The Future of Open Data

Part II – The Open Data Future: Interview with Joel Natividad

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Editor’s Note: On the eve of the one-year anniversary of OpenGov acquiring open data leader Ontodia, we spoke with Ontodia’s Founder and OpenGov Director of Open Data Joel Natividad about the future of open data. Joel is a member of the CKAN Association’s Steering Group, a true innovator, and an influential thought-leader in the field. Here, he discusses open data’s meaning, relevance, and the path forward towards greater usability.

Part I of our interview explored the concept of open data and its future, asking “What is open data?” Part II, below, continues the conversation by exploring open data’s future use and implementation.


PART II: What is the Next Generation of Open Data?

 

Who out there is leading the pack with their open data initiative?

No single entity comes right to mind as the “poster child” for open data. There are glimmers in smaller jurisdictions that don’t have to deal with all the stakeholders that can be hurdles to innovation. Places in Eastern Europe are doing open data well; Cordova, Alaska has actually been celebrated as an exemplar internationally.

Are there hurdles to effective implementation that are causing municipalities to miss the mark?

When open data first emerged, the whole premise was to just publish the data first and that innovation would follow. That didn’t happen. Because those expectations were not met, there has been some level of disillusionment among some early adopters. There’s a lot of talk about how hackathons haven’t delivered on the promise of open data – now a lot of cities and jurisdictions are hosting challenge formats instead of than the hackathon approach.

It is more useful to define a particular problem instead of just saying, “Here’s some data. Go do something with it.” It’s a balancing act. Some jurisdictions have just let their data initiatives and portals go, so you’ll see stale data sets. It just becomes a box to check, and afterwards, since the data is not being utilized in an operational way, it just dies on the vine.

We have to overcome some of that disillusionment, and that’s why OpenGov’s approach is very relevant. At the end of the day, the most important data set is the budget. The budget drives everything else. It funds the services that generate all this open data.

So are there initiatives out there now that can provide a glimpse into the future of open data?

A transition is underway. Analyze Boston is a great concrete example of that.

Analyze Boston originated as a response to the Knight Foundation’s library challenge, which sought to examine the role of libraries and curators in the digital age. Instead of curating knowledge on dead trees, how can librarians also curate and catalog the data governments produce? Analyze Boston seeks to effectively catalog not just public data, but their accompanying insights.

This is a perfect example of operationalizing data. Boston rebranded its open data portal as “Analyze Boston.” That is itself a call to action, to analyze. With this clean, curated data, what insights can we gain? Not only should we catalog the data, but we should also catalog the insights. The project is agile, in that there have been rounds of improvements after internal beta launches, and it is moving toward a full public launch this spring. That will generate additional feedback for improvement.

The emergence of CIOs in cities is another real trend that provides a glimpse of the future of open data. This shows that data is beginning to be treated as a real infrastructure asset.

What about non-technical local government management? For instance, how could a Finance Director leverage and operationalize open data?

It’s good to remember that when the computer revolution first started, the IT function originally came up as a function of the Finance Director. IT staff originally reported to the CFO because the first automated systems were accounting systems. Eventually, over time, IT became its own function. I think we’re going through a similar arc now with open data – but in reverse. Currently, it is generally understood that data and IT are separate functions, but we will probably see some convergence.

At the ground level, we need to prioritize the kind of data we gather so that it directly relates to the budget. Property taxes, parcel data, permits – those are examples of high-value data and they have finance as well as classical open data components. We need to prioritize those data sets that share common financial lineage with the budget. Doing so makes it easier for a Finance Director to answer, questions like “Why do I care about open data?”

Whereas some consider open data a “feel-good” type of affair, it goes beyond meeting a transparency responsibility once its operationalized. We need to quantify non-financial data and link it with the financial data so that everybody cares. Everybody can start measuring not just the numbers, but how the budget supports the services the data describes.

There have been critiques of open data portals. For example, some think they are unengaging, difficult to navigate, or too static. What’s your perspective on those critiques?

A lot of the critiques are valid, to be candid, because we are still in the early days of open data. There was recently an open letter to the open data community from Chief Data Officers concerning what is lacking right now in terms of treating open data as infrastructure.

There are still gaps, but the great thing about the way we’re working now, is that we’re working with the community in a standards-based, open-source context to address those gaps. It’s not just OpenGov building and addressing them. It’s a wide community of innovators and governments working together. For example, the city of Karlsrühe in Germany built a better search engine for their open data. They built it for their own purposes, but contributed it to the wider open source CKAN community. We can take that from Karlsrühe and apply it in Boston.

This innovation ecosystem is what is exciting about the CKAN community. And it allows cities to focus on collaboration and better performance without needing to worry about running or administering the platform.

Can you discuss how open data technologies can be useful, useable, and used?

The key to making open data useful and used is in adopting the same techniques that made other technologies successful. I often compare it to the early days of the internet in the mid-90s. At the time, connecting to the Internet was something only hackers did. Then AOL came along and made it easy for anybody with a CD-ROM drive to have access. Even so, it was still somewhat of a walled garden that AOL curated. But it achieved the purpose of exposing non-technical people to the potential of the internet.

I think the first generation of open data is just like that. Many jurisdictions have tested the waters of open data using proprietary technologies. They concentrated more on ease-of-use and how it integrated with their back-end systems, rather than treating it as an infrastructure component or strategic asset. They’ve built the walled gardens.

We’re adopting the same arc to ease into open data, and now people are starting to better understand its potential.

Stronger Public Sector Budgeting

Stronger Public Sector Budgeting: Webinar Takeaways

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Yesterday, I had the pleasure of moderating an incredible webinar about public sector budgeting: “Budgeting for Success Amid Uncertainty.” Veteran Finance Directors Bill Statler (retired from San Luis Obispo, California); Boulder City, Nevada’s Finance Director Hyun Kim; and OpenGov’s VP of Government Finance Solutions Mike McCann (retired from Ukiah, California) each shared their perspectives based on their professional expertise and experiences as local finance directors.

Nearly half of all U.S. states are facing revenue shortfalls this year. As governments actively face the near-term prospect of either an economic downturn or the one of the longest growth periods in our nation’s history, the panelists discussed the natural challenges associated with budgeting effectively in such uncertain economic environments –both strong and weak environments. The session melded theory with practice, focusing on providing insights and solutions. In an era compelling governments to constantly do more with less, they noted that modernizing public sector budgeting and planning approaches would be critical to achieving success.

Preparing for the Next Downturn

Bill Statler spoke specifically to strategies for preparing for the next economic downturn. While most local governments have recovered from the Great Recession and have experienced recent growth, future downturns and other uncertainties are inevitable. Those organizations that are planning now are best-equipped to succeed through future challenges. “If you can’t prepare for these in the best of times, when can you?” Statler posited.

He honed in on specific challenges, including economic outlook, unaddressed infrastructure needs, and pensions and retiree health care. To address them proactively, he suggested five strategies for ensuring long-term fiscal health:

  1. Engage your community and align resources with priorities. “At the end of the day, it’s not about the numbers, it’s about the community,” Statler said. The governing body must lead the way while engaging the community early.
  2. Use your favorable results for one-time purposes. Fund capital improvements you deferred and address unfunded liabilities. He said, “Today is your base,” which means there is no catching up. Operate from your current reality and minimize program expansion until your infrastructure plan is caught up and liabilities are sufficiently funded.
  3. Implement fiscal policies. Fiscal policies (such as balanced budget, CIP management, minimum fund balance, etc.) are preventative and curative. According to Statler, they are your “guiding North Star,” providing continuity and articulating organizational values when the organization is under less stress. “If you have a notion of where you want to be, your chances of getting there are significantly enhanced.”
  4. Plan for the long-term. Financial planning forces you to think about factors that affect your fiscal health. Forecasts provide a powerful context to gauge how you are doing, and how best to frame policy decisions for what lies ahead.
  5. Create a contingency plan. What is your strategy? A clear response plan and guidelines, communicated to both residents and internal staff, will enable you to respond to adverse circumstances smoothly. Identify triggers for implementing the plan and engage employees early on when seeking solutions.

Planning for Change, a Case Study

Hyun Kim spoke of how Boulder City, Nevada has navigated post-recession dynamics to while striving for long-term fiscal sustainability. His federally-planned city – originally founded to house Hoover Dam construction workers – grappled with how to do more with less while also anticipating an inevitable growth slowdown. While tourism provides opportunities, Boulder City faces aging demographics that can’t fund growth in perpetuity due to strict growth ordinances.

Beyond demographics, Kim spoke of very practical budget process concerns. He arrived in his position in the middle of its budget season, and he was unfamiliar with the City’s existing Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system. Thus, he faced firm budget deadlines amid ever-shifting circumstances such as ongoing labor negotiations and personnel shifts – all while trying to navigate a new ERP system.

He discussed the benefits of long-term planning and leveraging non-traditional approaches within the public sector. For instance, by leveraging cloud technology, he said his team has realized operating and cost efficiencies. In addition to other workflow processes, his team started using OpenGov’s cloud-based budgeting solution, which he said allowed him to leverage existing ERP data through a simpler interface. Whereas static spreadsheets would be stale by the time they made it to council, the new software provided solutions that were “living” – allowing for automatic updates, collaboration, and a faster online process. “We were able to see changes being made in a centralized spot from various departments. It saved our weekends,” he said.

Empowering Stronger Public Sector Budgeting

Mike McCann concluded with brief remarks from his own perspective as both head of OpenGov’s in-house team of finance experts on the Government Finance Solutions team and as a veteran finance director himself. He explained that he joined OpenGov for its mission – to empower more effective and accountable government. That mission exists to help everyone in the industry. He noted that the effort is centered around designing a set of solutions focused on the budget as the heart of government. As capabilities are added, the outcomes increase in turn.

If you were unable to join the live webinar on March 21st, be sure to watch it yourself for more takeaways and first-hand perspectives from seasoned professionals in the field.


Autumn Carter leads Government Affairs at OpenGov.

4 Ways to Increase Data's Value to Your Organization

4 Ways to Increase Data’s Value: Hoosier User Takeaways

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Earlier this month, eighteen public sector Hoosiers from eight local Indiana governments gathered for an OpenGov user session in Westfield, Indiana’s Grand Park Event Center. Together, my colleague, Adam Stone, and I facilitated the discussion, but the attendees – comprised of treasurers, controllers, IT Directors, municipal clerks, and elected officials – drove the discourse. Topics of the day centered around where they see governance challenges and technology best practices they can leverage to help address them. We especially focused on how to increase data’s value to their organizations.

Here are four key tips and takeaways identified by the Indiana User Group:

1. Empower Department Heads with Relevant Data and Flexible Reporting

Common among discussed challenges was frustration with legacy ERP systems when seeking to share information easily internally across departments. Attendees noted that while the notion of public sector transparency often seems to apply externally, it can also apply internally. Many department heads feel the rely on a few staff members who have the ability to access ERP systems and generate reports.

A more flexible solution, however, can increase data’s value by permitting integration with existing ERPs, enabling more up-to-date, on-demand data in a central location accessible to managers. Flexible reporting options give them what they need when they need it. The group noted that often, department heads have difficulty finding time to understand their own financial data. “If you don’t know your numbers, you don’t know your business,” noted one attendee. The group shared how internal dashboards and non-financial visualizations could help educate department heads, leading them to “own” and “know” their numbers, thereby resulting in more informed decision-making.

2. Increase Data’s Value by Context

It is certainly critical for internal stakeholders to be able to access and understand a city’s financial data – Adam referred to this as the “framework of operational reporting,” whereby data is consumed internally. However, external understanding is just as important. Budgets can be cumbersome, and throwing mountains of data and figures out to the public without accompanying context can result in serious misinterpretations. And ultimately, budgets simply don’t work without external buy-in.

The key is to present financial information in context, reducing questions and alleviating concerns. The group discussed the value of “saved views,” which help frame data views around commonly asked questions or high-demand information. For example, cities can direct residents to exact data points when there are inquiries about what type of services the Board of Public Works supports. Saving views for the top 10 queries from the public is an easy and effective way to reduce time responding to public information requests.

Another context-building strategy we discussed was implementing a landing page that presents written answers to frequently-asked questions and links to the transparency platform. “How to” videos for citizens are also useful components of landing pages, as the videos can educate the public on everything from the nature of the general fund to how to drill down into department-level data.

3. Answer Council Questions in Real Time

Unsurprisingly, many participants had experienced or witnessed council budget sessions during which answers to questions were unavailable. While most said they had never considered using technology as a tool in that situation, most agreed that doing so could be one of the easiest ways to answer council questions in real-time. Through interactive drill-downs and easy-to-understand illustrations of the data, that information would become easier for presenters to find and for council members to understand on the spot. The enhanced engagement could also build trust between council members and staff. One participant noted of the OpenGov Platform in particular, “I definitely want to open it up during council meetings; that’s my goal.”

Another described how his council’s use of technology after the city started integrating technology into its workflows. Introducing a transparency initiative had begun largely as a way to keep a campaign promise. “But the finance department very quickly started using [the platform] selfishly to get to our own data,” he said. The finance department was already working to increase data’s value within their team, but realized they could make it meaningful for the council. “You can quite easily determine what council members’ hot points are based on the questions they ask. For example, one member was very concerned with our municipal airport. We finally created saved views and then at a council meeting just showed them all how to access the information.” He concluded, “It goes a really, really long way to improving your relationship with those individuals and also instilling trust.”

4. Use Maps to Place Data in the Context of Communities

No communities in attendance said they had utilized technology solutions for parcel reporting, but all agreed that a great deal of parcel-level information that is very meaningful. We all work and live within geographic boundaries, so it can often make sense to view financial and non-financial data within that context. We can take the data we already have and include an address that relates to it. Effective technology solutions can automatically map that. That enables the creation of visualizations like service delivery across residential, commercial, and industrial parcels, which can inform analyses. Maps can also help inform economic development policies and aid in compliance with geographic grant allocation guidelines.

The group discussed how they could map their capital projects, adding in their Chart of Accounts codes to link historical costs and future projected costs all in one visualization. They could also work on linking Chart of Accounts codes to crime, traffic, building permit, demolition data, and more. One attendee left the group particularly excited by the possibility of being able to show the growth of residential and industrial properties through mapping.

Throughout the session, participants saw the utilization of new technology platforms shift from transparency-only solutions to those that could effectively solve day-to-day operational challenges. One attendee noted, “I knew OpenGov was a great tool, but during the meeting, I realized just how much it is going to be able to do.”


Meredith Behm is a Customer Success Manager at OpenGov.

Boston Future Open Data

Part I – The Open Data Future: Interview with Joel Natividad

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Editor’s Note: On the eve of the one-year anniversary of OpenGov acquiring open data leader Ontodia, we spoke with Ontodia’s Founder and OpenGov Director of Open Data Joel Natividad about the future of open data. Joel is a member of the CKAN Association’s Steering Group, a true innovator, and an influential thought-leader in the field. Here, he discusses open data’s meaning, relevance, and the path forward towards greater usability.

Part I of our interview, below, explores the concept of open data and its future. Part II will continue the conversation by exploring open data’s future use and implementation.


 

PART I: Understanding Open Data

 

How do you define open data?

The common or classical understanding of open data is that it is data published for transparency purposes. Many of us are familiar with the McKinsey Global Institute study, which cited the potential of open data to create $3 trillion in value in the global economy. To date, we haven’t really captured that potential.

Part of the reason we have not reached that level of potential is that the main mistake made during the first generation of open data: it was not enough just to publish data. We found that the reality is not simply, “publish it and innovation will come.” Having gone through the first generation of open data, we’ve learned the hard way that people don’t really care about raw, hard data. The emphasis needs to change so that we are using “open” as a verb – as in “opening data.”

And what does “opening data” actually look like?

The purpose of open data is not just for the sake of public transparency, but its value is also in driving decisions inside of government. By treating open data as a strategic asset, you make the data cleaner and more operational. That increase of utility is the future, and it’s an internal cultural shift as well, whereby government is not only the publisher of the data, but also the beneficiary.

Opening data creates a ‘data of record’ source for all government departments, internally first, and then to share among peers. Often, governments view open data initiatives as another unfunded mandate: government personnel aren’t sure what the outcomes are, or fear they may accidentally share sensitive information. If governments make actively using and sharing open data part of their normal workflow, everybody benefits. The staff benefits, the council benefits, the public benefits. If you increase open data’s utility, you increase its relevance, and that is where things are heading.

What are the main drivers moving open data toward the future?

One of the things you find now, especially from the leading thinkers on 21st Century government like the Sunlight Foundation, the Government Center for Excellence at Johns Hopkins, and others, is that open data is a means to an end. The key point is that the end goal is performance management. How do you do performance management? You cannot do it without open data. Governments cannot perform well without this basic ingredient of clean, open data. At OpenGov, we are looking at it in the same way.

Joel Natividad - Future of Open Data

So what are examples of using open data for performance management?

We see the best way to operationalize open data to enhance performance is to correlate spending with outcomes. With Ontodia, our core competency was finance. If we correlate and measure financial data against other data, we gain an insight of spending versus outcomes. This drives a feedback loop and enables governments to explore how they are operating; to assess whether they are efficient. They can also benchmark against other entities of the same size. What are they doing? How are their costs lower than ours?

Unlike in the private sector, the beauty of the public sector is that it actually encourages people to share notes. Not just for competition’s sake, but to learn from each other. Take Pepsi and Coke, for example. They are in competition and would never share the secret sauce. In government, that’s not the case. We want to talk to each other.

How do non-government organizations like OpenGov fit into the future of open data?

We offer the critical participation component. We work from the open-sourced, standards-based project CKAN (Comprehensive Knowledge Archive Network), which is the predominate solution for large governments. I say “large governments” because before OpenGov, you needed hackers to stand up CKAN-based open data portals. We are essentially productizing CKAN, and including value-added applications that allow municipal-level personnel – especially non-programmers – to concentrate on opening the data, rather than running a data portal. Our standards-based solution allows for innovation and enables conversation among cities.

The good thing is that, in general, people now agree that governments should treat data as infrastructure. When municipal systems were first built, they weren’t built with open data in mind. They weren’t designed to have common linkages or data standards. But that transition is underway, and OpenGov is facilitating that transition.

Is it currently possible to measure or quantify tangible benefits of open data?

Right now the easiest way to measure the return on investment or open data’s payback is in calculating the costs of complying with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and public records requests. Those requests are often onerous, redundant, and expensive. Through the utilization of open data, you can dramatically reduce your FOIA processing costs. That’s an easy one.

I always go back to prioritizing data and ensuring a linkage to the budget. If we operationalize data and correlate it to the budget, it will absolutely help cities achieve data-driven government. It’s not just a nicer way to understand the budget or get away from dealing with ERP reports. While there’s no easy measure of it, if you connect the data to high-value budget priorities, it leads to operational efficiencies.

Does the public have a responsibility in an open data “ecosystem”?

Yes. Part of the open data challenge is educating the public about that responsibility. For example, as Analyze Boston’s open data initiative enters its second phase, it includes a public education campaign. That is part of making data useful. If you think back to when 311 was introduced, it gave the public a way to interact with government using digital means. Software consumed the first generation of open data. But to make it both useful to and used by the common consumer, I think you have to correlate it to the budget. Then people will start to care.

What if, instead of giving people a piece of paper that shows how much they need to pay in property tax, we give them something that shows just what they are getting in return? That’s why I’m so excited about the potential of tying financial data to budget data. We can quantify for people – at a neighborhood level – how much the city has allocated on their behalf for infrastructure and other services. By completing this picture, citizens will come to care about open data. Ultimately, this will help to restore the lost trust in government.

Read Part II of the interview here.

Phoenix Partners with OpenGov to Launch New Open Data Platform

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Partnership Announced As Part of National Sunshine Week; Phoenix’s New Platform To Help Public and City Officials Better Understand Trends, Make Informed Decisions, Build Trust

REDWOOD CITY, Calif – March 16, 2017– OpenGov, the world’s first integrated cloud solution for public sector budgeting, reporting, and open data, announced today that it has partnered with the City of Phoenix, Arizona to bring both city officials and citizens a new open data platform powered by OpenGov Open Data™ .

The new open source platform will improve both internal and public access to key information, such as public safety and transportation data. Access to this rich, meaningful information empowers internal stakeholders to undertake better analysis, spurs innovation among private sector and nonprofit technology developers who are building critical solutions, and facilitates civic engagement. The partnership was announced as part of Sunshine Week, a nationwide celebration of access to public information and open government. The new open data platform is expected to go live later this year.

“OpenGov is helping make City of Phoenix data more accessible to the public, which makes our city government more transparent, efficient and accountable while spurring innovation,” said Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton. “When the general public and third-party developers can easily and freely use our data, it helps create innovative solutions to our challenges and new opportunities to help drive our economy forward.”

Phoenix, the nation’s sixth largest city and with a population of more than 1.5 million, joins a growing number of government agencies nationwide that rely on OpenGov’s next generation platform to enhance their open data efforts, including Maricopa County, which encompasses the city. In the past month, the City of Boston launched its beta platform “Analyze Boston” and the California National Resource Association announced plans for its own open data portal. OpenGov Open Data is designed to deliver greater collaboration, transparency, and innovation to governance, and it works for governments and agencies of all types and sizes.

“Phoenix has embraced the power of technology to better serve residents with a new easy-to-use open data platform,” said OpenGov CEO Zac Bookman. “Powered by OpenGov’s Open Data solution, the platform will empower Phoenix’s residents and elected officials to analyze trends, make informed decisions, and build trust.”

The new platform will allow anyone to search Phoenix’s open datasets and interact with that data through preview, filter, and visualization tools. Developers will be able to access and integrate datasets using robust APIs, and the platform allows city officials and the general public to create charts and graphs online and embed the visualizations on other websites.

“We are looking forward to working with OpenGov towards leveraging our vast amount of data to create efficiencies in daily operations and to improving the Customer Experience,” said Matt Arvay, Phoenix’s Chief Information Officer.

OpenGov Open Data is a hosted CKAN solution. CKAN is the open source standard that the U.S. federal government, the European Union, and hundreds of other agencies around the world use for open data. OpenGov Open Data allows governments to create portals for citizen engagement and connect budget and performance data with census data, FBI crime data, and financial data from over 3,000 counties and 36,000 cities.

 

About OpenGov

OpenGov is the leader in government performance solutions: easy-to-use cloud software for better budgeting, improved reporting and operational intelligence, and comprehensive transparency and open data. OpenGov solutions give governments the right tools and relevant data for more informed decision-making and better outcomes for the public.

Over 1,400 public agencies in 48 states use OpenGov software. Founded in 2012, OpenGov customers include the State Treasurer of Ohio, the city of Minneapolis, MN; Maricopa County, AZ; and Washington, DC. OpenGov is backed by top investors Andreessen Horowitz, 8VC, and Thrive Capital and has headquarters in Redwood City, CA.

###

Press Contact:
Brian Purchia
OpenGov, Inc.
202-253-4330
pr@opengov.com

Beverly Hills Historical Data

We Saved 9 Years of Historical Data Amid Our Financial System Conversion

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When I joined the City of Beverly Hills, our CFO wanted to implement data-driven decision making across the organization. Like all Americans, our citizens expect a high level of service, but at the same time, they understandably want to keep fees and taxes reasonably low. This tradeoff means that in the Administrative Services Department, we must ensure every dollar buys as much value as possible.

We had a ways to go.

“Our Financial System Was Not Easy to Use”

Our financial system was not easy to use; we could not easily analyze General Ledger data. And with our recent financial system conversion, our ability to analyze decade-long trends was dramatically reduced due to the cost and complexity of transferring data from the old system to the new. We often resorted to patching things together to answer ad-hoc questions and run reports.

Beverly Hill OpenGov Historical Data

We wanted to be able to prepare detailed monthly financial reports for each department but our current financial system does not place a strong emphasis on reporting capabilities. Extracting data from our system, formatting it in Excel, then generating charts and tables for every department would have taken far too much time for a monthly task. Limited to less than optimal monthly reporting meant we had trouble empowering department managers to own their results, fostering accountability, and knowing when to make changes if necessary. We knew we had to update our Chart of Accounts in the process.

“Bridged the Gap”

Meanwhile, Beverly Hills had purchased OpenGov to help with management reporting and open data. We decided to delay our implementation of OpenGov until we had fully implemented our new financial system and Chart of Accounts, worrying it would distract us. The City did not want to lose access to historical data after we converted, but working with two separate financial systems would have been tough. OpenGov provided a layer on top of the two systems that pooled data, giving us both current insights and historical trends.

OpenGov bridged the gap by offering multiple ways to upload legacy systems data and align it with our changed Chart of Accounts. In OpenGov, you can either group the old version of the General Ledger account with the equivalent new version of the General Ledger account using the new numbering and naming convention, or you can align the two Chart of Accounts off line and upload already aligned datasets.

We chose the second option to eliminate some hierarchies that might be confusing for end users. This only took a couple of days, but at last, we had a Chart of Accounts that would meet the City’s needs and be easy for departments to navigate when it comes to building their own reports/graphs. And because we built the new Chart of Accounts on top of the old one, we can use OpenGov to examine nine years of data holistically.

OpenGov has enabled us to create monthly financial reports and review them with department managers with ease. I begin presenting to departments by placing their revenues, expenses, and budget in a citywide context. We also use our historical data to show trends over time. From there, we can use OpenGov to drill down with department managers and discuss trends, challenges, and opportunities. We would have never been able to do this without an interactive reporting tool such as OpenGov.

“A Crosswalk Between Systems, Enabling Access to Historical Data”

Our system conversion experience taught us an important lesson about OpenGov that governments considering the software should know. Even if you’re in the middle of converting your financial systems, there’s no need to delay purchasing or implementing OpenGov. The software actually helps: it provides a crosswalk between systems, enabling access to historical data and improved reporting.

OpenGov – and the financial transition that OpenGov facilitated – has put us in prime position to continue improving reporting, expanding citizen transparency, and ultimately make better data-driven decisions to benefit the entire government and residents.


Roza Jakabffy, CPA is the Accounting Manager for the City of Beverly Hills, CA.

Image: Denton Open Data Day - Visualizing Crime Data

How Denton, TX Joined Worldwide “Open Data Day 2017”

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On Saturday, March 4, hundreds of communities from across the globe participated in the seventh annual Open Data Day. Fueled by a mission of improving public access to information at the local level, community organizers and municipal officials from Malaysia to South Africa to San Francisco built unique events tailored to their populations’ needs and interests.

Ahead of events, Bloomberg Philanthropies’ What Works Cities initiative promoted achievable ways for American cities to engage in the day. Suggestions – still valuable for governments considering marking the day next year – included the following:

  • Organizing a meetup
  • Holding a town hall meeting
  • Releasing a new data set
  • Issuing a proclamation
  • Hosting a #datachat on Twitter or FaceBook Live
  • Writing an op-ed
  • Hosting a local hackathon

Denton Does Open Data Day

Denton, Texas, a What Works City and member of the OpenGov network, is actively leveraging its own open data portal. The city joined the Open Data Day celebration with the goal of enhancing community collaboration and empowering its citizens through its “day of discovery and civic hacking.”

Image: Denton Open Data Day - Collaboration

A team collaborates on open data projects at the March 4, 2017 event.

Organizations Open Denton, TechMill, and Serve Denton worked with Denton’s city staff and the University of North Texas (UNT) Library and Information Science Department to bring together residents with knowledge of data, coding, visualization, and tech writing. The hands-on structure enabled residents and other stakeholders to collaborate and develop new tools for accessibility, economic development, and sustainability.

Organized by area of expertise, teams worked on data mining, real-time survey data entry, and data visualization projects. They also explored best practices for successfully implementing new technology and open data solutions.

Among the many accomplishments of the day, groups built an API server to host more than 100 datasets and created a mobile data app to show downtown parking availability. Technical writers created two videos on how to use the city’s data portal, and participants continued using technology to strengthen ties between the city and its nonprofits.

According to event organizer Abdulrahman Habib of UNT, “The most important outcome is building a community of local, engaged volunteers who can work on these projects, share codes, and continue the work in the future to improve our city and make it a better place.”

Image: Denton Open Data Day - T-Shirt

Appropriate attire on an Open Day Day attendee
in Denton, TX.

“It’s amazing to see what appears to be a group of mostly strangers, self-organizing into teams and working on different open data initiatives toward a collective goal…it really was incredible,” said Kyle Taylor, TechMill’s leader and one of the Denton Open Data Day event organizers.

Government Performance Pillars of Open Data

The pillars of open data – promoting transparency, accountability, and value add by making government data available to the public – are actionable and forward-looking, by nature. In many ways, they drive technology to offer increasingly innovative, flexible, and customizable ways for stakeholders to access and analyze data. They enable informed decision-making and new opportunities for data-powered technology solutions.

OpenGov is proud to partner with cities like Denton that continue to foster engagement and deploy impactful government performance solutions. Visit Denton’s open data portal powered by OpenGov to see the city’s innovation in action.

Budgeting in an Uncertain Economy

How Public Sector Agencies are Budgeting for Success Amid Uncertainty

By | Customer Stories, Webinars | No Comments

Municipal leaders and finance directors across the country have much in common, particularly the challenges associated with budgeting effectively given uncertain economic environments. Whether you are navigating a tenuous recovery landscape, anticipating revenue cuts from state or federal sources, or preparing for the next downturn, you are ultimately tasked with ensuring your agency’s fiscal stability. This demands strengthening budgeting processes and approaches.

Join us at 1:00pm EST / 10:00am PST on March 21 for “Budgeting for Success Amid Uncertainty,” an interactive, expert-led webinar, during which municipal leaders will share effective strategies for modernizing the budget planning process in an era marked by growing resource strains and demands.

The Budgeting Takeaways

Specifically, speakers will illustrate how they successfully leveraged technology to:

  • Create operational efficiencies by empowering staff and saving time;
  • Streamline reporting and tracking of budgeted-to-actual financials;
  • Evaluate and balance departmental priorities; and
  • Create interactive illustrations of “what if” scenarios for the public and non-financial staff.

The Presenters

The following presenters will offer their own perspectives rooted in their professional experiences, successes, and learnings:

  • Bill Statler, Former Finance and IT Director of San Luis Obispo, CA;
  • Hyun Kim, Finance Director of Boulder City, NV; and
  • Mike McCann, Former Finance Director of Ukiah, CA, and VP of Government Finance Solutions for OpenGov.

Together, they will share how they worked or are currently working to achieve operational stability while navigating uncertainty, and how they strive to maximize internal performance while simultaneously strengthening buy-in among elected and public stakeholders – critical components of public sector budgeting success.

How to Join

Register for the March 21st webinar today to join other municipal leaders, finance officers, and public officials who, like you, are being asked to do more with less. Learn practical approaches, ask questions, and see how innovative technology offers opportunities. We hope you can join us on March 21st!

Boston Launches New Open Data Platform Powered by OpenGov

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City’s ‘Analyze Boston’ Next Generation Open Data Platform is Up and Running, Allowing Officials and Public to Better Understand Trends, Make Informed Decisions and Build Trust; the new platform emphasizes Open Data Usability Over Archiving Datasets.

REDWOOD CITY, Calif – February 21, 2017– OpenGov, the world’s first integrated cloud solution for public sector budgeting, reporting, and open data, announced today that the City of Boston, Massachusetts has launched the beta version of the “Analyze Boston” open data platform, powered by OpenGov Open DataTM. A leader in applying smart technology, Boston is partnering with OpenGov to improve both internal and public access to key information, such as public safety and transportation data. Access to such rich, meaningful data empowers internal stakeholders to undertake better analysis, spurs innovation among private sector and nonprofit technology developers who are building critical solutions, and facilitates civic engagement.

“Our goal in creating the Analyze Boston platform is to better fulfill the promise of open data and open government, by seeing open data not just as a collection of datasets but as a platform for sharing knowledge,” said Boston’s Chief Data Officer Andrew Therriault. “Our collaboration with OpenGov enabled us to develop and deploy this new portal more easily than if we tried to do it by ourselves. That let us focus on what we’re good at — finding and cataloguing high-quality datasets — rather than trying to deploy and manage software on our own.”

Boston joins a growing number of government agencies nationwide, including Arizona’s Maricopa County and the California National Resource Association, that rely on OpenGov’s open source open data portal. OpenGov Open DataTM is designed to bring greater collaboration, transparency, and innovation to governance, and it works for governments and agencies of all types and sizes.

The new site allows anyone to search through Boston’s open datasets and interact with that data through preview, filter, and visualization tools. Developers can access and integrate datasets using robust APIs, and the site allows city officials and the general public to create charts and graphs online and embed the visualizations on other websites.

“Boston is a trendsetter for modernizing government, and its new easy-to-use open source open data platform is yet another instance of the city embracing the power of technology to better serve residents,” said OpenGov CEO Zac Bookman. “Leveraging OpenGov’s Open Data platform, Boston’s elected officials and residents will be able to more effectively understand key trends, make informed decisions, and build trust that is essential to the city’s health and wellness. This puts the city in the driver’s seat for using data as an asset to be leveraged internally and externally on a single platform.”

While Analyze Boston is in beta mode, the City will continue to curate high-quality,  up-to-date datasets while continuing to work with OpenGov to develop a platform that is widely accessible. Analyze Boston will be the default technology platform to support the publication of the City’s public data, which will let citizens easily find facts, figures, and maps related to life in Boston.

“Increasingly, we’re seeing cities do more than just put the data out there, but to take a new more expansive approach to it,” said Stephen Larrick, open data project lead for the Sunlight Foundation in an interview with StateScoop. “This is on the cutting-edge of what we’re seeing cities do.”

OpenGov Open DataTM is a hosted CKAN solution. CKAN is the open source standard for open data used by the U.S. federal government, the European Union, and hundreds of other agencies around the world. OpenGov Open DataTM allows governments to connect budget and performance data with census data, FBI crime data, and financial data from over 3,000 counties and 36,000 cities.

 

About OpenGov

OpenGov is the leader in government performance solutions: easy-to-use cloud software for better budgeting, improved reporting and operational intelligence, and comprehensive transparency and open data. OpenGov solutions give governments the right tools and relevant data for more informed decision-making and better outcomes for the public.

Over 1,400 public agencies in 48 states use OpenGov software. Founded in 2012, OpenGov customers include the State Treasurer of Ohio, the city of Minneapolis, MN; Maricopa County, AZ; and Washington, DC. OpenGov is backed by top investors Andreessen Horowitz, 8VC, and Thrive Capital and has headquarters in Redwood City, CA.

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Press Contact:
Brian Purchia
OpenGov, Inc.
202-253-4330
pr@opengov.com

VIDEO: Veteran Finance Director Bill Statler on Local Finance Challenges and Opportunities

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California Regional Leadership Summit 2017 – Bill Statler Keynote from OpenGov.

At the recent OpenGov California Regional Leadership Summit, veteran California local finance director Bill Statler addressed public sector finance leaders who attended the event in Sacramento. His presentation, entitled “Challenges and Opportunities Facing Local Government Finance Officers Today,” focused on how public sector finance leaders can balance the demands of high-quality service delivery given increasingly stretched resources — especially funds and headcount.

While many governments have seen their revenues stabilize since the latest recession, Statler noted the reality of today’s more complex policy challenges, growing unfunded retirement benefit liabilities (especially OPEBs), and need to contextualize information for public and internal consumption. He also took time to consider the opportunities modern technology, public policy passion, and data analysis trends offer. See his full remarks above.

Bill Statler is a veteran municipal finance management expert with over 30 years of experience, including his tenures in San Luis Obispo and Simi Valley, California.