This grant provides funding for research aimed at determining how an organization can best use flexible resources to prepare for uncertainty in demand, supply, and capacity. The project is focused on, but not limited to, organizations that can be modeled as queueing networks and where throughput is the primary performance measure of interest. The goal is to achieve the best possible performance in the present market environment, while simultaneously having the ability to shift capacity between any two tasks, products, or services in response to uncontrollable changes in the environment. This goal is realized through the use of an appropriate flexibility structure that specifies what tasks individual workers and other resources are trained or configured for. The three major components of the project are to (i) provide criteria for determining whether a given flexibility structure satisfies the previously-stated goal, and if not, identify how the flexibility structure may be enhanced; (ii) develop metrics that can predict which flexibility structures are most effective; and (iii) ensure that our criteria and metrics are computationally efficient and broadly applicable. In the process, we will determine how flexible resources should be assigned to tasks in real time to achieve the best possible performance.
If successful, this research will lead to techniques that can be used to increase the competitiveness of the U.S. production and service sectors at low cost through better use of available resources. Specifically, the project involves developing effective criteria and metrics that practitioners can use to assess the merits of individual flexibility structures and study how they may be enhanced. These techniques will be computationally efficient and broadly applicable to different organizations, including call centers, healthcare delivery, computer services, and supply chains.