Alberta municipality prevents employee data avalanche

All that snow plowing and lawn mowing could end up costing taxpayers extra money.

That’s according to a recent survey by IDC, which found that more than 80 per cent of North American municipalities exceeded their overtime budget at least once in the past five years – typically by an average of 20 per cent.

As a result, 41 per cent leave open positions unfilled, such as police and fire personnel, 31 per cent delay necessary expenditures, such as building schools and roads, and 30 per cent increase taxes.

Most municipalities have some money set aside to pay for overtime, but they don’t always know when and where the overtime will occur, said Shawn McCarthy, program manager of government and education at Government Insights and IDC. “When faced with emergency situations, more manpower is needed, and costs can quickly escalate if checks and balances aren’t put in place,” he said. Also, managers sometimes forget about specific union rules and requirements, and end up making last-minute adjustments to their schedules – sometimes adding people or paying for extra time.

This means setting up rules and monitoring systems is key to helping governments reign in their labour costs, he added.

The City of Grande Prairie in Alberta is one municipality using technology to automate workforce management and control costs. Prior to this, the city was experiencing delays from the time an employee performed a job to the time that information was updated in its system.

“When it snows here, we have crews on the road immediately and it takes them a week to 10 days to clear all of the streets, but we want to monitor that work on a day-to-day basis,” said Brad Emond, information technology services administrator with Grande Prairie. “In the old system, by the time we got the data through the time card system, through the payroll system and updated our financial records, it was a month later.”

With Kronos Workforce, the city has access to that information – such as type of employee, hours worked and at what rate – the next morning. “We can manage our work on a day-to-day basis because we have almost instantaneous information,” he said, adding that applies to snow plowing, street cleaning and lawn mowing. If one department goes over-budget, they can make allowances in other departments.

For municipalities, labour is their largest controllable expense, and workforce management systems can minimize the pressure to reduce staff or eliminate services and programs, said Stuart Itkin, chief marketing officer at Kronos. They can also take a more proactive approach to controlling overtime, he said, since the approach that many organizations take is like closing the barn door after the horses have already escaped. In other words, it’s hard to control overtime when you’ve already exceeded your budget.

Grande Prairie is also using the system to standardize data entry across the organization, including its utility company, Aquatera Utility Corp. It handles six different payment agreements for two unions, as well as non-union employees, casual or temporary employees, and individual contracts – with some 150 pay rules and 300 job classes.

The city was immediately able to standardize data entry across the organization, said Susan Walker, accounting manager with Grande Prairie. “So for the different unions we have, we were able to put those rules in Workforce so the data entry people no longer had to have all of that information tattooed in their brains,” she said, adding that prior to Workforce, employees weren’t necessarily entering the most current contract information.

“We will never be able to eliminate overtime, that’s the nature of our business,” she said, “but it certainly has given our managers the ability to make informed decisions. It’s taken the guesswork out.”

The city plans to roll out version 5.1 this June.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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