Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The University Libraries Conduct a Benefit-Cost Analysis to Examine the Issue of Not Turning off Public Computer Workstations at the End of the Day

The Ball State University Libraries recently conducted an economic evaluation as a metric to determine costs associated with turning off over 350 public workstations (computers and monitors) when the library closes at the end of its service day. Since the Libraries are open 120.5 hours per week, the workstations would be off less than 47.5 hours each week. At the beginning of the service day, personnel would have to turn them on so that the units would be available when students and faculty arrive to use them.

The idea behind a benefit cost analysis is to reduce all inputs and outcomes to a common impact unit, usually money. One then determines if the total money associated with the benefits is greater or less than the total money associated with the economic costs. Sometimes, a ratio between the benefits and costs is determined. A ratio greater than 1 suggests that the project or activity makes financial sense whereas an activity or project with a ratio of less than 1 does not. If several projects or activities are being considered, those with the highest ratios greater than 1 are superior to those with lower ratios or ratios less than 1. Of course, the critical part of a benefit cost analysis is that the analysis includes all benefits and all costs and that these be properly quantified. Intangibles need to be considered, too.

These are some of our reasons, or benefits, for leaving public computers and monitors on when the University Libraries are closed and a relatively short time. When the Libraries are closed for several days, such as over Thanksgiving or Christmas, the units are turned off.

· Availability of the computers when the facility is closed to permit the deployment of critical system updates, including the installation of new virus definitions
· Avoidance of the initial start-up power-spike, which is harmful to a computer’s internal components, exceeding costs for the wear associated with longer operation
· Maximum availability of technology services during the hours the University Libraries are scheduled open to benefit students and faculty
· Reducing wear and tear on the micro power switches, internal components, and peripherals caused by switching computers and monitors on and off
· Utilization of personnel time to perform other services rather than assigning people to circulate among the libraries’ floors to power-down and also to start-up the public access computers

In conducting our benefit cost analysis, we followed these steps:

· Defined the problem we wanted to study, keeping its focus narrow to allow us to identify only the monetary costs and benefits.
· Identified the benefit and cost components for analysis, including indirect and intangible costs
· Associated a financial dollar amount to all of the components of the benefits and costs
· Determined if the economic monetary cost of the benefits was greater or less than those associated with the costs
· Identified impacts of qualitative issues associated with the analysis, including who benefits and who does not

There are many good reasons for a librarian manager to apply benefit cost analysis as a metric. A major one is to estimate costs before implementing a program or service or to review it after implementation. A benefit cost analysis also allows a librarian to compare several proposed programs or services at the same time in terms of money to determine the one that provides the most financial value. Although activities are more difficult to reverse once implemented, analyzing costs helps a librarian identify what parts of the activity are more expensive and sheds light on the intervention level necessary to reduce costs to improve financial performance.

Another reason is that cost benefit analysis allows a librarian to examine all cost, often revealing hidden, elusive, or unexpected costs. I like to apply benefit cost analyses because it helps to focus attention on prioritized outcomes and it informs me about data that is necessary to examine as part of an ongoing analysis. Lastly, and importantly, I find that a benefit cost analysis is persuasive when presented to senior administrators.

For more information, contact Arthur W. Hafner Ph.D., M.B.A., Ball State University’s Dean of University Libraries,, (765) 285-5277.

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