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.
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.