Automated Queuing Systems Don’t Reduce Waiting Times

A large bank installed an automated queuing system at its branches.  Clients were required to enter the details of their transactions on a terminal and receive a queuing number and then wait to be called by the teller via a display on a video screen. 

The system replaced the previous process of clients writing on paper transaction slips and proceeding to the tellers.   Instead, the teller would access and process the client’s transaction from the entry of transaction data into the terminal. 

With the automated queuing system, the teller no longer has to input data from the previous handwritten transaction slips.  The teller also no longer has to decipher the penmanship of individual clients from the transaction slips.  Errors and rework are eliminated.  The teller just has to take and confirm the cash or checks the client is giving or just has to count the cash the client is withdrawing.  The time to process the transaction was thereby reduced.

But was the process time really significantly reduced?  Did the system really improve the client’s experience, or specifically, did it reduce the client’s time at the bank? 

Queuing systems have become the norm among banks.  But the system varies from one bank to the next.  Most of the differences between banks are in the user interface, which consists of the design and manner of layout of buttons and sequence of steps in how data would be entered into a remote terminal.

Some banks also offer the feature in which clients can access the queuing system online from their smartphones, tablets, or desktop computers before going to the bank’s branch.  A client either receives a QR code or a transaction number which he or she then presents at the bank.  The client is then given an queuing number which is usually for a line exclusive to those who did the input online. 

For the walk-in clients who had to input data into a terminal, I didn’t see much difference in their waiting times whatever bank they went to.  For some, especially those who aren’t what people call tech-savvy, it got worse.  They would almost always require assistance from a nearby employee or even the security guard.  When there were plenty of clients, such as on Mondays, Fridays, payroll days (i.e. mid- and end-month), and tax filing deadlines, the waiting times would surge to more than an hour.  Fewer tellers during the day would aggravate the waits of clients. 

I also didn’t see much difference in the productivity of tellers despite the elimination of hand-written transaction slips.  Tellers still had to count cash and examine checks which made up most of the transaction time.  Tellers also had to print out the client’s transaction receipts or withdrawal confirmations.  When the system sometimes ran slow or hangs, any productivity gained is wiped out. 

The less tech-savvy clients also sometimes don’t take advantage of the queuing system’s feature to bundle transactions under one queuing number.  Some clients would enter one transaction for one queuing number at a time as they had been used to do with hand-written transaction slips.  The less tech-savvy clients would then have a handful of queuing numbers which adds to the queue to the tellers and lengthens the teller’s time to process as she’d be going through the client’s queue numbers one by one.

The tech-savvy clients have a slight advantage as they usually are assigned an exclusive line separate from the walk-ins.  In some banks, they can go straight to the teller, show their QR codes or online numbers and have their transactions done right away.  But in many cases, tech-savvy clients still had to wait.  Tellers would often be busy with clients at the time the tech-savvy clients arrive.  In some banks, they’d still be required to register at a terminal to get a queuing number and there’d be a waiting line there too. 

Automated queuing systems by themselves don’t reduce waiting or process times.  As much as the system may make it more convenient for clients and efficient for tellers, it addresses only a part of the process. 

Queues and how long they will be and how long one will wait are determined not only by the length it takes do a process but also by the number of processors (i.e. tellers) and by the behaviour of arrivals (i.e. how many clients arrive at a given time and how many transactions they are bringing).

A state-of-the-art automated system can only do so much.  If banks are serious about improving productivity for tellers and clients, they should take a harder look at the steps and gather information about the volume of transactions done at their branches. 

And when I say steps and information, I mean all the steps and all the information that would be involved.  Targeting one step at a time does not improve productivity; one has to target the entire process from beginning to end and identify the factors that influence all of it. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

We Need Librarians More Than Ever

How relevant are librarians in the 21st century?

In the 1970’s, when I was much younger, a library was that room of stand-alone shelves filled with books, spaced by a few tables and chairs.  The librarian was the one minding that room, making sure we who visited kept quiet while we browsed through the titles for one that maybe we’d borrow using our then library card. 

We don’t hear much about libraries and librarians in the 21st century.  If we do, a library would perhaps be that data collection on our desktop computer.  Or someone may describe a “library” as that dark section of the old family house where old books and documents of great-grandparents are kept. 

Libraries and librarians have changed in the mindsets of many people.  But contrary to what many may think, we actually need them more than ever. 

In a USA Today article written in November 2017, Careers: 8 jobs that won’t exist in 2030, Michael Hoon of the Job Network wrote that “you’ll have a tough time finding a job if you decide to become a librarian.”  Mr. Hoon cites “many schools and universities are already moving their libraries off the shelves and onto the Internet,” arguing that “as books fall out of favour, libraries are not as popular as they once were.”

Steve Barker in his opinion piece on the Wall Street Journal dated January 10, 2016, was blunt in that he called librarians “a dying breed.” 

Library and Information Science students Samantha Mairson (LIS) and Allison Keough of the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University, immediately responded to Michael Hoon with their article of rebuttal, Are Librarians Truly a Dying Breed?

In their response, Mmes. Mairson & Keough write:

“Librarianship is far from a ‘dead-end field’ or a ‘dying profession.’ The field is transforming rapidly. Librarians and library students are leading this transformation. Library professionals are careful to consider the needs of their communities. The ‘Information Age’ needs more professionals responsibly curating information, and hiring managers agree that there’s demand.”

Sari Feldman, then President of the American Library Association (ALA), responded meanwhile to Steve Barker’s article by arguing that “nothing could be further from the truth.”  She writes:

“At a time of information overload and growing gaps between digital ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots,’ the roles for dynamic and engaged librarians are growing. Though their skills and the technologies they use may be changing, they have never been more valuable to people of all ages, socioeconomic, and educational backgrounds.”

In the Philippines where I live and work, people identify libraries as that repository of books at a school or university.  Many don’t associate a library as an emerging essential function for enterprises, which we should. 

Many enterprises the world over have adopted standards from ISO, the International Organization for Standardization, an independent non-governmental organisation with headquarters in Switzerland.  

A popular one is ISO 9000, a family of standards for quality management systems that helps enterprises assure their products and services meet customer requirements. 

Whereas ISO 9000 sets principles in how quality management systems are established, the organisation’s trained consultants and auditors place much emphasis on documentation and records management.  Many enterprises around the world have gone to the extent of hiring librarians to oversee documents and records, not only in how they are filed, but also how they are created, edited, approved, and shared.  

In short, libraries are important for managing enterprise records thoroughly. 

As a treasurer for three (3) buildings, I have always advised respective administrative managers to organise records and documents.  These consist not only of accounting transaction records but also files of board resolutions, certificates, other important legal documents, and engineering & maintenance records. 

Building managers, however, don’t put too much priority on records management.  Whenever I inquire about a past record, for instance, I always get answers that they can’t find the documents because they’re buried in an archive in a basement closet.  It would take the administrative staff a week to dig and find something from the past, if they ever find it at all. 

Whenever I do insist that records be scanned and filed properly, building staff would go on overtime to catch up.  The building always needs to spend extra just to file and scan records and, in most cases, the records still wouldn’t be organised. 

Records management is a very much neglected function.  A good many enterprises just don’t manage records very well.  Memos, invoices, reports, and purchase requisitions that are often scattered, dirty, and torn have become common sights in many firms. 

We underestimate the value of library science when it comes to records management.  Thanks to technology, librarians have the means to scan and classify records quickly such that we can search and retrieve them much faster than ever before.

Librarians are the experts of organisation.  With reasonable support such as investing in desktop computers, scanners, and software, a librarian can turn that mess of papers and files into a systematic virtual storehouse of archives in which we can easily seek that particular document no matter how long ago it originated. 

In this age of information and the perpetual need to simplify complex transactions, we need librarians more than ever. 

About Overtimers Anonymous