A few months ago, my nine and ten year old children made a big stink about not being allowed to see a particular popular movie (rated PG-13) that my wife and I had determined was a little too intense for them. So we made a compromise: We would let them see a different PG-13 movie that we the parents would choose. I picked out Jurassic Park because (1) my wife had never seen it, (2) it’s a fun movie with a couple of kids in the cast, and (3) it had the potential to make the point on why we are such strict parents and careful about what we let the kiddos watch.
Believe me, it certainly did accomplish the last point! When both kids had nightmares, I found myself in the doghouse with my wife for picking out such an intense movie.
If you remember the movie at all, it’s about how people made dinosaurs with the intent of showing them off in a game park, but chaos reigned and the dinosaurs got out and people got eaten. (Ok, maybe in retrospect, it wasn’t the best movie to show my kids…) In the book Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton, the idea of chaos is a primary theme, with the point being that as much as we as people try to predict and control how things evolve, those same things can rapidly spiral in a different direction with unforeseen changes, just like a fractal.
I’ve been thinking about scheduling systems a lot lately—how we got from paper to the computer and where we are going from here. Mobile? Social? Cloud? There are lots of trends and I expect that it is only a matter of time before we see another big shift in the scheduling system paradigm. I want to make some observations on where I think we might be headed but in context of what I learned from Jurassic Park. In other words, I don’t want to look at current software solution and try to guess at how they will evolve next. Instead, I’m going to apply a little bit of chaos with external and seemingly-unrelated factors to predict what might happen. No nightmares here!
It’s a little bit of a generalization, but currently in the market, we have scheduling systems that are starting to look mature. They are full-featured, running on servers and typically with a PC as the primary point of user interaction. A few vendors are venturing into mobile apps for some functionality but the complex tasks are still done on PC’s. In most industries, healthcare included, we see some vendors with standalone scheduling solutions and others with scheduling integrated into something else (usually timecards).
This is the tricky part. I know it might sound cliché, but I’m going to suggest that smartphones are our biggest, seemingly-unrelated external factor. Actually, it only sounds cliché because others have made all sorts of predictions about smartphones and how they are “the future”, or they are now “passé”, or how they will be “the only device we need”, or…whatever. I’m not making smartphone predictions. I want to show how they—and specifically the iPhones—are going to insert chaos into the evolution of scheduling systems.
The first iPhone came out in January 2007. Six and a half years later, the 7th generation iPhone, the iPhone 5S, was released this month. Interestingly, they are remarkably similar, despite the years and improvements. If someone who had been using an original iPhone for the past six and half years picked up the new iPhone 5s, they should be able to instantly use it with no training. For that matter, anyone who picks up a new iPhone can use it with little-to-no training. That’s part of why it has been so popular. The “apps” are easy, simple, focused, and instantly usable.
That’s really the attraction of smartphone apps, isn’t it? They are so easy to use. We even call them “apps” to differentiate them from “applications,” which are big, complicated things that run on our PC’s.
That ease-of-use is starting to trickle out of smartphone apps and into other aspects of our lives. I’m writing this blog on a tablet running Windows 8. If I had to describe Windows 8, it would be “Windows 7 with a separate screen to run apps.” Are apps on my PC a good idea? If they are trying to recreate a smartphone screen on my desktop monitor, then I don’t need it. But if they are targeted for my PC with the “easy, simple, focused, and instantly usable” attributes of an iPhone app, then that’s really cool. In fact, now that I’ve experienced those attributes on my phone and now in a few apps on my Windows 8 PC, I’m starting to wonder why every application is not an “app”?
Unfortunately, I know the answer to my own question: Every application is not an “app” because sometimes I need complex functionality. Trying to create a spreadsheet with lots of formulas and charts on my iPhone? Not cool. For some applications, I’m a power user and I know it. An “app” won’t cut it for me. But for other applications… I’d rather look something up in Wikipedia with an “app” than using a browser to navigate through to it. (And browsers are easy to use!)
When it comes down to it, outside of a handful of Office applications, I want to see more “apps” in my life that are easy, simple, focused, and instantly usable!
So where does that leave the scheduling systems of tomorrow? Here’s what I think:
The end user experience has to get simpler. We want apps!
Practically speaking, I think at some point, scheduling vendors or end users are going to start saying: “Instead of making a big complex scheduling application, we are going to make [or, we want] apps to do the little bits of functionality that, all together, comprise a scheduling system.”
Of course, there are still going to be power users who need a lot of functionality and can sit at a PC to learn it all and wield it like a ninja with a sword. But outside of them…managers, employees, administrators: Everyone wants easy, simple, focused.
I imagine it’s going to be a bumpy evolution because there is a LOT of functionality out there. And how does that work practically speaking? Do vendors release a suite of “apps”? I don’t know. I’m not providing the answers. I’m simply providing the prediction:
Scheduling systems are going to stop getting bigger and more complex. Instead, they are going to start breaking up into smaller and easier to use “apps.” We will see them everywhere – on phones, on PC’s, on easily accessible devices in the building (tablets mounted on the wall, anyone?). And because of that distribution, we’ll stop thinking of them as “scheduling systems.” They will simply be some additional apps that become a part of our everyday lives.
Power users will still need complex functionality and tools. That won’t change. But for everyone else? Goodbye, scheduling system! Hello, “Take A Day Off” app.
Within scheduling systems, the core data hasn’t changed since we scratched it out on paper one hundred years ago. We’ve added some data and a lot of functionality to do more things with it, but the core data is the same. Employee. Start Time. End Time. Job/Role. What keeps changing and evolving is how we access that data. It’s starting to feel like time for another iteration of the fractal with chaos bringing surprises.