How do you use technology to carry out face to face client work? This is a question that I regularly ask organisations I meet. There seems to be a stark difference in approach between those services provided directly by the public sector and smaller voluntary and community sector organisations. Whilst some in the NHS have embraced the use of tablets and laptops, when managing client records, (but by no means all) this doesn’t seem to be the case in the wider sector.

The number of organisations that rely on paper forms to record client data is still significant.

With many organisations, it seems to be basic perception of the cost involved in buy things like tablets. There is a cost to an organisation in buying staff tablets or laptops, but I think consideration needs to be given to the cost of not doing so.

There seems to be two different methods of using paper forms to manage clients. The method used by many organisations is to record client details on paper in a face to face session, then the details are subsequently entered onto a data system, by either the same worker or an admin worker. There are still some organisation solely using paper records, but anecdotally these are rare.

There are several costs associated with working in this way: –

Time – transferring data from a paper form to an electronic system needs to be done by someone. That person needs to be paid to do it.
Error – Transferring data from a handwritten form to an electronic system will result in some form of error occurring in the data. Nobody is perfect and handwriting is hard to read.
Security – Completed forms need to be either stored somewhere or securely destroyed. Both have a cost. There are data protection implications for handwritten client records just as there are for electronic records.

Just to make a point I’ll try and break the time cost down with some made up maths. I will use some very conservative assumptions to make this point, all of which are probably disputable, but hopefully because they are on the low side.

If a member of staff sees three clients in a day, then they will generate some paperwork. If this paperwork must be subsequently added onto an electronic system, then this is where costs begin to build up.

Let’s assume that each client generates five minutes of data inputting. At an average typing speed this is 200 words. In a day, fifteen minutes of work is generated transferring data from one medium to another.
If the data entry is carried out by someone paid at the minimum wage, then that is a cost of about £1.80 per day. On average, people work 262 days a year, which creates an annual data entry burden of £471 per member of staff. These costs go up if a member of staff sees more than three clients a day, if the member of staff doing data entry is paid more than the minimum wage and if more than 200 words of notes are taken for a client.

The question that an organisation needs to address is whether this costs can be reduced through buying some technology.

Through talking to different organisations I think there is a perception that the cost of technology is exclusively at the premium end of the market with things like the iPad. We don’t sell tablets or laptops but through some searching I think that organisations can make significant savings investing in technology for staff.

For example there are many tablets on the market that cost under £200. There is a significant growth in laptops under £200.

If we use the estimated figure of £471 as a baseline, then buying one member of staff a laptop, to work with clients, could save your organisation £271 in the first year and £471 per year, for the life of the machine. If the savings are greater, in the first year, than the cost, then it seems something worth considering.

There will be implications for how sessions with clients work, but there are opportunities to implement new ways of recording information that don’t rely on writing down large amounts of information.

Is this the sort of cost analysis something that your organisation has done?