Each year for the past several years, I’ve received a package around the holidays. The package contains a custom assortment of fine chocolates and is shipped overnight via FedEx. It’s a nice gesture. There’s only one problem: The package isn’t intended for me. It’s intended for the person who filled a position I vacated more than five years ago and who works in a different state. The agency sending the package hasn’t bothered to verify the delivery information, even though it’s easy enough to find.

The situation makes me wonder if the company sending the package is doing so well financially that it’s unconcerned about a few misdirected boxes of fine chocolate, or if it’s so trusting of its agency that it would never even consider questioning the agency’s processes. Whatever the case, sloppy business practices are likely costing the company money in other areas, as well.

It’s easy to criticize--after all, I’m quite certain that I would take a moment to verify an address before sending an overnight package. But as I interrupt the writing of this column to glance compulsively at my email inbox and soon get distracted by other tasks that seemingly demand my urgent attention, it occurs to me that maybe I’m not so superior after all. Time is harder to track than money and packages, but it’s much easier to waste.

And what about opportunity? There are legitimate reasons not to attend user conferences and other professional events. But picture each event as a small pile of opportunities sitting wasted in a trash basket, and the reasons become more difficult to justify. How much is that missed opportunity worth?

Then there’s data--an increasingly valuable byproduct of virtually all operations, but especially surveying and mapping, that often remains locked in silos and untapped for its full potential. Firms like Bowman Consulting Group (see page 34) and Matrix New World Engineering (see page 28) that have integrated technologies such as GIS and laser scanning are recognizing the value of their data. As James Sens, PLS, PP, director of HD surveying and mapping for Matrix, notes, “We now have the ability to provide information that the client might eventually need but isn’t even anticipating now--that’s the really exciting part of it.”

Over the last several years, companies have trimmed every possible area of waste from their bottom lines in an effort to stay profitable. Many firms are running lean and are well positioned to take advantage of an improving economy. But look beyond your finances to areas that are less tangible, and you might be surprised by how many resources are being wasted. Recapturing these hidden assets just might give you a competitive edge.

P.S. For further reading on this subject, I recommend the book “Rework” by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson (Crown Business, Mar 9, 2010).