Modernizing Michigan

How the MLCC is utilizing technology to drastically improve processes.

Andrew J. Deloney’s philosophy of leadership can be summed up in two words: continuous improvement.

Since his June 2011 appointment by Governor Rick Snyder to serve as Chairman of the Michigan Liquor Control Commission (MLCC), Deloney’s primary focus has been adhering to the statewide RPM initiative: reviving performance in Michigan. Over the past four years, Deloney has successfully led the agency forward in multiple large-scale improvement projects, and he shows no signs of slowing down.

Diverse Background

Deloney brings a unique perspective to the role of chairman.

SW15sept-Michigan2Prior to his MLCC appointment, he served as Vice President of Public Affairs for the Michigan Restaurant Association for nearly a decade. During that time, he gained hands-on experience working with on-premise liquor licensees and understanding their specific business goals and concerns.

Prior to his work in the restaurant industry, Deloney was the Assistant State Director for the Michigan branch of the National Federation of Independent Business, and he served in the Michigan House of Representatives as a legislative assistant before that.

Reflecting on how he joined the Lansing-based MLCC agency, which is the sole wholesaler of spirits in the state of Michigan, Deloney recalls reaching out to Snyder about his potential candidacy for the role of MLCC chairman shortly after Snyder was elected
to office.

“I knew that the governor’s office was looking for someone to appoint as Chair, and it seemed like a good opportunity to use my experience to serve the state of Michigan
in this capacity,” Deloney says. “In addition to my knowledge of the industry, I also had experience with the legislative process, and I knew I could add value to this position.

Snyder ultimately agreed, and appointed Deloney to the position. He also appointed attorney Terri Quimby to serve on the Commission, and the new leadership went to work.

License Process Overhaul

Upon his arrival to the agency, Deloney was immediately faced with several major challenges. The state of Michigan was still in an overall recovery phase, having been hit hard by the economic downturn. Annual agency profits had stalled. Moreover, Deloney inherited an agency operating with many outdated processes.

It was the licensing process that struck Deloney as one of the biggest problem areas. He immediately made overhauling that a priority. Back in 2011, it generally took between 270 and 290 days for a license application to be granted after an individual submitted the required forms to the MLCC. From Deloney’s perspective, that was unacceptable.

“There is absolutely no reason why a process should take that long,” he says. “It was essential that we make the licensing process faster and easier for people to understand.”

In addition to the delay in processing applications, the licensing system contained multiple inconsistencies. Many of them were tied to the different regional enforcement areas that make up the state of Michigan. Each division had its own set of requirements, meaning that the licensing process for
applicants varied from one region of the state to another. Under Deloney’s direction, the agency overhauled the license application process, making the requirements consistent across all areas.

Today, all licensee applicants complete the same application process regardless of their location.

Another area of improvement revolved around simplifying the number of forms required for applications. Before the overhaul, certain applicants were required to complete as many as 70 different forms. Over the past four years, the MLCC
condensed that number by 81% to a maximum of 13 forms. And Deloney continues to review and reduce forms to improve the process further.

The Changes Keep Coming

Mandatory fingerprint cards, which applicants previously needed to mail in as part of their application, are now offered electronically at select police stations across the state. This eliminates the extra step of applicants mailing in a other piece of information. It also drastically cuts down processing time by the agency, as electronic records are generally
processed within several hours instead of several weeks.

The MLCC also eliminated its closing application packet, which used to be the final step in the license application process. According to Deloney, that packet has since been eliminated as a redundant component, thereby shortening the process a bit more.

As a result of these many successful process improvements, the average turnaround time for processing a license application has decreased to an average of 100 days, a two-thirds reduction compared to four years ago.

In addition to creating a smoother and more efficient process for applicants, the improvements also had positive effects on the agency itself.

Paper application materials have been reduced by 63%, cutting down on the amount of materials needed for processes (and also supporting Michigan’s statewide sustainability initiatives). The backlog of applications waiting to be processed has also been reduced by 92% since 2011, easing the workload for staff.

All of these improvements played a role in accelerating liquor sales across the state. A faster, simpler application process resulted in new businesses opening sooner, boosting the economy and selling more product. In fiscal year 2014, gross wholesale spirit revenue reached an all-time high of $1.2 billion. Net profits were well over 10%.

Despite these successes, Deloney is quick to point out that the work is far from over.

“We’ve made a lot of progress so far, but there’s still so much work to be done,” he says. “Process improvement is the most important thing. You always need to be looking for new ways to improve.”

Deloney is already moving forward with the next phase of the license application improvement process. This involves developing an online application system. Within the next year, the MLCC will replace its current outdated licensing software with a new program customized to meet agency needs.

Although paper applications will always be available to select applicants who prefer them, the end result of the online overhaul will be a new licensing process that reduces wait times and further improves overall efficiencies.

“Everything comes down to making things faster and easier for our customers and our staff,” Deloney says. “That’s a never-ending process. Even when a project comes to a close, it’s never really the end. The improvement process should be ongoing.”

Health and Safety

While much of the MLCC’s recent success can be measured in terms of growth and processes, these areas take a backseat to the agency’s primary focus — enforcement and education.

“We take our role as educators very seriously, and we work hard to connect with our community partners across the state to help them understand our processes,” Deloney explains.

Michigan has nearly 18,000 licensees, and the agency constantly reviews its connections with them. In addition to facilitating regular meetings and communications with licensees, the MLCC also reaches out to partner agencies, including the Michigan State Police and various community groups. Meetings are held to update various organizations on the goings-on within the agency, and also to offer resources and support.

Deloney says that while it’s important to let external groups know about current priorities and initiatives with the MLCC, those organizations also rely on the agency to provide information and education.

SW15sept-Michigan3“We need to share the information we obtain in the course of our research and enforcement activities,” he explains. “Law enforcement agencies are one great example. It can be difficult for those groups to stay up to date on industry trends and new products on the market. It’s our job to disseminate that information through the proper channels.”

In one recent instance, Deloney recalls how his staff shared information with the Michigan State Police about new product packaging that hadn’t previously been used in the marketplace. Had the new packaging not been shared with the law enforcement officers, they may not have been able to identify the product when spotted in the field.

Additional educational outreach efforts facilitated by the MLCC include distributing public service announcements on responsible consumption and underage drinking. Agency representatives regularly meet with community groups and members of youth coalitions to discuss new initiatives, address concerns and answer questions.

A recent grant awarded to the agency by the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association (NABCA) provided the opportunity for the MLCC to create and distribute compliance-focused print materials to all licensees. Extra outreach to licensees is generated around the holidays, when the agency offers a series of quick tips to help sellers and servers identify fake IDs, prevent over-serving and over-crowding, and adhere to the state’s specific hours of holiday beverage service.

It’s another improvement executed by Deloney, with an eye towards bettering Michigan’s future.

Melissa Niksic is a freelance writer and marketing communications strategist from Chicago, IL. Her work has appeared in Chicago’s Daily Herald newspaper, Time Out Chicago, Suburban Life newspapers, and various magazines. She is also the author of several children’s books.Follow her @MelissaNiksic.

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