Webinar Takeaways – Do More with Less: 5 Successful Strategies from Finance Leaders

June 28, 2017 – OpenGov

Yesterday’s OpenGov webinar, Do More with Less: 5 Successful Strategies from Finance Leaders, focused on the near-universal resource paradox governments everywhere face: Public agencies are constantly striving to do more with less. They work to sustain high-quality services when every dollar and minute must go further.

When organizations seek to operate better, faster, and cheaper, is it possible to achieve all three? The following local government finance leaders weighed in with their experiences:

  • Kimberly Ruesch, Administrative Services Director, Washington City, Utah;
  • Maria Zuniga, Business Improvement & Performance Administrator, Bernalillo County, New Mexico; and
  • Connie Maxwell, Budget Director, Burnet, Texas.

They described their successes using five specific strategies for improving traditional finance operations to overcome challenges and achieve measurable outcomes. But before discussing the strategy, let's discuss the frustrating resource paradox.

Upending the Resource Paradox

When considering an undertaking, the old resource paradox calls for any organization to “pick two” – better, faster, or cheaper, but not all three. When polled on which tends to take priority in their organizations, “better” was the clear winner for participants, followed by “cheaper,” with “faster” close behind. In other words, most attendees’ public sector agencies tend to sacrifice speed to ensure they have a high-quality and cost-effective solution. The solutions may work, but if it takes forever to deliver, what must everyone contend with in the meantime? In our experience at OpenGov, public sector organizations are so critical to public life that they cannot afford to pick just two.

Fortunately, they no longer have to.

Based on governments’ successes using the OpenGov Smart Government Cloud™, we believe technology solutions offer the opportunity to upend that paradox entirely. Specifically, innovative technology can increase accuracy, save time, and reduce costs.

5 Strategies

Innovation upends the paradox when technology is leveraged to make an organization’s data useful, useable, and used. These five strategies are practical ways for agencies of any size to incorporate innovative technology to overcome challenges and achieve results:

  • Provide on-demand access to information.
  • Streamline reporting.
  • Proactively share external information.
  • Centralize budgeting in the cloud.
  • Templatize recurring documents.

During the webinar, the panelists’ case studies and interactive walkthroughs of OpenGov’s software illustrated examples of how public sector organizations have successfully implemented these strategies to save time, reduce costs, and improve reporting.

Washington City, Utah

Kimberly Ruesch detailed how her organization faced increasing workloads and limited personnel. The City’s staff was uncomfortable using its difficult ERP system, and time-consuming internal reporting and cumbersome state reporting requirements were burdensome. Using the strategies in OpenGov, Ruesch said they “completely transformed the way we process, share, and analyze our information.”


Provide On-Demand Access to Information

Before implementing OpenGov, Washington City’s data was only accessible to staff on-site. Now, leveraging OpenGov’s platform provides staff and the City Manager with fresh, anytime access to departmental data, including detail down to a transactional level. All reports now update automatically when new information is uploaded, saving significant staff time.

Reports are not only faster to build and use, but they are customized for each department’s unique needs. For example, they show both current-year and month-over-month data from prior years. Furthermore, Saved Views empower department heads to access the data that matters most to them easily, and to drill down to find answers to their own questions, such as why they may be over budget in a certain area. Transactional data is linked in OpenGov, so every transaction automatically updates on all views. This has the added benefit of eliminating requests from managers to the finance department. “Staff is proactively engaged now in their budgets,” Reusch said.

Streamline Reporting

Washington City no longer produces or prints hard copies of monthly financial reports. Instead, they do their monthly reporting entirely online in OpenGov. Whereas multiple departments previously produced duplicative reports with the same data, now all reports are created with a single data upload, reducing staff time spent reporting from 4 hours to 7 minutes. This freed up time enables staff to focus more on analyzing the information.

Proactively Share External Information

Washington City must meet specific requirements of the State’s Utah Transparency program, including reporting their finances based on a uniform statewide chart of accounts. Using OpenGov eliminates the need for manually converting the chart of accounts by automatically converting Washington City’s to the state’s standard one while also offering visualized data. This has enabled monthly reports instead of the required quarterly ones. The more frequent reporting, transactional detail, and easy-to-understand visuals have reduced the number of public information requests the staff receives.

Bernalillo County, New Mexico

Maria Zuniga explained that the size of her agency – 35 departments and over 2,500 staff – created significant hurdles to efficient budget preparation and reporting. Before implementing OpenGov, County staff created PDF reports for each of the 35 departments in a manual process with high potential for error. It was difficult for staff to provide reports for public budget hearings that showed high-level information and also contained easily-accessible detail. The same hurdles existed for internal quarterly budget reviews, which resulted in 35 different reports being prepared four times a year, requiring significant and duplicated staff time spent extracting data and formatting in Excel. Zuniga also noted it was difficult for staff to make sense of how performance measures aligned with the strategic plan without clear visuals.


Templatize Recurring Documents

Bernalillo County makes heavy use of OpenGov’s Saved Views feature, and now each department has its own OpenGov report with dynamic views and detailed information. Zuniga’s team merged traditional presentations with interactive data, and they eliminated the need to email reports back and forth between departments. Now they enjoy a single source of data with reports that update automatically.

Provide On-Demand Access to Information

Bernalillo County moved from using multiple Excel spreadsheets to Saved Views in OpenGov for each department. In addition to internal users gaining on-demand access to information, the team also provides new visuals and links to Commissioners and the public in presentations.

Proactively Share External Information

The Commissioners value transparency and accountability, and Bernalillo County’s performance management dashboard shows decision-makers and citizens how departments are performing in real time relative to the strategic plan. The visuals provide context, validate departmental data, and encourage staff participation in performance measures.

Burnet, Texas

Budget Director Connie Maxwell described how her small agency delivers an outsized number of public services, including an airport and a championship golf course, to its 6,000-resident population. Like Maxwell, when polled, over half of webinar participants indicated they still prepare their annual budgets in spreadsheets. In explaining Burnet’s decision to budget in the cloud instead, Maxwell said it simply: “Budgeting in spreadsheets is inefficient.” From tracing formula errors, e-mailing spreadsheets back and forth, and lacking version control, she and her staff faced efficiency hurdles compounded by the difficulty of extracting information from their old ERP system.


Centralized Budgeting in the Cloud

With all the organization’s data centralized in OpenGov Budget Builder™, Burnet’s department heads have access to real-time information throughout the budgeting process, anytime and anywhere. Because OpenGov accepts supporting documentation along with budget proposals, the City’s staff no longer needs to email spreadsheets and other attachments back and forth, eliminating confusion and corruption errors.

This centralization enhances internal collaboration, leading to a higher quality budget. “I am able to get more input and buy-in from department directors because rather than just submitting a spreadsheet to me, they are able to go in and drop their own numbers independently,” Maxwell said. “They have more control over the process and the outcome.” Once they submit budget requests online in OpenGov, they can track whether they have been approved, rejected, or amended. If a supervisor requests an additional patrol officer, for example, he or she can track the request, changes, and final decision with associated comments.

As the budget develops, changes are available across the organization immediately, and the automatic updates through OpenGov have eliminated errors that occur when not everyone managing individual spreadsheets knows, for example, that a GL account number was added. Maxwell also clones her budget for future year projections and easily increases accounts by percentages or dollar amounts with the click of a button. “I save probably 50 percent of the time I used to spend on budgets,” she said. Her team utilizes that saved time to conduct critical budget analysis.

Provide On-Demand Access to Information

Instead of asking Maxwell department-level questions, on-demand access to data in OpenGov empowers supervisors and directors to access their data independently. Maxwell said that access saves an “enormous” amount of time compared to when she used to build specialized reports in response to department requests manually. She can now build a report in minutes, and once it is set up, it automatically updates from both the financial and budget systems.

Takeaways

Innovative technology offers the opportunity to upend the resource paradox. Where old realities required manually-intensive processes to complete tasks, that energy and duplication were in themselves the sources of greater errors, higher costs, and time-consuming work. OpenGov’s innovative approach sets up the technology to do that heavy lifting to achieve efficiencies and frees organizational leaders to focus on the strategy and analysis needed to achieve effectiveness. That is the source of opportunity for governments no longer content with picking just two – better, faster, or cheaper.

When looking for ways to innovate and do more with less in your organization, seek technology solutions that will help you do the following:

  • Provide on-demand access to information.
  • Streamline reporting.
  • Proactively share external information.
  • Centralize budgeting in the cloud.
  • Templatize recurring documents.

If you were unable to join the live webinar on June 27, be sure to watch it now for additional takeaways, first-hand perspectives, and demonstrations of OpenGov's software from seasoned leaders in the field. Our related executive brief, The Digital Transformation of Public Administration, is also available as a free download and provides an in-depth exploration of the way technology is transforming public sector organizations for the better.