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Practice Guide to Auditing Efficiency

Factors Affecting the Efficiency of Application Processes

Many factors can affect the efficiency of an application process. In addition to the number, competence, and experience of staff, these factors include:

  • the degree to which the communication of the program instructions and  requirements to applicants is clear;
  • the adequacy of supporting information technology systems and the degree of automation of the application processes;
  • the adequacy (number and quality) of controls in relation to program risks and complexity;
  • the degree to which program resources are allocated to high-risk, priority areas; and
  • the degree to which opportunities to share resources with other application-processing departments have been seized.

The clarity of instructions provided to applicants has a direct effect on the efficiency of application processes. Clear instructions can result in applications being filled more rapidly, lower error rates, faster processing time and reduced processing costs per application. When instructions are clear, program staff spend less time answering questions from applicants or contacting applicants to obtain additional information.

Efficiency can also be achieved through the use of information technology. When properly applied, information technology can reduce manual processes and duplication of efforts and may generate cost savings or increase the volume of applications processed from the same resource base. The degree of automation of application processes varies according to whether:

  • applications are received online, in person, or by mail;
  • adjudication processes are automated or manual;
  • communication with applicants is done by e-mail, by mail, by phone, or in person; and
  • records of applications and supporting documentation are managed manually or though the use of electronic databases.

However, increasing automation does not necessarily lead to more efficient processes (in terms of cost per transaction, for example) because the cost of implementing new information technology must be considered in the equation. The concept of efficiency always relates inputs, including costs of staff and information technology, to outputs or outcomes.

The controls that are part of application processes also affect their efficiency. Like other elements such as staff or information technology systems, controls can be insufficient, adequate, or too abundant. Management should perform a risk assessment of each application program and use the results of this assessment as a basis on which to design processes and control. Appropriate controls based on a sound understanding of risks can have a major impact on efficiency and effectiveness of application processes. For example, Passport Canada has increased its efficiency by introducing a simplified renewal passport application for lower risk applicants.

Similarly, a risk-based approach to allocation of resources (staff, information technology systems, and so on) is key to optimizing efficiency. Management must have a good understanding of program risks in order to identify high-risk areas and allocate resources based on priority to these areas. Without a sound understanding of risk, it is unlikely that available resources will generate optimal application processing.

Finally, there may be opportunities to share resources among similar application processes and government departments in order to increase their efficiency. For example, if a government issues both hunting and fishing licences, it will likely be more efficient to establish a single system rather than to maintain two systems.

Following the same logic, the Government of Canada has established Service Canada to provide single-point access to a number of programs. Provinces have also established service delivery organizations similar to Service Canada, for example Ontario’s ServiceOntario or British Columbia’s Service BC. Single access points for multiple programs through a 1-800 number or website are other examples of efficiency improvements achieved through the sharing of resources.

Ideally, common processes should increase accessibility for applicants while also creating efficiencies and synergies for service providers.