Category Archives: Insights

Secretary George Shultz Visits OpenGov; Talks Budgeting

By | Insights, Life at OpenGov | No Comments

Today, OpenGov was honored to host Former Secretary of State George P. Shultz and OpenGov Co-Founder and Chairman Joe Lonsdale for a fireside chat with our Co-Founder and CEO, Zac Bookman. The OpenGov team huddled for an hour to listen and ask questions as the trio discussed world affairs and shared stories.

The conversation ranged from the expected to the sentimental. Secretary Shultz reaffirmed his simultaneous desires not to endorse a presidential candidate and to help the next president craft foreign policy. He also revealed a regret millions share: not writing to his mother more. A portrait of her hangs in the Secretary’s office.

Most of the talk, however, centered on a topic that rarely makes the front page. Or page two. But the topic enables effective, competent government. It puts uniforms on soldiers, repairs our bridges, and educates our children.

It’s the budget process. The annual or biannual cycle governments use to allocate public money and implement policies that citizens’ elected representatives enact.

As Director of the Office of Management and Budget from 1970-1972, Secretary Shultz helped craft the President’s budget proposal and manage budget negotiations with Congress. The budget process today is broken at all levels of government: the last time Congress passed all 12 appropriation bills to fund federal agencies on time was 1996. In The Coming Transformation, Joe and Zac write how “government administration and security realms rely on closed platforms with slow back-office processes and excess manual data entry.”

Secretary Shultz reaffirmed the magnitude of these challenges. Because of inadequate budgeting tools that do not enable true collaboration, budgeting power has become too centralized in the White House. Secretary Shultz explained how centralization over-politicizes the budget process, limits input from those closest to government operations, and prevents the natural inter- and intra-agency negotiations necessary to any budget process. He believes that, by making budgeting more collaborative and inclusive, the budget process can create a more operational instead of partisan climate – achieving improved operational effectiveness.

We agree, and believe all levels of government can benefit from better budgeting:

  • A recent article explains how Greenwood, Indiana’s Police Department discovered using modern budgeting software that its 2017 budget “did not account for enough police cars to accommodate an extended staff. Finding the money for the squad cars was much easier than it would have been before Budget Builder. ‘We collectively made additional reductions on certain items based on the past in order to accumulate money to buy those cars,’ [Greenwood’s Controller Adam] Stone said.” In other words, Budget Builder caught an error before it happened, saving hours of clerical work and a scramble to find funds in during the year.
  • Burnet, Texas used modern budgeting software to cut time spent on the budget’s clerical work in half, creating more time for the collaboration and strategic thinking necessary to craft and implement effective policy.

An excerpt of a fireside chat with Secretary Shultz, OpenGov Co-Founder and Chairman Joe Lonsdale, and OpenGov Co-Founder and CEO Zac Bookman

Imagine successes like Greenwood’s and Burnet’s across the world, at every level of government. These triumphs are what Secretary Shultz repeatedly emphasized will restore effective, competent government. This is the vision we at OpenGov work every day to achieve.

We thank Secretary Shultz and Joe for joining us today, sharing stories, and inspiring our team.

My perfect budget team

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

The budget process is fascinating. A complex combination (should we say collision?) of technical, political, and human factors produce a plan that determines how public money will be raised and spent.  

My first contact with any kind of budget was as a young soldier. Our captain (who was not much older than me) called us together and explained that if we did not spend our allocated budget this year, we would lose the difference and our budget would be reduced in the next year. With his prodding, we discovered a sudden need for expensive new radios and other high-tech gear.

I wasn’t in Kansas any more

Since then, I have budgeted in corporate, not-for-profit, and start-up organizations. I have balanced budgets in the face of indecipherable Federal JTPA regulations, stuffed-shirt corporate officers, and explosive yet poorly-capitalized growth. But none of those technical challenges prepared me for the drama of municipal budgeting, in full view of the public, staff, and Council.

There was never a need to actively socialize the budget process in the private sector. We drafted the budget, casually ran numbers by various people in operating areas, adjusted the numbers when necessary, and wrapped up the process. There was little concept of give and take, of achieving consensus or addressing any stakeholders beyond the Board of Directors. Our interests were fully aligned around controlling expenses, building revenue, and maximizing profits.

“Welcome to government service”  

“The budget means something a little different around here, and the annual process is just a little different too,” I was told by my new bosses. I spent a lot of time going from department to department in those early years. I learned that if I left a department head unsatisfied, his pipeline to the City Manager was fatter and faster than mine. I also learned that most folks did not know as much as they thought they did. In particular, acceptance of of a fixed resource pie seemed to get little traction.  

We had a gruff old Public Works Director who had probably occupied his office longer than I had been in the work force. He ran his domain with expertise and daunting authority. I remember him rearing back at a budget meeting and telling us his shop had given enough and it was time to “cut some guns and hoses” from the budget. Of course the Police and Fire Chiefs had some other cost saving suggestions for him, and me.

Experience is a hard task master, but I finally realized that finding some allies would be a good idea in this battle. We started developing a group of people interested in budgeting who could come together and explore the reality of limited resources and unlimited demands. It was a gradual process, but we made progress — expanding the envelope and spreading the learning and the budget process more widely each year.

Over time, I found that some groups and individuals grow stronger and more central to the budget process while others fall out of the process to varying degrees. While budget work is central to staff in a dedicated budget or finance office, it is extra work for staff in other shops. If their boss does not actively support their involvement and allow time for them to focus on the budget process, then they are put in an awkward situation.

Core team and other players

“Team” may be too strong a term for what usually evolves. “Temporary work group” might be more accurate for the loose amalgamation of people that get involved. Budget team members tend to have a combination of departmental needs, affinity for numbers, desire to be on the inside, and obsession with detail. In my experience, Assistant Directors, Analysts, or whichever title the number two person in each department goes by tend to have these traits. My most successful teams have been heterogeneous mixes; they represent every department and include a range of seniority and management levels.

In addition to this core team, there are two other “teams” in play. First, the executive group is often asked as a body to support the working budget team, and of course, are the ultimate arbitrators of the budget that is recommended to the legislative body.

Second, it is beneficial to have an expanded budget team of stakeholders outside the core process that includes representatives from organizations like Library, police and recreation oversight boards, labor units, and the general public. You may not get them together physically, but may share information and feedback over the Internet or at their own group meetings. Bringing these people into the process often makes it harder for them to oppose difficult decisions as they may if relegated outside the process.

Education is magic

I have tried many approaches to training teams and managers on budgeting, and every attempt has yielded mixed results. Some get it immediately, wonder what all the fuss is about, and want to know when they can get back to work. Others take more time. Sometimes they understand but are nervous about plunging in and need some moral support. And some just come to it more slowly — although they can be very strong because once they do get it, they really get it. They know how to dot the ‘i’s and cross the ‘t’s, how to account for every dollar.

In the end, a mix of face-to-face training with Q&A and written material including screen shots has worked best for me. Shortcuts like memos and blank worksheets cause more cleanup time than what we would have invested in proper training at the front end.

One reason to keep teams open and flexible was the the budget cycle’s length — usually running six months or more each year.  People get promoted, move around, and are tasked with new projects and find interests over time. We learn best by repetition and iteration. An annual cycle makes the accumulation of expertise a slow process, and budget veterans a prized commodity.

So what’s the point?

The budget expresses the government’s vision and strategy. It is not desirable or realistic do it alone. Crafting a budget that supports staff in their work for their stakeholders is the goal. The budget is best crafted by a team working in the daylight, listening and learning broadly, iterating and testing ideas. The process will produce superior results, with a budget that is widely understood and accepted on the day it is adopted.

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.

Nine Lessons I Learned in Budgeting

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

After a dozen years building corporate budgets and another dozen years assembling government budgets, I have learned some hard lessons. Many of you may share similar thoughts:

1. The legislative body does not have the technical skills to forecast revenues and should not be expected to do so, especially since revenues are primarily the result of events outside local control. Finance professionals need to use their skills and experience to generate the most accurate possible revenue forecast for the legislators. They consider local and national factors, review historical trends, analyze current conditions, and project trends into the future.

2. The completed revenue forecast is the best professional estimate of revenue available to the budget process. Together with unrestricted reserves, these revenues are the total funding available for expense planning in the budget process.

3. Accurately managing personnel costs and their allocation is incredibly difficult, but key to accurate budgeting. These costs represent 75% or more of most government budgets so errors in salary-related costs can be particularly damaging — four times as distorting as the same percentage errors in non-personnel costs.

4. Expense budgeting should start as close to the action as possible. Line supervisors and project managers often have the most current and detailed information to work with. Equally important, they can best tell their project’s story, and explain both why funds are needed and how they will be used.

5. Budget leaders must ensure that line staff and the budget team are properly educated and oriented to both goals and methodology. Old fashioned line-item worksheets are less effective for organizing budgets than more activity-oriented budget input tools. Formats that start with the story and then encourage thoughtful expense planning help avoid across the board and generally less thoughtful line-item percentage increases.

6. There are many more line department leaders at all levels than there are budget analysts. Line department leaders know what they need; let them advocate for themselves. Empowering line staff to contribute directly to the budget process is a win-win proposition — as long as the budget team and executives have visibility and the final say.

7. The budget leaders need to understand the current state of the budget throughout the process.  Current revenue and expense totals should be visible, clear, and accurate. Access to every proposal and detail should be online and easily found.

8. Good budgeting takes time. Socialization, consensus building, iteration, political tradeoffs, horse trading; these are all common terms and concepts surrounding this inherently political process. Budget calendars and firm significant milestones help an organization move forward in a measured and orderly manner.

9. Taking enough time to reconcile the details and circulate the latest results at each major step is crucial to staff consideration and political buy-in. If the budget is not realistic or if staff know they will not be able to operate within its constraints, then the process is a failure and disservice to the entire organization.

As a financial professional, crafting a clean and functional balanced budget might be the most important and creative work you do all year long. It is the product of your many years of experience, education, and sheer hard work. It is critical to the functioning of your entire organization and its ability to provide services to residents and other stakeholders.

The things you do in Excel to build that budget look like magic to everyone else – but often keep you awake checking and double checking late into the night. The package of linked budget worksheets you have built over a career are effective and accurate, but you know that they are going to make it hard to retire someday. No amount of documentation and hand-off is going to adequately cover it.

Peer-to peer tip: Try out the Budget Milestones Report which is available at no extra cost as part of the OpenGov Intelligence platform!

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.

Kansas City, MO

Win a Chance to Issue Debt Without Issuance Fees

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Learn about a new option for municipal bond issuance and claim your chance to issue debt without issuance fees.

We’re excited to highlight a company giving the municipal bond market a much-needed upgrade. On the issuance side, Neighborly connects “issuers to members of their deal team through an origination platform for all steps involved with researching, structuring, marketing and closing a municipal bond transaction, including generation of all necessary legal documents.”

And on the investor side, Neighborly expands access to the municipal bond market. Citizens, retail investors, and institutions can purchase municipal bonds in denominations the issuer determines through the platform.

This summer, Neighborly launched the Neighborly Bond Challenge. Governments planning to issue bonds between Q4 2016 and Q4 2017 can apply to issue bonds through the platform. And it gets better – Neighborly will waive issuance fees for each of the five winners.

OpenGov helps customers issue debt through the Neighborly platform. By providing one place for users to explore and download financial information, governments save themselves and creditors alike countless hours of work during the issuance process. This is why Neighborly is saving at least one of the five slots in….. for an OpenGov customer.

We believe Neighborly will revolutionize how governments and their constituents invest in their communities. We encourage you to learn more about the Neighborly Bond Challenge.

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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Six Tech Policies We Want Every Candidate for Federal Office to Support

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OpenGov interacts with political leaders from both sides of the aisle every day in our efforts to set a new standard for how governments analyze, share, and compare financial data. We encourage officials of all political stripes to embrace innovation and accountability – and we take every opportunity to showcase leadership initiatives that advance technology and transparency policies that push our country forward.

Several months ago, we were honored to host House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy at our office to highlight the House GOP’s Innovation Agenda and identify ways the tech community can support this important initiative.

Today, we are shining the spotlight on Hillary Clinton’s technological innovation policy platform designed to help governments leverage technology to improve efficiency, foster civic engagement, and build public trust.

Secretary Clinton joins a growing bipartisan list of leaders with initiatives focused on retaining America’s technological competitiveness and its government’s connections with citizens in the digital age.

There are six pillars in Secretary Clinton’s platform that are worthy of special recognition:

1. Empowering women and minorities to pursue STEM degrees: Teams with diverse members contribute different perspectives that lead to better code, better products, and better value for consumers. Unfortunately, too few technology companies benefit from these contributions because too few women and minorities have a STEM background. Secretary Clinton’s emphasis on increasing diversity in STEM fields will go a long way in improving the numbers and spread diversity’s benefits across the nation.

2. Expanding access to broadband connectivity: Citizens increasingly use cloud technology for core tasks such as applying for jobs, furthering their education, writing reports, paying bills, and interacting with government. This makes internet access more important than ever; efforts like Secretary Clinton’s initiative could ensure all citizens, regardless of socioeconomic status, can benefit from connectivity.

Governments also need to do a better job connecting themselves – every day, we deal with organizations with poor connectivity within their own walls. Better broadband infrastructure within government buildings will enable the public sector to fully leverage cloud computing’s benefits, just as countless private sector industries have.

3. Making government more user-friendly: Unfortunately, antiquated technology and confusing user interfaces plague too many citizen-government interactions. President Obama made many government sites more accessible and intuitive, on both desktop and mobile devices. We support Secretary Clinton’s proposal to expand these efforts.

In fact, governments themselves benefit from intuitive online services – millennials used to streamlined interfaces on their smartphones are more likely to enter and engage with public service if an agency embraces modern technology and design.

4. Streamlining procurement processes: Complex and long procurement processes make it difficult for nimble, innovative companies to offer governments the technology needed to improve operations and engage citizens effectively and efficiently. Reducing procurement barriers would lower costs and eliminate reliance on large vendors selling outdated tools.

5. Opening more government data for public use: We can all agree that as citizens, we should hold the federal government accountable, but until recently, few citizens could evaluate how well the government does its job because data was stuck in static PDFs and spreadsheets – often buried deep within public sites. These barriers also prevented entrepreneurs from using public data to craft new businesses or offer solutions.

As a country, we took a big step forward when agencies were directed to make their data structured and machine-readable under the current administration. By pledging to fully implement the DATA Act and increase the ease with which citizens can access government information, proposals like Secretary Clinton’s will give citizens – and internal stakeholders – the opportunity for new insights into government operations and abilities to leverage the data for innovation.

At OpenGov, we’ve worked closely with the Data Coalition to promote Open Data policies such as the DATA Act, and we’re excited to see public officials from both parties and candidates like Secretary Clinton support these efforts.

6. Focusing on performance: Like in the private sector, government managers need to ensure that financial investments of taxpayer dollars lead to tangible benefits. Emphasizing dashboards that link financials to performance is an essential part of any innovation initiative, and we commend Secretary Clinton for recognizing this.

We are encouraged by the attention technology and innovation policies are receiving at the highest levels, and we will continue to highlight and applaud pro­-technology leaders willing to discuss and promote innovation at the federal level.

All parties and candidates should be able to agree on innovation policies because they will position America, and its government, for success in the years and decades ahead.

When it comes to our country’s most pressing challenges, the federal government certainly must lead and help develop solutions, yet as citizens, we must demand innovation from state and local governments because they operate ‘closest to home.’ State and local governments manage schools, maintain roadways, provide clean water and sewer systems, and establish fire and police protection – among countless other services.

So, this election season, we should ask each candidate for federal office how they plan to promote innovation at the federal level and how they will empower cities, regions, and states with the newest digital technology. We need to urge them to support pro-­technology policies so innovation can reach every level of government.

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Jeff Schultz is OpenGov’s Chief Marketing Officer. He is an experienced marketing leader with a track record of building world-class brands and exceptional marketing teams. Prior to OpenGov, Jeff was Head of Marketing at Syncplicity, a business unit of EMC, where he established the brand as a market leader in enterprise file sync and share, tripling growth year-over-year. Before that, Jeff was Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Bill.com, where he built the organization from its early stages to a recognized leader in cloud-based accounting services. Jeff received a BS in Electrical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. He has completed two Ironman Triathlons and is a black belt in Tae Kwan Do.

Contact Jeff with questions or comments at jschultz@opengov.com.

Four Brexit Takeaways for America’s Local Governments

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You’ve seen the news by now. On Thursday, June 23, British citizens voted to exit the European Union, unleashing a tidal wave on a continent that has embraced political and economic integration since World War II.

The vote occurred across the Atlantic, but the era where America could insulate itself from European events is long gone. Instead, as the financial market’s reaction indicates, Brexit will impact institutions across the globe. And America’s local governments are no exception. Here are four key Brexit takeaways for city and county leaders:

1. Prepare for a possible recession.

Recession was likely even before Brexit. In May, the economy added just 38,000 new jobs – the lowest since 2010. Auto sales in May were over 15% lower than they were a year ago; and business investment is dropping as market risk rises. A Wall Street Journal survey of economists published before the Brexit vote pegged the odds of a recession within the next year at 21% and former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers believes “the economy is more fragile to a negative shock than at any time since the second World War.”

Brexit may be that shock. Local governments should begin preparing for budget challenges. Now is the time to put the technology in place that ensures the entire management team and elected officials understand the revenue and expenditure picture so the organization can proactively plan for different economic scenarios and manage its finances during the recession.

Some governments are already implementing the necessary technology. For example, Jason Loveland, Northglenn, Colorado’s Director of Finance, describes how “The reason I want to do a lot with OpenGov now, and not wait until there’s a crisis, is because the time at which we’re most going to need OpenGov is also the time at which we’ll be least able to think about it. We’ll need to just have all of that information in front of us so we can act intelligently rather than with panic.”

2. Consider investing in critical infrastructure.

Last September, we explored how the interest rates municipal governments pay on their debt depend on the Federal Reserve’s interest policy decisions. Quick recap: the Federal Reserve (the Fed) is America’s central bank. It sets interest rates that serve as a floor for other public and private sector rates. The Fed lowers rates to spur investment and stimulate the economy during tough times, and raises them to combat inflation. When the Fed raises rates, other interest rates go up too and vice versa.

The Fed raised rates 0.25% in December 2015, and since then, experts expected a couple more increases in 2016. However, during its last meeting, the Fed cited Brexit as a reason why it may delay these hikes. Some analysts speculate the Fed may even reduce rates again. Britain’s citizens just made it unlikely the Fed will significantly increase interest rates this year.

This means municipal debt interest will be lower, ensuring governments can finance mission-critical infrastructure projects at lower cost. A third of mayors in a Politico survey believe a ‘Flint-like’ situation could occur in their city due to neglected infrastructure investments. Lower interest rates present governments with an opportunity to act.

3. Don’t neglect public engagement.

Although we may never pinpoint the exact reasons the Brexit resolution confounded expectations and passed, it’s clear multiple levels of British and European government failed to show how citizens benefit from European Union membership.

Governments must proactively show the public how agencies are addressing pressing public policy challenges. Far too few governments report performance outcomes, focusing instead on financial and operational reports. Leaders must do more to quantify and share how tax dollars and the policies they support lead to better outcomes for citizens.

Technology has a role here – citizens are used to accessing information on the web and on their smartphones, and governments must meet constituents on the platforms they use. Today, too many government transparency efforts use stale PDFs that are not accessible to citizens.

4. Empower your government to rapidly adapt to changing macroeconomic and local conditions.

We don’t know for sure what will happen next; we may avoid a recession and we hope we do. However, this uncertainty explains why governments must be innovative and adapt to changing circumstances.

This requires decision-making processes that encourage agencies to share data and insights across the government, and a willingness to nimbly change course. Governments must also be prepared to learn from each other so innovative responses to complex challenges can spread.

News headlines direct our attention across the Atlantic to governments in London, Paris, Brussels, and Berlin. However, we must not forget to consider how events will impact the governments next door and how we can prepare for what comes next.

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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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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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John Chambers Joins OpenGov Board of Directors to Digitize Government

By | In The News, Insights | No Comments

We’re excited to announce that John Chambers, Cisco’s Executive Chairman and Former CEO, has joined OpenGov’s Board of Directors.

Chambers believes, as we do, that embracing digitization and connectivity positions all levels of government for success. He joins OpenGov to help us improve public administration by leveraging the latest in a series of technological shifts that have transformed citizens’ needs and expectations about government services.

Governments have always needed to embrace new paradigms and technologies

In some cases, citizens still expect similar services as they did two centuries ago – people wanted infrastructure such as canals then; they want bridges, airports, and roads now. Governments still collect taxes, provide police protection, and administer justice. But although these general service categories have remained the same, their administration has grown more complex over time.

Citizens’ expectations of their governments have also transformed. Many of these shifts are due to major events; for example, the Great Depression convinced Americans that governments should provide a social safety net. Other changes, such as expectations for rapid postal delivery and clean water, occurred because of technological innovations such as airplanes and networked piping. Technology disrupts public administration as new tools and paradigms shift citizens’ expectations and demands on their governments.

But today’s need is unprecedented

Chambers believes we are living through an unprecedented era of technological disruption. In an interview with McKinsey and Company, he said:

“This digital era will dwarf what’s occurred in the information era and the value of the Internet today. As leaders, if you don’t transform and use this technology differently—if you don’t reinvent yourself, change your organization structure; if you don’t talk about speed of innovation—you’re going to get disrupted.”

These reinventions and changes constitute vast technology-enabled improvements in public administration, improvements that OpenGov strives to help governments embrace. We’re enabling unprecedented collaboration across cities, states, and even countries. We’re leveraging data science to ensure public money delivers the highest-possible ROI. We’re empowering governments to show citizens how services improve a community’s outcomes.

John Chambers is uniquely positioned to help us. He grew Cisco from $1.2 billion in revenue when he became CEO to a record $48.6 billion in FY 2013. Chambers has also spent nearly two decades on initiatives bridging tech and government, and he has spoken extensively on the need for digitization and connectivity across all levels of government.

We’re excited to have John Chambers on our Board of Directors. He will help us continue to scale and give governments the tools to successfully serve the world’s most important customer base: we the people.