Five seconds can save you up to £1m

Computer Weekly reported today that Barclays introduced a five-second cut in their call centres that should save them up to £1m over five years.

I’ve always been a great fan of reducing the amount of time it takes to do something, especially in a commercial environment because time really is money. If I can re-design a form layout such that you (the user) can do something with less mouse movement, or with few keystrokes, then I’ve effectively saved you some time…and thus your employer some money. Of course, tracking this saved time is somewhat difficult and can actually take so long, it negates the time saved. However, if you are able to track it and quantify it, you might be pleasantly surprised.

Design with the customer in mind (or preferably, present in the process!)
I recall writing a time and expense administration application for my employer, circa 1998. The existing paper-based process required us to fill in four sheets of paper in order to record our expenses, mileage, hours, overtime, etc. For a frequent traveller, the time taken to fill in the four sheets of paper could easily amount to 3 or 4 hours, or half a day…each month. You might not think that’s very much, but when you factor in 400+ employees, of whom about 300 will spend 3 hours per month dealing with their time sheet, that amounts to 900 hours or 120 man-days per month.

The application enjoyed lots of “little” time-savers. If you worked for a couple of hours on one project, 15 minutes on another, etc. it would display a hyperlink that automatically setup the hours input form with however many hours (or fractions) were left over. It would track your mileage readings from month-to-month – for some reason our paper-based approach required the vehicle’s mileage at the end of the month and at the beginning of the next month, which are one and the same! For expenses, it would remember the places you went to regularly, remembering the VAT no, what you bought (meals, tickets, etc.) It had a simple “copy for today” option that allowed frequent entries to be duplicated for use in the current day – useful if you found yourself going to the same place on a frequent basis. And it offered a simple Excel export which prove useful when creating client time-sheets or invoices. Lots of little things, tweaked via customer input, and a lot of time was saved.

Despite computerising the existing paper-based process to the letter (that was the specification), the application meant that even the most complicated month could be processed in less than 60 minutes, often a lot less. Of course, these figures are based on observation rather than hard facts, so a pinch of salt is required. That said, the time savings were “of that magnitude” and weren’t something to sneer at. But what did we do with that time saved? Well, one might suggest that the time saved could be spent on billable projects, in which case not only have we saved the time, but now it becomes revenue generating.

The question is: “what do we do with all the time that we save by using IT effectively and efficiently”? I imagine the question is both rhetorical and recursive…in a Dilbert sketch Scott Adams noted that any time saved as a result of IT is simply re-invested. I suppose this is just human nature, nonetheless, application usage scenarios are something that we all should consider when we’re looking at form layouts. And of course, the customer is with us every step of the way. The customer should be the first folks to react to an efficiency gains that you (as designer/developer) have to offer – after all, you are in the enviable position of being an “outsider looking in”, perhaps you can see things that they can’t, you bring to the table the ability to think out of the box.

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