17 June 2020

Scheduling is a complicated matter of huge importance at many workplaces. Researchers in optimisation at Linköping University have therefore developed a methodology for scheduling that is able to meet all the various types of requirements. The company Schemagi grew out of this research.

Elina Rönnberg, founder of Schemagi. Eva Bergstedt

Schemagi’s scheduling services are being purchased by workplaces, in particular in the healthcare sector. With better adapted schedules, their operations work better, and as a result, their patients receive better service and healthcare.

Methodology for scheduling

Creating timetables that match the requirements of the business, the individual wishes of the staff, and applicable rules and regulations is difficult. Against this backdrop, in 2006 researchers in optimisation at Linköping University’s Department of Mathematics initiated a research project where they developed a methodology for scheduling that incorporated all of those factors. Optimisation researchers had already worked on models and algorithms for scheduling for nurses, but at this point it was still not possible to use this method in practice, because it did not consider all the various types of requirements and wishes. Consequently, in the project the central question was “Is it possible to develop mathematical models and algorithms that can create good schedules based on all existing requirements and wishes?”. The research results showed that optimisation could be developed for use in such an application, and the working method could be applied in healthcare, and consequently deliver benefits to healthcare at the day-to-day level. Computerised scheduling delivers considerable workload savings for managers who would otherwise have to do the scheduling manually.

Using LiU’s innovation organisation, the researchers were able to commercialise their results, and in 2010 Schemagi was founded, based on the optimisation methodology developed in the project.

A scheduling service

Schemagi customises timetables for workplaces in community-based services – in particular healthcare – in both private and public sectors. It has five employees and five affiliated consultants. At the strategic level, Schemagi analyses the scope for scheduling, and consequently it can propose how staff resources are best used. At the operative level, Schemagi creates staff schedules. This enables the client to spend less time on administration and more time on the core business, and improves the quality of the scheduling.

The care facility Ångaren in Täby just north of Stockholm is one of the workplaces that has used Schemagi’s services. It’s a municipally operated operation with 65 employees. The facility’s previous schedules have not worked optimally, based on the requirements of the operations and the staff. For this reason, it engaged Schemagi in 2018. The aim was to create schedules that better matched the staffing requirements, while also securing more approval and acceptance from the staff. In order to manage the changes, a working group was created, consisting of staff reps from various departments. Based on the discussions and information gathering, Schemagi carried out a schedule analysis with the help of mathematical modelling. Based on this analysis, Schemagi could then present possible scenarios and choices that the operations had to take a position on. Using this material, the managers and employees were able to make well-informed decisions on the scheduling, and Schemagi could develop final proposals for schedules that met the operation’s requirements. These schedules already had the support of the staff, which facilitated implementation.

“The employees are positive and the operations have improved”, says Kerstin Ahlqvist, profit centre manager at Ångaren.

Improved quality

Based on the LiU research, Schemagi has built up its own expertise in scheduling. Studies it conducted show that healthcare operations that utilise its services work better, and that working environment regulations are followed. The time devoted to care, of the total time available, increased by between 5 and 12 per cent. There were quality improvements, in terms of increased staffing continuity, and that the staff more often had the appropriate skills, and shorter recovery times. This benefits society, as well as the employees, the patient and his or her family, as well as the taxpayers as a whole. Schemagi’s scheduling services are now being used by airports, ports and libraries.

Schemagi enjoys a high level of credibility among its clients, as a result of LiU’s research, according to Simon Johansson, business manager at Schemagi. The university link is a mark of quality. He adds that there are societal benefits of investing in regional companies, because it creates employment.

Since it began in 2006, the research project has seen collaboration on many different levels, e.g. with the regional government of Östergötland, where healthcare wards were consulted to find out what the requirements were, and with Norrköping Municipality where the researchers tested various types of scheduling for the healthcare sector.

LiU’s own innovation organisation then became active in the commercialisation of the research results, including through a business coach and LEAD, an incubator linked to LiU. Researcher Elina Rönnberg took part in an entrepreneur’s programme via Vinnova and Espri. She was initially the CEO of Schemagi, before returning to full-time research with her supervisor, Torbjörn Larsson, professor of optimisation.

“In terms of research, our contribution was that we took scheduling all the way to practical implementation, and showed that it’s possible to create schedules that work – and for this we had to develop mathematical models and algorithms. The project’s success with these aspects later paved the way for commercialisation. We were very early with this. Today the threshold for doing something like this is much lower, as a result of this type of research getting going. Now there is a lot of research going in this direction, and new companies and tools are emerging.”

Schemagi has been involved in various examination projects, including the planning of patient visits to the Linköping University Hospital.

“It’s fantastic that we can put our ideas and research results to use, delivering real benefits to society. The collaboration between the Department of Mathematics and LiU Innovation has been crucial in achieving this”, says Elina Rönnberg.

Increased experience of collaboration

Another aspect of the collaboration is that it has increased the experience and knowledge of collaboration at the Department of Mathematics.

“And it means that we are now better positioned to create an organisation for collaboration with other parties, for instance Saab.”

Optimisation can deliver more efficient scheduling, and as a result of this, the researchers at the Department of Mathematics have asked further research questions. They want to continue to advance the boundaries of the benefits that optimisation can deliver, partly by understanding and making better models for the problems that are addressed, and partly by developing efficient calculation models, e.g. in the aviation industry.

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