Category Archives: Customer Stories

Stronger Public Sector Budgeting

Stronger Public Sector Budgeting: Webinar Takeaways

By | Customer Stories, Finance Officer's Desk, Insights | No Comments

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

By | Customer Stories, Events, Insights | No Comments

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.

Beverly Hills Historical Data

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

By | Customer Stories, Finance Officer's Desk | No Comments

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!

How Capitola Improved Council-Administration Relations With OpenGov

By | Customer Stories, Finance Officer's Desk | No Comments

Mark Welch serves as finance director for the City of Capitola, CA.

The ballots have been tallied. The yard signs have gone. The town halls are over.

2016’s local government election is behind us, but finance officers will feel its effects in the months and years ahead. New and returning members alike will seek to enact policy agendas and fulfill campaign pledges. And because every policy involves a financial investment, finance officers will find themselves responsible for figuring out how to implement the new council’s policies.

Many will be reasonable. Invest in repairing roads. Pay first responders well. Clean the parks. But then there are the inevitable others. Every year, councils propose pledges that do not reflect financial reality:

Repeal a sales tax that funds bloated salaries!

Slash pension expenses!

Cut travel costs!

I do not believe candidates intentionally mislead citizens. These public servants have decided to step up for their communities and their representation is one of the hallmarks of a democratic society. However, like most citizens, council candidates and members may not have the most informed knowledge of local government operations and finance. Financial illiteracy breeds honest mistakes during the campaign. In turn, this breeds conflict with the administration when it comes time to craft and implement policy.

In the City of Capitola, California, we believe good relationships with our governing body lead to better policies and, ultimately, better services for citizens. I want to share how, during the recent election, we took preemptive steps to educate and engage with candidates. I then will explain how we improved relationships with the existing governing body – elevating the quality of public debate and building trust with staff and citizens – and why this will help us engage new elected officials.

Educating Candidates Before the Election

It was important to us to empower candidates to make feasible promises to their constituents. Therefore, we held an orientation for council candidates after the filing deadline passed. Candidates had lacked an easy tool to learn about and explain financial issues to voters, so they often conducted their own analyses.

These ‘self-explorations’ of financial data displayed in PDFs and often spreadsheets often didn’t end well. Because our financials were not presented clearly, candidates accidentally made incorrect claims about budgets, revenues, and finances. Newly elected members would come in with an incomplete or incorrect ideas, and propose policies they would not support if they understood financial realities.

Our elected officials – and citizens – deserved better. That’s why we decided to hold a candidate orientation. However, if we had relied solely on our financial system to prepare the necessary reports, time constraints would have prevented us from giving candidates the insights they needed.

It would have taken almost two full workdays to build the reports that explain issues candidates tend to care about, such as overtime across the entire organization. I would have been forced to download multiple reports from our financial system, combine them, calculate the right subtotals, determine the correct classifications, and prepare the necessary charts and graphs. And this is for every question a candidate might conceivably ask.

Fortunately, Capitola had purchased and implemented OpenGov, a cloud-based reporting and transparency tool. To generate the overtime report we needed in OpenGov, we simply filtered data by expense type, checked the overtime box, and selected all departments. OpenGov automatically generated charts as we went along. Instead of having to drill vertically into our Chart of Accounts, we could mix and match elements across departments and funds. It took just 15 minutes to build the all of the reports we needed.

Candidates loved having this information available both during the orientation and for their own use afterwards. Because OpenGov is interactive, we could answer any follow-up questions in real-time. Candidates also reported back that they were able to learn a lot more on their own – leading to more informed campaign platforms and councilmembers.

Engaging Existing Councilmembers

When the new council is sworn in, OpenGov will help us engage every member. We’ve had great success with the existing council.

Before OpenGov, although we generally enjoyed good relationships with our council, there were moments when trust broke down. For example, councilmembers would sometimes not trust the reports staff gave them. And because it often took over a day to generate a report, councilmembers could not receive immediate answers to follow-up questions if we hadn’t already pulled the report – reducing the information available to a debate and eroding trust between the administration and the council.

Since we implemented OpenGov, I’ve noticed a concrete improvement in our relationship with the city council. Because of OpenGov’s intuitive interface and visualizations, councilmembers use OpenGov to validate the numbers we give them, answer questions on issues such historical and projected future pension contributions, and inform their policy discussions. And they even use the tool to highlight successes to citizens.

Based on this success, I think the new governing body will benefit greatly from OpenGov just as its members did during the election.

Moving Toward Better Policy

During my time in government, I’ve seen dedicated councilmembers and staff unite to make the community a better place to live and work. A functional council-administration relationship – grounded in trust and mutual respect – can really move the needle on critical policy issues.

But, as we’ve seen, building and maintaining these relationships isn’t easy. It requires engagement both during and after the election. This engagement will always depend primarily on people, but OpenGov’s software is proving to be an indispensable ally. With OpenGov, our relationship with elected officials will benefit both sides – and Capitola’s citizens.

This article was originally published in the November 2016 CSMFO Magazine.

Mark Welch serves as finance director for the City of Capitola, CA. Before joining Capitola, Mark was Santa Clara’s Principal Financial Analyst and Assistant to the City Manager for the City of Sierra Vista. Mark holds an MPA from the University of Oregon and a BA from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

How to Engage Citizens With Your Budget Transparency Video

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If governments could win Oscars for budget transparency videos, then Anoka County, Minnesota would be on everyone’s shortlist. The county’s video certainly caught our eye.

The project historically took Anoka’s Budget Department and Public Information Team about a month’s worth of work. But not this year.

Anoka finished the project in just two days using OpenGov’s Saved Views (links to views that answer questions) and interactive charts. OpenGov eliminated the manual labor involved in compiling information for every graphic in the video.

Creating a budget video brings at least three key benefits to your organization:

  • Explain complex yet important issues to citizens
  • Show potential employees that your government is technologically savvy
  • Give staff and managers a broad overview of the budget

We loved Anoka County’s video. You can watch it below, and by the time you’re done, we think you will love it too!

Here’s the structure that makes Anoka’s video so compelling for citizens:

1. State the mission: The video stars Budget Director Patti Hetrick. She briefly introduces herself and describes how Anoka County strives to provide services in a “respectful, innovative, and fiscally responsible” manner. Hetrick emphasizes how seriously Anoka takes the responsibility of spending the viewer’s dollars.

2. Demonstrate value: “During this video,” Hetrick then explains, “we will answer some questions that are commonly asked by our citizens.” Show citizens why the video is relevant, and they will pay attention.

3. Provide a high-level overview: Hetrick shows citizens how Anoka County’s budget has two main parts: revenues and expenses. OpenGov displays government-wide, multi-year expense and revenue data on the screen at the same time – driving the story and bolstering Hetrick’s narrative.

4. Use visual signposts: Anoka used Saved Views to signal new sections. For example, Anoka has separate Saved Views for “What Does Anoka County Spend on Public Safety?” and “What do we spend for Child Protection, Behavioral Health, and Financial Assistance?” These views correspond to sections in the video.

5. Contextualize each section: It’s not enough to just read off the numbers on the screen. Instead, Hetrick shares the story behind the numbers. What were the tradeoffs? Why were certain decisions made? This information helps citizens understand the numbers displayed on the screen.

6. Conclude with a call-to-action: Anoka concludes by directing citizens to OpenGov to learn more about Anoka County’s financials. This saves the county time too: it hasn’t had a single Freedom of Information request for financial information thus far and, according to Hetrick, Anoka would normally have around ten by now.

And finally, keep it clear and short. Let’s face it – people have short attention spans. Microsoft found the average is around eight seconds. The county conveys only essential information in its video; citizens can always go to OpenGov for more information.

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Santa Fe Rebuilds Citizen Trust With OpenGov

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Santa Fe pleases residents and tourists alike with bustling farmers’ markets, historic trails, and delightful art galleries. Santa Fe provides residents these benefits alongside a high quality of life. But these successes don’t occur on their own. From ensuring clean water flows through pipes to extinguishing fires, Santa Fe’s government strives to provide citizens with the best possible service.

And this week, Santa Fe’s leaders added a critical service to its operations. A service that builds citizens’ trust in their civic institutions. A service that reinforces Santa Fe’s efforts to be a government of, by, and for the people. A service that connects City Hall to its “just Google it” constituents. This week, Santa Fe launched a comprehensive transparency website that gives citizens unprecedented access to – and understanding of – how Santa Fe spends public money.

OpenGov’s Santana Shorty shows the City of Santa Fe how to use OpenGov.

It’s no secret Santa Fe needed to rebuild some public trust. The city faced a budget deficit of $15 million and was forced to slash services. Officials struggled to explain both the deficit and issues surrounding a $30 million bond program for park improvement. Mayor Javier Gonzales described during a press conference how City Hall grappled with a “public not really knowing what led to the deficit.”

Santa Fe’s leaders could have done nothing. But by refusing to act, the government would have reinforced the apathy and mistrust that cloud too many citizens’ views of their civic institutions. This outcome was unacceptable for Santa Fe’s elected officials and administration.

The city’s leaders believe in the power of technology. They believe that using innovations that transformed industries from healthcare, to commerce, to finance, Santa Fe can rebuild the trust it lost over the next year and give citizens and staff unprecedented insights into financials and performance. And we agree with them. That’s why we are thrilled to partner with the city of Santa Fe.

The city’s transparency portal has all the marks of an effective site. Citizens can explore several years of budget and actual data through interactive charts and visualizations. Since OpenGov understands the city’s financial accounting structure, citizens can pivot across funds and departments with the click of a mouse. Santa Fe also recognizes financial data can be daunting. So the city took full advantage of OpenGov’s Saved Views capabilities that directly answer common questions such as “Where does the money go by department?” and “What are the city’s historical expenses by expense type?”.

The future looks bright for Santa Fe’s government. Transparency alone won’t overcome deficits or restore services, but without public trust, any sustainable solution would be impossible. We are committed to working with Santa Fe as this innovative city expands its use of OpenGov and uses data to make evidence-based decisions on the toughest problems.

Congratulations Santa Fe, and we’re looking forward to what comes next!

Visit Santa Fe’s OpenGov site

The City of Lewiston Pioneers Transparency in Idaho With OpenGov

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In 1863, the City of Lewiston, Idaho became the first capital of the Idaho territory. This week, the city reaffirmed its status as a trailblazer when it launched its OpenGov Transparency portal – the first city in Idaho to do so.

The City of Lewiston’s leaders understand a critical fact about 21st century government: citizens, elected officials, and staff benefit from making complex financial information understandable to a wide audience. This transparency enhances decisions, builds public trust, and most important, shows residents how the city spends public money.

“As the first city in the State of Idaho to be an OpenGov client, providing a high level of transparency and openness, we are proud to be a leader in the State when it comes to assisting the public with financial data,” says Dan Marsh, Administrative Services Director.

The City of Lewiston is empowering citizens with insights into government spending back to FY 2012, transactions, and current spending and revenues across departments and funds.

But the city does not stop there. Lewiston proactively answers common public questions with OpenGov’s Saved Views – a feature that lets the government bookmark answers to common questions. For example, with the click of a mouse, citizens can see how much the city collects in property taxes every year, how much the City of Lewiston spends on salaries every year, and which expenses the General Fund has paid for during the current year.

Visionary cities like the City of Lewiston prove that communities across the country are committed to serving their citizens in the digital era.

We’re excited to work with the City of Lewiston, and congratulate its leaders and citizens on its step forward for citizen engagement.

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Connecting Anoka County: Five Steps to Improve Management Reporting

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Led by a seven-member Board of Commissioners, we’ve decreased our levy several times since 2012 – saving taxpayers about $40 million. But although our levies change, our mission remains the same: to serve citizens in a respectful, innovative, and fiscally responsible manner. I’m Anoka’s Budget Director and my team works to empower other departments to achieve this mission.

It isn’t always easy. Tightening budgets ($40 million of savings comes at a cost), retiring baby boomers, and competing priorities force us to operate as effectively as possible. This means we must share data and insights across the county and with citizens. In other words, we need robust and accessible management reporting.

Anoka County’s financial reporting needs are comprehensive, yet unique to each program. Complex financial systems make it more difficult for departments to run ad hoc reports. Our managers need high-level information to monitor their services; in addition, some of our citizens want detailed budget information. Due to a new ERP finance system implementation and new website software, some of our current reporting tools no longer function.

For example, our Public Information team spent hours putting county fees on our website in a searchable database; but when the county changed systems and websites, our reports were effectively disabled. Our current reporting infrastructure allows neither managers nor citizens to view real-time information.

We began solving this problem in 2015 by introducing standardized, formal management reporting across the county. Although we have more work to do, we’re excited about our progress and success thus far. We’re following the five steps I describe below, and I think other governments looking to improve management reporting could benefit by following them too:

Step 1. Pick the right tool: We have separate financial, CIP, and budgeting systems. Trained accountants can use these tools effectively because they are in and out of these systems on a daily basis. Our accountants will continue to use these tools for transaction logging and some complex financial reports. However, we needed a new reporting tool for our management team and our citizens.

This is where OpenGov, a cloud-based reporting and transparency tool, comes in. OpenGov unites data across funds and departments to run detailed, interactive reports. It also saves us time – it took hours to build and update charts, but now OpenGov generates the charts we need in seconds. We believe OpenGov will remove a massive obstacle by improving the user experience, allowing managers to easily run their own reports and quickly answer questions.

Step 2. Demonstrate value to build interest: It is important to show departments how improved management reporting could streamline their work and save time.

Annual Reports present the perfect opportunity. Many departments spend time preparing annual financial and performance reports. They pull data from our accounting and budget systems, then manually format reports in Excel and create and update graphics.

OpenGov transforms this workflow in three key ways. First, it removes the need for us to pull data for each department – it’s already in OpenGov. Second, it saves departments hours of time by automating report generation. Third, users can log into OpenGov from any computer, on any device, eliminating complex VPNs or a need to be in the office. This certainly caught managers’ attention.

We are pursuing Steps 3-5 simultaneously. I suggest you do the same, as each step’s benefits reverberate across the county and help push the other steps along.

Step 3. Work with departments to get them up and running: We ask departments which reports they run and which they’d like, increasing their investment in the initiative’s success. Each department has a different dynamic, so we decided to start with some departments then move on to others. Depending on your organization, you may decide to launch each department at the same time or go one at a time.

We began with our Parks Department. This department can now track monthly general fund revenues, expenses, visitors, and fees metrics in OpenGov, running reports from the tool as well. Our goal is to help other departments to utilize this tool to save them time.

Step 4. Engage the Board of Commissioners: Anoka’s Budget Department reports to the Finance Committee, comprised of four commissioners. The committee wants our citizens to have revenue and expense information at their fingertips – OpenGov makes this easier. We can explain budgetary tradeoffs and discuss challenges and opportunities that arise throughout the year. We are working with OpenGov as a tool to unify our budget process. It’s easier to get other departments on board as commissioners grow to depend on intuitive management reporting.

Step 5. Embrace transparency: Most reports ultimately go public. OpenGov lets us publish interactive reports to a transparency portal and this has paid off for us: we’d normally receive ten or more Financial Information requests by this point in the year. Thanks to OpenGov allowing the community to access information directly, we have not received a single request in 2016.

We face a lot of challenges, like most government entities, particularly the upcoming retirement of baby boomers who make up a large part of our workforce. We’re unlikely to re-fill every position, but by working smarter with technology to share insights and make informed decisions with data, we can serve our citizens in a respectful, innovative, and fiscally responsible manner. It’s our mission!

Read the Administrator’s Guide to Data-Driven Decisions to learn more about how to use reporting across your organization.

Patti Hetrick is the Budget Director for Anoka County, the fourth largest county in Minnesota. She entered public service eleven years ago after holding multiple positions in private sector auditing and consulting. Patti graduated from Luther College with degrees in Accounting and International Business. Anoka County received an Award of Excellence from the GFOA in 2012 for a “Video that Brings the Budgeting Process to Life for its citizens.”

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