- Company Info
I first heard of online scheduling three years ago. I was at an EMS trade show and saw a demo of a system that put a department's work schedule online, eliminating the mess of paper scheduling. Since we were scheduling on paper and spreadsheets at the time, we had been experiencing all kinds of problems with tracking shift trades and giveaways - almost any helpful change would have been welcome.
We used an Excel spreadsheet for our master schedule. Once it was finished, we printed it out and posted it in the station. Members wrote on the master copy whenever they traded shifts. Mike would get Harry who got Sally to work for them...with the schedule eventually covered in white-out, we had no idea who was actually scheduled to work! We clearly needed a better way to manage our schedule and shift trades. If we could reduce or eliminate the amount of paper we were using, we knew we were on the right track.
Before we started looking into online scheduling services, we wanted to see what other options we had. Since we were already using Excel, we considered using Microsoft Access to help track trades, training, and time-off requests. With Access, however, we'd still rely on a system of forms that could work but would involve different copies of the schedule anyway, which was what we were trying to get away from. This was not a viable option. We were a growing department and the amount of paperwork required for scheduling was becoming unmanageable.
When we finally looked into online scheduling options, we prioritized what we were looking for in a system.
1. Cost would have to be within our means.
2. The system would need to be user-friendly - if I couldn't get buy-in from the staff, it wouldn't matter how well the system worked.
3. The system would need a means to track shift trades with the ability to show "who accepted what trade and when."
We looked at some online systems that were either too expensive or required installing software and felt they didn't quite seem to meet our criteria. We then came upon a magazine ad for Aladtec, another online scheduling system, offering a free demo so we decided to check it out. Within minutes of using the demo, we knew this online scheduling system was the answer to our problems.
After getting approval for a trial run, we buckled down and started planning how we would implement this new scheduling system to our department. We anticipated needing several weeks for an effective and proper roll-out. We set up a classroom setting to go over the parts of the system our members would be using, such as: how to request time-off, submit a trade, giveaway a shift, etc. After a week of letting our members "play" around with it, we found our expectations shattered...in just seven days, our entire department was up and running!
It took approximately four hours to get our member information into the system and have our base schedule built-out. At no additional cost, we had our own custom rotations built into the Repeats & Rotations section of the scheduler. This allowed us to schedule members who have set rotations for years in advance with only a few clicks. Six two-hour trainings and seven days of "playing" with the system later, we were completely immersed in online scheduling.
We knew change might be difficult for some members who weren't very computer savvy. They weren't closed to the idea of scheduling online but we knew it would take a little more training to get them up to speed. We are fortunate, however, to have a Chief who is proactive and invites change if it helps our overall service. While one-on-one training was necessary for some members, we were still amazed that everyone caught on to online scheduling in just a matter of a week. The system is user-friendly which made it easy for our agency to support this change.
For our members, scheduling online makes tasks much easier. Rather than coming into the station to fill out paperwork, members enjoy submitting trade and time-off requests from home. Accepting trades and submitting availability is now as easy as checking the scheduling online. The biggest change for administrators has been the amount of time needed to work on the schedule. I would estimate that the schedule now takes 10% of the time it used to take before we began scheduling online. We save so much time having automatic notifications sent to members when their trades or time-off requests have been approved - no longer requiring administrators to contact members or having members call-in to check on their status.
Having our schedule online lets everyone see the same schedule from anywhere but just as important, it gets us away from paper scheduling. When we were scheduling on paper, each trade or time-off request submission would take a three-part form. When you consider those resources, going with online scheduling is like going "green!"
In addition to scheduling, we're getting additional mileage from moving our scheduling online. Member availability, trades, giveaways, and time-off requests (e.g. vacation, sick, training) are also online and in the same place - and 100% electronic! We use the member database to track certifications and licenses. This great feature informs you of when a certification is about to expire (we set it to notify administrators and the member 30 days before expiration). We're planning on using the forum section as a communication tool like a bulletin board. And I'm sure we'll find good use for the included 200GB of online storage in the library section.
One Aladtec feature that took us by surprise is the mobile web app. We knew that a mobile version of the schedule was available when we were initially checking it out but we didn't think it would be popular with our staff. For our employees with smartphones, they now have access to the schedule, the member list, upcoming events, their own upcoming shifts, and pending trade & time-off requests anywhere they have 3G coverage. It is very convenient to have access to all that information on-the-go and I would say that having mobile access may not be considered a big deal at first, but once you have it and use it, you really get a lot out of it.
We've been recommending online scheduling to many of our peers around here in Southwest Ohio. We constantly get phone calls from other departments whom we share staff with and it really does make scheduling easier when current information is available anytime. Aladtec, and its sister, Aladtec, in particular, have become rather popular with the departments in our area and I'm not complaining - it makes things even easier for us!
Liberty Township Fire Department was organized in the early 1950s and in the 1990s, received support from the township to hire additional full-time firefighter/paramedics. With our growing department, it was important to find a solution for our current scheduling problems as well as any we'd face down the road. Online scheduling proved to be the answer for not only managing our schedule but for managing our personnel.
Switching from paper to online was easier to learn and implement than we could have imagined and has allowed us to take a team approach to scheduling. With an online schedule, you have the comfort in knowing your information is backed up daily and the system is getting better all the time. The decision to go with online scheduling was not just a solution for the scheduling problems we faced at the time, it was a move to ready us for whatever lies ahead.
About James Limerick
James Limerick has been in the Fire/EMS Service since 1983. He trained and served on Long Island and in New York City before moving to Ohio in 1993 where he served full-time at the City of Monroe. James also worked part-time at Liberty Township until they started staffing full-time in September 2001. He was promoted to Lieutenant and then Captain in 2007. An instructor for EMS/Fire and Fire Safety Inspector, James was also the Director of Public Safety at Butler Technology and Career Development Schools for 8 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Liberty Township Fire Department serves 36,000 residents in Butler County, Ohio with three stations that cover 32 square miles. They staff an average of 17 members daily to provide a wide array of services in addition to fire suppression and EMS including inspections, CPR instruction, counseling, and fire safety education.
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Aladtec for Fire / Rescue is an interactive online scheduling system which can be accessed 24/7 by your administrators and employees from anywhere with an internet connection. The system combines an employee database, message board and events calendar with an advanced scheduling system to keep your department better organized and your employees better informed.
For more information, visit: www.aladtec.com