Photo courtesy In Time Solutions, Inc.
VSS Pro is one of the most widely used scheduling applications across the business spectrum. Photo courtesy of Atlas Business Solutions
FEATURED IN TECHNOLOGY AND COMMUNICATIONS
It doesn't matter much whether you have to prepare the work schedule for three people or 300, it s still a pain in the butt. First, someone will probably find fault in your work, even if it s perfect, because they don t like their work schedule and need someone to blame. Law enforcement shift patterns are often less than intuitive, especially if they span more than a couple of weeks before they repeat. Then you have to keep track of vacation and other time-off requests (to ensure that personnel with critical skills are always available) and assigning overtime details without conflicting with regular-duty requirements or contract agreements.
Using just about any scheduling software package beats the manual method, and scheduling packages incorporate features most people can t incorporate into Excel spreadsheets the most common method of automating the task. I researched offerings from the major players in the public safety market, and a guide for you to use when making a choice follows.
Don t expect a bottom-line recommendation for the best one, because every agency has different requirements and priorities of critical features. These differences are borne out by the software vendors themselves. Representatives of two companies told me in so many words that no two of their hundreds of installations had been configured the same way.
SpeedShift Watch Commander
InTime Solutions Inc.
InTime Solutions designed the SpeedShift Watch Commander application specifically for public safety scheduling. It s more feature-rich than some of the competition, but that also means a steeper learning curve to use all of the features effectively. With almost any technology, each user has to find their personal balance between ease of use and powerful capability.
Highly complex or multiple schedules are SpeedShift s breakfast. The program allows you to easily set up multiple schedules, apply them to the appropriate personnel and display them on a single grid. It s no problem to break up a work shift into multiple segments, or enter multiple split shifts.
The program bases work schedules on one or more master schedules that describe the rotation of duty days and days off for groups of employees. You can have any number of master schedules. When the master schedules are laid in, you just apply the appropriate master schedule to each employee as needed, in a drag-and-drop fashion. Pick the day an employee s shift rotation will start, and the program will extend that schedule as far out (or back) as desired. You can also do this with multiple employees at one time.
Your department s organization table is reflected in the way you configure SpeedShift, with each employee assigned to an organizational element. When transfers occur, it s a simple matter to move the employee from one group to another, applying a new duty schedule or keeping the old one. You can open multiple files at once to compare staffing between organizational elements, and a handy feature will check conflicts for overlapping shifts and offer to trim overlapping shifts for best efficiency.
When you want to slice your staffing-level profiles very finely, it s possible to see views and produce strength reports with intervals of as little as five minutes. If you have multiple organizational units with different schedules, this feature might help you to get the big-picture view.
If FLSA hours are a concern for you, you can use SpeedShift s built-in calculator to track hours and see when employees are approaching or exceeding FLSA limits. You can also integrate off-duty and special assignments into the schedule, ensuring you re meeting minimum staffing requirements and that an employee s extra-duty assignment doesn t conflict with their regular-duty shift.
For the error-prone, multiple levels of Undo and Redo commands let you step back or forward to debug schedules and see where you went wrong without jamming up the entire file. Multiple security levels that allow read-only or the ability to make changes in the schedule allow you to make the program available for everyone to see without compromising security.
The program s employee records module offers considerable detail and flexibility. In addition to four user-defined fields for items, such as employee number, vehicle assigned, etc., there are unlimited skill and position/job title lists. You can import a photo of each employee, and configure how much information will be displayed when you pull up that employee s record. If you need an officer with a special skill or certification to fill an empty duty slot, you can search for available officers who have that entry in their employee records.
With SpeedShift, you likely won t need to get out your calculator to calculate available and accrued leave time, sick time, etc. The program will track just about any metric that follows an employee and schedule, such as sick days, special-duty assignments, training, vacation and comp time and other accumulations you want to know about.
SpeedShift has built-in reports, but you can also design your own with a report designer module. Both the built-in reports, which include individual work schedules and roll call rosters, can be printed conventionally, exported to a Microsoft Office application, or published on the Internet in HTML.
SpeedShift Watch Commander is InTime s desktop application, selling for $1,495. InTime s newer product is the InTime Scheduling Engine (ISE), an enterprise application intended for networked systems. ISE is considerably more feature-rich and versatile, with multiple modules available for call-outs, certification tracking and secure access of schedule data by employees via the Internet.
Visual Staff Scheduler Pro
Atlas Business Solutions, Inc.
Atlas Business Solutions (ABS) markets VSS Pro to a variety of industries in addition to public safety. Because VSS Pro is one of the most widely used scheduling applications across the business spectrum, and because ABS has so much experience in the scheduling market, its software is among the easiest to set up and use, even though it might lack some of the bells and whistles available in the more specialized public safety packages.
The basic display in VSS Pro is laid out like a spreadsheet or grid. Personnel names and job titles are in the leftmost column, with calendar dates running adjacent, left to right. Each box in the calendar grid represents the employee s assignment for that day. You can configure up to five background colors used in each box to reflect different shifts, regular days off, sick or vacation time, etc. This feature provides an intuitive visual cue to pick out exceptions and changes to the regular duty assignment.
Creating a new employee (or, if using VSS Pro for the first time, entering your existing employee roster) is a fill-in-the-blanks proposition. The software provides fields for name, employee number, hire date, desired hours per week, e-mail address (we ll get to why this is needed in a minute) and a free-form text box for contact information. Job titles, such as officer, sergeant, etc., are pulled from another user-configurable list, so assigning the appropriate title is a matter of picking from a drop-down list. Similarly, special skills or certifications are tagged to each employee, also chosen from a user-configurable list. If you need to know when and where your Spanish speakers, drug -influence recognition experts, AED technicians or tactical team members are assigned, this feature allows you to pull that information out of the database. A free-form comments field completes the employee profile. If you need to schedule equipment as well as (or instead of) people, just create a profile that describes the equipment rather than a person.
If you already have all or some of your employee and equipment information in a spreadsheet or some other common data format, you can convert it into a comma-separated values (*.csv) file, and then import it into VSS Pro. Missing data is then filled in as necessary.
Employees are listed alphabetically by default, but if you want to organize them into shifts, squads, teams or whatever, an icon in the employee-profile dialog allows for moving the employee s listing up or down in the grid until you have everything sorted as you like. Once you have one employee s shift schedule set up, you can apply that schedule to any number of other employees who have the same rotation.
Minimum staffing requirements for the various shifts are another user-configurable option, and a summary display at the bottom of the grid view shows the manpower levels, broken out by job title if desired.
When the schedules are all done, a variety of reports are available to make it all clear to everyone. On command, the software will e-mail a copy of every employee s work schedule to them at the address in their profile. Roll call supervisors can print out a watch list for each shift, and payroll managers can see the chart for a day, week, month or any period in between, up to 42 days at a time. The data is available as far back as you wish to retain it, and as far ahead as you want to plan shifts.
Visual Staff Scheduler Pro is a great choice for situations where schedules are drawn up on a single computer and disseminated from there. ABS also offers a web-based network application called Staff Anywhere, as well as several other software applications for personnel management and other human resources tasks. VSS Pro sells for $495, with a free trial version that will run 15 times before it demands a registration code.
Principal Decision Systems International (PDSI)
As the name implies, the distinctive feature of TeleStaff is its telephonic interaction with users. Once TeleStaff is set up properly, everyone connected with the schedule can interact with the program by touch-tone telephone, without having to use a PC. Users can also generate changes and queries from any computer networked to the system.
This is an extremely powerful capability because the program also initiates interactions with users via the telephone. When an employee has a court date (or has a court date cancelled), is in line to be notified of an opportunity to work an overtime assignment, or is needed for an emergency call-out, TeleStaff makes those contacts telephonically, freeing managers for other tasks.
TeleStaff has most of the features of the other scheduling packages with regard to handling complex or multiple schedules and assigning them to a single employee or a group. The employee profile lists not only the employee s certifications, but also when they expire. When an expiration date is approaching (with however much lead time is desired), TeleStaff alerts the manager so they can make re-certification plans. If a certification expires, the program excludes that employee from searches for that skill or specialty.
About 50 percent of TeleStaff s users choose to enable an optional module that creates a bid system for assigning shifts. Employees affected in the shift-bid process can call in to TeleStaff within a pre-assigned time window, or log into a computer networked to the TeleStaff installation to register their shift choice. The process can be either blind, where the bidders can t see the choices of others, or configured where everyone can see other s bids as the bid progresses. When everyone has made their bid, the system will then award the shift assignments, based on seniority or whatever other criteria the agency wants to use.
Assignment of overtime opportunities is frequently a bone of contention in police agencies, where some officers appear to be favored over others and get more offers to work. TeleStaff tracks every interaction with the program, so it s very easy to demonstrate how any assignment was made or changed. A pre-configured report will show every change made to an employee s schedule, who made the change and when they made it. All calls made by the system to the employee and by the employee into the system are likewise logged.
Employees can call in sick through the TeleStaff system, and the system will alert the manager to a personnel shortage if the absence creates one, or automatically start calling potential replacements by whatever priority is preferred. You can instruct the system not to accept a sick call notification until a supervisor has spoken with the employee personally.
If your agency needs to make a call-out to the tactical team or some other group, a single command will start the process. The supervisor ordering the call-out can either type a text message detailing the circumstances into a window, or can record a voice message containing the necessary information. When the call is answered and the employee s presence verified by the input of a numeric password, the message is either played back or read to the employee through a text-to-speech engine.
Pre-configured reports include the generation of time cards for payroll and a cost report showing how much it cost for the agency to handle an incident or staff a special event. TeleStaff will export data to many standard payroll systems.
TeleStaff is clearly a very ambitious scheduling solution, and some of its features are also available in the enterprise editions of other vendors. The PDSI team works carefully with their customers to provide configuration assistance and training when the software is installed.
If your scheduling needs are very simple, DRoster might be all you need. With DRoster, you start out specifying work sites or, in the law enforcement case, it could be divisions, such as patrol, detectives, dispatch, etc. Next you add start and end times for shifts and employee names. You then drag-and-drop people onto the shifts and work sites for each workday. You can create templates for typical staffing needs, so it s not necessary to re-create each day s schedule each time. You can also use a short list of pre-configured reports for individuals, shifts or department-wide schedules.
The basic software is free for download, and Kappix makes no restrictions on program features or how long the software will work without a registration code. If you buy a license for the program at $249 for a single user, you get access to technical support and program updates for a year, with license renewals at $150 per year.
Please keep in mind a review like this can t address all of the features and advantages of every software package. The applications described here are the products of years of development and improvement, and it s impossible to give a true picture of each package in a few hundred words. If you re looking for a way to make the scheduling task easier and more efficient, you owe it to yourself and your agency to contact the various vendors and have them explain how their products can best address your specific needs. And don t forget the value of checking with other agencies to get a user perspective on what works in an environment similar to yours.