Cost Saving IdeasTechnology for Municipalities

Costly Collaboration Practices Provide a $34,200/hr Savings Opportunity

Some of the well-intended collaboration practices within the Canadian Municipal Industry come with a hidden cost, providing a cost savings opportunity of $34,200/hr!

Before I explain the logic behind the number, I must say that one of the most impressive attributes of the public sector is the openness and willingness to collaborate. One very important aspect of collaboration is sharing information, and of course, information is normally captured in documents.

To be clear, I’m all for such collaboration. However, I’ve recently arrived at the conclusion that not all collaboration is equal. As a member of several industry associations, I am often presented with the opportunity to help another member find an example of a specific document that they are looking for. These requests normally come in the form of a concise email (typically only 2 to 3 sentences in length) and are normally very clear as to what information is sought and who is making the request. Truth be told, such emails only take 15-20 seconds to read. So, one might ask “what is the big deal?” Why would we not want to circulate such requests by email if it only takes recipients 20 seconds to read them?

The fact is that while it may take only 20 seconds to read the email, every email (even if not acted upon) creates a distraction in our day. Research shows that when we are deeply engrossed in an activity, even minor distractions such as ‘quickly’ reviewing and deleting an email can have a profound effect. According to a University of California-Irvine study, regaining our initial momentum following an interruption can take, on average, upwards of 20 minutes.

This got me thinking about the four email requests that I’ve received from one industry association in the last couple of weeks. This association has a membership roster that is over 600 strong and every member would have received each of these emails.

The average salary for members of this particular association is $98,350 per year, which equates to $57/hr after accounting for typical overhead burdens. So, the potential cost of a single email equates to:

                             600 members x 20-minute distraction x $57/hr = $11,400 per email

Thus, every 3 emails sent out to the association’s 600 members has an associated cost savings opportunity of $34,200/hr.

This simple calculation highlights the value of time. The fact is that time a very precious and valuable resource and any savings can ultimately be redirected to other priorities. What could your municipality redirect this cost towards? Perhaps matching funds for a grant that builds a new playground – or an even more essential service.

What if members looking for information could find what they are looking for without disrupting 600 other members? How could this be achieved? Perhaps the answer is in technology. Most municipalities now have reliable access to the internet, which of course represents the greatest sharing platform of all time. Recent advancements in the areas of machine learning combined with the highly transparent aspect of the municipal industry present the opportunity to accelerate such collaboration while reducing, or even eliminating the effort required by individuals. The goal must be to ‘free up’ already-stretched resources that are consistently being challenged to do more with less. Is it possible that the answer lies in the adoption of readily-available technology? I believe so. What do you think?

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