For FY 2010-2011 the city of Richmond, Virginia was faced with a projected $30 million budget shortfall. In order to manage this, the city examined a variety of options and initiated several action plans and programs. Mayor Dwight C. Jones created the Common Cents program, which uses a business process management application to allow city employees to present their ideas for cost savings and have them reviewed for implementation. CivSource spoke with officials from the city of Richmond about how Common Cents was implemented and how they saved $2 million.
Common Cents encourages city employees to submit operationally focused ideas that will lead to immediate cost savings or allow for budget cuts. Employees can submit their ideas along with their name or anonymously. The ideas are then vetted through several senior officials for their feasibility and quality, with the best ones being submitted for final review and potential inclusion in budget decisions. At the end of the process, employees who submitted ideas that made it to the top and included their names were given special recognition.
In order to manage the process, Richmond utilized business process management software from Metastorm. The Metastorm application provided city employees with an easy-to-use interface to submit their ideas. When an employee successfully completed their submission, the application provided them a unique tracking number that they could use to follow their submission through the vetting process. The application also allowed for manual submissions for those employees who didn’t utilize the application. Gurdeep Bhatia, IT Manager for Richmond’s Department of Information Technology explained what city officials wanted in administering the program, “the goal was a seamless application with intuitive functions that also created a database for us and the employees so that we could review the data throughout.”
According to Bhatia, the application achieved those goals and also created a number of big wins including a reduction in the amount of paper used in the process and most importantly – the ability to manage the vetting process in a timely manner through the administration panel which built in action item lists. Implementation of the application itself was also done using existing IT positions and within the limits of the development team’s usual workday; leading to a two week time line for deployment. Subhashini Narra, the project leader also noted that overall implementation was much easier because the application doesn’t require a lot of complex development and the city was able to utilize its existing IT infrastructure.
Beyond the data, the Common Cents program had a significant impact on employee morale during what would otherwise be a stressful time. Chief Administrative Officer Byron Marshall said that through the program employees were, “more engaged with the process and felt empowered through the action of submitting ideas, knowing that they could actually be implemented.” Bhatia also noted that the program provided an opportunity to, “interface IT with employees in a context focused on collaboration and ideas,” a scenario that can be hard to replicate in other circumstances.
As for the results of the program, the city was able to realize $2 million in immediate savings and more may still be coming down the line – some of the ideas that were submitted were so large in scope that they wouldn’t fit within the window of time the city had to find savings before the budget meeting – these ideas are now under further review for potential future implementation. When asked if the program would continue, officials said that it was likely and that ideally the next round will take place further ahead in the budget cycle when departments could collaborate on ideas without also having to compile their budgets at the same time.