8 Ways Old Government Budgeting Processes are Holding Your Team Back
January 24, 2020 – Jeremy Mann
The budget is the most significant and time-intensive policy document a government produces every year. Because the budget is such a politically important and sensitive document, it makes sense that most governments are cautious and protective of their budget process. But just because a process is familiar, doesn’t necessarily mean it is the most secure, efficient, or effective way to budget.
Take Diamond Bar, CA for example. Before using OpenGov, Diamond Bar utilized Microsoft Excel for budgeting. They used a shared drive, but if one person left the file open or unsaved, it could prevent everyone else in the organization from editing the document. Budget staff would not only have to wait hours to contribute, they’d also have to reconcile sloppily saved and edited files, costing them countless hours that could have been spent on more strategic initiatives.
Understanding the benefits and comfort of Excel, OpenGov designed its Budgeting and Performance Software to maintain all the best features of Excel while improving on many of its deficiencies. Below, we detail eight ways your old, excel-based budgeting process might be holding your government back.
1. Limited Collaboration & Disorganized Versioning
Excel, glaringly, lacks a live, online collaboration capability, instead forcing users to either access a shared master file in an online dropbox or worse, to incorporate multiple files for offline collaboration. Either solution creates a number of inconsistencies and forces budget staff to spend long hours in reconciliation. And, without a meaningful way to encourage live, simultaneous editing and proposal creation, Excel discourages cross-departmental collaboration, making it difficult to see and understand what other departments are working on.
OpenGov’s Budgeting and Performance Software enables live collaboration on a budget document without sacrificing data integrity. Make budget proposals and see how they affect the budget in live time. Share budget proposals with others in your department or across the organization.
2. It’s Not a Database
Excel isn’t able to integrate with an underlying database to ensure it always reflects the latest, most accurate data. As a result, excel always lags behind the live data reality and requires a heavy lift to constantly refresh and update its underlying data. Every hour spent manually updating data and readjusting analyses could be re-dedicated to more strategic endeavors.
OpenGov can integrate with almost all data platforms, enabling the Budgeting and Performance platform’s the underlying data to always stay up-to-date. Because all proposals are created through OpenGov’s online platform and referencing the underlying data, there is no need to manually update reports or projections — the OpenGov platform handles all this for you.
3. Subject to Error
How many hours have you spent checking and rechecking sum functions, filter arrays, and formulas, making sure every single row and column is correct? One mistake in a massive Excel document can derail the entire project, requiring constant vigilance and re-checking.
In addition, personnel budgeting poses particular challenges in Excel, as its data tables, pay grades, timelines, and employment categories complicate easy understanding and computation, requiring extra vigilance to ensure all calculations are computed correctly.
Formulas are embedded within the product, and are reflected throughout your budget so you don’t have to constantly double and triple-check that you have the correct formula in the correct place. OpenGov provides the core equation for each piece of the budget and flexibility to adjust the formulas as needed.
4. Excel Documents Don’t Tell a Story
Excel budget documents are comprehensive, but rarely comprehensible to anyone outside highly trained fiscal analysts or budget staff. Non-Excel fluent staff lose visibility to the progress of the budget and its implications on government functioning, while those with Excel fluency spend days compiling data into reports and visualizations that can be understood by stakeholders and decision makers.
OpenGov provides you with a number of standard reports and the ability to easily set up configurable report templates that will automatically update as the underlying data is updated. All of OpenGov’s reports are easily configurable with a GUI that requires no technical training. Configure the reports stakeholders want to see, then let the underlying data do the work for you while you focus on more strategic initiatives.
5. Disconnected from Performance Metrics
The data in Excel budget documents is isolated from larger narratives and performance metrics that can help contextualize the dollars listed in the data tables. Stakeholders should be able to understand how well a program has performed to goals while making crucial decisions about the program’s funding for the coming year. Excel lacks the ability to meaningfully aggregate different data sources and metrics into an appealing and understandable dashboard, where multiple trends can be understood at once.
Easily align financial and non-financial data and put information in context with customizable dashboards. Monitor spending and operations, track progress towards agency goals and discover new insights. Tie government spend to strategic objectives. Establish targets and KPIs to improve accountability and performance. Build alignment around goals and track progress to build accountability and encourage improvement.
6. Lacks Quick, Flexible Filtering
If a non-Excel fluent stakeholder or decision maker desires a specific cross-section of data, the resulting analysis might take hours or even days, as formulas are applied by budget specialists to help isolate the desired data. While these kinds of requests might be easy for a budget specialist to parse, they can stack up quickly, slowing down the decision making capabilities of stakeholders and diverting budget staff from more strategic initiatives.
OpenGov’s intuitive interface makes exploration of data easier than ever. OpenGov’s reports and visualizations are labeled clearly, both in the visualization and on an easy-to-navigate side menu that enables self-exploration. Users can simply click into visualizations to filter data or can use the drop-down menu to sort or filter data.
7. Difficult Data Aggregation
Not everything lives naturally in Excel and to compile a complete snapshot of the governments’ programs and associated budget, data often has to be compiled from a laundry list of sources. Even when the data is finally uploaded, it can still be difficult to understand the interplay between different data sources and visualize trends over multiple years across multiple data sources.
OpenGov can integrate with and aggregate data from a variety of sources. In addition, OpenGov’s visualization and dashboarding capabilities allow you to easily access, visualize, and compare data from a number of sources all in one place. Create specific dashboards for different departments or stakeholders so they have ready access to the data they need from different systems and can monitor progress to goals or trends over time.
8. Your Budget Team Not Getting Home for Dinner
Whether budget teams are spending long hours reconciling multiple budget documents, downloading and uploading data from multiple data sources, or meticulously error-proofing formulas, budgeting in excel can shift resources from strategic thinking and planning to more tedious activities like data cleaning and maintenance. But in addition to the strategic and organization-wide benefits modern budgeting tools offer, they also offer an important intangible: getting your budget teams home for dinner during budget season. By making it easier to compile reports, trust underlying data, and removing the need for onerous reconciliation, your budget team will have more time to not only pursue strategic initiatives and planning, but also to return home at reasonable times to their loved ones.
OpenGov understands how difficult budget season can be for budget staff and financial analysts. OpenGov’s team, composed of former CIOs, Finance Directors, and Budget Directors possesses over 300 years of collective government experience. For these reasons, we designed our system to be powerful, collaborative, and intuitive so budget staff could return to strategy and planning rather than data aggregation and reconciliation. Our hope is that the resulting gains in efficiency and time help budget staff return home to enjoy more dinners and time spent with their loved ones.
Governments around the country use Excel for a reason: it’s proven, reliable, and gets the job done. But governments around the country are similarly frustrated with Excel for a reason too: it’s clunky, time consuming, and duplicates effort.
OpenGov created its Budgeting and Performance platform with exactly this dilemma in mind. Our team of former government CIOs, Finance Directors, Budget Directors, and world-class engineers came together to create software that would be trustworthy and reliable while also being collaborative, efficient, and flexible. With OpenGov Budgeting and Performance your team can work on the budget all at one time without worrying about version control or data integrity, aggregate data consistently and automatically from a variety of sources, and better tie budget data to visualizations and performance metrics. OpenGov’s Budgeting and Performance software will not only allow stakeholders and budget staff to focus more on strategy and planning than on data reconciliation and aggregation, but our hope is that it will allow your team to function so smoothly you’ll even be able to return home for dinner during budget season.
Read our eBook, The Excel Lover’s Guide to Enhancing Budget to go further in-depth on how to leverage modern budgeting software to augment your Excel use and increase efficiency in the budgeting process.