Why Focus on Application Processes?
Application processes are common at all levels of government. They generally involve large amounts of data and consume relatively large amounts of resources (funding, staff, information technology, and so on).
In addition to the need to manage large amounts of data, staff working in application-processing functions must apply multiple selection criteria, transfer many files to other staff, and ensure that each application goes through all the required approval points. In this context, there is often the potential to better utilize human resources and information technology to improve efficiency, which makes application processes ideal candidates for audits of efficiency.
Applicants want timely service. When service standards are not met, the public may conclude that the process is inefficient. In some cases, cumbersome and slow processes may become a focal point for “red tape reduction” and increased efficiency. In other cases, the only ways to increase efficiency may be to automate or redesign processes, merge services, or increase the resources devoted to application processing.
Auditors can play an important role in identifying inefficiencies in application processes, determining their causes and recommending practical solutions. Examples of recent audit findings highlighting inefficiencies in application processes are presented in Example 1.
Example 1: In its 2013 audit report Access to Online Services, the Auditor General of Canada identified several inefficiencies in federal online application processes:
“The integration of service delivery and the sharing of information among departments are limited. Individuals and businesses must work with departments separately, which frequently requires them to provide the same information multiple times. For example, departments require individuals’ current address information for their programs, but this information is not centrally managed and it is not shared among departments. When individuals move, they must advise each department separately of their new address. In the case of some departments, individuals are required to separately inform each program of their change of address.”
“The government has introduced services to enable individuals to interact online with departments securely. However, multiple steps are required to set up a secure account and then enrol in a program, the latter of which users must repeat for each department from which they receive services. For example, a retired veteran wishing to interact with the Government of Canada online to manage his benefits and taxes must first set up a secure account and then follow
different enrolment processes with Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (Service Canada), Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) and the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).” (Main points)
By drawing attention to inefficiencies in application processes and their causes, auditors can influence organizations to develop improved application processes that have shorter processing times, use fewer resources, and result in more timely access to government programs and services. An example of a case where an audited organization successfully improved the efficiency of its application processes is presented in Example 2.
Example 2: The Auditor General of Canada performed audits of Passport Canada during the period when there was an increased demand for its services due to the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. In 2006–07, Passport Canada was meeting only between 11 and 45 percent of its service standards, as demonstrated by long lineups and excessive wait times for the public. By 2009, service standards were met by fundamentally changing how applications were processed. The Passport Canada experience illustrates how it is possible to increase efficiency while maintaining appropriate controls.
When economic conditions are difficult and governments attempt to find cost savings, the budgets for processing licences and applications may be targeted for reductions because they are viewed as administrative and a lower priority than direct funding or services to beneficiaries. In an environment of budget reductions, efficiency audits may be able to identify areas where maximizing efficiency will allow program managers to maintain activity levels with fewer resources.