It’s official. Technology has crept into just about every industry out there, and aquatics is no different. What used to be done with paper and pen now is being done on a computer, and here’s the good news: Embracing technology can provide services for your team and guests while saving time and money.
Making technology work for you in this way could mean developing something new or optimizing an existing tool to do something for which it was not originally designed. Of course, some technology hardware requires an investment, but with a little ingenuity, there’s a lot you can do for free or at a minimal capital expense.
One way we have leveraged technology is in managing our seasonal team. After seeing the light several years ago, we moved our scheduling to a computer-based system. Now, with the aid of a self-produced, bar code-enabled card — which doubles as a name tag/staff identification card — deciphering handwriting and manually calculating hours has become a thing of the past.
Supervisors simply assign each team member to a schedule and the time clock not only keeps track of their hours, but also knows when each is supposed to clock in and out.
Last year we also added biometric identification to the process to eliminate “buddy punching,” which is punching in for a friend who is late or not yet on the clock.
This system did require an initial investment, but it has paid for itself multiple times thanks to the several years’ worth of savings we have amassed by not paying someone to manually calculate hours.
We’re also using technology to help keep the park safe through better analysis of incident data. In the past, we only tracked incidents manually on paper. This was a straightforward process requiring a park map, many different-colored pushpins and a lot of time before we were able to identify something of concern.
To streamline the process, we developed our own internal database. We now enter all incident information online and keep a paper copy as a backup. Today, at the touch of a button, we can spot trends and see if various interventions — such as adding an additional “Please Walk” sign in an area where slip-and-fall incidents were on the rise — are working. It also helps us identify areas of interest before they become areas of concern. As a result, we have better access to the information necessary to make prudent decisions that help keep our guests and team safer while enjoying the park.
Another new endeavor is the use of technology to help eliminate tasks that once required a person to accomplish. The thinking is, if we can eliminate or minimize the time and resources spent on repetitive functions, we’ll have more available to spend attending to the needs of the guests and team.
For example, we send hourly attendance counts to all management, a procedure that used to require someone to check their watch, break off from what they were doing, come into the office, run a report, do some math and send out a message. Total time elapsed was about 10 to 15 minutes. What would happen to your productivity if 15 minutes out of every hour was spent taking care of such a repetitive task? With a little creativity and a lot of time spent on Google researching how to program our computer system to load Excel at a scheduled time, import the information we wanted, organize it into meaningful results and send out an e-mail or text message, we have been able to automate that task. The end result has freed up the staff and produced more reliable output. Before the automation, things came up during the day that made it difficult to send the information at exactly the right time. In addition to attendance counts, we’ve added some of our more repetitive sales reports to the mix, freeing up even more time.
For the 2010 season, we’re moving our team scheduling online. We selected an online system that is costing us under $1,000 for our 400-plus seasonal team members. We expect it to decrease the amount of time necessary for scheduling. We hope to mitigate much of the cost for the system through decreased labor costs spent developing schedules. Supposedly, after some configuration the schedules will actually create themselves, with some minor “tweaking” necessary afterward. We’ll be able to take into account criteria such as seniority, work performance, availability and the like — all of which are drivers to our current scheduling methods.
Best of all, everyone will have their own online access code and the ability to establish preferences based on what is going on in their life for each particular week.
As a result, for perhaps the first time ever, our entire team will feel as if they have a big say in when they are scheduled. Notifications will occur via text or e-mail when the schedules are ready, and everyone can check their own schedule via the Web from any computer or Web-enabled mobile device. As managers, we are certainly looking forward to a decrease in the “when am I working?” calls that our main switchboard receives all summer.
All told, in our experience, putting technology to good use provides opportunities to increase the time spent with the team and guests, which can mean a safer facility with better service. We value both of these things very highly and I’m betting you do, too.
Chris Swartz is park manager at NRH20 in North Richland Hills, Texas.