Intelligent scheduling of utility workers (gas, electricity, water and telecommunications), service and maintenance personnel that visit customers as part of their daily routine, was a pre-requisit of the following project.

The US firm Logica Inc., Houston (Texas), has developed for their product Asset and Resource Management (ARM) a new component Work Scheduler Plus that facilitates the efficient interractive scheduling of service personnel.

Resource Manager is integrated as part of Logicas' ARM, it is a central part of the Work Scheduler Plus component. Resource Manager supports the business processes of preliminarily scheduling customer-appointments and interactively scheduling all tasks for resources including customer appointments, service and construction work.

In its simplest form, the scheduling problem consists of allocating a number of personnel to a set of tasks in a variety of locations.

Principle of Scheduling Problems

For such utility personnel the following is a typical assessment of their daily activities:
  • Some of the daily activities are known well in advance, some result from short notice customer requests that may be very urgent these are referred to as appointments.
  • Customer appointments are set to occur within a small time frame, additionally there are other maintenance, metering or construction tasks that are set to be complete over a much wider time frame.
  • All tasks occur at a different location and the system can calculate an estimate as to the time required to travel from one location to another.

To perform these tasks personnel or service crews are available:
  • For some tasks individual personnel are sufficient, for others a complete service crew is required.
  • The size of the crew determines how quickly a task may be completed; task durations are measured in man-hours.
  • The equipment and the skills the personnel/crew have determine which of the tasks they may perform.
  • The personnel/crew are available for their regular working hours with the exception of holidays, training or meetings according to an availability calendar.

The resources (personnel/crews) should be scheduled to the following criteria:
  • The resources start their working day from different depots. Each resource operates within a given region(s); these regions may overlap and may be served from more than one depot.
  • The size of a crew and the resource skills are reflected in the costs associated with the resource. Where possible a resource that is cheaper, with just sufficient skill to perform the task, with reduced time to travel to perform the task should be utilized.
  • The time available between two appointments should be utilized to perform other tasks that are nearby or on route.
  • When a particular task is scheduled to take several days to complete then the individual work-components of that task should be long enough to warrant each visit.

ARM Work Scheduler Plus supports the appointment planning ensuring that when possible other jobs are scheduled to occur near to existing appointments. The telephone operator can decide whether an appointment at a definite time can be guaranteed, when accounting for all the other tasks and appointments to be performed that day.

The schedules are planned interactively and automatically in a significantly less time than it would otherwise take. The system assists the operator in ensuring that scheduled tasks are consistent with all aspects of the requirements, availability, and cost and travel times.

View of the daily schedule of ARM Work Scheduler Plus

The user interface of Work Scheduler Plus shows the schedule for many days as an overview and allows the user to zoom in to the detail.

The introduction of Resource Manager in the above areas will result in the following advantages:
  • Efficient utilization of the resources
    The more complex the scheduling problem, the more significant an improvement, is attainable by an automated scheduler. Especially where route planning is required due to the diverse locations of tasks, is the potential for cost saving for all scheduled resources possible.
  • More efficient schedule generation
    Computer assisted scheduling systems accelerate the planning process considerably. Resource Manager used on standard personal computers easily justifies the outlay for software and training.
  • More efficient changes to the schedule
    Schedules often require changing due to resources breaking down or being ill; here a recalculation of part or the entire schedule can be made to minimize the impact to other scheduled resources. The cost implication of such a regular amendment to the schedule is often significantly underestimated.
  • Interactive Scheduling
    A system that fully automates the scheduling process undoubtedly has its price in terms of flexibility; leading to unsatisfied personnel, inability to cope with peak demands on resources and naïve planning in the long term. Here, there is no substitute for the experience and intelligence of the schedule operators and their necessity to interact in the scheduling process.
  • What-If-Analysis
    Small changes can have a big impact. With computer assistance alternative scenarios can be explored more quickly and compared more easily.
  • Consistent basis configuration leads to consistent quality of the schedules
    Schedules are based on reoccurring basis components: types of task, types of resource and other standard information. In automated planning these components need only be specified once and then repeatedly utilized. This ensures schedules are consistent and have compatible structure.
  • Long-term distribution through statistical information
    Strategic statistical information may be combined from one schedule to the next; schedules remain consistent and take into account long-term distribution and other longer term scheduling goals.