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Outlandish to help the BBC do more with less

23 Jan 2014

Outlandish are very proud to have been chosen by the BBC to help it make the most out of its training resources. We are working with BBC Academy to build a course scheduling tool that intelligently offers suggestions based on human and computer defined requirements.

As part of the Delivering Quality First strategy, the BBC aims to save 11% of its costs without harming programme making. The BBC’s training and development department – the BBC Academy – are constantly finding new ways to achieve better outcomes while simultaneously reducing costs.

Outlandish are now applying our optimisation algorithms to the booking of trainers, rooms and other resources to ensure that the Academy can deliver training as efficiently as possible. While it might seem simple, this is no mean feat. Efficient scheduling is what’s known as an NP-complete problem¬†which in layman’s terms means it’s hard for a computer to calculate. It’s so tricky that there’s an international conference to discuss the problem and numerous competitions.

Bitwise operations enabled by the PHP GMP library are extremely fast

Bitwise operations enabled by the PHP GMP library are extremely fast

Here at Outlandish we like to be different. Rather than just crunching all the numbers in the world and ignoring the considerable expertise of the academy scheduling team, we’re building a system that allow computers and humans to work together. So far we’ve implemented a blazingly fast bitwise availability-crunching algorithm and some beautiful sliders that allow the humans to get the results they want.

sliders

When they’re not travelling through inter-dimensional portals, sliders are a great way to allow humans to tell computers how important something is

By giving the human schedulers control over the application it’s possible to significantly reduce the number of calculations required to suggest optimal scheduling times. Similarly, by allowing the computer to crunch through millions of possible combinations and suggest some sensible options, you save humans from the near impossible task of simultaneously remembering or viewing the availability for all the resources required for a course, thus keeping them sane.

Letting both humans and computers stick to what they’re good at makes us happy, and we’re sure it’ll make the BBC scheduling team happy when they start using it in the spring.