Above – The Rotageek team
When Andie Burkimsher left university in 2015 with a doctorate in the specialised area of scheduling asked themself the question, “How on earth can I possibly help people with this?” How could they take this ‘nerdy niche knowledge’ and make people happy?
The answer, it turns out, lay in joining Nick Mann and his fast-growing start up RotaGeek, an algorithmic solution to staff scheduling.
Admittedly, on first glance, scheduling may not be the most glamorous of industries, but RotaGeek are out to prove that it has the potential to transform the way we handle staffing.
And if the £2.5 million they saved telco giant O2 is anything to go by, they are well on their way.
But for Nick Mann, CTO & Co-Founder and Andie Burkimsher (below), Data Science Lead at RotaGeek, it’s about more than just the dollars.
FROM EXCEL TO EXCITED
Talking with Nick and Andie, you find yourself swept up in their enthusiasm. They have found a way to turn something as dry as staff scheduling into something exciting. Something that is making a meaningful difference for businesses, staff and their customers.
“It’s kind of fascinating” says Nick, “how little changes in how you prioritise things can massively change the end result”.
Scheduling has typically been a frustration for both staff and management. Though some tools have helped the process, the bulk of it has remained a manual process. In fact, a surprising number of big businesses are still getting by using printed Excel spreadsheets.
That is precisely the opportunity RotaGeek seek to seize.
By using data to build algorithms to do the jobs humans have been doing, they not only make the entire scheduling process easier, but seek to add additional features to improve the process as a whole.
After solving the basics (ensuring all shifts are filled and making the best use of the company’s spend), they are already exploring a number of tweaks to help their clients.
By adding criteria such as the possibility to match appropriate skill levels, it makes it even easier for management to get the right staff on at the right times. From a staff perspective, RotaGeek are experimenting with giving staff the option to register when they would prefer to work, then building an algorithm to give staff shifts that match these preferences.
In turn, they keep the staff and management happy. Staff get to work when they want and management have shifts filled by happy, willing staff.
The opportunities are limited only by the data. Should a client have accurate data about footfall and customer wait time, they can fine-tune the algorithms to ensure businesses are never over- or understaffed.
The scope is undeniably huge in a growing industry. But one of the key challenges for RotaGeek is education.
“YOU CAN DO THAT?”
“There’s probably a lot of people out there who don’t know it exists. It’s about getting that word out there.” explains Nick.
Often during prospective client meetings, RotaGeek are met with surprise. Businesses aren’t even aware that such a solution even exists. That is all set to change.
And with offices in the UK and Australia, expansion for RotaGeek is well under way. Naturally, with growth comes new challenges.
“Office space” says Nick, only half joking when asked what those challenges are.
But more seriously, the real challenge of scaling is ensuring the system can handle the increased volume of data that comes with it. With Andie Burkimsher leading the Data Science team, it seems they are in a good position to do so.
This focus on performance and constantly improving the service requires work. Which is why Andie follows the latest academic research in scheduling and related areas. Taking the insights and applying it to the product is key to continual improvement.
That all stems from adopting the right philosophy. “It’s about asking the right questions of the client.” Andie explains.
“Asking ‘what does a good schedule look like?’ Because it’s not always obvious. Do people want more regular hours? More worked hours? Fewer hours? Is regularity more important than flexibility? This changes with different teams”
This approach to problem solving is how the RotaGeek team continue to deliver value to their clients in scheduling. And according to Nick, “If you’re interested in mathematical algorithms it’s a good area to exercise that in”.
For those interested in the field, it seems like Australia is well poised to develop some exceptional scheduling talent as Andie adds “Melbourne Uni has one of the best scheduling departments in the world”.