Computerised timetabling: where do the benefits really lie when moving beyond the spreadsheet?
EventMAP’s Vernon Chapman takes a dive into the wider advantages.
A lot of the initial benefit in computerising the process of timetabling is seen as improving speed, responsiveness and, hopefully, saving time and money. Does it achieve these objectives? To some degree, yes – some practitioners have suggested that up to 60% of their time is saved on the process, especially once the system has been fully implemented. This sounds plausible when one thinks that after the initial (often daunting) implementation, timetablers could simply roll over their timetables in subsequent years and just keep tweaking them.
However, for many institutions considering making the jump, it can appear that modern enterprise timetabling packages are extremely complex – and therefore more time-consuming to implement. But the short time investment required for initial implementation can bring a host of advantages that span well beyond the timetable.
Take an example: a new EventMAP client recently migrated to EVENT, our enterprise timetabling solution. As the college previously used a manual paper-based methodology, there was a considerable set-up process at the outset. Once this was completed, they were in the position that subsequent years’ timetables would be much easier to manage. They now have the ability to model their curriculum and optimise space using powerful heuristics, which provides the opportunity to improve the teaching schedule for both students and staff. Then there are the added benefits: they can now also integrate with their existing conference booking system, allowing bookings across two systems to be shared and viewed within a shared space (teaching and conferencing). They can implement an integrated student placement solution (which we’re currently working on with them), which will allow student work placements to be more effectively managed, without the need for double-data entry.
But this is only the beginning. Timetabled data can be used to carefully plan the future utilisation of teaching space, which can then be cross-referenced with actual utilisation data from space audits or student attendance data, to compare planned and actual space utilisation, and the impact that one has on the other. Some academic sources have suggested that timetablers overestimate their need for space by 10%, when creating a timetable. This makes sense when one considers that the timetable is invariably developed prior to student enrolment. However, a walk of the campus part-way into the academic year often shows that the difference between planned activity and what is actually needed is even greater, with what actually takes place bearing little resemblance to what is timetabled. There are many reasons for this, and we have touched on one in a previous blog. But making the information more transparent, and accessible in a computerised solution helps institutions address these issues.
Computerisation allows for additional tools to be used to analyse the effectiveness of the timetabling process more easily from a student quality perspective. All of this is possible because, once the data is captured in an electronic form, it can be analysed, sliced and diced as needed to inform organisations as to how they are managing against industry benchmark standards. It also opens the way to manage other areas of the institution more effectively.
So, we can see how the computerisation of timetabling is about so much more than just the timetable. It is actually about finding innovative ways of using the data generated by the timetable and associated activities.
Therefore, computerisation of timetabling is not just about quicker timetable creation, and nor should it be. For innovative organisations, it should be about ‘how can I use this data to deliver a better service to our students, staff and the community?’