2. The Gift of Time
Media reports about the growing influence of technology and algorithms on our daily lives often present an overly bleak view of the future. While I believe we, as a society, should be cautious regarding the consequences of these advancements, such as threats to our privacy, we should also not forget their considerable benefits.

In different industries and contexts all over the country, there are impassioned and caring people besieged daily by quotidian tasks. An example from my recent research project with Professor Lucas Waddell, mathematics, involves a newly appointed administrator of a school providing full-day, one-on-one tutoring for autistic students.

Each day the administrator struggles to match each of his 100 autistic students with an appropriate tutor for every hour of the subsequent day. This task is further complicated by the students’ and tutors’ availability, and the need to match a tutor’s qualifications to a particular student’s needs. The administrator spent 10 frustrating hours per day juggling the creation of the next day’s schedule, and in real time, correcting the errors in the current day’s schedule.

These last-minute corrections had a severe impact on the tutors’ workplace climate and, most important, on the learning environment for students who are sensitive to changes in their planned day. As a result, the administrator was desperate for any assistance that would allow him to devote more time to improving the learning opportunities and resources for his students rather than grappling with scheduling conflicts and corrections.

Fortunately, analytics has the power and promise to alleviate these burdens through decision-support systems that can quickly and cost-effectively provide quality solutions. The objective of analytics is not to remove people from the decision-making process, but to elevate them by helping to distill decisions when possible to only those aspects where a “human touch” is needed.

In our recent work with the school administrator, Lucas Waddell and I developed a system to reduce his daily planning time by 60%. The administrator reported that his newly freed time benefited the students and the school “by allowing me to consistently schedule staff training, manage scheduling requests and the variable needs of the school. The impact of this project has been far beyond what I expected.”

In my research, I am fortunate to witness the great promise and personal value analytics can provide, whether for a health-care administrator trying to allocate patients to beds, to a principal assigning students to classrooms, or, as in the example above, creating daily tutor schedules for students.

Externally, analytics may be seen as an emotionless topic focused on the relentless pursuit of efficiency, but in my experience, it is an essential way to conserve and preserve our most precious and personal resource — time. What gives me hope for 2020 and beyond is how this gift of time allows devoted and caring people to make a more positive impact upon their organizations and greater communities.

Professor Matt Bailey, analytics & operations management, Freeman College of Management