[LINK] middle-management software

stephen at melbpc.org.au stephen at melbpc.org.au
Sun Apr 12 22:13:25 AEST 2009

Software That Monitors Your Work, Wherever You Are

By DAMON DARLIN nytimes.com Published: April 11, 2009 

. What happens in the information age, when workers are no longer there 
in front of the manager, but working from home — maybe in their pajamas, 
or maybe with a cat on their lap, and a peppy Lily Allen tune playing on 
the iPod? 

In many managers’ eyes, they wouldn’t do as much work. 

No worries. Software becomes the new Panopticon. It can monitor workers 
who, conveniently, do most of their work on computers. 

It can also measure their efforts & direct work to those who do it best. 

LiveOps, a rapidly growing company in Santa Clara, Calif., that operates 
virtual call centers — agents working from home across the country — has 
also found that software can perform other management tasks. 

How it uses that software points to the direction in which technology is 
taking the workplace. 

Founded in 2000, LiveOps fields some 20,000 “home agents,” all 
independent contractors who take orders for products advertised on late-
night TV, sell insurance, or transcribe recordings for other companies. 

The agents even take pizza orders. If there is a storm in a particular 
city and pizza orders surge because no one is going out, calls to the 
pizza store are routed to LiveOps agents thousands of miles away. (The 
delivery boy still has to brave the rain and the wind. Software hasn’t 
solved that problem.)

The virtual call center is nothing new. A number of companies, like 
Elance, oDesk and Guru, assemble freelance work forces to take on 
specific tasks so that companies don’t have to run call centers or hire 
additional employees. 

TopCoder and RentACoder have done it specifically for computer 
programmers. A start-up, Serebra Connect, hires college students in 
developing economies to do work.

But Maynard Webb, the chief executive of LiveOps, says he thinks that the 
company’s software gives clients like Kodak, Colonial Penn and 
TristarProductions, a direct marketing company, an advantage. The 
software moves a company beyond simple cost-cutting. Mr. Webb says 
greater efficiencies can be found because the company’s software measures 
the results from each agent according to criteria determined by the 

If a client wants agents to persuade callers to buy additional products, 
the software tracks that — and then directs calls to the agents who do it 
best. Those agents prosper.

What about the agents who aren’t so good? “No one gets fired,” Mr. Webb 
said. “They just don’t get work.” 

Software becomes a passive-aggressive manager.

He thinks the concept can be expanded to any line of work — like health 
care, retailing, publishing and law — where the output can be measured. 

And the advantage for LiveOps, which Mr. Webb says has been profitable 
since 2006, is a harbinger of things to come. “The economics are better. 
No buildings. No benefits,” said Mr. Webb, a former eBay executive.

Before everyone wrings their hands at the horror of an economy shifting 
to workers paid by the minute doing piecemeal work at the kitchen table 
while monitored by an all-seeing computer, consider that Mr. Webb isn’t 
having trouble finding workers.

“There are way more people who want to work in this model than we have 
room for,” he said. 

He says that the company accepts only about 2 percent of all applicants, 
and that his contract work force has an average age and education level 
higher than at call centers. 

And attrition, a major problem in the call center industry, is lower, 
less than 10 percent after the first 300 calls. 

Mr. Webb says it’s because his work force is happier. Dawn Linseman, a 
LiveOps sales specialist in Madison, N.C., says she checks the LiveOps 
internal Web site every day for statistics on how well she meets the 
clients’ criteria. 

“If you keep your stats up, your calls are back to back,” she says.

She started in 2004 and handles mostly infomercial orders from a spare 
bedroom she converted into an office. She schedules her work around the 
needs of her family, grossing about $18,000 a year working about 24 hours 
a week.

“As soon as my son gets his driver’s license, I’ll be working full time,” 
she says. 

Yes, she wishes she had the benefit of company-provided health insurance, 
which she doesn’t get as a independent contractor. A plan offered by her 
husband’s employer covers the family. But she says she is much happier 
than she was when was an accounting manager for a Michigan supermarket 
chain. “I don’t miss the office politics,” she said.

Indeed, she recruited her sister, who does a lot of work transcribing 
medical reports. 

Mr. Webb says the best workers can bring in about $50,000 a year. “If 
they get really good, I hire them as managers,” he said.

Software, always on and always watching, remains the real middle manager. 

(A version of this article appeared in print on April 12, 2009, on page 
BU4 of the New York edition.)



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