Return on Investment in Operations

Friday, December 04, 2009 08:32
Return on Investment in Operations

One of the discussions I am in this time of year as budgets are finalized is - how much can I really get back from a particular technology investment in the coming year. Operations is an area ripe with return on investment (ROI) as there are a wide array of soft and hard costs.

Hard costs, those fixed and variable expenses that are black and white on the ledger, are the most attractive when identifying ROI. These are paper, mailing and overnight, vendor costs, fees and other payables that are clearly measurable. Soft costs on the other hand, are not always popular as they are based on creating efficiency, reducing manual and redundant entry, eliminating possible errors and so on. However, I put as much weight on these soft costs as I do on the cut and dry expenses.

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As our businesses are wholly customer centric with satisfaction and referrals generated from the relationship and our service more so than portfolio performance - soft cost reductions can be very valuable.

I recently worked with a group on an initiative to implement a document imaging solution. The hard costs were easy to identify - they believed based on evaluating the application solution that they would reduce those expenses by 35%. This was significant for them as it would pay for a third of the investment in the first 18 months. 

However, one of the challenges this group faced was staff spending more than half of their time moving paper and juggling research tasks just finding information. This left the team spending only a third of their time in interaction with customers. While no customers had complained about service - there was clear room for providing a deeper relationship to the practice for their clients.

We used a simple calculation that took basic administrative activities into consideration and discovered soft cost savings along could return the investment in less than 12 months.



Staff looking up files and documents



Average number of clients seen daily



Number of phone calls requesting information



Average number of issues to research daily



Number of trips to copy machine



Average hourly salary






Trips to find information per day



Hours Spent Finding Information (10 min Each)



Hours Spent copying (2 Min Each)



Hours Spent Finding Info/copying



Cost Per Day



Cost Per Week



Cost Per Month



Cost Per Year






Estimated Cost of Needed Hardware



Estimated Cost of Needed Software



Esimated Cost of Needed Training












For this practice - gains were found on several fronts:

  • Efficiencies in the office - the team will have information at their fingertips without extensive searching
  • Hard costs will drop measurably
  • The team will have much more time to devote directly to clients
  • The practice as a whole can sustain more growth without hindering productivity of staff
  • Practice managers can reconsider hiring plans for the new year

The important variable to consider here is the increased level of direct service to clients. Can and will this result in an even higher satisfaction rate and drive new referrals? If industry experiences are correct - the answer is yes.






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