[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
In many managers eyes, they wouldnt 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 hasnt
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 dont have to run call centers or hire
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
companys 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 companys 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 arent so good? No one gets fired, Mr. Webb
said. They just dont 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 isnt
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 its 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
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
As soon as my son gets his drivers license, Ill be working full time,
Yes, she wishes she had the benefit of company-provided health insurance,
which she doesnt get as a independent contractor. A plan offered by her
husbands 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 dont miss the office politics, she said.
Indeed, she recruited her sister, who does a lot of work transcribing
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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