It is no surprise that Fire, EMS and Law Enforcement organizations purchase millions of dollars’ worth of supplies and equipment. Unfortunately, it is often a very tedious balancing act to know what, when and how these purchases will fit into budgets.
Working in the tech industry my entire career, I have helped organizations streamline their processes, implement new technology, optimize solutions that are currently in place and assist customers during the beginning stages of purchasing new software. In this two-part blog post, it is my goal to help shed some light on how you can transform your organization by leveraging technology and turning its data into an instrument that tracks the purchases and use of your essential supplies and equipment in a way that allows you to save money without forfeiting required items. I call it Budget Optimization.
Optimization is the action of making the best or most effective use of a situation or resource. So, I ask that you follow me as we take this budget optimization journey and look at how you can use technology to make the most effective use of an essential resource, money! For this first post we are going to walk through the very beginning stages, breaking down the steps you can take to make sure you are purchasing the correct product(s), followed by a second article where we are going to dive into the features and metrics you can use to achieve true budget optimization.
To do this, we must start at the end of the story, looking at the finished product of this budget optimization make over. Then we will hit reverse, going step by step of how to get there. Think about watching the Rocky training montage but starting on the top step of the Philadelphia Museum of Art with your hands victoriously raised in the air, then watching the training that led to that iconic moment.
Starting at the top of the stairs, you are rejoicing. You are rejoicing because it is time to start preparing your budget for the upcoming year, but you have a secret weapon. For some, figuring out how much money was spent and on what; preparing for equipment that needs to be replaced and forecasting for planned increases in the upcoming budget year is not a time to rejoice. The thought of scouring through purchase orders, spreadsheets and tracking down work orders is far from a good time. But for you, it’s different.
You have taken the initiative to implement a tool that centralizes this data. You can produce trend reports showing what seasons result in upticks in spending and where you spent the most money. You also know how much it cost to keep an old piece of equipment in service and that those costs now exceed those to replace it. Budget is no problem for you because you have curated a just in time purchasing philosophy that has saved thousands throughout the year. Thousands that can now be used to replace that needed equipment. This sounds great, right? Let’s keep going and we will break down the steps necessary to get to this point.
You have made the decision that its time to improve the way you are tracking your purchases. This could include medical supplies, vehicles, maintenance, etc. You just know that there must be a better way, and you are correct. The first step will still require you to keep the end in mind. This will allow you to make a sound, informed decision on the technology you decide to purchase that allows you to achieve the results we just discussed.
Step 1: Establish Goals
This is a key first step for almost any kind of change, and it cannot be overlooked when searching for the correct tool for budget optimization. Do some evaluating and decide what it is that you want to accomplish. This may be very focused, or it could be very broad. This may also include creating both short team and long-term goals.
Step 2: Identifying Inefficiencies.
Once you and your team have figured out what you are trying to achieve, you must start looking at all the current processes involved to achieve your desired results. It is very likely that this will involve multiple departments and people, so gather input from those involved. This is how you are going to identify your areas of improvement. Note that you may uncover problems here that you were not aware of, thus requiring you to do some reevaluating – but that is a good thing. This helps to prevent purchasing the incorrect optimization tool. Had you not uncovered these previously unknown obstacles, you may not have considered those needs in your search. Purchasing the wrong product that requires you to purchase another product shortly after is not only expensive but a complete motivation killer. Therefore, understanding your goals is critical.
Step 3: Including Stakeholders
Now that you understand what you want to accomplish and what processes will be affected, it is time to start picking the brains of the people who will also be affected by the changes to figure out what areas need improvements. This too may require you to adjust a little but will help create a more concrete plan.
Step 4: Product Selection
There are numerous companies in the marketplace today that offer products to help you better manage your inventory, asset tracking and spending. You may have to review quite a few before deciding on a product that is best for you and if my career in technology has taught my one thing, it is that no product is going to fit 100% of your needs. There, I said it and guess what? It is ok. You can still find a solution that allows you to accomplish your goals and here is how:
- Use the 80/20 rule. Find a product that fits at least 80% of your requirements right from the start. Most of the time I find that todays products typically do better than 80%.
- Fill the 20% gap with process adjustments or customization if possible. API services or custom integrations are common nowadays. This can really help to close that 20% gap and make your workflows much more seamless.
Step 5: Project Planning
You have set your goals, highlighted areas of improvement, included the necessary stakeholders and made the decision to purchase a product that will help you optimize your budget. Now it is time to lay out a game plan for getting everything off the ground. I recommend dividing up some of the workload among the stakeholders and agreeing on a timeline with everyone. This will help keep the project on track and you have also secretly accomplished something that is a huge part of implementing new programs. Since you involved the stakeholders and asked for their opinion, you have drastically increased the project’s odds of success. You now have multiple people who share some level of responsibility because they were part of the decision-making process.
Thank you for taking this journey with me, and I hope I have been able to provide some valuable insight thus far. Remember to stay tuned for part two as we continue this story and dive deeper into how you can use the data captured from your new management tool and achieve true budget optimization.