Benefits and Challenges of Automated Staff Rostering Software
At the centre of every organisation are good people, and almost every industry faces the challenge of scheduling and rostering their people and assets to cover forecast work demand over a period of time. The context of this problem can vary greatly; from generating cyclical staff rosters, to scheduling jobs to machines on a single day.
Rostering a human workforce to shift work is a notoriously tricky problem, as factors such as fatigue rules and individual preferences make constructing a ‘good’ roster no easy task. As such, many organisations ask – “how can we generate a roster that minimises operational costs and obeys complex workplace agreements, while also respecting individual preferences?” To assist in tackling this problem, Biarri has developed Biarri Workforce, which automates and streamlines the process of staff rostering.
Rostering best practices revolve around a number of key foci such as:
- Patient needs
- Employee needs
- Hospital needs
- Workforce composition and capabilities requirements
- Conformity to relevant legislation such as EBAs
- Workforce availability and preference
In fact, the topic is so important that the NSW Health has created a Rostering Resource Manual that provides a practical guide on best practices.
Instead of focusing on the aspects of best practices that are well detailed in the aforementioned guide, let’s understand the important question: why follow best practices? What are the benefits?
The two major benefits of effective staff rostering software are better employee outcomes and greater operating efficiency. Typically, savings manifest in one or more of the following ways:
- Reduced time manually building rosters. Generating a legal roster, let alone a good roster, can be an extremely time consuming task to perform manually, especially for organisations with complex workplace agreements or large operations. Manual roster building can also result in tasks slipping through the gaps due to human error. Using data-driven software removes this potential risk.
- Reduced overtime and over/under staffing. Better staff rostering leads to work being scheduled and assigned more efficiently, meaning less rostered overtime and a reduction in costs due to over and understaffing.
- Better on the job performance. Poor staff rostering can lead to a buildup of fatigue/stress and uncompleted tasks. Effective, automated solutions can minimise this effect and increase the accuracy of task management, leading to increased efficiency.
The third point touches on an often overlooked additional benefit of effective staff rostering; the ability to maximise the ‘likeability’ of generated rosters. This factor can be difficult to measure and varies company to company, but some common aspects include:
- Meeting individual staff preferences. Typical preferences include nominated target hours, unavailable time periods and roster consistency.
- Maximising the number of consecutive days off. Because everyone likes long weekends.
- Minimising late to early transitions. Such transitions can be highly fatiguing for individuals.
A less tangible benefit of automated staff rostering is the ability to utilise the repeatable nature of software to run hypothetical, what if scenarios. By generating rosters using different sets of rules/objectives, an organisation can gain visibility on potential deficiencies in their workforce structure and take appropriate action.
So given the clear benefits, how can it be easily achieved?
Arguably the biggest challenge when designing automated rostering systems is incorporating complicated business rules and objectives that are necessary to accurately model a specific workforce. Some of these were touched on above and include unique overtime calculation schemes, fatigue rules and bespoke preferences nominated by individual staff members. Effective automated rostering systems must be able to model these kind of rules, whilst balancing the operational objectives (e.g minimise overtime, maximise likeability). On top of this, these parameters should be able to be altered on a per-user basis.
At the core of Biarri Workforce is a powerful optimisation engine that is exposed to end users via an intuitive user interface. It is responsible for digesting relevant input data/rules and spitting out an optimised workforce plan. It does so by leveraging the powerful, flexible framework provided by mathematical programming. Mathematics is combined with state of the art algorithms to model the rules and objectives (including all mentioned above) in a general way. We then work with organisations to drill down on the exact form of their rules/business objectives and adapt these requirements to a form ingestible by the optimisation engine. The result is a highly configurable application that is able to generate optimal rosters automatically, in minutes as opposed to days.
It is a tool used widely by industry and if rostering is a challenge you face, then get in touch.
By Tom Anderson, Biarri Workforce Product Manager