Category Archives: Events

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.

VIDEO: Veteran Finance Director Bill Statler on Local Finance Challenges and Opportunities

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California Regional Leadership Summit 2017 – Bill Statler Keynote from OpenGov.

At the recent OpenGov California Regional Leadership Summit, veteran California local finance director Bill Statler addressed public sector finance leaders who attended the event in Sacramento. His presentation, entitled “Challenges and Opportunities Facing Local Government Finance Officers Today,” focused on how public sector finance leaders can balance the demands of high-quality service delivery given increasingly stretched resources — especially funds and headcount.

While many governments have seen their revenues stabilize since the latest recession, Statler noted the reality of today’s more complex policy challenges, growing unfunded retirement benefit liabilities (especially OPEBs), and need to contextualize information for public and internal consumption. He also took time to consider the opportunities modern technology, public policy passion, and data analysis trends offer. See his full remarks above.

Bill Statler is a veteran municipal finance management expert with over 30 years of experience, including his tenures in San Luis Obispo and Simi Valley, California.

OpenGov Hits the Road and Hosts California Regional Leadership Summit

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Last week, OpenGov hosted an event for local finance directors in Sacramento, CA ahead of the 2017 California State Municipal Finance Officers (CSMFO) Conference. The user-centric OpenGov California Regional Leadership Summit featured an energetic address by keynote speaker William C. Statler. Statler’s remarks tackled the challenges and opportunities California’s municipal finance officers face today.

Statler, veteran former Finance and IT Director of San Luis Obispo, CA and former Finance Director of Simi Valley, CA, spoke the audience’s language from experience and with candor. Among his top 10 challenges facing finance officers, he included:

  • Finance officers’ unique roles as guardians of the General Fund’s fiscal health;
  • Communicating the government’s fiscal story meaningfully – internally and externally;
  • Aligning resources with strategic goals; and
  • Long-term sustainability planning.

No challenge comes without opportunity, however. First and foremost, Statler noted there is substantial opportunity in the availability of achieving practical, powerful solutions through innovative technology. Indeed, the summit also featured three customer use case presentations that illustrated concrete examples of how governments are successfully leveraging technology such as OpenGov’s Smart Government Platform™.

Specifically, Incline Village General Improvement District (IVGID), a quasi-public agency in Nevada, and the City of Hayward, CA, have each used the platform to empower their departments’ staff with the detail and historical data necessary to create customized reports and drive informed decision-making. IVGID’s Controller Lori Pommerenck and Hayward’s Acting Finance Director Dustin Claussen presented on behalf of their organizations.

The City of Sausalito, CA’s former Finance Director Charlie Francis used the OpenGov platform as a solution to open up the town’s financial data to a broader constituency. The improved transparency led to a more diverse, representative public engagement environment.

The exciting part is that this is just the beginning. In the coming year, the OpenGov team is planning to host more Leadership Summits across the country to connect municipal leaders, finance officers, and public officials. Attendees will have the opportunity to connect with peers, contribute and gain insights into best practices, and see new technology solutions in action. Additionally, users who are already members of the OpenGov network will be able to take part in closed user-group sessions, which offers the opportunity for users to engage with more specificity around their own experiences and goals. Members of OpenGov’s top-rated Customer Success and Government Finance Solutions teams will moderate the user groups.

We are actively considering locations for future Leadership Summits, so if you would like to request that we host an event in your region, please email us at events@opengov.com.

GFOA: Accurate and Effective Forecasting

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Out of a full, enriching, and wide-ranging GFOA conference, the last session I attended at Wednesday morning – ‘Accurate and Effective Forecasting – was my favorite. It reminded me why I am proud to work in Finance and belong to GFOA.

But it also reminded me why I left government service when I had the opportunity to get involved in a software startup focused on building proper tools to support our peers’ important work.

The presenters  provided a thorough overview of where forecasting is today:

The surveys that Bill Duckwitz, the Budget Management Specialist for Waukesha County, WI ran as the Moderator added additional insight from the responses of over 300 attendees, seemed to be in remarkable agreement about the profession’s focus and concerns surrounding forecasting.

Cemal Umut Gungor, the Director of Finance & City Treasurer for City of  Grandview, MO described forecasting as a one-man show in a small town, a scenario I can relate to, as I am sure is true of many others.

Linda Witkowski, the Budget Manager for Waukesha County, WI presented solid, clear information about the organized and effective processes a well-run government uses – present a 20 page forecast including 25 graphs and table to the CFO, then boil it down to one page for the electeds, and provide something in the middle for department staff’s use.  

Rounding out the session, Walter C. Rossman, the Assistant City Manager for the City of Sunnyvale, CA talked about life in Silicon Valley and the forecast work he participated in for Sunnyvale, and before that for San Jose, where they contracted with an outside economist to help prepare their forecasts every year.

As the session unfolded, I realized that much of the focus was on areas where OpenGov can make significant improvements in forecasters’ work at every stage of the process discussed in the session:

  1. Gathering historical information from the government’s records
  2. Assembling national and regional economic and business conditions and forecasts
  3. Synthesizing data, anecdotal notes, professional experience, and sheer hunches into a forecast solid enough to share and drive the entire budget.
  4. Conducting what-if scenarios to test the sensitivity and out-year impacts of forecast variables and new potential cost centers.
  5. Communicating forecasts to stakeholders in digestible, usable ways that intellectually and emotionally engage staff, decision-makers and the public, at appropriate levels of detail and complexity.
  6. Measure actual results against forecasts and budgets in the current period on a month by month basis, and make adjustments in current and out-year forecasts as needed.

OpenGov provides robust reporting options specifically for local governments, supporting effective communication, discussion, and consensus building in all financial matters. Taking advantage of the historical information governments develop on the OpenGov platform over time, matching it with data OpenGov harvests from national sources, and learning from the results of other comparable governments on the OpenGov Network helps build the background knowledge needed for accurate forecasting. The ability to do ‘what-if’ modeling within both the reporting and the budget module (still in an early access program) helps forecasters bring options forward for discussion and decision making.

To make OpenGov the complete solution, our dedicated data science team is working with our entire engineering, design, and product department to bring forward the latest forecasting analytic engines to support data-based forecasting and budgets.

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Where You’ll Find Me at the 2016 GFOA Conference

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Photo Credit: Inga Locmele

After attending more professional conferences than I can remember,  there are some sessions that always rise to the top of my list.

I look forward to the GFOA Annual Conference every year. Going through the session schedule for this year’s Toronto-based conference is like opening a brand new box of See’s candy. Everything looks so good, but even if you read the little descriptions, it is hard to know what to reach for first. There are some basics of course. Stephen Gauthier’s briefings are invaluable, so The Accounting and Auditing Year in Review where he joins a panel with two other senior experts, Robert Scott and Kinney Poynter, is not to be missed.

I try to look for sessions where speakers and panelists discuss the latest ideas, or where there may be cost savings to bring home. Something for Everyone: Adjusting to the OMB’s “Super Circular”, scheduled for Wednesday, 8:30am to 10:10 am in room Constitution 105 N, fits both categories.

Allison E. Bradsher, Heather Acker, and Anne A. Fritz have important information to share about the ramifications of OMB’s “Super Circular”. Most jurisdictions depend on grants for all kinds of worthwhile purposes, but if we don’t get the administrative work done right, grants can become a black hole for finance staff time and unnecessary expense.

Pragmatic shared-experience sessions often have great ideas and insights. I am going to check out How to Build a Finance Office on Sunday, 1:30pm to 2:20 pm in room 206 N. I’m sure Molly Talkington, Cory Kampf, and Joseph F. Beach have many stories and lessons to pass on from the years in the trenches.

Like all professions, ours has new and fashionable trends. Lean Finance: Where are We Now? will explore one of these trends. On Wednesday, 10:30am to 12:10 pm, room Constitution 107 N., Sharon McGuire, Christopher P. Morrill, Robert Bendzick, and Chuck Springer will discuss the work local governments have done with lean finance in implementing continuous improvement and improving efficiency – and the implications this work has for all of us.

GFOA conferences are a great way to meet peers, find mentors, and begin lasting friendships. If you are in the new generation, take the time to ask questions and pick the brains of the grizzled long service veterans. If this is not your first rodeo, offer a hand up to the younger folks joining us in this journey.

Remember that much of what goes on in a finance office is complex, not at all intuitive, and worst of all, done on an annual cycle. College or private industry will not teach what goes into crafting a budget, CAFR, Cost Allocation Plan, or surviving the annual audit. It takes years of experience, learning, making and recovering from mistakes, and operating in the public space to master the many skills modern Finance Professionals need. Few of us got here without significant help, mentoring, and support throughout our careers. Please, pay it forward.

While general and breakout sessions are valuable learning experiences, many sessions are very busy and leave little time for networking and casual conversation. One exception is the Next Generation of Finance designed just for young GFOA members, and first-time attendees. GFOA staffers Elizabeth Fu and Ryan Lawler will lead this not-to-be-missed session on Monday, 4:15pm to 5:30 pm Room: 701 A. This session is a great way to round out your conference experience and meet many of your colleagues.

I hope everyone gets a chance to stop by our booth, number 415, on the exhibit floor, and you are especially welcome to stop by on Monday, May 23 from 4-5 for a casual networking session.

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Mike McCann moved into government service in Ukiah, then Monterey CA, after beginning his career in corporate (ADP, Wells Fargo Bank, Blue Shield of CA), not-for-profit (Blue Shield of Ca, Mendocino Private Industry Council), and start-up accounting. For the last 20 years, Mike has been hands-on with budget, financial reporting and accounting operations, including City budgets and CAFRs. He holds a B.S.  in Accounting from SJSU and M.S. in Instructional Technology from  CSUMB.

Contact Mike with questions or comments at mmccann@opengov.com.

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Headed to Seattle for ICMA’s Annual Conference? See you there.

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Next week, City and County Managers from around the world will grasp their plane tickets in anticipation as they fly to Seattle for the annual ICMA conference. Featuring a blend of educational sessions, networking opportunities, and social events, ICMA hosts one of the biggest conferences of the year for City and County Managers.

If you are looking for ways to gain more insights from your data and embrace transparency, then consider stopping by some or all of OpenGov’s events:

How to Become a Budget Ninja with Tools for the 21st-Century Manager: Join our Government Finance Expert, Charlie Francis, and Co-Founder, Nate Levine, and discover how to use 21st century tools to improve internal efficiency and streamline the budget process through an interactive success story.

  • When: Monday, September 28 9:45 AM – 10:45 AM
  • Where: Exhibit Hall AB – Solutions Session Theatre A

Make the Most of Your Financial Transparency Initiative: Be inspired by our Co-Founder Zac Bookman as he shares success stories of leading governments transforming budget data into meaningful, citizen-friendly information.

  • When: Tuesday, September 29 9:45 AM – 10:45 AM
  • Where: Exhibit Hall AB – Solutions Session Theatre C

And to unwind after a full day of conferencing, join OpenGov for Monday night football to watch the Chiefs take on the Packers. It’s guaranteed to be a kicker of a night with lots of food, drinks, and your own 30 minute gaming card!

  • When: Monday, September 28, 5:30 pm
  • Where: Gameworks, 1511 7th Avenue, Seattle, WA 98101
  • RSVP Here.

If you want to set up a time to speak with a member of the OpenGov Leadership team and hear our vision for 21st century government, then email events@opengov.com to schedule a time.

Have a safe trip to Seattle and we are looking forward to seeing you soon!

GFOA Annual Conference in Full Swing in the City of Brotherly Love

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The GFOA Annual Conference is in full swing in Philadelphia this week. Thousands have converged on the Pennsylvania Convention Center for what has become the annual pilgrimage for government finance professionals across the U.S. and Canada.

Here, finance directors learn the latest multi-fund accounting rules, review the latest instruments for municipal debt issuance, and hear from thought leads such as the host city’s Mayor Michael Nutter.

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Among the hot topics this year is financial transparency. At a pre-event dedicated session, leaders from Hartford, Toronto and Addison, Texas discussed the evolution of financial transparency and best practices for communicating financial data to citizens. Addison, Texas, which maintains a financial transparency site powered by OpenGov, previously won an award for its leadership in financial transparency in the state of Texas.

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Today, another session addressed “how to communicate financial information to citizens,” focusing on strategies for making financial data accessible to citizens, beyond comprehensive annual financial reports (CAFRs).

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OpenGov’s presence was felt from the exhibit hall to educational sessions to the after-hours festivities. More than a hundred finance professionals gathered at a cocktail reception hosted by OpenGov and partner Springbrook software.

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For more updates on OpenGov at the GFOA Annual Conference, follow us @OpenGovInc or stop by and see us at booth #501!

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OpenGov Kicks-Off Partnership with Springbrook Software at Springbrook Ignite User Conference

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OpenGov and Springbrook Software kick off a new partnership this week at the Springbrook Ignite User Conference in Portland, Oregon.

Yesterday, a dedicated session featured one of the first joint customers of Springbrook and OpenGov, Charlie Francis, who serves as Administrative Services Director and Treasurer for the City of Sausalito, California.   Francis, along with OpenGov’s own Chris Young, shared insights on how Sausalito and other local governments across the U.S. are transforming budget data into meaningful, consumer-friendly information to help foster public trust and increase citizen engagement.

Francis was also presented with Springbrook’s Sunlight Award, which recognizes local leaders for their efforts in promoting open and transparent government (see video above).

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OpenGov’s Chris Heggem (pictured above) also presented a light-hearted talk about how cloud-based software can help local government administrators address common challenges.

The Springbrook and OpenGov partnership provides local government financial teams with an integrated, cloud-based solution to manage their agency’s fund accounting using Springbrook’s Finance & Administration Solution, and then share the financial information on OpenGov’s financial analysis platform. The result is a new and dynamic level of transparency that empowers administrators and elected officials to foster engagement and to build trust with the community.

Are you a Springbrook customer interested in learning more about OpenGov solutions for financial transparency?

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Redwood City Mayor Jeffrey Gee helps OpenGov celebrate opening of new HQ

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OpenGov employees, friends, investors and family gathered Thursday evening to toast the company’s new, spacious Redwood City headquarters and experience a taste of some of the cities we’re proud to work with.

The evening kicked-off with a ceremonial ribbon cutting with Redwood City Mayor Jeffrey Gee and OpenGov CEO Zac Bookman. OpenGov advisors Adrian Fenty, the former Mayor of Washington DC and Mark Goines, Partner at Morgenthaler Ventures, and several OpenGov investors also dropped by to celebrate the new space.

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Guests sipped wine from De La Montanya winery and noshed on southern fare representing our Napa and Texas customers respectively while touring the new digs.

Check out all the photos on our Facebook page here.

Managing Local Government in the 21st Century

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Our team has been on the road in recent weeks talking with finance officers, administrators, council members and department heads from Atlantic City to Austin, Anaheim to Pensacola. We are always inspired to hear how public leaders are working tirelessly to serve their constituents and responsibly steward public resources. We’ve also heard about many of the challenges that come with running state and local government in the 21st century.

Do the following sound familiar?

  1. 2014-11-nlc-opengovLocal government managers are hungry for ways to do more with less. Your resources are especially scarce these days, and you and your staff are being stretched thinner than ever before. Helping the public and internal stakeholders understand these constraints is challenging but necessary.
  2. Public trust seems to be at an all time low. You feel increasing pressure to engage with constituents, earn their trust and be transparent about the way your city conducts its business. Many of you are also receiving more public information requests, which are oftentimes onerous and time-consuming for staff.
  3. Municipal operators need financial management resources that don’t require on-prem maintenance or swallow valuable IT staff time. You also need access to your city’s data when you are meeting with constituents, in council meetings or away from city hall. In other words, you need to have cloud-based tools that equip you to manage and report your financial data at all times.
  4. Local governments—big and small—are hungry for innovations that drive efficiency, improve operations, and save valuable staff time. Cutting-edge technology is no longer a luxury enjoyed by the private sector but a necessity for cutting costs and improving efficiencies in the public sector.
  5. Your peers are your best resource for learning what works. You want to hear from them to know how to respond more effectively to citizens and foster a stronger, better informed government.

2014-11-njlm-opengovLearn how hundreds of state and local governments across the country are tackling these challenges through OpenGov, a web-based platform that sets the standard for how governments analyze, share, and apply their financial data every day.

Did you meet a member of our team at a recent conference? Are you interested in learning more about how OpenGov can help you unlock your city’s data to drive better decision-making and increased financial transparency?

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