Effective agency software

Posted Wednesday Wednesday, July 8, 2009 by Ian Pettman

An overview of the functionality required in Agency software packages

Any Agency software package must support the practice of effective temporary staff management. This can be broken down into four main categories: efficient (customer) request gathering, resourceful (employee) availability generation, well organised booking of employees to clients and cost effective administration of the payment and invoicing processes.

Request gathering.

To promote efficiency, vacancy information should be gathered in a number of ways and then correlated.

  • Phone/voice: the traditional mechanism, where the phone operator should be presented with a series of pick lists which both progressively reveal choices to the operator limiting and guiding their recording of the request. This method still has advantages where vacancy cover may be involved in some sort of trade off.
  • Web: here the choices should also be progressive and limited to those authorised for that user. Only valid selections should be presented to the user as the request is entered. For example a department that does not work night shifts or only employs specific staff should only have day shifts and those appropriate qualifications presented as choices. Also MRU (most recently used) times should be presented to speed data entry.  There should be provision for a staged request process where lesser qualified (but still authorised) individuals can record the initial vacancy. This is then confirmed by an authorised manager before it can be filled. There should be an email or SMS (text) notification up and down this chain.
  • Email where standard format emails are used: these should be read automatically into the main database to be immediately available, with translation where needed from customer descriptions to standard in house descriptions. An alarm (email) should advise that a new request has arrived.

Availability generation.

Availability information should be gathered and correlated in the maximum number of ways possible to ensure the best utilisation of available resources.

  • Phone/voice: whenever an employee is on the phone, the office consultant should have the ability to update availability (and any other employment critical data) and offer outstanding vacancies.
  • Web: a simple web interface should allow employees to (directly) update their own availability and see their bookings both on a standing (weekly repeated basis) and on a day by day basis.
  • Mobile: with the advent of more sophisticated phones the Web interface should be available in an appropriate style on the more modern phones. Otherwise standard text (SMS) functions should be implemented where appropriate.
  • Text / Email reminders should be sent when availability has not been updated for rolling week(s) in advance.
  • Registration: Employees current and potential should be able to register their interest securely and automatically via a web interface. To eliminate unnecessary administration and set up costs, there must be a simple secure way to link new web profiles (registrations) with existing back office entries.

Employee booking.

As this is the event that actually generates the cash flow, these options should be promoted across the board.

  • Office: A diary or journal should present outstanding vacancies and availability (historically completed bookings as well) for quick and effective placement. Work rules and laws, employee and client preferences should be automatically and fully taken into consideration to prevent inappropriate bookings. At this point there are two options: The first is to provide the consultant with appropriate information for cost effective booking and where a vacancy may not have a pre-notified suitable employee allow the consultant to use their skills to "discover" previously un-available staff.   The second is to try to use some sort of automatic or inhuman process. There are a number of technical and non technical reasons why this later process may be significantly less cost effective and indeed more costly over a period of time than the Human interface of the good consultant. These are discussed in the attached document.  
  • Web: The web should be used to provide a booking facility to authorised Manager for their respective areas of authority. The Interface should be simple, secure, by definition available 24/7 and out of office. It should draw fully on the availability stored by the system with due regard to work rules and laws, employee and client preferences. When web booking occurs there should be automatic notification via an SMS (text) to both the designated employee and other members of the management (request generation chain). The employee should be able to accept or reject the booking offer via the web or via SMS (text) reply. The system should allow multiple offers and acceptance / rejection to any given employee to be active any time. However once a booking is accepted, overlapping offers should automatically be withdrawn and management automatically notified.
    When booked jobs are displayed, identity information on employees should be available to authorised logged on users.  
  • Text / Email: Job offers acceptance and rejection should be communicated automatically via text (and backed up by email messages) where appropriate. The communications should be both to employee and the various appropriate concerned individuals for the original vacancy request.

Payroll and Invoice Administration.

Payroll and Invoice processes benefit from automation because of the elimination of human error and increased transparency by making more detailed information more readlily available. This minimises queries from both employees and clients.  

  • The system should be able to import and export employee data from standard vanilla payroll and accountancy systems (such as ESR in the NHS) via a range of standard formats. In addition it is essential that it provides automatic verification and error checking to ensure that employees (and invoiced customers) are charged at the correct contracted rates. Issues such as payroll assignment numbers being accidentally reutilised for different pay grades so causing ambiguous exports should be automatically trapped.  Contractual information for rates in different departments and working with different responsibilities (or indeed ad hoc agreements) should be readily available with standard reports. The system should maintain an audit trail of these contractual settings. These processes should be largely automatic and "instant" with manual audited overrides. Secure mechanisms should be used to communicate the information between systems.  This information should be available via appropriate the Web interfaces for employee and management access. Thus largely eliminating time consuming and inevitably costly queries which need to be dealt with manually by the staff running the employment bank or finance department. 
  • Given that a web system is in place Timesheets should be signed by Employee and Dept Management electronically where possible. Unique booking references should be used to limit accidental errors and fraud. These should only be disclosed to authorised individuals. The time sheet evaluation process should also allow performance to be scored, and this should automatically reflect back to the staff allocation page to improve the allocation process.

Summary

There are low cost of ownership software systems available off the shelf. Added value applications Ltd provides 98% of the above functionality with the exception of automatic employee rostering optimisation. For a Trust with a budget of say £50,000 to £100,000 annual spend on Temp Bank software, Ava will guarantee a saving of £40,000 to £90,000 pa. To justify a Budget holder writing a cheque for £50,000, the expensive, high cost of ownership software supplier must absolutely guarantee a saving of double this figure. Otherwise you might as well spin a coin to see if you will save money. The accompanying document which considers the complex problem of automatic optimisation, when and where it works, when and where it may actually cost money. Yes you could well be financially worse off in coming times of strict budgetary constraints. The article may help you see some of the smoke and mirrors involved in a number of sales pitches.

Acknowledgments

In preparing the accompanying document I have had numerous conversations with Dr Peter Kelen of Power Optimisation, Dr David Nelson whose Doctoral thesis was on optimisation of Nurses within a Hospital Trust in New Zealand and Dr Barry Stoker who is heavily involved in extensive analytical, modelling, business and research consultancy including employment optimisation for large commercial groups.

 

 

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