Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Process re-engineering needed

The Finance ministry’s recent job freeze announcement is a clear indication that the government is either strapped for cash or is projecting difficulties. Either way the move is a welcome as it suggests government’s intention to meet its budget deficit target. This must not, however, be seen as the end all as it is only the beginning of the needed procedural reorganization. The government must now take this opportunity to implement the next step of process and personnel rationalization.

Process re-engineering
With that said though, the solution is not as simple as cutting jobs or remuneration as that could easily prove to be a counter productive move. Immediate cost savings cannot be interpreted as productivity or efficiency gains. For example, one could eliminate a process or person with a high value added and therefore destroy future income potential although ensuring short term cost savings. Because of this possibility the government must embark on a proper process re-engineering exercise to ensure the greatest advantages. They could in fact conclude that in order to earn the desired income they need to spend more.

It is clear that there have been initiatives to improve government’s service delivery as interactions with front line government staff are a lot more palatable. This experience is however not where it should be because of the procedures and systems that are still in place. This is the area of greatest opportunity for service improvement and reduction of waste.

Unproductive time
To illustrate this I would like to cite a recent experience I had with renewing my driver’s license. I arrived at the Constant Spring collectorate at about 10 AM and was met by a very courteous gentleman who enquired about the purpose of my visit and provided the form for me to complete. He then took the form from me, stamped and signed it and directed me to the cashier. Up to that point I felt obligated to pay for the renewal because of the refreshing service. He then directed me to the driver’s license renewal section. On arriving there, I noticed a gathering of persons who were obviously waiting to complete their renewal. The frustration was obvious on their faces and I immediately began to wonder what went wrong between the reception / cashier area and the twenty seconds it took me to get to the renewal section.

I turned in my old driver’s license along with the receipt and was told to wait for a picture to be taken. I waited for approximately 40 minutes before being called and then took the picture. I did not wait for the license as an earlier discussion revealed that it would take at least another 40 minute unproductive wait.

It occurred to me that there were some 50 persons there at the time, who were waiting for approximately 1.5 hours each, which equates to 75 hours of unproductive time. It is therefore quite possible that up to 400 hours of idle time could have been spent in that particular section on that single day. If we assume that this day was unusual and only 2/3 of that time is lost per day this still translates to 1,340 hours per week of unproductive time being wasted on the renewal of drivers’ licenses at one collectorate. If the relevant information is included for various collectorates and other sections then the number of unproductive hours lost to inefficient systems is tremendous. Is it any wonder then that the country’s productivity is so low? This means that Jamaica has to produce more per labour hour during the productive times than international competitors. The implication for businesses is that they have to pay a higher rate per output even though the rate per hour may be less than our global competitors. Simply put Jamaicans are working more for less.

Alternate process
In contrast to the present system I made some quick observations about what could be introduced to reduce this problem. I had no problem with the persons as they seemed courteous and customer driven. An improved system could easily be implemented as illustrated below, with no significant investments.

On paying the renewal fee the cashier should have taken all relevant information and a unique number be generated for that receipt. That number would be transferred electronically to the renewal section and would also act as the service number. The renewal section would have two processing sections, one for taking photographs and the other for printing and delivering the finished driver’s license, instead of the one area that does everything. They would still use the same office space but divide it into two sections. This division of labour would have been more susceptible to handling transaction volumes.

You would then hand in your receipt and wait to take the photograph. All the information would have been entered at the cashier and so would not have to be re-entered as is currently being done. When your receipt number is input then your picture would be taken and applied to the template that comes up. The fact that a re-entry would not be done would save approximately five minutes.

Instead of someone calling out your name, there would be a number service system that would be wall mounted and persons would proceed in that order as it changes. This would save another five minutes of persons leaving their desks to go and call out a person’s name. It would also improve the delivery efficiency.

On taking your picture you would then go to the next door where you would pick up your license. This would result in the greatest time savings as I observed that the same persons calling out names were the same ones taking the pictures and printing the license. The process of switching between tasks is itself time consuming as well as the fact that multi-tasking is not as efficient as a concentration on one process. If one more person was added to the process then there could be at least two persons dedicated to printing with the current three taking pictures. This would save at least 20 minutes per transaction.

Based on the preliminary observations made above savings of 30 to 40 minutes per transaction could be made by just adding a link between the systems and employing one or two more persons. On the other hand this would save the country approximately 890 hours per week or 46,454 hours per annum of unproductive time from one small section. It seems to me that any up front investment from improving this process would be worth it. Deeper analysis could improve this return on investment even further.

Conclusion
In concluding we need to understand that the move to save short term cash flows is just the beginning of the road and what is needed is a long hard look at the processes we are working with. The aim should always be long term rather than short term implications.

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