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Integration Does Not Need to be Painful

Author: Kathy Colvin

Copyright: Copyright 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content

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How Scheduling Software Helps Achieve Higher Level of Efficiency

By Kathy Colvin, Red River Regional Dispatch Center (ND)

Originally published in our March, 2008 issue.

It was six years ago, in 2001, when a Joint Powers Agreement was entered into by the City of Moorhead and Clay County, Minnesota; and the City of Fargo and Cass County, North Dakota to combine public safety communications and dispatch services into a jointly operated dispatch center. In December 2002, the Red River Regional Dispatch Center (RRRDC) opened up for business and all cross-trained Minnesota and North Dakota dispatchers were transitioned into the RRRDC [see feature story in our May, 2006 issue, p.32 –ed.]. As the nation's first consolidated regional dispatch center to cross state lines, we now provide emergency and non-emergency services for more than 40 emergency departments in Clay County, Minnesota and Cass County, North Dakota.

Merging two independent operation units required integration of internal systems and processes, including personnel scheduling. Most often, the word integration brings to our minds a long and cumbersome process. However, the selection of a unified scheduling system was straightforward and easy. The Cass County center was still using a spreadsheet to schedule their staff, whereas the Clay County center was already utilizing scheduling software.

Why We Selected Scheduling Software over a Spreadsheet

The following abilities of scheduling software impacted our decision to select scheduling software over the spreadsheet:

Creating schedules in less time: With scheduling software, we are able to build schedules more quickly because the program incorporates the use of time-saving, automated tools that rotate shifts, copy schedule patterns, or schedule a group of employees at one time. With the scheduling software, we can also pre-schedule shifts and time-off as far in advance as needed.

Ensuring shift coverage: With scheduling software, we can input staffing requirements and monitor if we have too many or too few employees scheduled. Additionally, this capability allows us to easily view how schedule changes will impact shift coverage.

Reducing overtime expenses: Scheduling software allows us to instantly view shift coverage and gives us the ability to make better decisions when approving time-off requests or providing time availability for training. With this information readily available, we can optimize our staffing and reduce overtime.

Communicating schedule information more effectively: Scheduling software allows us to share schedule information by giving personnel access to the schedule. Staff members can then view available dates for requesting time-off, print their individual schedules, and review schedule information as needed.

Improving reporting capabilities: With the use of scheduling software solution, our reporting is now quick and effortless. We can use queries to instantly find data for any time frame, or any group of employees, so we are ready to print reports in moments.

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Decision Has Been Made. What Now?

Quite often, it takes months from the decision point, to the actual date of rolling out a unified system. That was not the case at RRRDC. After bringing additional staff information to the scheduling software, and making adjustments to shifts, and time-off descriptions, due to the new staffing procedures, the scheduler could start scheduling right away. In addition, our scheduling software is so user-friendly and intuitive, that training new personnel on how to use the software can be done in minutes, not even hours, plus, it does not require involving the IT personnel.

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How Scheduling Software Helped Us Achieve A Higher Level of Efficiency

With the use of scheduling software, we were able to streamline internal communication of work schedules. Software can be accessed from any workstation, providing the entire staff an easy access to schedule information. They can view open slots for taking time-off, or print their individual schedules. Our shift supervisors can easily add any shift annotations, like no-shows due to sickness, or other unexpected circumstances. This allows schedule coordinators to adjust the schedule on the fly. The system also gives the management team instant access to scheduling data allowing them to monitor daily operations of the dispatch center. Access to the system is protected with passwords, giving the ability to change the schedule only to authorized personnel.

Using scheduling software also helps RRRDC to respond instantly and effortlessly to any reporting requests, as all scheduling information is transparent and easy to retrieve. With the use of scheduling software we do not need to waste our valuable time to manually combine information from several schedule sheets, as the reports are formatted to the desired layout and ready to print in seconds. In addition, with access to the historical scheduling data stored in our scheduling software, immediate answers are available if any questions arise.

Since implementing scheduling software as a center-wide solution, we were able to reduce the amount of time it takes to create schedules, but also eliminate unproductive time previously spent on responding to personnel inquires regarding their schedules. Scheduling software really helped us achieve a higher level of efficiency. And, what is important, scheduling can be fast and simple – our operation is the best proof.

Kathy Colvin is a Director at Red River Regional Dispatch Center (RRRDC). With the staff of 31 full-time employees, which includes 28 communications operators, RRRDC answers hundreds of calls per day, handling emergency communications for law enforcement, fire and EMS agencies across two states. She can be reached at KColvin@RRRDC.com.

Visual Staff Scheduler® PRO (VSS PRO) is flexible and user-friendly staff scheduling software offered by Atlas Business Solutions, Inc. (ABS). Since 1991, ABS offers cost-effective and proven scheduling solutions for public safety organizations. For more information visit: www.abs-usa.com

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