Lawrence, KS Builds Budget in OpenGov to Save Time and Streamline Process

POPULATION: 95,000 | AGENCY TYPE: City | ANNUAL BUDGET: $189 Million

Lawrence, Kansas is a vibrant, educated community centered around the University of Kansas and Haskell Indian Nations University. The University of Kansas employs 11,000 people and educates 28,000 students, while Haskell Nations is the country’s only inter-tribal Native American University, representing more than 150 tribes. These institutions, among other metropolitan amenities, provide the City with rich cultural and academic identity. Contending with a small and shrinking Finance Department, Lawrence’s team sought a way to make its budget process more efficient.


Finance Department Struggles to Provide Increased Information with Limited Staff


Lawrence’s Finance Director, Bryan Kidney, had experienced a few years of departmental transition and the loss of an Assistant Finance Director due to budget constraints. “We do a lot, but there are only so many of us to do it,” he noted. “There are things we wanted to do, but quite honestly, we just didn’t have the time or staff to do them.”

Kidney knew automating some of his team’s processes, especially budgeting, would help them do more with less. Therefore, they adopted OpenGov Budget Builder™. “We came across OpenGov and saw that it was going to allow us to do a lot of the things we wanted to,” he said. For instance, the City’s financial management system, which happened to include a budgeting application, had been driving Lawrence’s budget process. However, it required multiple static spreadsheets and manual, time-consuming data manipulation. “Before OpenGov Budget Builder, we spent many, many nights of trying to crunch and verify numbers,” Kidney explained. “If we made a change in one fund, it didn’t roll up into the other summary reports, so we were spending a lot of time just putting data together.”

“Before OpenGov Budget Builder, we spent many, many nights of trying to crunch and verify numbers.”
Bryan Kidney, Finance Director, Lawrence, KS

Implementing OpenGov to increase internal information access and save staff time was quick, easy, and a success with City staff. “I really appreciate how quickly we were able to get it up and going,” Kidney noted. “The install was quick, and we were up and running. It has been a hit in our organization.” Kidney also valued the ease of training the departments to use the platform, and the OpenGov team’s availability to respond to technical questions. “The OpenGov staff is very excited about being able to provide this tool quickly, efficiently, and cost-effectively. They are just passionate about getting good information out to the people,” he said.

Lawrence’s shrinking finance team adopted OpenGov Budget Builder because they sought to make the budget process more efficient. (Image: iStock)


Time Savings Realized with OpenGov


Before implementing OpenGov, Kidney and his team primarily used spreadsheets to develop the budget, share it with the public, and provide reports to elected officials. “Before OpenGov, we were doing a lot of things manually, including trying to put graphs together. Anything we provided to the decision-makers had to be done in spreadsheets,” Kidney explained. “But since OpenGov, the entire graphic interface and the ability to drill down is completely automatic. It’s saving us a lot of time, and since we don’t have a lot of time, it’s very beneficial.”

Kidney noted that OpenGov alleviated significant stress on his team, many of whom have young families but stayed at the office until 10:00 pm or 11:00 pm each night during budget season. “OpenGov has given us back our nights and weekends,” Kidney said. “After OpenGov, there were weekends when I thought, ‘Oh, last time at this year I was in the office trying to figure out why one number wasn’t tying to another number.’ The time saved is considerable.”

“OpenGov has given us back our nights and weekends.”
Bryan Kidney, Finance Director, Lawrence, KS

OpenGov also allowed Kidney to focus on higher priority tasks, something critical to Lawrence because large debt issuances were occurring during the budget process. “I wear a lot of hats,” Kidney noted. “The automation of OpenGov allowed me to focus on those things a finance director should be focused on, instead of spending time trying to make spreadsheets tie together.”


Operational Efficiency Enhanced


Kidney credits OpenGov Budget Builder with creating new internal efficiencies for the City. Real-time access to budget figures has empowered department heads to edit and make changes on their own, something made simple through the product’s user-friendly interface. “OpenGov is intuitive; it’s easy,” Kidney said. “It’s easy to explain to departments because it’s very visual. One of the biggest benefits for me is that departments are able to go in and see how we’ve changed their initial requests without having to get into my spreadsheets.” The history OpenGov helps tell has proven instructive and useful for department heads, as they can easily track their requests and changes over time.

“OpenGov is intuitive. It’s easy.”
Bryan Kidney, Finance Director, Lawrence, KS

Likewise, OpenGov enabled Kidney and other staff members to present data to stakeholders more effectively than in the past. With the click of a button, staff can create visualizations that tell their story, while allowing them to be flexible with how to best to showcase their information. “If I were doing this in any other application,” Kidney said, “it would be a major issue to create graphs and then go back and change those graphs or change how I want to present something. But with Opengov, I can literally just go in and click to make a graph, and I automatically have consistency across all my departments.” This flexibility allows Kidney to test different methods of communication and adopt one approach if it works better than the others.

With OpenGov, the City is able to run new reports that provide staff and officials alike the ability to conduct trend analysis. Elected officials, for example, can see total expenditures across all departments, which enables the staff to tell the story of why something might cost more over time. “It is very easy for us to show, for example, total expenditures across all departments as a graph. The governing body can actually take a look at it,” he said.


Lawrence Leverages the OpenGov Network


Kidney says he benefits from the OpenGov Network, which provides access to reports governments make available to one another in OpenGov. It is full of unique examples of how other cities are successfully utilizing the platform. “It’s fun to explore the Network and see what other communities are doing,” Kidney said. “Very easily, you can see what other people in your state are doing and even pick up the phone and contact them. The idea is that it’s not just me thinking about what I can do with data. It’s also a lot of people creating different reports and using OpenGov in ways I never would have thought of.” For example, Kidney discovered reports on police and fire calls in the OpenGov Network, which he is passing along to his fleet manager for consideration.

Lawrence has gained a reputation for being cutting-edge in how it leverages technology, especially amid strained resources. “We’re a small department trying to provide a lot of information,” Kidney said. “I’m relying on technology. As other cities face budget cuts, I hope they look to us to see that if Lawrence can do this, they can, too.”

Using OpenGov Budget Builder saved the finance team time, giving them back their nights and weekends during budget season. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Results

  • Significant Staff Time Saved.

    Using OpenGov Budget Builder gave Lawrence’s finance team their nights and weekends back during budget season.

  • Finance Director Able to Focus on Strategic Priorities.

    The time saved using OpenGov enabled the Finance Director to focus on critically important bond issuances that overlapped with the budget’s development.

  • History and Trends Help Tell the Story.

    Department heads are able to see their budget requests and changes over time, and elected officials can examine expenditures across funds and spot relevant trends easily.

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