Nobody likes waiting in line.
Unfortunately, when it comes to many government services, waiting just comes with the territory.
Long wait times at local government offices wastes citizens’ time. It takes them away from work, and can result in lost wages. It can be a nightmare if you have kids, or a challenge if you have a disability. Waiting — and the uncertainty of how long the wait will be — increases frustrations, and creates unpleasant situations for government workers.
And now, with the outbreak of coronavirus, waiting in person is a public health concern.
So why, in the age of apps and virtual meetings are local governments requiring citizens to spend their time and patience in line?
This is what Whyline set out to solve.
Sure, some local government services are going digital (and they should!). But sometimes in-person visits are unavoidable. Whyline’s virtual queue technology eliminates the need for in-person waiting, and uses machine learning to tell people how long the wait will be, and when they actually need to arrive to be helped. It also aggregates the data from all this waiting, offering local governments a clearer look at how long their processes take, and how they may need to adjust staffing to meet citizens’ needs. As Govlaunch works to build the global wiki for local government innovation, we’re highlighting a series of Disruptive technologies — innovative companies who aspire to bring local governments cutting-edge products, which have the potential to fundamentally change the way local governments operate and innovate. We chatted with Mike Twersky, co-founder at Whyline, about how their product helps local governments manage wait times, promote safer public health practices, and more efficiently serve citizens.
It all started at a doctor’s office
The idea for Whyline came about when co-founder Pato Romero took his child to a pediatrician in Argentina. They had to wait over two and a half hours to be seen, which, with a kid in tow, was less than pleasant for everyone.
As frustration set in, Romero came up with the idea to create an impromptu WhatsApp group with the other people waiting. That way, he could take his child home, spare the waiting room any meltdowns, and keep his child away from touching any germ-infested doctor’s office toys. The WhatsApp group pinged Romero when it was time for him to return.
This got Romero, and his other co-founders, Nico Susco, Gaston Frydlewski, and Mike Twersky thinking: there have been plenty of solutions developed for getting people from point A to point B, from Google maps to Waze to mobility apps. But no one had developed a solution that gave you visibility into what the situation was in point B. At least not in any way that you could react to it and take action.
In 2015, the team introduced Whyline, a virtual queue management app and website designed to give people control of their time. The initial launch focused on countries in Latin America, where waiting in line is a pervasive part of everyday life, for everything from banking to paying cell phone bills. Says Twersky:
“There were a couple of players that just had hardware and a very inflexible model, and were moving very slowly. We came to market with a flexible and robust hardware-free solution, and executed quickly with precision.”
Soon, the app was serving close to 4,500 people per minute in Latin America. And it then expanded within the United States, too.
Today, the solution has serviced close to 20 million people. It’s used across industry verticals, from city governments like Providence, Rhode Island and Lincoln, Nebraska, to international hospitals and banks, to global retailers like Zara.
And now, with COVID-19 requiring physical distancing, the company is finding a new role to play: a tool against the spread of the disease. Says Twersky:
“The ability to utilize our software to remotely control and restrict onsite foot traffic, and in doing so,ensuring that safe social distancing guidelines are followed, is incredibly powerful. By allowing the customer base to wait from the safety and comfort of their home or car while the software effectively waits on their behalf is game changing. You can spread out appointments in a safe and methodical way, optimize resource allocation and access data and analytics that are aggregated in live dashboards and on-demand reports.”
The ability to manage and limit people’s physical presence in places like government buildings, parks, and health centers is becoming a key component of many communities’ reopening strategies.
How Whyline works
Despite the size of some of its clients, Whyline can have significant benefits for smaller organizations, like small and medium-sized local governments. The applications within local government are broad — from permitting offices to City Hall to COVID testing sites.
Beyond the immediate benefits of COVID-mitigation, the software allows citizens to engage with government services in a more efficient — and less frustrating — way. Says Twersky:
“It gives that visibility and transparency so people don’t think they’re waiting, because they can still go about their daily activities.”
Check the status of a line
Citizens can view a real-time status of a line, at any time. They can do this remotely — from their phones or computers, and have a better understanding of how busy a municipal office is. Says Twersky:
“The live wait times and levels of congestion are all geo-fenced, so people can drill down to see the wait by service type within each specific office.”
Enter a line remotely
Once someone checks the status of a line, they’re able to “enter” it remotely from their phone or computer. They’ll know how many people are in front of them, and exactly when they need to arrive to be seen.
Get updates as the line changes
Delays happen. Whyline uses machine learning and complex algorithms to understand slowdowns and adjust wait times as things happen. Says Twersky:
“The algorithm is updated dynamically in real time. So just like if you were to keep your Uber app open and see the car getting closer and closer to you, and the time until pickup going down, this works in a similar fashion.”
Whyline even sends push notifications and SMS or email reminders as a user’s spot is nearing the front of the line.
Make smart appointments
Citizens don’t just have to join an existing line, they can use Whyline to schedule an appointment in advance at a preferred time. Once scheduled, the system will provide real-time updates and any schedule changes based on an office’s backlog.
“Whyline gives you the ability to check in remotely, but it’ll tell you: we know you’re scheduled at 10:30 am, but please show up at 11:15 because we won’t be able to see you before that.”
Behind the scenes, Whyline is using each person’s check-ins and wait times to make the tool more precise. Twersky explains:
“It looks at the time between when someone’s service began and when they were checked out on a bifurcated basis for each individual service line. That’s part of what feeds into the algorithm on a weighted basis. And it looks at the same live wait-times earlier in the day, the same time the previous day, and the same time and day the previous week. So it’s constantly comparing apples to apples, and gets smarter and smarter with each incremental datapoint.”
On the local government side, implementation takes as little as a few days. Cities can use Whyline’s platform directly, or can integrate the functionality into their own websites and apps via APIs. (Whyline uses Amazon web services so all data is encrypted and GDPR compliant.)
Once the tool is set up, the administrator providing the service to a citizen just clicks a button to indicate the service is complete. (They can also note no-shows, incomplete paperwork, etc.)
Whyline aggregates all of its real-time data into dashboards and reports that cities can use to make staffing decisions. Says Twersky:
“Local government clients are getting detailed reports that allow them to see how fast customers are being serviced, benchmarking the efficiency of various personnel. We also have predictive algorithms that can showcase what the wait times will likely be for each hour of each day — this allows a local government to better assign resource allocation, and save costs by doing so.”
The team also works with local governments to customize or promote the features to citizens. The pricing is subscription-based and dependent on a few factors. Says Twersky:
“We don’t want price to ever be a blocker, so we have a flexible model that can utilize either a per-office fee, a per-admin user fee, or an enterprise license. We also look to do extended proofs of concept to ensure we are constantly meeting the exact needs of each of our clients.”
Any use by citizens, no matter how many, is free.
Finding solutions for now and the future
Social distancing wasn’t a commonly known phrase when Whyline set out to disrupt the act of waiting in line. Now, the global public health crisis has rapidly forced a change in consumer behavior that the company had already been advocating for: waiting in line isn’t just annoying — it can be life-threatening.
Twersky expects these recent changes to be lasting, and this is having a profound effect on innovation:
“As the CEO of Microsoft said, we’ve seen two years of innovation condensed into two months. Things and behaviors that I didn’t think were normal are now becoming normal. And it’s not going to go back to the way it was on day one.”
Whyline is ahead of the curve: they created a product based on a longstanding existing problem, not as a reaction to a specific moment in time. Now, as a new challenge like coronavirus emerges emerged, the tool can be applied as a solution — and can be done so quickly as it has already been built, tested, and iterated upon. Once the virus disappears, Whyline’s software will still serve its original purpose: to eliminate any sort of in-person waiting. Twersky notes:
“We have the solution that we’ve perfected over the last four years. It’s now really about getting it out there, and trying to help as many people, and government agencies as we can.”
Local governments working to address a present-day situation can’t lose sight of the future. The best solutions are often the ones that don’t just solve temporary problems, but ones that can fundamentally change how governments serve their citizens in an ongoing way.