Lessons Learned on Implementing a Cloud-based Budgeting Solution

March 5, 2018 – Bryan Kidney

I’ve been working in municipal finance for 25 years, having worked for five cities in my career. I’ve got a lot of experience with spreadsheets, long work hours, countless time spent looking for errors, and budgeting processes that have averaged more than 16 weeks in the cities I’ve served. This is on par with where many municipalities find themselves today. In Lawrence, we decided that a long budget process does not mean a better product. Our city manager asked us to shorten that process and still have a high quality product. To get there, we knew we needed to embrace more modern cloud technology which led us to OpenGov.

I’d like to share a bit about what our journey to cloud-based budgeting has been like and lessons learned from our implementation. Hopefully, this information will be helpful to you as you explore modernizing your budgeting process.

Many of you will relate to this: you transition into a new job and you can’t figure out how your predecessor did the budget! That’s what happened to me when I started with Lawrence three years ago. It’s frustrating, right? You end up starting from scratch. Which means, if the average tenure in finance is four years, you restart the entire budget every four years and there’s no continuity. Not only is this needless replication, but it means your government loses track of information and historical data can be almost impossible to decipher. Cloud-based budgeting eliminates the need to recreate the wheel and ensures that the budget can be interpreted and done by anyone who does the work. People change jobs, the budget process remains the same.

That’s one reason to modernize your budget process. In Lawrence, we knew our budget planning process had to improve without additional staff, our existing reporting wasn’t delivering necessary insight into the city’s budget and performance, we needed more transparency to meet the community and governing body’s expectations, and we needed to involve departments more with an easy way to enter budget requests and track status. Sound familiar? I share your pain. I really do.

These were the reasons we decided to modernize our budgeting with a cloud-based solution. I also wanted something that IT would not have to support and the cloud offered that. OpenGov offered what we were looking for. Looking back, here are the lessons I learned in going through this process:

  1. Choose a vendor that has a strong customer success focus. Our OpenGov Customer Success Manager has been with us from day one and is still with us today. When someone has a question now, they don’t call up one of my accountants, they call OpenGov. This kind of support -- having someone there to keep us on track during the implementation and there as support -- has been crucial to our success.
  2. Spend time upfront on how to structure the process. Be sure you understand how your own system works before you embark on implementing new technology. You need to know your current system in order to upload the data into the new solution.

  3. Include the management team in the planning stages. Be sure to communicate with people what is changing, how it’s changing, when, and what their expected roles. Keep them informed.

  4. Once the process is set, educate management, departments, and the governing body properly. Be sure to train them how to use the new solution. Make sure departments retain ownership of their numbers throughout the process. Don’t do it for them, train them how to use the solution. Fortunately, solutions like OpenGov are easy to learn.

Our implementation of OpenGov took a total of nine weeks. Today, our budget process looks dramatically different. Gone are the long hours -- no more nights and weekends! The manual work is greatly reduced. Between the technology and process improvements, we cut the time spent administering the budget in half and are using that time to be more strategic. We found that our immediate transparency goals were met. And our budget process is now much more efficient and effective. In fact, our budget revisions and publishing went from a 24 hour dash to a two hour activity. We’re saving a ton of time, and we’re seeing a whole new level of trust in our governing body. Like any change, it takes time, effort, and planning - but the rewards are worth it and a modern budgeting process sets us up for success and for the future.

To hear Bryan Kidney present this information, watch our on-demand webinar “Lessons on Modern Budgeting from Lawrence, Kansas.