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Short of the return of the military draft, it's unlikely that many vendors are going to design software specifically to help employers deal with military call-ups. Even if all 1.3 million National Guard and reserve troops were activated, that total is still just a sliver of the overall workforce.
But this doesn't mean that technology can't help with the unpredictability and stress that can come with having even a few key people in the reserves. It means that applications common to many workplaces are pressed into the service of new goals.
PeopleSoft, SAP, and others have human-resources apps designed to help companies manage workforce cuts, no matter what the cause. The recent economic belt-tightening, with its attendant layoffs and hiring freezes, has prompted PeopleSoft to refocus its HR products to help companies make the most of resources. Products due next month, including PeopleSoft's Enterprise Learning Management Application, which lets companies track employees' progress in training programs, are part of the plan. Additionally, the vendor's Workforce Planning software helps companies assess skill gaps and realign staff via training, contract workers, or new hires. Smaller vendors such as Workbrain Inc. and Kronos Inc. also have human-capital management apps that track staff skills.
Software maker TimeVision Inc. has an application, called OrgPublisher, that the vendor says can access most major HR packages to graphically draw organizational charts. People can use it to search for, in this case, all the people whose personnel records indicate they are reservists. It will display whom they report to and who reports to them. Combine this with other factors such as individuals' skill sets, and the task of planning for call-ups becomes more manageable.
Because it's impossible to overcommunicate on critical projects, E-mail, instant messaging, and workgroup applications also can be used to rapidly assess projects as events change and reapportion work if unexpected absences occur.
Not surprisingly, IBM is crowing that its Sametime, Quickplace, and Dynamic Workplaces workgroup-communication applications helped it adapt when an IBM Global Services consultant got the call from Uncle Sam.
As in so much of life, creative use of a tool can sometimes turn a nasty surprise into an opportunity.