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Boeing Team Creates Complex COVID-19 Nurse Schedule in a Week using FICO Optimization

Aviation analytics group wins 2021 FICO Decisions Award for work helping Sweden’s Karolinska University Hospital meet demands at start of pandemic

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Customer Success

LONDON – April 26, 2021


  • Boeing’s crew solution team used its Jeppesen digital software and FICO® Xpress Optimization to produce a nursing schedule for Karolinska University Hospital, the second largest hospital in Sweden
  • The schedules for 300 nurses had to be completed in a week as the hospital ramped up its capacity to cope with the COVID-19 crisis
  • Boeing’s team has won the 2021 FICO® Decisions Award for AI, Machine Learning & Optimization

Boeing’s market leading Jeppesen digital aviation software solved a crucial nurse scheduling problem for the intensive care unit (ICU) for Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm, Sweden’s second largest hospital, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Using Jeppesen Crew Rostering, which employs FICO® Xpress Optimization, Boeing created rosters for over 300 nurses and healthcare workers during the peak period, resulting in more workable shifts for staff and better coverage for the hospital. For its achievements, Boeing’s crew solution team has won the 2021 FICO® Decisions Award for AI, Machine Learning & Optimization.

More information: https://www.fico.com/en/products/fico-xpress-solver

A Challenge with a Human Cost

The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic turned everything on its head, creating an immediate need to rapidly expand intensive care units, and challenged the existing employment practices and regulation. The virus was spreading throughout Sweden and Karolinska University Hospital needed to scale up their operation significantly to cope with the rapidly increasing volume of patients.

In order to do so, a larger workforce was established by adding people from various other care units and a Swedish Crisis Agreement, which changed the regulation around working hours and salaries, was put into effect. Karolinska needed to create a plan to ensure that this much larger workforce, with a new work agreement, would operate safely and effectively. Additionally, the plan needed to be in place within a week to be able to produce schedules for the ICU’s nurses and assistant nurses. The hospital approached Boeing‘s crew solution team in Gothenburg, to solve this urgent problem.

“The biggest challenge, by far, was time,” said Daniel Roth, Senior Business Advisor with Boeing. “We only had a week to produce the initial schedule, which had to incorporate who could work when, individual nurse competences, special requirements with respect to their schedules, and other factors. This data was not available in a structured way, but rather in the heads of current schedulers and management. Fortunately, our extensively used aviation solution with FICO Xpress Optimization as an integral part, enables an end-user to quickly build schedules.”

Optimization Solves Complex Problems Fast

When factoring in the labor rules of the Crisis Agreement, it became apparent that the Crisis Agreement work limits exceeded those at which a human being can work for an extended period of time. Therefore, it was essential to establish reasonable workloads and shift patterns. In the end, the structure ended up being two types of 12.5 hour overlapping shifts, meaning 56 per week. 7 different competence profiles were established, with minimum requirements per shift and an objective to maximize coverage.

“The resulting optimization problems fall into the class of NP-Hard in complexity theory, meaning one cannot expect to solve larger instances exactly in reasonable time,” said Tomas Gustafsson, Portfolio Manager with Boeing. “The Jeppesen solution approach combines heuristics and exact methods to reach those practical run times, where the sub-problem linear and integer programs are solved using FICO Xpress.”

Once a first solution was produced, a joint Karolinska-Boeing solution team intensively refined the schedule over a few days and nights. This included determining what work patterns were possible, changing the problem slightly, re-running and producing a new solution. “None of this would have been possible without the speed, flexibility and robustness of the underlying optimization algorithm, of which FICO Xpress is an essential part,” added Gustafsson.

The situation at Karolinska ICUs this spring was overwhelming and unprecedented. The staff were working at extreme levels, exposing and risking their health and life, but diligently coping with the influx of patients. “Expanding the ICU and quickly implementing Boeing’s Jeppesen-optimized scheduling system enabled for more efficient, safer work and eased some of the burden the hospital faced through the height of the pandemic,” said Roth. “It is hard to put a number on the benefits and performance of an effort like this, but we believe we have, in our own small way, contributed to battling the pandemic and supporting those on the frontlines.”

“This is a fantastic use of optimization to solve one of the most pressing problems worldwide last year,” said Nikhil Behl chief marketing officer at FICO. “Anyone looking for examples of the positive benefits of using optimization should look at what Boeing and Karolinska did in a matter of days to help healthcare professionals manage the coronavirus crisis.”

“Boeing adapted its Jeppesen airline and railway scheduling optimization system to solve ICU nurse scheduling problems during the pandemic," said Lisa Morgan, contributing writer at InformationWeek and one of the FICO Decisions Awards judges. “The judges were impressed how quickly Boeing’s team understood the problem, addressed it, and implemented a solution. These data scientists did an excellent job of rising to the occasion.”  

About the FICO® Decisions Awards

The FICO Decisions Awards recognize organizations that are achieving remarkable success using FICO solutions. A panel of independent judges with deep industry expertise evaluates nominations based upon measurable improvement in key metrics; demonstrated use of best practices; project scale, depth and breadth; and innovative uses of technology. The 2021 judges are:

  • Prasanna Dhoré, chief data & analytics and innovation officer, Equifax
  • David Dittmann, vice president, data & analytics, P&G (2019 winner)
  • René Javier Guzmán, market & liquidity risks director at Banreservas (2019 winner)
  • Tomas Klinger, decision science and data director at Home Credit (2019 winner)
  • Marcel Le Gouais, managing editor at Credit Strategy
  • Tiffani Montez, banking analyst at Aite
  • Lisa Morgan, journalist & analyst at InformationWeek
  • Ignazio Provinzano, head of risk operations at Swisscard (2019 winner)

The winners of the FICO Decisions Awards will be spotlighted at and win tickets to FICO® World 2021, the Decisions Conference, November 2021 in Orlando, Florida.

About FICO
FICO (NYSE: FICO) powers decisions that help people and businesses around the world prosper. Founded in 1956 and based in Silicon Valley, the company is a pioneer in the use of predictive analytics and data science to improve operational decisions. FICO holds more than 195 US and foreign patents on technologies that increase profitability, customer satisfaction and growth for businesses in financial services, manufacturing, telecommunications, health care, retail and many other industries. Using FICO solutions, businesses in more than 120 countries do everything from protecting 2.6 billion payment cards from fraud, to helping people get credit, to ensuring that millions of airplanes and rental cars are in the right place at the right time.

Learn more at www.fico.com.

FICO is a registered trademark of Fair Isaac Corporation in the US and other countries


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