Webinar Recap: CAFR and Report Publishing Simplified

September 27, 2017 – OpenGov

Yesterday’s OpenGov webinar, CAFR and Report Publishing Simplified, featured OpenGov and Workiva subject matter experts who demonstrated how to use technology to improve the process of report publishing. Reporting is an essential component of successful performance management. When local governments are successful at reporting information, they effectively translate agency data into useful, actionable information by allowing organizations to:

  • Move beyond simply collecting organizational data;
  • Better communicate with internal staff and elected officials;
  • Provide historical context to the numbers; and
  • Inform internal and external policy decisions with credible, accurate information.

Cathlyn Coons, Subject Matter Expert for Workiva, noted that, in her experience, the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) is one of a government's most critical reports because it drives much of the information content available to the public. Adam Stone, OpenGov Solutions Engineer Manager and former Greenwood, Indiana Controller, concurred, noting the CAFR’s value to external audiences and as well as the utility of a well-designed and easily accessible budget book.

The Challenges of the Last Mile

The CAFR, operating and capital budgets, and other customized documents that serve a variety of stakeholders can be difficult to produce. “Last mile” challenges of getting to a final document include:

  • Time-consuming duplication;
  • Manual data updates;
  • Multiple documents and data sources;
  • Controlling multiple versions; and
  • Building and formatting visuals that tell the story.

In particular, last-minute changes can disrupt staff efficiency, resulting in errors or time-consuming manual work. Coons described one of her worst report publishing experiences as a result of a late change to the capital assets numbers. A few days before her CAFR’s publication, one change necessitated adjustments to the government-wide statements, reconciliation pages, fund statements, the statistical section, the footnotes, as well as the narrative sections related to net position. “It was extremely challenging and extremely stressful to ensure that each related section was updated correctly, particularly at a moment when we had the least amount of time to dedicate to that type of work,” Coons said.

Stone relayed his experience with catching an error in a late-stage CAFR audit, just days away from GFOA’s submission deadline. The error in the notes section prompted a complete reclassification of a bond expense. Working within disjointed drafts, only two staff members knew all the different places impacted by the change. From the management overview to notes, the team had to manually update multiple schedules and tables because of that one change.

Using Software Built for Function

Legacy software often has deficiencies that burden public sector organizations. It is not built to support the full publishing process governments face. Desktop publishing software does not facilitate collaboration, data management, easy updates, and more. However, there are technology solutions that overcome the roadblocks or limitations imposed by legacy financial systems and an over-reliance on Word and Excel, such as:

  • Not collaborative in real-time;
  • No single source of data truth;
  • Limited version control;
  • Manual content and data updates; and
  • Documents prepared in silos.

OpenGov Report Publishing™ powered by Wdesk offers a single, collaborative editing environment that automatically updates figures through linking and produces a visually-appealing, cohesive end product. Additional benefits beyond faster, easier report creation include:

  • Effective Collaboration. Real-time collaboration allows multiple individuals to create content, edit, and comment simultaneously. Time saved on manual data entries can be reallocated to strategic priorities.
  • Single Source of Data Truth. The web-based platform provides version control and an audit trail, eliminating confusion from long email threads and multiple Excel spreadsheets.
  • Sustainable, Repeatable Process. Preserve and disseminate institutional knowledge with ease while automatically updating data and rolling forward templates for future years.
  • One Integrated Solution. Leverage existing financial information for additional operational performance and transparency goals.

The Wdesk Platform Walkthrough

The majority of webinar participants cited either process or visuals as the factor that would most improve the quality of their existing PDF reports. Coons discussed how Workiva’s Wdesk platform provides a collaborative environment for creating useful reports regardless of their type or purpose. The cloud-based platform is flexible and accessible at any time, from any place, and the final product is print-ready and cohesive.

Coons’s demonstration highlighted the CAFR and cited the platform’s ease of use for all staff, even those without financial or technical backgrounds. In particular, the platform’s benefits include:

  • Collaboration. Managers can assign permission to access, view, or edit different sections in role-appropriate ways to maximize collaboration but also retain control, including setting style guides to lock down font type and size. The system automatically adjusts so that everyone is operating from the most current version, even as people are concurrently working. Comments can be directive, sending action-item e-mails to staff for follow-up.
  • Audit Trail and Review. A robust audit trail shows every change, including who made an update, what it was, and when it occurred. Blackline reports compare changes between two different points in time and can be shared electronically.
  • Ease of Use. All tables are embedded spreadsheets; adding a row or column is as simple as a right click. There are no manual formula adjustments, and, with any change, all links, formatting, and tables are updated with the click of a button. Tables also offer live and manageable narrative opportunities.
  • Linking. Linking across report types creates one single source of budget truth and provides an automatic update functionality. Wdesk highlights destination links and syncs the data from its source, ensuring accuracy across all reports through automatic updates and showing the full history of any number in the Link Properties panel.

Improving organizations’ report publishing processes includes leveraging technology to facilitate easier updating, more effective collaboration, and a streamlined process with fewer emails and version control. Watch the free webinar, CAFR and Report Publishing Simplified, today for a discussion and demonstration of how to use OpenGov Report Publishing powered by Wdesk to overcome the limitations of legacy systems and create impactful reports easier and faster.