The schedule shuffle

Scheduling software configures & manages workforce shifts & much more

By George Perera

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Are you and your administrative staff tired of putting pencil to paper, spending hour after hour with graph paper, creating homemade spreadsheets to prepare the schedule for the upcoming shift? Or do you work with an equally hard-to-use Excel spreadsheet that does not accommodate your department’s growing needs?

Perhaps your agency, like many, relies on shift work to provide public service and safety on a 24/7 basis but faces a mandate to reduce costs and increase efficiency in every part of its operation. Labor costs represent the most significant expenditures of any operation, so management must keep the workforce as lean as possible while extracting the maximum productivity out of each employee. The bottom line: Inefficient workforce scheduling wastes money.

Fortunately, new software packages automate both police scheduling and efficient workforce allocation. Many scheduling tools include programs designed specifically for law enforcement, and you can modify other, more generic programs to fit your needs. This article discusses what these programs can do for you and how to choose the right one for your agency.

Manage & Analyze

Today’s law enforcement scheduling programs range from several hundred to several thousand dollars, but the benefits of buying and using a scheduling product are numerous. Imagine decreasing overtime costs without any loss of service, projecting the impact of vacations or training on staffing levels six months or even a year in advance, or alerting administrators or supervisors to a historical scheduling event that always requires additional staffing. If an officer calls in sick at the last moment, a supervisor can easily refer to a list of officers available to fill the vacancy (in order of overtime hours worked, if necessary), along with the contact information for each.

Speaking of sick time, its abuse remains a chronic and costly problem. The National Institute of Ethics found some employees feel entitled to sick leave and justify their absences as deserved because of perceived mistreatment by their organization. To effectively manage sick time, you must keep meticulous records, which scheduling software does quite well. A scheduling program allows management to track and identify potential sick-leave abusers by establishing clear patterns. Management can then implement various strategies to combat the sick-leave abuse and reduce the impact on the organization.

Many programs project and analyze different staffing options and how they may increase service levels or improve coverage with the same staffing levels.

For the most part, the software relies on data entry, such as departments’ number of personnel, shifts and minimum staffing levels. With this information, the software makes recommendations for staffing these obligations. Some packages may recommend staffing based on skills and historical information, and/or include flexible reporting features, enhanced security features and compatibility with other personnel-management computer databases.

Other options include an interface for court and payroll. With the court component, users can enter an officer’s court date into the schedule, provide supervisors and officers notification of pending court dates, and accommodate staffing-level changes on the fly. The payroll option allows officers or supervisors to input work hours through the schedule, and the software then transfers all necessary information directly to payroll.

Finally, users can schedule off-duty and overtime jobs in advance by allowing anyone to view and sign up for the upcoming work. This allows administrators to keep track of what jobs are filled, who is working them and how many hours an individual may have worked in a specific period. The software can highlight any schedule changes with colored text.

Software Selection, Training & Support

Departments must choose a program based on needs and software expectations. Many scheduling software companies offer trial or demo versions of their programs; take advantage of these offers to gain familiarity with different products and to determine which fits your agency best.

Also consider training and support. Some vendors offer extensive programs, including onsite instruction, at an extra cost. Despite many vendors’ assurances, some programs are difficult to understand and master. If your scheduling person is not computer savvy, buying vendor support may be money well spent. Check the level of support offered with the initial purchase and determine if the buyer pays by the minute, or if an extended plan will cover all anticipated support needs.

Scheduling software is a powerful tool that can impact many facets of the administrative process. Many of these programs are not inexpensive, especially those with many options, but consider them as an investment in which the positive impact minimizes the cost.                                      

George Perera is the technology lieutenant for the Miami-Dade Police Department’s communications bureau. He has served the department for 18 years, and he’s a participating member of the National Emergency Number Association and the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO). Perera also serves as a committee member for several interoperable communications groups including the Urban Areas Security Initiative and the South Florida Regional Domestic Security Task Force.

What’s Out There?
A list of vendors & their software packages

Intime Solutions Inc.
Designed primarily for agencies fielding up to 100 officers, Intime’s SpeedShift software helps you quickly and efficiently schedule patrol officers, and it illustrates how changing off days and shift rotations provide better coverage. Use SpeedShift to slash scheduling time, reduce overtime and use personnel more effectively. Master and track schedules, overtime, on-duty levels, sick time, vacations and more. The company’s Enterprise Solutions software is a more comprehensive program than SpeedShift that’s designed to handle large organizations and integrate with court systems.

Principal Decision Systems International
PDSI designed its TeleStaff software package to meet the complex staffing needs of all types of organizations, especially those in law enforcement and public safety. TeleStaff can incorporate complex organizational and collective bargaining rules commonly found in public safety and law enforcement organizations to ensure staffing decisions are made fairly and accurately. With TeleStaff, personnel can make scheduling requests using a TeleStaff PC or any touch-tone telephone. When a vacancy must be filled, TeleStaff places outbound phone calls to appropriate staff members to offer the work opportunity. TeleStaff can deliver messages via pager, fax, e-mail or answering machine.

Jivasoft Corporation
Jivasoft’s scheduling software, On Duty, allows you to decide how to name your organization’s structure, positions, ranks, shifts, etc. The Main Desk module, the central control point for front-office users, allows users to know exactly what’s happening on a shift and respond to last-minute changes, such as sick calls and reassignments. The Automatic Scheduling Wizard takes users through a series of simple screens to designate which groups or individual employees are to be scheduled next week, next month, etc. The Extra Duty add-on module incorporates off-duty work into the schedule.

Atlas Business Solutions, Inc.
Atlas designed its Visual Staff Scheduler PRO to give agencies flexibility when dealing with time-off requests, shift swaps, special assignments, training schedules, reassignments and more. According to the company, the software’s point-and-click interface makes VSS PRO user-friendly—even those inexperienced with computers will find it easy to use.

Our Software Ltd.
This company’s Time Attendance Scheduling module offers many features, including the ability to integrate labor organization agreements (even multiple groups) into the scheduling process. It also provides extensive payroll functionality and works effectively with employee time banks.

Most Wanted Software
Most Wanted’s Law Enforcement Administrative Database nine-module software package includes scheduling, equipment issuance, personnel data, applicant tracking, internal investigations, training management and fleet manager components. It can share data between the different modules, and its screens are designed for intuitive groupings and quick assimilation of the software’s features, giving extensive and varied information through a single database.

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