Connecting Anoka County: Five Steps to Improve Management Reporting
May 31, 2016 – Patti Hetrick
Led by a seven-member Board of Commissioners, we’ve decreased our levy several times since 2012 – saving taxpayers about $40 million. But although our levies change, our mission remains the same: to serve citizens in a respectful, innovative, and fiscally responsible manner. I’m Anoka’s Budget Director and my team works to empower other departments to achieve this mission.
It isn’t always easy. Tightening budgets ($40 million of savings comes at a cost), retiring baby boomers, and competing priorities force us to operate as effectively as possible. This means we must share data and insights across the county and with citizens. In other words, we need robust and accessible management reporting.
Anoka County’s financial reporting needs are comprehensive, yet unique to each program. Complex financial systems make it more difficult for departments to run ad hoc reports. Our managers need high-level information to monitor their services; in addition, some of our citizens want detailed budget information. Due to a new ERP finance system implementation and new website software, some of our current reporting tools no longer function.
For example, our Public Information team spent hours putting county fees on our website in a searchable database; but when the county changed systems and websites, our reports were effectively disabled. Our current reporting infrastructure allows neither managers nor citizens to view real-time information.
We began solving this problem in 2015 by introducing standardized, formal management reporting across the county. Although we have more work to do, we’re excited about our progress and success thus far. We’re following the five steps I describe below, and I think other governments looking to improve management reporting could benefit by following them too:
Step 1. Pick the right tool: We have separate financial, CIP, and budgeting systems. Trained accountants can use these tools effectively because they are in and out of these systems on a daily basis. Our accountants will continue to use these tools for transaction logging and some complex financial reports. However, we needed a new reporting tool for our management team and our citizens.
This is where OpenGov, a cloud-based reporting and transparency tool, comes in. OpenGov unites data across funds and departments to run detailed, interactive reports. It also saves us time – it took hours to build and update charts, but now OpenGov generates the charts we need in seconds. We believe OpenGov will remove a massive obstacle by improving the user experience, allowing managers to easily run their own reports and quickly answer questions.
Step 2. Demonstrate value to build interest: It is important to show departments how improved management reporting could streamline their work and save time.
Annual Reports present the perfect opportunity. Many departments spend time preparing annual financial and performance reports. They pull data from our accounting and budget systems, then manually format reports in Excel and create and update graphics.
OpenGov transforms this workflow in three key ways. First, it removes the need for us to pull data for each department – it’s already in OpenGov. Second, it saves departments hours of time by automating report generation. Third, users can log into OpenGov from any computer, on any device, eliminating complex VPNs or a need to be in the office. This certainly caught managers’ attention.
We are pursuing Steps 3-5 simultaneously. I suggest you do the same, as each step’s benefits reverberate across the county and help push the other steps along.
Step 3. Work with departments to get them up and running: We ask departments which reports they run and which they’d like, increasing their investment in the initiative’s success. Each department has a different dynamic, so we decided to start with some departments then move on to others. Depending on your organization, you may decide to launch each department at the same time or go one at a time.
We began with our Parks Department. This department can now track monthly general fund revenues, expenses, visitors, and fees metrics in OpenGov, running reports from the tool as well. Our goal is to help other departments to utilize this tool to save them time.
Step 4. Engage the Board of Commissioners: Anoka’s Budget Department reports to the Finance Committee, comprised of four commissioners. The committee wants our citizens to have revenue and expense information at their fingertips – OpenGov makes this easier. We can explain budgetary tradeoffs and discuss challenges and opportunities that arise throughout the year. We are working with OpenGov as a tool to unify our budget process. It’s easier to get other departments on board as commissioners grow to depend on intuitive management reporting.
Step 5. Embrace transparency: Most reports ultimately go public. OpenGov lets us publish interactive reports to a transparency portal and this has paid off for us: we’d normally receive ten or more Financial Information requests by this point in the year. Thanks to OpenGov allowing the community to access information directly, we have not received a single request in 2016.
We face a lot of challenges, like most government entities, particularly the upcoming retirement of baby boomers who make up a large part of our workforce. We’re unlikely to re-fill every position, but by working smarter with technology to share insights and make informed decisions with data, we can serve our citizens in a respectful, innovative, and fiscally responsible manner. It’s our mission!
Read the Administrator’s Guide to Data-Driven Decisions to learn more about how to use reporting across your organization.
Patti Hetrick is the Budget Director for Anoka County, the fourth largest county in Minnesota. She entered public service eleven years ago after holding multiple positions in private sector auditing and consulting. Patti graduated from Luther College with degrees in Accounting and International Business. Anoka County received an Award of Excellence from the GFOA in 2012 for a “Video that Brings the Budgeting Process to Life for its citizens.”
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