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Synchronizing Work Schedules

It's no secret that planning work schedules for entire staffs of companies or hospitals can quickly turn into a hellish conundrum. A computer program called Agiletime has recently offered a solution. Its goal is to optimize staff work schedules (who should be assigned to what job in what time slot?) while assessing a wide range of human and legal parameters. The program is the first product developed by Equitime, a company founded in 1999: “It merges mathematical 'combinatorial optimization' techniques, already used in other industries such as air transport, with a social and organizational approach to both task and work schedules,” explains Georges Weil, Equitime founder and researcher affiliated with the Laboratory for Imaging and Cognitive Modeling Technologies (TIMC).1 Agiletime is the result of ten years of research carried out at TIMC as part of its collaboration with the Grenoble teaching hospital.

In concrete terms, the program generates schedules for all the staff, for both people with flexible working hours, and others with fixed schedules. Once the various parameters have been entered (employee competencies, regulatory constraints for the industry, etc.), the software searches for the best compromise for each time period. The top priority is to respect the “rule of law” (work time and rest time, standards, etc.). Then come “collective” rules: “They combine a number of principles concerning fairness,” says Weil. “For many people in France, for example, a Wednesday afternoon is much more important than any other half-day in the week, because children are not in school.” Finally there are people's individual requests, “increasingly important for the quality of schedules, as people try to balance their professional and private lives.” Needless to say, this decision support tool has been very successful. Fielding healthcare, Equitime is already used in 80 general hospitals including the teaching hospitals of Nîmes, Dijon, Nice, and Caen (the company has been selected in all the calls for tenders issued by teaching hospitals since 2002) as well as a dozen retirement homes. Other customers include the food service industry (Flunch and Pizza Paï restaurant chains), motorway firms, and a string of companies such as EDF-RTE, the Mont-Blanc tunnel, Médiamétrie, the French Imprimerie Nationale, a number of airports, the Eiffel Tower, and the Comédie Française theater in Paris. “Our broad customer base is due to the 'modeler' approach which enabled us to move well beyond health care, the field we targeted initially,” says Weil. Equitime, which is very active in research (two theses and several publications a year), grew by 40% in 2005 with sales of €2 million, and currently has 34 employees. We are willing to bet that they have no complaints about their work schedules.


Matthieu Ravaud

Notes :

1. Laboratoire Techniques de l'imagerie, de la modélisation et de la cognition (CNRS / Université Joseph Fourier de Grenoble joint lab).

Contacts :

> Georges Weil
Equitime, Grenoble.


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