From automation to artificial intelligence, Allen’s Finance Department harnesses technology to keep costs in check.
If time is money, then wasted time is wasted money. And wasted money is something the City of Allen Finance Department can’t stand.
“We’re constantly on the hunt for savings,” said Eric Cannon, Allen’s Chief Financial Officer. “Whether we’re buying a fire truck or hiring a contractor, we want to know we’re getting the most bang for our buck.”
Their efforts are paying off. A 2019 audit of the city’s phone service will save Allen $105,000 over five years. Purchase cards replaced a time-consuming, paperwork heavy purchasing process and led to over $53,000 in annual cash-back rewards. And the department’s financial expertise helped Allen earn the highest possible bond ratings from both Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s—the equivalent of getting a perfect 850 on your personal credit score.
Now, this proactive approach to reducing waste is zeroing-in on a new target: busywork.
“It’s all those small, procedural tasks that don’t need special skills, but require hours out of every workday,” said Cannon. “We want to find ways to free up staff time so they can apply their professional knowledge to more important things.”
Take utility billing, for example. When negotiating a new banking contract, Allen asked potential bidders to include improvements to the way utility bill payments are processed. As a result, utility billing staff will soon forgo the tedious process of opening and filing mail by hand. Instead, a machine capable of processing 70,000 pieces of mail per hour will open and digitally scan each payment.
“Some tasks will always require personal interaction,” explained Cannon, such as helping an elderly customer apply for the city’s 20% trash discount. “By eliminating the tasks that don’t, we’re allowing staff to spend more time and energy better serving the citizens of Allen.”
These high-tech improvements not only boost efficiency, they also prevent fraud. In 2018, Allen began using ACL Robotics to run checks on its employee and vendor databases as well as all purchase card data. By comparing and analyzing various data points, this system helps ensure City funds are spent responsibly.
“We’re not just good stewards of our citizens’ tax dollars; we’re also stewards of their trust,” said Cannon. “They’ve chosen to invest in Allen. We strive every day to prove that investment is a good one.”