Over the last decade or more, there was a big movement towards capturing and standardizing internal data in all service groups. As professional managers, we’re all learning to make better use of data to manage our workers and their work product. Some firms have been more effective at this, but everyone produces some numbers. What do we do with these numbers? We produce reports: hours worked, productivity, utilization levels, client feedback, and all of the metrics we see in our management reports. If your reports are reliable, and you’ve been clever, rather than just reporting what happened you may be able to report what will happen. If you can predict the future, you may be able to control the future. For example, running without enough capacity will lead to increased mistakes, which leads to a rise in client complaints. If you knew that you in 90 days you would have a four week period where you were short of staff, you would be able to build a plan.
But for most of us, it doesn’t quite work that way. You think you have a reliable map of the future, but just one “outside” event and everything changes. Perhaps an unplanned burst of work occurs during what should be a slow period and you don’t have the contingency staff to handle the work. In CIO INSIDER, David Daw’s “The Mad Science at Google Labs”, gives you a peek at how to plan for the unknown. the future. Google Earth which has been legendary in providing for customization and collaboration, has mapped data from the Centers for Disease Control and released: Google Flu at http://www.google.org/flutrends. inter time sickness one of the biggest “unknown’s” that we have to manage for every year. This is still a basic tool, but its open ended enough so that your IT department could incorporate data into your reports. Because it is a world-wide system, this not only shows trends in New York and London, it can provide data even if your centers are in the mid-west, India, the Philippines, or anywhere else in the world. Perhaps a report that mixed health trends, weather and transit data, and was reported by city, would be very helpful in managing contingency staff.
Too much to expect from your IT department? Well, you may have an alternative. If you have outsourced any part of your firm’s services, ask your vendor, “How can you use this information to improve my reporting?” If the management reports from your vendor only tell you what happened and not what will happen, ask for more! My colleagues often complain that when they talk to an outsourcer’s sales rep they’re only interested in selling the next seat, or increasing the number of hours. Why not challenge them? List some external factors you think influence your permanent or contingency needs. Remind the sales reps that if they can develop these reports from Google data, other clients would also be interested. The outsourcer is in a better position to sell you more hours, and you are start nailing down the unknowns in your operations. And that’s my Niccolls worth for today!