HRExaminer Radio

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HRExaminer Radio

Guest: Kevin Choksi, CEO, Workforce Software
Episode: 97
Air Date: May 29, 2015


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As a Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Kevin Choksi is responsible for product strategy and setting the strategic direction for WorkForce Software. With more than 19 years experience in the workforce management field, Mr. Choksi has become known as a thought leader and visionary in the industry. He frequently speaks on trends and innovations in the workforce management space. Mr. Choksi holds an MBA and a BSE in computer engineering from the University of Michigan.

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Begin transcript

John Sumser:            Good morning and welcome to the HR Examiner Radio Show. I’m your host John Sumser. We’re coming to you live today from beautiful downtown Occidental, California where the roses are exploding off the trees. Occidental is where Luther Burbank did a bunch of his experiments with roses and where Leland Stanford did the railroad engineering that made Grand Central Station possible. It’s the home of innovation in Northern California.

Today, we’re going to get a chance to talk to Kevin Choksi who’s the CEO of WorkForce Software. Kevin, how are you?

Kevin Choksi:            Good John. How are you?

John Sumser:            All right. Nice to have you with us today. Why don’t you introduce yourself to the people who are listening?

Kevin Choksi:            Yeah, thank you John. Yeah, Kevin Choksi with WorkForce Software. I’m a native Michigander. I’m in beautiful Livonia, Michigan right now which is where our headquarters is at. I’m looking out at all the green trees that we have here in Michigan. We’re known for lots of lakes of course here in Michigan, but lots of greenery and lots of forests as well. It’s a beautiful day out here in Michigan.

WorkForce Software if your listeners are not aware of is one of the leaders in the workforce management software space. I’m sure we’ll be talking about that as we go through our conversation today.

John Sumser:            Where did you go to school and how did you end up starting WorkForce Software?

Kevin Choksi:            I went to school here in Michigan at the University of Michigan which is out in Ann Arbor, Michigan about fifteen miles from where I’m at right now. It’s a great school for a lot of different disciplines. I in particular studied computer science and then later got an MBA. I’ve actually been into software since a pretty young age. I think I started on what’s fondly known as a Trash-80, a Radio Shack TRS-80 computer programming that when I was in seventh grade so many, many years ago is how I got into software. That’s a little bit of my history.

I’ve been in the software field hands on for a long time. WorkForce was born about sixteen years ago. I was finishing up my MBA and was trying to figure out what I wanted to do and my choices were to take some type of Wall Street job and have everybody in the world say nasty things about Wall Street and investment bankers or stay in the real world and do something in software. I chose the latter portion, so it’s worked out well.

John Sumser:            That’s fantastic. What does WorkForce Software do?

Kevin Choksi:            Our business is all about helping employers manage their work forces more effectively. We provide a workforce management suite of applications that helps employers in a nutshell helps them track their labor, schedule their labor and comply with labor regulations. If you think about it, it’s all about helping employers manage their work forces and their labor more effectively.

In each one of those areas is fraught with complexity. Our organization is really focused on solving the most complex problems in each one of those areas. In time and attendance, there’s complex union rules and regulations. Scheduling can be very, very complicated for employers because there’s different skills that have to be taken into consideration, different types of schedules. Then labor compliance is an animal in and of itself and I think you’re listeners know how regulatory challenges are becoming more and more complex and we do a lot of work in that area as well.

John Sumser:            This is not a tool for scheduling shifts in a restaurant. This is a tool for something more complicated than [that 00:04:48].

Kevin Choksi:            That’s right.

John Sumser:            [Is that right 00:04:52]?

Kevin Choksi:            If you a simple scheduling need where you’re just scheduling a handful of people in a small location you’re not going to be using a tool like ours. In fact, our business is really focused on serving the largest of employers, so a average customer for us say over the last twelve months had about ten thousand employees. We service companies all the way up to fifty, seventy-five thousand employees and larger.

We really squarely focused on serving large enterprises that have complex requirements. That’s our bread and butter and that’s what we’re known for.

John Sumser:            An example of that might be nuclear where the requirements for scheduling are at least in part mandated by regulation and there are a thousand variables to juggle about who can be on which shift for how long and whether or not you need them and probably even do you guys handle things like you have to be certified at a certain level to get on the calendar [crosstalk 00:06:04]?

Kevin Choksi:            Yeah, the nuclear power plant is actually a great example of an industry where we’ve done a lot of work and the problems are the most acute, the most complex. In a nuclear power plant as you can imagine just like any employer they have to track their employees time in order to determine what internal cost centers their time should be charged to so they can do all their internal accounting. They also want to track the employees time for the purpose of paying them with all of the correct shift pay and overtime pay and so forth.

That has complexities that you see in any other organization. Where it gets more complicated in a nuclear power plant is the scheduling process because in order to perform any particular job in a nuclear power plant an employee has to have certain qualifications or skills. You can’t put somebody to man the control room if they don’t have certain certifications for example. Those certifications could be varied and could expire at certain points in time unless they have continuing education credits.

To make it even more complicated the federal government has determined that and rightfully so that nuclear power plants are a highly safety is a critical factor in running these organizations in order to protect the public. Just like an airline pilot can only fly a certain number of hours before they have to have rest in order to do their job safely so does every single employee within a nuclear power plant save for the purely administrative staff. Whether you are a security guard, an operator in a control room, whether you’re doing repair work on the plant, every single person in that plant has to have a certain amount of rest in order to their job safely. That’s where scheduling comes in.

In order to schedule your employees, you have to actually know how many hours they’ve worked in the past. Unlike in the airline industry where the rules for a pilot are pretty simple, in a nuclear power plant it makes a big difference as to whether you’re working eight hour shifts, ten hours shifts, twelve hour shifts. They look at both short-term and long-term fatigue, so how many hours did you work in the last day or two days but also how many hours or days off have you had in the last six weeks.

All of these factors come into play to determine whether or not you’re authorized to work for the next day. You can imagine scheduling this is a very, very complex problem and that’s why two-thirds of all of the nuclear power plants in the United States use our software to help them schedule their employees.

John Sumser:            It sounds like there are plenty of industries that are closer to the government rather than [further 00:09:11] away from the government who are your customers is that right? The handling of difficult materials and the organization of complicated tasks in environments where security is both physical and conceptual, that’s where your sweet spot is,  [crosstalk 00:09:37].

Kevin Choksi:            Yeah, I would say it’s not necessarily in government, in industries like nuclear power that are highly regulated with very specific industry regulations, but the employers that do seek us out tend to be particularly concerned with regulatory compliance. Another industry for example that is highly focused on compliance is the financial services industry, whether you’re in banking or insurance you already face a host of issues that you have to comply with for the securities and exchange commission, the stock exchanges, insurance commissioners and so forth. There’s already a whole host of financial regulations. These industries also tend to be very focused on complying with labor regulations as well, just it’s part of the culture to be focused on all regulatory aspects.

We also as part of our suite focus a lot of attention on regulatory compliance. Your listeners are probably familiar with some of the basic regulations that a workforce management system might accommodate, the things like the Fair Labor Standards Act that ensures employees get paid over time correctly or the Family Medical Leave Act which ensures that employees get adequate time off for certain medical events that they might face.

What we also do is and we’ve incorporated this into our product set into something that we call our absence compliance tracker, we’ve actually studied and incorporated into our absence compliance tracker over four hundred different state level and municipal level regulations that are out there that are variations of maybe the Family Medical Leave Act or the Fair Labor Standards Act. They could be local overtime rules, local absence rules.

In some states for example, an employer must grant time off if an employee wants to go to a parent/teacher conference. In other states, an employee is granted time off maybe paid or unpaid to seek psychological counseling let’s say if they were the victim of a crime or to bond with a new child. These are all different regulations that employers have to comply with. Large multi-state employers especially like in financial services have hundreds of these regulations they have to deal with. We’ve incorporated all of that into our absence compliance tracker.

John Sumser:            You have an interesting approach to guaranteeing that your customers will be successful meeting compliance regulations. You want to talk about that?

Kevin Choksi:            Yeah, we do because we’re so focused on serving our customers across the board in making sure that they’ve gotten truly the best service from us we have extended the concept of a cloud-based service in quite a unique way. Now your listeners probably know that the whole idea of software [with 00:13:06] service or a cloud-based system is something where they as a customer are outsourcing certain things to the vendor and trusting the vendor to do certain things like keep the systems up and running, keep the data safe, keep the data secure, backup the systems, update the systems with latest releases.

We are taking that sort of trust and confidence that they place in the vendor to the next level where a lot of companies provide a software to service platform, but they still rely on the customer to utilize it properly and to assume the responsibility for regulations. We are taking it to a different level and we’re providing a compliance as a service concept where if you’re using our software we actually guarantee compliance with all of these different labor regulations.

If a customer is using our system and they face a fine or penalty because our system has applied a rule or regulation incorrectly, we will actually pay for the customer’s fines and penalties. That’s quite unique and it really demonstrates that we are a hundred percent aligned with our customers and we really stand behind our software and our technology in a very meaningful way.

John Sumser:            That’s pretty amazing actually. The idea that a software company guarantees the content that it delivers is not the conventional business model in Silicon Valley. You’re confident that you can do this, huh?

Kevin Choksi:            Yeah, we really are. Before we had offered this type of guarantee to our customers, we had never had a situation where a customer had any type of problem and so we felt confident that we could do it. Now of course the stakes have gotten a lot higher in recent years with the just sheer explosion of laws and regulations, but we have a very sophisticated process to research these laws, incorporate them into our product set, keep them up to date as the laws change and so we’re constantly monitoring for changes in the laws.

It is something that we invest a lot in and it’s something that we think it’s the right thing to do. When customers outsource something, we’re not an outsourcer in the traditional sense, but when they outsource or rely on a vendor through a [fast 00:15:50] model for something as critical as managing their workforce and managing regulatory compliance it really makes sense that they would rely on the vendor as well to deal with the compliance aspects of it. We just thought that it was the right thing to do. We think that it is going to really provide a lot of value to our customers.

John Sumser:            To build a company that does the kind of work that you do, you have to be good at finding and retaining people who are extremely conscientious about details.

Kevin Choksi:            That’s right.

John Sumser:            You can’t afford to have slop in your development process or in the way that you articulate the contract or the way that sales go because your customers are detailed oriented and your product has to meet their detailed needs. Where do you find people like that?

Kevin Choksi:            We find people in a lot of places. Here in Michigan of course we find a lot of people out of the University of Michigan and even though our arch rivals are at Michigan State University in East Lansing we do find quite a bit of talent from Michigan State as well. More generally speaking we are big believers in finding people who are more analytical and who have that sort of detail oriented aspect in them. It really pervades the DNA or our business.

Many years ago somebody told me that we’re not the sexiest company. We’re not the ones that market ourselves the best, but we have really amazing products. That’s I think just because we really do have the focus on delivering world class technology to people that we tend to invest more in that than we do in the front end marketing of our products. Our people tend to speak plainly. That’s just not our consultants, but our sales and marketing people. We tend to call it like it is. We speak plainly about what our products can do and what they can’t do.

As a general rule, we think that that’s the right way to interact with customers. We build better relationships with them that way.

John Sumser:            Do the Silicon Valley kinds of perks work in your workforce, the colorful bouncy balls and showers next to every cubicle and in house chefs? Does that sort of stuff work with your kind of workforce that is this rigorous in its attention to detail?

Kevin Choksi:            It does if you do it the right way. We think that we’ve gotten the right balance of how to build the right workforce. We have certainly as an organization as I said we’re very analytical and professional in how we interact with our clients but we don’t take ourselves so seriously that we can’t enjoy ourselves and have fun within the business.

If you were to go down to the second floor of our building where we have a lot of our development organization, you’ll find air hockey tables. You’ll find Nerf guns and people having Nerf gun fights. You’ll find ping pong tables. You will find ninjas hanging from the ceilings. You’ll have to come by to see what I mean by that and all sorts of other interesting things. It’s a way for our software development people especially to get away from the screen for a few minutes and let their mind refresh so that they can get back to it and really come up with creative solutions and focus on what they have to do at that moment.

It is something that we do find important to have that right balance between the professionalism that we have externally, but also the ability to not take ourselves seriously and have fun internally and keep those creative juices flowing.

John Sumser:            I think this is a related question. In order to do what you’re doing, you have to deliver a level of certainly and predictability that is higher than similar products for things like the restaurant industry. How do you do that while being able to continue to deliver innovation to your customers? The two things seem to be at odds with each other to me.

Kevin Choksi:            Yeah, there is a little bit of tension that goes on between wanting to put out more and more capabilities in the product versus having a higher quality product, right?

John Sumser:            Right.

Kevin Choksi:            [I think 00:21:08] that’s what you’re getting at. Certainly, we face that challenge on a regular basis, but again going back to the DNA of our organization we tend to be more focused on the quality of the product and the accuracy of everything that we do versus the sheer desire to just pump code out and get it out there into the marketplace. Not to say that we don’t bring out lots of new innovative capabilities so as an example in our upcoming release we’re adding much more sophisticated ways that employees can schedule themselves for complex environments where there’s shift bidding and vacation bidding going on.

We’re introducing some great new mobile capabilities in this area. Employees can be alerted about new shifts that they can pickup and so forth. We constantly are bringing out new capabilities, but the core mindset of accuracy and compliance with regulations is something that permeates our organization and our consultants are aware of it, our sales people are aware of it and everybody just thinks of that first and then they think of the bells and whistles and new user interfaces as a little bit of a secondary concept.

John Sumser:            [Good, that’s good 00:22:45]. What’s makes you nervous? What keeps you up at night?

Kevin Choksi:            Right now what’s keeping me up at night is that I was just in Europe for two weeks with my wife and I’m still adjusting to the time. I just got back about twenty-four hours ago and I think I woke up at 2am this morning thinking that I was still in Europe, so that’s what’s keeping me up at night. In all seriousness, we’re always trying to think about what is the next thing around the corner. It’s not so much the things that we know about, but it’s the unknown things that are out there.

I’m confident in our regulatory research process and that we’re not going to miss important things there, but if there’s some tectonic shift in the technology landscape that we’re not aware of that always keeps me up at night. We’re always spending a lot of time trying to figure out what those things are. For me personally for example, I tend to read a lot not just about technology but business and politics and the economy. I tend to read a lot of different things and hopefully I pick up little strands of information that help me see patterns and help us see around the corner before anybody else does and make sure that we are on top of things.

John Sumser:            That’s good. Just very quickly, what’s the difference between you and your competitors?

Kevin Choksi:            Oh, good question. We are the second largest workforce management company in the world that’s just focused exclusively on this. I think what you’ll find is that our competitors have respectable workforce management products, but they tend to be a little bit more focused on blue collar employees as opposed to our organization which tends to be much more focused on a broad swath of both blue collar and white collar employees.

We have customers that for example have all professional employees and they use our system exclusively through a web browser in order to have their employees track their time and schedules and they never utilize a badge reader or other type of data collection device. Not to say that we don’t have those, [in fact 00:25:39] we have very strong support as I mentioned earlier for union regulations and environments where there’s time clocks and badge readers and other things, but we do tend to be much more focused on the full workforce as opposed to many of our competitors tend to be focused more on blue collar employees, hourly employees where time capture devices tend to be more prevalent.

Then I think the other thing that sets us apart is the compliance aspect as we talked about we really are focused on that part of it and we have teams of people that work on it and incorporate it all throughout the product set and then we guarantee the compliance of our solutions with all those regulations. That’s another big difference in what we do versus everybody else.

John Sumser:            Thanks. We’ve been at this. The time has flown by and we’re coming to the end of it. Is there anything that you want to be sure that the audience takes away from our conversation?

Kevin Choksi:            I think one thing that would be really interesting for your audience members to do is to educate themselves about the wide range of labor regulations that are there that they have to comply with. It’s not always obvious what those regulations are that apply to them and the different states that they operate in. Scour the web. We have some resources on our website that can help them with that. Get familiar with all of those different regulations and really make an assessment as to do you have an automated process to help you comply with all of those regulations.

I think that that’s something that is of value to everybody to just be aware of all of those regulations and what they have to deal with. I think that that would be the number one thing that we would ask your audience members to take away.

John Sumser:            Great. On our way out the door would you reintroduce yourself and tell people how to get a hold of you if they want to do that?

Kevin Choksi:            Oh, sure absolutely. Again my name is Kevin Choksi. I am the CEO and co-founder of WorkForce Software. Our website is I can be reached personally at I’m happy to speak to any of your audience members if they’re interested in discussing any of the workforce management topics that might be on their mind.

John Sumser:            That’s great. Thanks very much Kevin. It’s been a delight to have you with us today, real pleasure.

Kevin Choksi:            Thank you.

John Sumser:            This is John Sumser. Go ahead.

Kevin Choksi:            I was going to thank you John as well.

John Sumser:            You’re welcome. You’re quite welcome. This is John Sumser. You’ve been listening to the HR Examiner Radio Show coming to you from beautiful Occidental, California. Have a glorious weekend and we will see you the same time next week.

End transcript

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