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:
- Gathering historical information from the government’s records
- Assembling national and regional economic and business conditions and forecasts
- Synthesizing data, anecdotal notes, professional experience, and sheer hunches into a forecast solid enough to share and drive the entire budget.
- Conducting what-if scenarios to test the sensitivity and out-year impacts of forecast variables and new potential cost centers.
- 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.
- 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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