In today’s cost-conscious world, everyone says they are looking out for ways to save time, money and resources. However, the reality is still that far too few connect the dots to make the true savings that are possible, to cut back on duplication of tasks and purchases that a little joined-up thinking at an organisation-wide level could avoid. It is possible to make substantial savings, drive down costs and make better use of valuable time and resources with a little communication and a lot of strategic planning.
Lately there has been much discussion within the public sector about ‘shared services’, but how can this be achieved and is your organisation even ready for such a consolidated approach? This article will explore how you can begin to put this ‘sharing concept’ into practice and pool shared resources, either within the business or by aligning it with other public sector bodies.
Sharing internal resources – Making sense of a complex system
Many organisations are prone to over-complexity, and with numerous projects taking place at any one time, it can be difficult to ensure that money and resources are used in the most efficient way. And poor communication can even lead to processes being carried out when they are actually no longer required by the business. It is, therefore, vital that processes are streamlined so that things like this are not overlooked. Here are four questions to ask yourself when you begin to develop a strategy to streamline your business.
- Is it possible for you to share externally sourced products or services with other organisations?
- Is it possible for externally sourced products or services to be shared between different departments within your organisation?
- Is it possible that the same processes currently being carried out by a number of different departments could be completed by just one and the benefits shared between them?
- Are there any aspects of a project or job that with a little rescheduling could follow on directly, or dovetail together, with another project or job to save costs?
Achieving just one of these aims could save you a considerable amount of time, effort and resources, and help to drive efficiency across the board. Knowing how to implement these changes is half the battle, but by asking the right questions, these simple techniques can have a huge effect on your business processes.
How to streamline your purchases
In order to answer questions one and two above, it is necessary to discover whether any of your departments are ‘silo purchasing’. Many public sector departments make the mistake of thinking small, buying products or services for themselves that others may also need or be buying at different times and even from different suppliers! By consolidating this one procurement across the board, you could save a considerable amount of money – although discovering that this sort of practice is taking place may not be initially straightforward. The idea of carrying out a full review of all of your purchases might seem daunting and overly complex, but if the outcome will generate substantial savings and lead to a more streamlined business model it is likely to be a task worthy of the effort. Bulk purchases often come with discounts, so a little coordinated departmental purchasing can be an efficient strategy.
Savings can also be made if procured resources or products are used by more than one organisation at the same time. For example, if two neighbouring NHS trusts require the installation of energy saving equipment in their hospitals, then massive savings could be achieved if the same company was instructed to carry out the work in both hospitals.
Combating outdated business processes
Question three can also be tackled by examining whether business processes that are being carried out by multiple departments, could be consolidated to just one. This is particularly relevant when it comes to data collection. Many businesses, when they carry out a review of their processes across the entire organisation, find employees still collecting data that has long ceased to be of any use to the company. People can become so entrenched in a role that they simply perform a task without questioning why they do it – not understanding what the outcome is used for and whether it really is needed. It is, therefore, vital that you examine whether everyone is on the same page when it comes to each business process. Every time a new system is installed, or the requirements of a project change, it is crucial that the ongoing necessity for each business process is assessed.
Another common issue you may find in your review is that different departments are collecting the same data, duplicating efforts, and storing this data in different ways. This is a massive waste of resources, time and energy for all concerned. It is even possible that different departments may be using different data storage companies, thus inflating costs even further. While some data collection is of course vital, it is important to look at how it can be managed more efficiently. Reducing data collection duplication will mean a better use of resources, more accurate reporting and less processing time for all involved, so make sure to keep everyone up to date when changes take place.
The importance of allocating and documenting roles
Just as data collection can become out of hand over time, it is also possible for specific processes to get linked to certain individuals within a team as the years pass by. While this may seem to work smoothly while the status quo is maintained, there is a risk that if the individual leaves the team, they will take all of this knowledge with them, leaving their replacement floundering. It is, therefore, crucial that more than one member of a team has the knowledge necessary to perform a specific role, and that all the appropriate documentation is kept up to date so that an effective handover can be achieved when needed. If roles are well documented it is also much easier to align different projects and manage the changes and splits within a business, thereby saving time for more important processes.
Managing business-wide projects
Synchronising projects to most effectively utilise shared resources could result in enormous savings, as identified in question four above.
By slightly adjusting the timing of some projects, it may even be possible to run them in unison or consecutively, so that resources can be easily shared between them. For example, a company needed to undertake building works that required expensive scaffolding. Another unrelated project was also going to require scaffolding to be used on the same building at a later time. Once this was recognised, work was undertaken to ensure the two projects were dovetailed together so that the equipment could be used for both, instead of hiring it again within a short space of time, as would have been done originally. For this type of potential saving to be noticed and for alignment to happen, it is necessary to have all of the correct paperwork in place before projects begin, so that potential alignments can be spotted before time and costs are doubled up. It is also essential that corporate projects are centrally managed.
Most of these suggestions are common sense and are widely understood, so why are they still such an issue for many?
Remind yourself of the savings
While such resource and planning management techniques may look obvious on paper, implementing them and aligning shared services is often far from simple. The complex procurement processes of many businesses means that untangling the web and aligning services can often seem so daunting and costly that many put off such a review. Once such changes have been implemented though, the sums of money that can be saved are huge. Why not undertake a quick assessment to see how much you could save by better organisation-wide planning and project management?
Remember to factor in the following points:
- The time you will save if task duplication or unnecessary work is stopped
- The time and money you will save in administration alone by making fewer and larger purchases from fewer suppliers
- The money you will save on virtual or physical storage when duplicated tasks are being handled by just one team. (Don’t forget electronic data stored also must be backed up).
- The money you could save by aligning projects across the board and collaborating with others to share resources and suppliers.