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“You can’t direct the wind, but you can adjust the sails” is a useful adage for sailing and finance. Of course, for counties and communities in the teeth of a gale, using the full capacity of resources and technology is key to charting a course forward.
Suffolk, the largest county outside of New York’s boroughs, stretches across Long Island from Huntington to the Hamptons. The County encompasses 10 towns, academic and research centers, miles of beaches, and many small family farms.
Given the size and scope of the County, Budget Director Eric Naughton made it a priority to focus on automating processes and increasing collaboration between departments. Reducing repetitive tasks and focusing teams’ time on strategic planning and analysis would prove fortuitous in the economic crisis that arrived with COVID-19.
When Naughton joined Suffolk County, the budget process needed an upgrade to support modern budgeting practices. Over-reliance on outdated systems and processes were slowing teams down and leaving little time for analysis and strategic planning.
“Here in Suffolk the work we were doing across departments wasn’t well integrated. We had file cabinets filled with department requests, Excel spreadsheets, Access databases, a computer mainframe, and Word documents all coming together to produce a book that became a static document which held limited value for the public and elected leaders,” explains Budget Director Eric Naughton.
The move toward an integrated, cloud-based system aligned well with IT Commissioner Scott Mastellon’s strategy of protecting the County’s networks against risks while also replacing tedious and time-consuming data entry with robotic process automation.
“Now, more than ever, removing barriers to accessing key systems while protecting private and sensitive information is critical, and the work we have done to date is showing clear value in the crisis.”
Scott Mastellon, IT Commissioner – Suffolk County, NY
When COVID-19 hit it raised the need to process documents and data on a massive scale and run hundreds of budget scenarios to help to strategize for the looming $469 million-$590 million budget shortfall that was to come.
Even in the best of times, Finance teams across Suffolk County’s departments faced a maze of forms and time-consuming and redundant process steps in building their budgets each year. Even in the best of years it was draining time and attention from critical analysis and planning activities.
Key department leaders describe the budgeting and planning workflow prior to OpenGov as “a manual process”, which understates the challenge of multiple departments across a large county each developing their part of the budget on a vast, shared worksheet, and updating figures across numerous associated forms.
“The difficulty with a Budget system for our County is sometimes a one-size-fits-all is tough with multiple departments, the size of departments and how they operate lead to different ways that a Budget request can be done.”
Kenneth Knappe, Director of Finance, Department of Social Services – Suffolk County, NY
The task of “zeroing out” the budget each year — literally removing all previous year’s data from spreadsheets by hand — cost teams precious time and lost teams’ precious data hindering efforts to analyze year-over-year trends and performance.
“Staff would spend about a week’s worth of time updating all of the previous budget year’s forms with the current year and information,” describes Donna M. Cumella, Project Manager for the Department of Information Technology.
With the adoption of OpenGov, Suffolk County brought departments onto a single platform to enable a more efficient budgeting process and improve teams’ ability to cut data with precision, create dashboards to monitor rolling expenses and revenues, and perform year-over-year trend analysis.
Having a single platform brought structure and consistency to the budget process, and saved time, headaches, and trees.
With OpenGov teams have shifted their time toward more strategic planning activities.
The benefit of real-time planning and analysis around costs will prove critical in the crisis.
Suffolk County’s leaders knew financial headwinds would be fierce with COVID-19, and they wanted to be forthright with the public to prepare them for drastic changes to come.
When the county’s COVID-19 Fiscal Impact Task Force projected that the County will lose between $469 million and $590 million in revenues this year, leaders shared the bad news publicly.
The executive team is taking a crisis management approach, huddling to make tough decisions about future cuts. As the County enters budget season, teams across departments will begin scenario planning for an uncertain future with the help of OpenGov.
“Budget teams across departments are moving to a new level of strategic maturity as they transition toward building dynamic and evolving budget scenarios with OpenGov.”
Eric Naughton, Budget Director – Suffolk County, NY
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