The Uneven Distribution of Efficiencies

There is a section of this story in the NYT today (A Part-Time Life, as Hours Shrink and Shift) that struck me another example of how the in-fluidity of data has negative affects on the economy:

Technology is speeding this transformation. In the past, part-timers might work the same schedule of four- or five-hour shifts every week. But workers’ schedules have become far less predictable and stable. Many retailers now use sophisticated software that tracks the flow of customers, allowing managers to assign just enough employees to handle the anticipated demand.

“Many employers now schedule shifts as short as two or three hours, while historically they may have scheduled eight-hour shifts,” said David Ossip, founder of Dayforce, a producer of scheduling software used by chains like Aéropostale and Pier One Imports.

Some employers even ask workers to come in at the last minute, and the workers risk losing their jobs or being assigned fewer hours in the future if they are unavailable.

The widening use of part-timers has been a bane to many workers, pushing many into poverty and forcing some onto food stamps and Medicaid. And with work schedules that change week to week, workers can find it hard to arrange child care, attend college or hold a second job, according to interviews with more than 40 part-time workers.

Inefficiency in the Economy
Efficiency in the economy is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed.

It seems that is half the software needed for market efficiency. The retailers who pay for the software are covered— they give money to software makers like Dayforce and they reduce labor costs. I have no problem with that— more efficiency is better. My assumption is that they’ve created models based on sales data, historical trends, and other info that affect how many people are going to buy how much stuff at any given time of day. The issue is that this software model— solve a single problem for a single customer type— is silly.

The last paragraph is the key. Why doesn’t Dayforce (or some competitor of Dayforce) create a view of this data for the employees of the retailers, the child care providers, the college admissions & class scheduling staff, and other employers? Why can’t there be come place on the Web where you can punch in your business type, indicate who your customers/ employees/ students/ whatever are, and get a view of supply, demand, and availability?

A simple example would be Sitter City. This is a service for babysitters, nannies, and other caregivers to advertise their services. Parents and other customers post jobs and sitters bid for them. The jobs are posted in kind of a random, moment-by-moment manner, but not without its predictable rhythms (I’m guessing there is more need for babysitters on Saturday nights than Tuesday afternoons, for instance). It would be great if a sitter on that site could put in a coverage area, or the employers of your best customers, and get a view of when they will probably need your services over the last month.

Instead, all of this valuable data— and the efficiencies that can be had when the data us used— is hidden from people who need it and would pay for it.

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