A new modernization plan that will see more city services offered online and will look to reduce the need for office space through the introduction of collaborative work environments will ultimately save taxpayers “tens of millions” of dollars a year, Mayor John Tory says.

Tory unveiled the four-point plan at a news conference at Metro Hall on Tuesday morning.

Some of the highlights of the plan include a proposal to go from 41 individual service counters across the city to five full-service hubs by 2021 and to make more services available online.

The plan also calls for the hiring of a chief transformation officer and for a shift to a more collaborative open-space work model for city staff that would help reduce the number of leases the city holds by as many as 15 by the year 2020. As well, the plan recommends that the city take a closer look at its real estate holdings and in some case divest itself of expensive downtown office space in favour of cheaper office space further from the core. The savings from that initiative could ultimately cut the city’s $600-million operating budget by five to 10 per cent annually, according to a press release.

“This plan will make us more efficient, it will improve service to the public and it will save millions of dollars every single year,” Tory said. “I can tell you with some degree of certainty that the kinds of efficiencies we are going to achieve are things that are just common sense and very few of them will have any impact that people will notice.”

Counter transactions cost city $23 on average

The city currently spends about $23 per transaction for services completed in person and $16 per transaction for services completed over the phone. Online transactions cost the city just $2 per transaction.

As a result, the city estimates that a reduction in the total number of service counters and the fact that more transactions will be completed online will save the city about $8 million annually when packaged together.

“It is matter of common sense that if we want to be taken seriously as a tech city that we have to push ourselves out of our old 20th century ways. In fact I would suggest that some of them go back to the 19th century,” Tory said. “People expect to be able to pay their bills and receive permits through the internet, just like they can access services in other parts of their lives. Right now if you have a restaurant in Etobicoke you have to go to a counter at the East York Civic Centre to get your restaurant license but then you have to go to another place in your own area of town to get a patio license. It makes no sense.”

Office configuration changes have also boosted satisfaction

Tory unveiled the modernization plan at Metro Hall, where over the last year, two floors of office space have been reconfigured as part of a pilot project to introduce more collaborative and open space work environments.

Tory said that the result at Metro Hall has been a 25 per cent increase in the capacity of the floors, which in turn allowed the city to terminate two leases and move the affected employees to Metro Hall. That resulted in savings of $1 million annually.

Furthermore, Tory said that the satisfaction of employees on the floors has risen by 43 per cent, owing to a less compartmentalized office concept that he said has become “standard practice in almost any other workplace.”

The estimated cost-savings of implementing the sorts of changes that have been done at Metro Hall on a wider scale is pegged at $7 million annually.

“The fact that there are simple things like daylight -- that is now something that people have in their own workspace has led to a dramatic increase in employee satisfaction,” Tory said.

Directive to trim budget has resulted in other savings

In addition to outlining the new modernization plan, Tory also took a moment on Tuesday to share with reporters some of the results from his directive to department heads to submit proposals on how they could trim their budgets by 2.5 per cent.

Some of the highlights include:

  • The Toronto Public Library will save $1 million over the next two years by allowing library users to pay their fines at self-checkout stations.
  • The Toronto Police Service will save $600,000 annually by converting its land line phone system to VOIP (Voice Over IP)
  • The TTC will save $300,000 annually by giving staff in the field the choice between a land line and a cell phone but not both.
  • Toronto Public Health will save $250,000 a year by giving front-line workers mobile technology to enter their investigative reports without submitting them in paper form.