Allegheny County’s story is America’s story, and so are its challenges. Allegheny County’s citizens acutely experienced America’s manufacturing decline, fermenting the financial challenges and drug epidemics that plague wide swaths of America. The recession pummeled the county’s property tax revenue. State and federal subsidies also have fallen since the recession era. Meanwhile, each dollar of revenue must support increasing demands for rehabilitation, mental health, public safety, and other services.
Grappling with the revenue challenges spawned by the recession, the county diversified its tax base. This paid off. The fund balance soared from $5.7 million to $41.5 million, service levels remained largely intact, and the county replenished some of its transportation and road repair funding – earning Allegheny two ratings upgrades on its General Obligation Debt from Moody’s.
But adapting to changing circumstances isn’t easy. Tony Cholewinski, Allegheny’s assistant to the Deputy Controller of Management Systems, explains:
“Reporting with our financial and payroll system is cumbersome. The tools utilize older technologies that are not as intuitive or robust. It’s tough to assign correct periods and build graphics that managers, the County Council, and citizens can use to learn more about key trends and numbers.”
Tony Cholewinski, Assistant to the Deputy Controller of Management Systems
Creaky and inadequate reporting infrastructure placed a huge burden on overworked IT staff who needed to support a barrage of information requests from other departments (and the public). Most users found the financial system too complex to use themselves. Reporting delays spawned knowledge deficits, which further delayed decisions and degraded their quality.
Recognizing the need for a better process, Allegheny County turned to OpenGov to solve these reporting and transparency challenges.
Establishing OpenGov as the “Base of Reporting”
Cholewinski and his colleague, Mario Rudolph, a financial system analyst, use OpenGov to present financial information accessibly and intuitively to department managers. Rudolph describes how OpenGov’s dynamic and shareable graphs and tables enable learners of all types to gain insights without asking IT to run a report – freeing up limited time to focus on strategic priorities and accelerating learning.
“OpenGov’s ease of use enabled it to become Allegheny County’s base of reporting and its official record,” Cholewinski explains, “It’s our one-stop shop for an honest measure of the truth.”
For example, Allegheny’s IT Department frequently generated employee demographic and payroll reports for department heads. The traditional process required department heads to make specific requests and know exactly what they were looking for, limiting exploration and insights.
Now, Allegheny loads its entire payroll database – absent personally identifying information – into OpenGov. With the new system, department heads can find employee and payroll data as easily as they use Google to find a good restaurant while on vacation.
Managers can view and analyze costs, including taxes and benefits from multiple funds, and demographics such as the race, age, and gender of all employees. The county can now easily determine how women’s salaries compare to men’s, and beginning discussions centered on adjusting salaries to achieve pay equality. And for the first time, department heads do not have to know what they are looking for; they can find unexpected insights.
Rudolph shares how “department heads are frequently telling me things like, ‘We never knew that we had 17 people over 80 years old.’” He continues, “People are going out there and both getting answers to questions and asking more informed follow-up questions about employee count and payroll benefits.”
Allegheny also benefits from reports with statistical data. For example, it has an internal report on fatal accidental overdoses from various drugs (like cocaine and heroin) that displays data from the morgue. Users can break down the information to analyze overdoses by cause of death, race, gender, and other characteristics. These insights will help Allegheny optimize resources to combat drug abuse.