innovator’:
Been in business
3-10 years
Size of the team
5-50
Largest customer
~500
SaaS first?
Yes
Price
$$$
How to spot them in the wild
  • ‘About us’ page with team listed
  • Beautifully presented website
  • Transparent pricing
  • Reviews and/or press can be found
  • Active social media accounts and blog
Strengths Weaknesses
Reasonable pricing
Well polished software being improved frequently
Integrations with major payroll and POS systems
Rostering 0-100 staff
Some effort needed to setup
Depth of features can lead to confusing interface
No sales person for in-person demo
Enterprise rostering generally not supported

Category 3

Incumbents

Incumbents are the mature innovators that ‘made it’. The mix of being on the market before web-based software, having a large team and large legacy code base leads to difficult transition to a SaaS business model which they may or may not be in the middle of. This incompasses approx. 15% of the options on the market.

Key indicators that show you’re looking at a ‘mature innovator’:
Been in business
10-20 years
Size of the team
50-200
Largest customer
5,000
SaaS first?
No
Price
$$$
How to spot them in the wild
  • ‘About us’ page with team listed
  • Dated website
  • Pricing hidden behind a discussion with a sales person
  • Reviews and/or press can be found
  • Sporadic usage of company social media accounts and blog
Strengths Weaknesses
Comprehensive training and support options
Extremely adaptable product
Many reference customers in your industry
Reliability of many years on market
No ability to try before you buy
Expensive
Sub-standard SaaS offering
Complicated product & setup

Category 4

Juggernauts

There is really only a couple of juggernauts on the market and if you will know the second you are speaking with them. They may offer workforce management software or a larger HR suite, which can be both a good or bad thing, depending on what you’re in the market for.

Key indicators that show you’re looking at a ‘juggernaut’:
Been in business
20+years
Size of the team
200+
Largest customer
50,000+
SaaS first?
No
Price
$$$$
How to spot them in the wild
  • ‘About us’ page with team and board of directors listed
  • Dated website
  • Pricing hidden behind a discussion with a sales person
  • Reviews and/or press can be found
  • Sporadic usage of company social media accounts and blog
Strengths Weaknesses
Extremely experienced with 5,000+ staff companies
Government clients
Huge teams of specialists
Willing to customise for $$
12+ month roll-out timeline
Extremely expensive
Workforce management might not be their core offering
Not always SaaS


5Trial the software (or get a demo)

Once you’ve identified the category you should be looking at and how to spot them in the wild, start Googling! WFM / rostering systems worth their salt should easily be found in search engines. Like anything, it can help to read testimonials and reviews before you start a trial or request a demo but keep in mind everyone has a different answers to steps 1-3 when they pick and review software.

On the topic of steps 1-3, browse their website and talk to their staff to make sure all your ‘critical’, most of your ‘important’ and a decent amount of your ‘nice-to-have’ points are offered/supported.

Unless you have decided an incumbent or juggernaut is the category of provider you are after, be very cautious of providers that won’t let you sign up directly for a free trial.

If you are picking from the ‘young guns’ or ‘mature innovators’ category, we recommend selecting 2-3 different systems and running a trial for 1-2 weeks in each. Trial the systems one after another as to not confuse your staff.

Trialling the system will help you to get a much better idea of what it’s like to use, whether your staff like the system, whether you need or want features you didn’t consider earlier and if the system is stable/fast.

Get the most out of your trial by:

  • Having your existing data (staff list, next week’s roster) ready to go
  • Letting your staff know that you will be testing a few systems and to give you their feedback on any access they get to apps or communication
  • Gauge the optimal time to start the trial in relation to your pay cycle
  • Talking to the provider and asking them directly how you can get the most out of the trial

Keep in mind that nothing is going to fit you perfectly. Rostering software is used by a variety of businesses, which means features need to be flexible and somewhat broad. It’s pretty unlikely that you’ll find a system built exactly the way you want it, so if something solves 10 of your 11 problems, don’t let that 1 problem block your decision.

After all, having a system that solves most of your problems today, and evolving your business is better than running your business as is and missing out on significant efficiency gains.


6Get an opinion from others in your company

Working too close to the project can lead to tunnel vision, which is why it’s important to get feedback from other managers or staff. If you’re not actively managing rosters yourself, it’s important to get feedback from managers who are deal with the system day in, and day out, as they may find extra features you were unaware of or see holes in the system that need filling.

When asking for feedback from your staff, co-managers,and other potential end-users of the system stay mindful of:

  • Are some solutions too complex for users who aren’t as ‘tech-savvy?’ as yourself
  • Does your payroll person feel it has the depth of reporting they need to process pays
  • Are customised support documents available for each of your types of users

If others are opposed to adopting the new software, it’s important that you get specific feedback as to why and how it will have a measurable effect on the business.

Some people prefer to do things the way they have always done them, and change is something they’re averse to regardless of what it is. Having specific reasons as to why something isn’t working will help you to have a strong business case, rather than just being held back by change averse staff.


7Make a decision

Aside from the software itself, it’s also important to consider the process of adopting/embracing the software into your business once you’ve decided which provider you’ll go with.

If you’re a smaller business, this may be as simple as showing staff how to use the system and apps. If you’re a part of a medium or larger business, it often means you’ll need to ensure that all managers are on board with the system and know how to use it.

Once you’ve made a decision, commit to it.

Spend the time with your staff and managers, and ensure everyone adopts the software. If you don’t have time to own the implementation of the software, assign it to someone else, but make sure that someone is accountable for ensuring the new system is used and people are supported. Change can be hard for many people, and you don’t want people falling into old habits because they weren’t adequately guided in the beginning.

Expect that your new system will take some time to be embraced by your company and make regular checks to ensure people are using it adequately. While it may take some effort in the short term, the rewards are significant over the long term, potentially saving your business thousands of dollars a month or year.

In summary

As you appreciate, there are multiple and varied factors to ensuring you choose the right system for you, but we hope we’ve given you some added insight into making an informed decision with regards to which WFM is the one for you and your workforce.

Although it might seem like a lot to think about, getting the right rostering software or workforce management system will pay dividends to your business in the short and long term. A good rostering software provider will improve efficiency, streamline communication, empower staff and give you insight into the demands of your business. All of this, of course allows you and your staff to get on with your job, creating a happier workplace and growing the bottom line!