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In today’s dynamic environment, government agencies are facing increased demands to effectively communicate strategic visions, initiatives and community impact.  Volatile economic and financial factors, regulatory issues and technology enhancements especially all make it harder to meet those demands.  No wonder looking ahead with a strategic planning process can feel daunting.  Yet the right tools, processes and data analytics help agencies gain efficiencies, enable better insights and feel more confident in the future when building strategic plans.

But before we dive into 5 strategic planning tips for government agencies, let’s quickly review what strategic planning entails.

What Is Strategic Planning?

Per the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA), strategic planning for government agencies involves articulating where or what an organization wants to be in the future.  That process includes designing a vision and identifying goals and objectives.  While related to developing financial policies, capital improvement planning and budgeting, the strategic plan is inherently different.

Typically, strategic planning is used to do the following:

Why Does Strategic Planning Matter?

Strategic planning helps Finance leaders model the organization as it exists today and then layer on possible strategies over the top.  What types of strategies?  Changes in tax policies, capital projects, new programs and so forth are some examples.  Through this proactive approach, stakeholders can visualize plausible future scenarios and their corresponding impacts.  Strategic planning can be a useful storytelling tool to help stakeholders understand the future impact agencies can have on their community within resource constraints.

Plus, internally, strategic planning is a powerful way to set the direction and prioritization of an agency.  Why?  The planning completes a cohesive feedback loop.  First, the strategic plan drives the budget and resource allocation.  Then actuals drive revisions to the forecast.  And finally, forecast changes influence the strategic plan in future years (see Figure 1).  This feedback loop ensures agencies are aligned on maximizing community impact.

Figure 1:  Feedback planning loop that creates organizational alignment.

Strategic Planning Tips for Government Agencies

Getting a handle on what’s going to happen tomorrow or next week is tough on its own.  So understanding what might happen in 1-2 years – or in 5 years – seems nearly impossible.

And if the planning process is happening in offline spreadsheets?  Well, that’s an even bigger headache.  Putting together a plan that truly represents a vision of the future requires aligning actual data with inputs from across the agency.  Thus, having to combine various spreadsheets that lack data quality and consistency controls can make any planning process a tedious, time-consuming task.

But it doesn’t have to be that way!  Below are 5 strategic planning tips for government agencies to save time, get better insights and gain confidence when building strategic plans.

1. Centralize data and ensure quality control.

The foundation of a reliable strategic plan lies in having accurate and timely data to support confident funding and spending decisions.  In addition, the data used for the strategic plan must be consistent and aligned with the data used for other financial planning processes, including the budget.

How can alignment be created?  By working with IT and operational stakeholders to leverage available data from across the organization, Finance teams generate informed insights and make data-driven decisions.  Implementing tools that centralize data from multiple sources, ensure data quality control and provide transparency with drill-back capabilities ultimately fosters alignment and trust within the organization.

2. Integrate financial statements.

Organizations often focus primarily on the Statement of Activities.  But modeling the Balance Sheet and Cash Flow Statement in the strategic plan also has significant value.  Why?  In an ideal world, agencies could have endless cash.  But today Finance leaders typically have financial constraints and must prioritize and balance funding to ensure long-term financial sustainability.

By integrating all three financial statements, stakeholders can better understand the long-term financial impact of different strategies and external factors.  Stakeholders can also make informed decisions that include the following:

3. Conduct scenario analysis.

Scenario planning helps organizations be more resilient and adaptable.  The process requires identifying a range of possible future conditions and then developing plans to respond to each condition.

For example, a local agency may want to understand potential scenarios with changes in tax policies.  Government agencies, after all, must carefully consider the potential impacts of tax policy changes to balance revenue needs with the economic health of the community.

Scenario planning not only improves the accuracy and effectiveness of the planning efforts, but also helps Finance become a strategic partner to the organization.  By understanding possible outcomes and having a plan in place to react, agencies can be better positioned for success in a rapidly changing world.

4. Automate calculations and logic.

Excel can be highly error prone – whether due to mis-keyed or corrupted data cells or incorrect or broken formulas.  Plus, Excel can especially be burdensome when data is pulled from multiple sources and each part of a spreadsheet relates to and affects other parts.  Tiny errors can easily –and quickly – turn into bigger headaches.

Implementing a software solution that automatically brings data together, leverages standard calculations and easily performs wide-ranging scenarios is a game-changer for Finance teams.  Gone are the days of pouring over buggy spreadsheets and digging through rows of data to fix mis-keys or errors.  Instead, the right solution can restore work-life balance.  How?  By allowing the team to focus on research and analysis instead of spending long hours and late nights in the office dealing with data issues.

5. Utilize dashboards & visuals to tell your story.

Dashboards and visualizations are powerful storytelling tools for the strategic plan.  In fact, effective dashboards help guide decision-making with a varied audience (see Figure 2).  The ability to quickly visualize data trends, impacts of initiatives and economic drivers, and core financial KPIs over time becomes possible with dashboards and reports.  And those capabilities enable better and faster decision-making.

Figure 2:  OneStream data visualizations enable faster insights and changes in response to fluctuations in the market and financial results.

Conclusion

While predicting the future remains uncertain, strategic planning equips Finance leaders with the foresight and agility to capitalize on opportunities and navigate potential changes effectively.  Finance can leverage integrated data solutions, automated calculations, scenario planning frameworks and impactful visualizations.  Through those aspects, Finance teams will improve efficiency, insights and confidence in the strategic plan and position the agency for long-term success.

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OneStream brings Finance processes into a single platform solution to enable seamless integration between the data, people and processes driving the organization.  Learn more about how OneStream uniquely empowers government Finance teams to enhance planning, gain new insights and streamline Finance processes.

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Government Finance leaders today are under pressure to improve decision support, increase transparency and create efficiencies.  In addition, agencies are up against the constraints of legacy systems, tedious manual processes and inefficient analytics tools.  Agencies thus turn to the best government budgeting software solutions to automate processes and mitigate those challenges.  Here, we’ve curated the 5 best budget government software solutions based on their features, customer reviews and industry recognition.

To compile this list, we’ve considered software that meets the following qualifications:

What Is Government Budgeting Software?

For government agencies, budgeting software plays a pivotal role in the ability to streamline planning processes, increase transparency and gain new insights.  Solutions should be tailored to the specific needs of government agencies.  How?  By encompassing the entire budgeting process from strategic planning, budget formulation, budget execution and performance management to reporting and analytics.

Below are some common features found in budgeting software for government agencies:

By leveraging these features, agencies can streamline planning processes, minimize errors and make well-informed financial decisions.

Not sure what budget software solution best suits your agency?  You’re in the right place!

In the comparative analysis that follows, we’ll explore the features and functionalities of 5 leading government budgeting solutions:  OneStream, Oracle EPM Cloud, SAP, Workday/Adaptive and Anaplan.

The Best Budgeting Software Solutions for Government Agencies

1. OneStream

OneStream is a leading enterprise Finance solution trusted by government agencies.  It offers a comprehensive platform that uniquely unifies financial consolidation, planning, reporting and analysis.  With robust budgeting features, OneStream offers the following benefits to government agencies (see Figure 1):

Figure 1:  OneStream Operational Insights Dashboard

OneStream’s unified platform enables Finance and Operations teams to better collaborate and deliver a single source of truth.  Having that single source eliminates the complexity of multiple solutions, interfaces and integrations.  Not to mention, agencies can also avoid the heavy cost and duplication of data and metadata while avoiding time-consuming processes and upgrades.

Pros:

Cons:

2. Oracle Enterprise Performance Management Cloud

Oracle Enterprise Performance Management Cloud (Oracle EPM Cloud) provides a solution for federal agencies to automate budget formulation and execution.  It offers features for planning, forecasting, reporting, security and workflow capabilities.

Pros:

Cons:

3. SAP

SAP’s solution for EPM are a combination of SAP Group Reporting embedded in S/4HANA for consolidations and SAP Analytics Cloud (SAC) for financial and operational planning.

SAP S/4HANA Group Reporting is an enterprise solution for consolidations.  As part of S/4HANA, the Group Reporting solution leverages a combination of features tied to Group Reporting for consolidations and S/4HANA for core close capabilities.  SAP Analytics Cloud is a cloud-based platform for planning, business intelligence (BI) and predictive analytics that enables organizations to visualize, plan and make data-driven decisions.

Pros:

Cons:

4. Workday Adaptive Planning

Workday Adaptive Planning covers planning, consolidation, analytics and reporting functions.  Built on a proprietary in-memory database, the solution enables collaboration and real-time updates in a spreadsheet-like browser user interface. 

Pros:

Cons:

5. Anaplan

Anaplan is a cloud modeling technology that enables planning, budgeting and forecasting on a single platform.  The solution serves clients in an array of verticals and functions, including Finance, Sales and Marketing, Supply Chain, and HR and Workforce.

Pros:

Cons:

Conclusion

Choosing the right budgeting solution is essential for agencies looking to move beyond legacy/manual processes and evolve to a modern EPM solution.  In this blog post, each of the 5 best budgeting software solutions highlighted offers unique features and benefits, catering to the diverse needs of government agencies.

However, one financial budgeting software solution stands above the rest if you’re looking to streamline back-office Finance processes and significantly increase confidence in reporting and planning.  OneStream ultimately offers the best software to handle your agencies evolving needs, no matter how complex.

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To learn more about how government agencies are conquering complexity and modernizing back-office processes, click here to check out our customer success with government agencies.

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For the Department of Defense (DoD), the availability, confidentiality and integrity of sensitive data is a top priority.  The advancement of cybersecurity risk can present major risks to individuals, businesses and governments alike.  Given that risk, having good information security and a robust cyber security posture is imperative.  Designations such as DoD Impact Level 4 (DoD IL4) authorization are therefore important for technology solutions being used by government agencies.

In this blog post, we’ll give an overview of DoD IL4 authorization and why it matters to government agencies when they evaluate cloud solutions.

What Is DoD IL4 Provisional Authorization?

The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) serves as the information technology combat support agency for the DoD.  More specifically, DISA provides critical guidance to cloud service providers for hosting DoD information and systems.  DISA’s rigorous security evaluations help government agencies make informed decisions when evaluating cloud service offerings.

As a core responsibility, DISA develops and maintains the baseline security requirements used by the DoD to assess the security of a cloud service offering.  DISA defines the DoD Impact Levels, the security guidelines for each and the requirements that must be followed.  In turn, those requirements ensure the confidentiality, integrity and availability of sensitive information.

DISA defines four Impact Levels:  IL2, IL4, IL5 and IL6.  For each increasing level, more robust standards exist based on two factors.  The first is the sensitivity of the information to be stored or processed.  The second is the potential impact of an event resulting in the loss of confidentiality, integrity or availability of information (see Figure 1).

Figure 1:  DoD Impact Level Definitions

The DoD IL4 recognition proves the cloud service offering meets security requirements for processing and storing non-public, unclassified data, including controlled unclassified information (CUI).  With such data, the unauthorized disclosure of information can have a serious adverse effect on organizational operations and assets, or individuals.

Although DoD IL4 does not contain classified data or data associated with national security, substantial safeguards are still required.  These safeguards include access controls, identification and authentication, encryption, auditing, and monitoring.

Why Is DoD IL4 Authorization Important for Federal Government Agencies?

In general, software that receives DoD IL4 authorization offers several key benefits for DoD organizations seeking to leverage cloud-based solutions to meet operational needs.

IL4-authorized software includes the following benefits:

  1. Security Assurance:  Undergoes rigorous security assessments and meets extensive security requirements set by the DoD to ensure the software has robust security features and controls in place to protect sensitive information.
  2. Mission Support:  Provides confidence for hosting and processing mission-critical applications and workloads that involve sensitive DoD information.
  3. Interoperability:  Promotes interoperability and compatibility among different DoD systems, platforms and environments – allowing for integration and data exchange between IL4-authorized applications and other DoD components to facilitate collaboration and information-sharing across the enterprise.
  4. Trust and Confidence:  Gives assurance to DoD stakeholders that the software meets the DoD’s rigorous security standards and requirements, enhancing trust and confidence in the software’s ability to ensure the integrity and confidentiality of data.
  5. Efficiency and Cost Savings:  Helps DoD organizations streamline operations, improve efficiency and achieve long-term cost savings by reducing the risk of security incidents and associated remediation costs.

OneStream and DoD IL4 Authorization

OneStream Software is proud to have received DoD IL4 provisional authorization.  When seeking secure cloud solutions that meet federal standards, federal agencies require this important qualification to ensure good information security.

This recognition signifies that OneStream Software meets the security requirements for the processing and storage of controlled unclassified information.

With this authorization, OneStream provides DoD agencies with a robust platform solution for financial consolidation, reporting, planning, analysis and data quality at a heightened security level.

OneStream thus ultimately enables agencies to accelerate and simplify planning processes across the Budget and Finance Offices.  By modernizing back-office operations, federal agencies can better navigate increasing resource costs, optimize funding allocations and advance mission outcomes (see Figure 2).

Figure 2:  OneStream Federal Dashboard Example

At OneStream, we believe security and compliance are critical, so we are committed to providing a secure and reliable platform for our customers.  DoD IL4 marks the latest addition to OneStream’s compliance portfolio, including FedRAMP status Moderate.

Conclusion

DISA plays a crucial role in supporting the needs of the DoD and maintains high standards to ensure security, compliance and mission readiness for cloud environments.  When evaluating software, federal government agencies should understand DISA’s Impact Levels and how they can support agency missions to ensure confidence in selecting software that meets agency requirements.

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Learn more about how OneStream’s platform uniquely empowers government agencies to plan with confidence and best serve their missions at https://www.onestream.com/solutions/public-sector/.

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Artificial intelligence (AI) is one of the most revolutionary technologies of our time and will clearly be a future focus for government agencies.  In fact, the AI in Government Act was created to promote the responsible use of AI technology.  The act will significantly impact agency operations through new demands on the workforce, information and infrastructure.  With this act, Finance leaders can improve their back-office operations and create high-value outcomes.

What is the AI in Government Act of 2020?

The AI in Government Act was established to support federal agencies to ensure they responsibly approach AI technology.  The act has three primary objectives:

Further, the Office of Management and Budget has proposed a policy (currently undergoing the review of public comment) to create new agency requirements and guidance for AI governance, innovation and risk management.  AI will be an important future endeavor that agency leaders will need to weave into future operational plans and that will impact resources, information and infrastructure.  Leaders can thus expect to make operational changes.

What does the AI in Government Act mean for agencies today?

With operational changes on the horizon, agency leaders must strategically plan their next steps for AI integration.  The act and proposed policy outline key new roles, responsibilities, reporting and requirements that agencies will need to consider when adopting AI business processes.  Agencies should consider taking the following actions when approaching AI:

What are practical AI opportunities for Finance teams?

Finance teams can take advantage of AI technology in a variety of valuable, sensible ways to create better outcomes.

One way is by incorporating AI and machine learning (ML) into back-office operations, which is a growing trend for Finance teams.  Why?  Well, ML can help Finance teams make more accurate and reliable forecasts, automate repetitive tasks, and identify patterns and trends that might otherwise go unnoticed in traditional analysis.  How?

ML makes forecasting easy for Finance teams in three ways: 

1. Enhancing budgeting and planning

Traditional Finance planning methods often rely on historical data and assumptions, leading to inaccuracies and limited predictive capabilities.  ML has transformed this process by incorporating multiple variables and complex data relationships, empowering Finance to make more accurate predictions and projections (see Figure 1).

Figure 1:  Sensible ML Enhanced Financial Forecasting and Planning Dashboard

By leveraging ML algorithms, Finance can analyze historical financial data alongside external factors such as market trends, customer behavior and economic indicators.  These algorithms can identify hidden patterns, uncover non-linear relationships and generate more accurate forecasts.  As a result, Finance can make data-driven decisions, optimize resource allocation and mitigate financial risks.  The biggest benefit?  Being able to better plan for different services, such as taxes, fees, and shipping volumes.

2. Employing scenario modeling and sensitivity analysis

Scenario modeling and strategic simulations have become crucial tools that help agencies understand the potential outcomes of different scenarios and decisions.  Using such evaluations, Finance teams can make strategic choices and develop contingency plans to mitigate risks and best serve the agency mission.

By incorporating AI and ML forecasting into scenario planning, agencies can create more realistic and useful scenarios and identify the best course of action (see Figure 2).

Figure 2:  Scenario Planning Process

3. Improving operational efficiency

ML enhances operational efficiency by automating repetitive tasks, minimizing errors and identifying areas for improvement.  Specifically, Finance can leverage ML algorithms to streamline financial processes such as budget formulation, variance reporting and financial reporting.

For example, ML algorithms can remove the need for tedious, manual processes and allow Finance to easily analyze large volumes of financial data to identify anomalies and flag potential risks in real time.  By automating these processes, Finance can save time, enhance accuracy and focus on value-added activities.

Conclusion

Finance teams today need to make significant gains and improve back-office operations.  With the AI in Government Act and the recent executive order from President Biden on the responsible use of AI, an urgency exists for agencies to leverage AI to be competitive during these dynamic times.  Now, agency leaders have a framework to implement AI technology and improve mission effectiveness with practical AI technology.

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Learn more about how OneStream’s Finance AI uniquely empowers agencies to plan with confidence and best serve their missions at https://www.onestream.com/.

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Government agencies are under increasing pressure to effectively communicate their plans, initiatives and impact on the community.  The budget, a powerful communication tool, helps agencies do just that by not only identifying services and funding allocations, but also providing the rationale behind key decisions.  To bolster confidence in budgets, Finance teams must prioritize quality data, foster better collaboration and implement continuous review processes.  

As the next budgeting cycle approaches, now is the time for state and local agencies to make improvements and prepare for a more confident planning season.

Understanding The Significance of the Budget

The annual budget crucially identifies the services that will be provided and the associated funding allocations, resource alignment and accountability of spend.  But the budget is also a powerful communication tool for Finance.  Why?  The budget turns plans, initiatives and programs into facts and figures for both internal and external stakeholders.  In doing so, the budget quantitatively shows what services and functions are a priority and how both will be supported.  The budget essentially creates the rationale behind key decisions and a tangible plan that’s then executed and tracked over time.

Tackling Unique Challenges in Government Planning

Government agency Finance leaders face the demanding task of creating a balanced budget while ensuring long-term financial sustainability.  Balancing the optimization of restricted funds with supporting community goals and initiatives creates a complex challenge (see Figure 1). Accordingly, decisions about the utilization of recurring versus non-recurring funds, reserve allocations, covering core services and funding new initiatives require careful consideration.  To build confidence in their plans, Finance teams must rely on trusted data, collaborate effectively with operations and embrace continuous monitoring.

Figure 1: The challenge of balancing sources and uses of funds

Creating Confidence in the Budget Process

To tackle challenging questions and have assurance behind the plan, Finance requires reliable and trusted data throughout the budget process.  Government agencies can implement the following three strategies to budget with confidence:

  1. Rely on quality data: Leverage tools to centralize data, ensure data quality controls and provide transparency.
  2. Enable better collaboration: Give users not only easy-to-use reporting and planning tools but also the data needed.
  3. Implement continuous improvement processes: Provide teams with the capabilities to do real-time variance reporting, forecasting and robust scenario modeling.

Relying on Quality Data

The foundation of a reliable budget lies in having accurate and timely data to support funding and spending decisions.  Importantly, having facts and figures to support funding and spend decisions builds trust and confidence.   While data doesn’t create answers – that’s what people do – data does lay a foundation that leads to better conversations.  How?  Data facilitates informed conversations, demonstrating the importance of various initiatives and potential trade-offs.

So how do you get trusted data into the hands of Finance and non-Finance teams?

To start, Finance teams should be working with IT and operational stakeholders to leverage available data from across the organization to generate informed insights and make data-driven decisions.  Implementing tools that centralize data from multiple sources, ensure data quality control and provide transparency with drill-back capabilities can foster alignment and trust within the organization.

Figure 2: OneStream Dashboard for Budget Review

Enabling Better Collaboration

While the annual budget is a Finance-driven process, the whole organization should have everyone working toward the common plan and goals outlined for the community.  Doing that takes input from Finance and Operations to create a realistic, executable budget.  How is better alignment achieved? 

Alignment happens when both Finance and Operations are provided with easy-to-use reporting and planning tools and the data needed for analysis. By leveraging built-in reporting and analytics capabilities in a platform with self-service capabilities, Finance can easily and quickly build dashboards and reports that can be shared across the organization – and do it in a way that everyone can understand and use. 

While other Finance professionals may understand data spreadsheets, not everyone has the time or the background to dig into those reports.  Being able to hit the important points in a way that can be easily shared and discussed is therefore critical when time is of the essence in the annual planning process.

Implementing Continuous Improvement Processes

The annual planning process shouldn’t be a set-it-and-forget-it approach.  After all, given the dynamic nature of today’s business environment, the budget can quickly become outdated.  Maintaining the budget’s relevance throughout the year thus requires continuous improvement.

Budget monitoring should extend beyond tracking spend and accountability at the department and account level.  To be effective, budget monitoring should also evaluate the level of service provided to the community, track the progress of new initiatives and programs, and identify trends and factors that can impact future operations.  This wealth of insights empowers state and local agencies to understand their performance and make better decisions for the future.  How can agencies promote continuous improvement?

Agencies looking to facilitate such improvement must provide a platform that will do the following:

Figure 3: OneStream Dashboard for Project Based Budgeting

Conclusion

As the next planning cycle approaches, government agencies must take proactive steps to enhance budget confidence.  Those steps include prioritizing quality data, fostering better collaboration and embracing continuous improvement processes.  Through those actions, agencies can improve planning efficiency and empower decision-makers.  Implementing modern tools and methodologies will ultimately enable government agencies to successfully navigate the complex budgeting process and fulfil the mission of better serving their communities.

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At OneStream, we understand the high-complexity, time-consuming and challenging nature of planning and reporting.  And that understanding is exactly why we built the OneStream Intelligent Finance Platform – which is built to enable confident decision-making and maximize business impact for state and local government agencies.

Want to learn more about how OneStream can empower your organization?  Visit our website at www.onestream.com.

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State & Local Agency Budgets: Planning and Forecasting Challenges

For state & local agency budgets, planning and forecasting are critical functions that ensure the efficient use of taxpayer funds.

But despite having made significant investments in Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) technology, many agencies still find significant challenges in navigating the extremely complex process of government budgeting.  Why?  Because ERP systems were not designed to manage the complexities of government budgets.  Unfortunately, many entities strive to build around these limitations with patchwork systems of point solutions of financial forecasting software and spreadsheets.  This patchwork approach only leads to further challenges where agency financial teams must contend with bottlenecks, disparate data sources and siloed planning processes.  So how can state and local agencies rise above these challenges?

In Smarter, Faster, Better Budgets: How to Supercharge Your ERP to Make Better Use of Financial Data – a recent webinar hosted by Governing, a division of e.Republic – panelists discussed the answer to that question.  

Governing provides news, analysis and insights for the professionals leading America’s states and localities.  Published since 1987, Governing is a trusted source of record for elected, appointed and other public leaders looking to manage the present and anticipate the future of state and local government.

In the webinar, moderator Justin Marlowe, Senior Fellow, Center for Digital Government, discusses with panelists Brenda Decker, Senior Fellow, Center for Digital Government, and Joel Bittick, Regional Manager – SLED, OneStream Software, the complexities and unique challenges of government agency budgets.  In addition, panelists discuss how modern financial forecasting software addresses these challenges by seamlessly integrating with ERP systems and unifying financial management functions.

Conquer Complexity in Budgeting with a Unified Finance Platform

Mr. Marlowe begins the discussion with a question on why so many state and local governments maintain standalone processes for key parts of financial processes despite significant investment in ERP technology.  Then, Mr. Bittick describes how most state and local agencies have made significant investments in ERPs to get actual results right but have realized a gap in what ERPs can deliver.  

This gap leads to those agencies relying on Microsoft Excel® or point solutions for many functions, such as fund/account reconciliations, grant planning, operational planning and Annual Comprehensive Financial Report (ACFR)/Popular Annual Financial Report (PAFR) statutory reporting.  As Mr. Bittick explains, these standalone tools, especially spreadsheets, are prone to errors, lack controls and audit trails, and have limited scalability.  

Mr. Bittick then explores how spreadsheets cannot effectively address the data dimensionality needs of state and local agency Finance teams (see Figure 1).

State & Local Agency Budgets - Example of state and local government agency dimensionality needs
Figure 1.  State and Local Agency Dimensionality Needs Example

After that discussion, Mr. Marlowe addresses Ms. Decker with a question on how to respond when someone says their spreadsheet is too complex to integrate in a financial system.  Ms. Decker, drawing on her experience as the Chief Information Officer of the State of Nebraska for 10+ years, describes how most ERP systems were not designed for government agencies.  As a result, users often needed to rely on spreadsheets that could be built to users’ specific needs.  She explains the answer to this issue is to invest in a financial platform that can be layered atop ERP systems and meet the unique needs of government agencies.

Next, in a specific question to Mr. Bittick, Mr. Marlowe asks how an agency would use OneStream’s Intelligent Finance Platform to modify the static chart of accounts in an ERP system to be more appropriate for that agency’s reporting or budgeting.  Mr. Bittick describes how OneStream is a complementary layer to ERP systems, which primarily manage financial transactions.  Further, he emphasizes, OneStream seamlessly integrates with ERP systems to enable financial analysis, budgeting, planning, forecasting, close and reporting.  

He describes how OneStream does not replace ERP systems but instead complements and aligns with them (see Figure 2).  Elaborating, he discusses how OneStream empowers agencies to manage performance by combining efficient and transparent actual financials with forward-looking plans to measure outcomes and performance.  Ms. Decker adds to this discussion by explaining that ERP systems lack the planning capability to measure the value to fulfill agency obligations to citizens and efficiently manage their money.

The OneStream Intelligent Finance Platform
Figure 2.  OneStream’s Intelligent Finance Platform

Mr. Marlowe then begins a discussion on the challenges of managing federal funding to states and local agencies, such as funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and the Inflation Reduction Act.  Focusing on some of the challenges with these funds, he discusses having to manage the variations in tracking and reporting requirements, among other related aspects.

Ms. Decker replies to note “that money comes with a lot of strings.”  Elaborating, she focuses on the variations in compliance and reporting of grant funding, including the difficulties in managing pass-through grants.  Those grants, she emphasizes, require the agency to not only report on how it dispersed the funds, but also track and report on how the recipients used those funds.  She further explains that, to remain compliant with grant requirements, government agencies must often track things that are not normally tracked in ERP systems.

Following that part of the discussion, Mr. Bittick explains how OneStream’s Intelligent Finance Platform unifies Finance processes, including solutions such as Grant Planning (see Figure 3).  He further explains how this solution enables government agencies to track all their grants and grant information within the platform regardless of the number of grants.  This grant tracking includes all spending split by salaries and wages, purchases, services and other expenses.  Emphasizing the benefits of the tracking, he notes how the solution incorporates both tracking and planning with full auditability.  Ms. Decker also jumps in to emphasize the importance of this planning capability as agencies must carefully evaluate the long-term impact of grants, especially when the initial grant funding will create a future funding obligation after the grant funds are used.

State & Local Agency Budgets - Screen shot of OneStream grant planning
Figure 3.  OneStream’s Grant Planning Solution

Continuing the theme of forward-thinking, Mr. Marlowe asks the panelists about the challenges government agencies face in reporting on return on investment and specifically with performance-based budgeting.

Ms. Decker describes how establishing ROI metrics can be very difficult for government agencies, who often must fulfill mandates that are challenging to measure.  As an example, she contrasts the clarity of measuring the completeness of a road construction project with an ease-of-access project.  In the latter, the results are relatively hard to define, so agencies should look for systems that can accommodate this need.  Mr. Bittick then provides an example of how a current OneStream customer is leveraging the platform to implement performance-based budgeting (see Figure 4).  Specifically, he describes how the customer engages OneStream to define ROI metrics.

State & Local Agency Budgets - OneStream performance-based budgeting example
Figure 4:  OneStream Customer Example

As the webinar draws toward a close, the panelists conclude with a discussion of how current inflation rates are impacting state and local agencies’ budgeting processes.  Ms. Decker describes how agencies are being asked to plan for multiple scenarios in response to inflationary pressure and how ERP systems don’t have the capability for multi-scenario planning.  Continuing the discussion, Mr. Bittick explains how a large state agency that has been struggling with spreadsheets is leveraging OneStream to respond to changing inflation rates by recasting forecasts monthly with the previous month’s actuals included.  This process would be extremely difficult with spreadsheets, but it takes only a few minutes with OneStream’s financial forecasting software.

Conclusion

When seeking to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of budget processes to optimize the use of taxpayer funds, the Finance teams of state and local agencies are faced with different complications from their business counterparts.  ERP systems are effective in managing agency financial transactions, but the systems aren’t designed for the unique requirements of government planning.  And as the webinar highlights, OneStream’s Intelligent Finance Platform complements and aligns with ERP systems and enables agencies to conquer complexity in government budgeting, planning and forecasting.

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Want to learn more about OneStream’s state & local agency budget, planning and forecasting capabilities for Finance teams?  Watch the webinar replay here, or contact us for a demonstration.

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The health of any multifaceted organization depends on multiple teams working in unison, with several sources of data in real-time. In this post, we’ll take a quick look at how the right technology can boost your team’s ability to collaborate quickly and accurately – all through the lens of higher ed budgeting and planning software.

There’s nothing simple about budgeting and planning in higher education. It’s a matrix. How, exactly? Well, simply put, there are just too many moving parts, too many external variables, and too many stakeholders for these two foundational activities to be linear. As today’s increasing pace of change places ever more pressure on Finance teams, many are taking steps to modernize their static budgeting and planning cycles.

Successful Planning and Budgeting Depends on Massive Collaboration

You’d be hard-pressed to find a regent, president, provost, dean, or any other higher-ed leader who didn’t list collaboration as a core value. Educational institutions have an inherent interdependence and must have all their organizational units in sync, working together, to accomplish large goals (see Figure 1). For that reason, access to and collaboration with quality data is imperative at every level of the organization.

Gartner Cloud FC MQ

Figure 1: The Importance of Data Sharing and Collaboration Source: HBR Analytic Services, 2020

The collaboration gap in budgeting and planning often begins and ends with the segregated nature of internal systems and, more importantly, how those systems share data and edits. Any team emailing around versions of spreadsheets and documents with edits and notes knows this pain all too well.

If those teams are printing hard copies and editing with sticky notes – a practice that’s still surprisingly common – then that pain may even be worse. Essentially, working separately and consolidating along the way creates openings for errors and destroys any hope for a quick, accurate turnaround.

Manual Processes Producing Static Budgets and Plans Don’t Work Anymore

Spreadsheets aren’t equipped to handle the multiple layers of work happening within the flurry of activity known as budgeting and planning in higher ed.

Gartner Cloud FC MQ

Figure 2: Problems Caused by Spreadsheet Collaboration Reach Far and Wide Source: MarketWatch, “88% of spreadsheets have errors

In fact, budgeting and planning teams are expected to turn edits, integrate new data and structures, keep up to date, and communicate more clearly than ever before. Here are just a few of the top challenges that bog down budgeting and planning efforts when they’re rooted in manual updates through spreadsheets:

  1. No Version Control. Have you ever been working on a big project where your teammates sent you multiple emails with an attachment that had the same name? Did you know which one you were supposed to use, without wasting time looking back through the entire chain of exchanges?
  2. No Audit Trail. When you’re exchanging files, how do you remember who changed what? Do you remember when they changed it?
  3. Too Many Errors. Have you been tasked with preparing the final output? While you were re-typing edits from the separate notes and spreadsheets into the final output (was that really the “final”… or “final2″…), did you accidentally mistype a number? We’ve all been there, and we’ve all spent hours scouring the source sheets to find the correct entry. Worse yet, what if you missed the error altogether, and the final output is incorrect when it’s delivered to leadership?
  4. Slow Turnaround. Everyone hates deadlines, but speed is important when you’re making strategic decisions. Have you ever pushed to deliver on time, finished your work, and only later learned that leadership was disappointed that the output you delivered was out of date compared to the information they just heard on the news or read about in a legislative update? If your knowledge and data can’t update in real-time to your outputs, how can you be sure you’re making good decisions?

The hidden costs of spreadsheets are created by duplication of effort, errors, and rework. All this wasted time moves your team’s focus away from the true value of analysis and communication that supports strong decision-making across the institution and keeps everyone stuck in busywork.

As the pace of change continues to increase, higher ed Finance teams need to shift focus away from data gathering, reconciling, and managing key integration points and into collaborating with decision-makers and providing better, faster insights.

Moving Forward with Confidence

At OneStream, we understand that complexity is the inevitable by-product of change, especially in higher ed. Accordingly, we believe that your success will not be realized by eliminating complexity but will instead be achieved by effectively steering your institution through it.

How do we do it? Our unified Intelligent Finance platform (see Figure 3) allows us to deliver our many capabilities within a single, extensible, cloud-based application built to scale along with your organization. That’s why hundreds of organizations, including many higher ed institutions, have chosen OneStream – and they’ve never looked back.

OneStream’s Intelligent Finance Platform
Figure 3: OneStream’s Intelligent Finance Platform

Why is unification important? Well, it eliminates openings for errors created by manual work and separate, connected financial reporting tools. If you re-type data or are dependent on technical connection points for updates, you have opened the door for potential problems.

What can a platform approach do for you and your team? Here are a few of the key benefits you get with OneStream’s budgeting and planning software:

Learn More

Need some proof? How about a great example from one of the nation’s top 10 public research universities? This case study details how OneStream has helped reduce the time needed to complete budgets and has detailed ROIs, including how a regular existing 3.5 hour-process was reduced to just 5 minutes.

Want to continue the discussion? Have any questions? Contact us, and one of our experts will reach out to you ASAP.

Download the Case Study

Budgeting, Accounting, and Finance teams in higher education, just like in other fields, must adapt and thrive in the face of rapid change.  In this blog series, we’ll uncover the key value drivers that modern budgeting and planning software has to offer higher-ed leaders.  We’ll also map out how these leaders can begin or accelerate the journey to conquering complexity and empowering their teams to lead at speed.

Speed and Agility Are More Important Than Ever

While accuracy, transparency, and consistency are the backbone of accounting and financial operations, adding speed and agility is what ultimately separates the institutions that deliver consistent value from those that struggle.

And as the two-year mark of the COVID-19 pandemic flies by, speed and agility have never been more important for leaders in higher education.

These leaders have been repeatedly forced to adjust daily operations.  But they now face another obstacle: reconciling visions, plans, and budgets with a historic disruption that has created dips in enrollment, leading to a critical loss in revenue (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: YOY Enrollment Changes by Institution Type

Chart: Natalie Schwartz/Higher Ed Drive, Source: National Student Clearinghouse Research Center

Those revenue losses naturally put pressure on the Finance team.  And while pressure is nothing new to financial leaders in higher ed, COVID-19 and its complexities have undermined many institutions to the point where they’re no longer trying to balance budgets through cuts and efficiencies.  Instead, schools must rethink and restructure their business models.

Board members, presidents, and deans – all of whom carry huge responsibilities – are thus demanding more consistent and timely data inform their decisions.

Accounting and Finance teams must therefore modernize to streamline processes, unify outputs and empower leadership with the information needed to not only make key decisions but also pivot when necessary.  After all, the total economic and operational impacts of the pandemic are not yet known, but one thing is certain: complexity and the rapid pace of change are the new normal.

What’s on the Way in This Blog Series

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be laying out why higher-ed leaders need a modern, platform-based approach to planning, budgeting, and forecasting. We’ll also cover how to speed reporting and analysis cycles – and we’ll lay out the roadmap to show you how to make that a reality.

Below is a breakdown of the topics and related challenges we’ll cover along the way:

  1. Budgeting- Does your annual budget process take too long due to manual data integration with core systems and an over-reliance on spreadsheets for modeling?  Even after all that effort, do you lack visibility into the funding sources across the organization?  If you’re relying on outdated systems and processes, it makes aligning financial plans to strategic goals difficult.  Why?  Well, focusing on institutional priorities requires precision – and precision is a key benefit that enterprise performance management software brings to the table.
  2. Long Range Planning/Forecasting Does your long-range planning process produce stagnant documents that are often out of date before the end of the first quarter? With so many moving pieces, state funding sources, research, endowments, ever-rising costs, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to keep your plan and your forecasts relevant. Predictive analytics and forecasting solve that dilemma.
  3. Reporting/Analysis (Signaling)– Traditionally, reporting has been used to monitor and communicate progress toward the goals and priorities outlined in plans and budgets – so reporting has historically only looked backward.  Moving forward, we want to enhance the reporting function.  To empower leaders to receive and quickly understand financial and operational positions.  To give leaders the data and insights needed to pivot when and where it’s necessary to course correct or take advantage of opportunities.  Financial signaling makes it all happen.

The Better Alternative – A Unified Platform

OneStream has empowered hundreds of organizations (including dozens in the public sector) to unleash the power of Accounting and Finance by unifying planning, budgeting, forecasting, reporting, and analytics through a single, extensible solution (see Figure 2).  This solution is delivered via a  cloud platform designed to evolve and scale with your institution.

Why should you care?  Well, here are just a few of the key benefits you get with OneStream’s budgeting and planning software:

Figure 2: OneStream’s Unified Intelligent Finance Platform

Let’s Connect and Continue the Discussion

While you may not yet be a customer, we appreciate your work in the public sector and value your opinion – and we’d love to explore opportunities where we can move forward together.  At OneStream, our mission is simple: “Every customer is a reference, one success at a time.”

For more information, download the Higher Education Solution Brief.  Want to continue the discussion?  Have any questions? Contact us, and one of our experts will reach out to you ASAP.

Download the Solution Brief

If government finance is about anything, it is about data. Often vast amounts of data. Data that is received (from source systems such as ERPs or other agencies), data that is processed (such as budget formulation, allocations, and projections), and data that goes out the door (data to other agencies and reports to the pubic).

In virtually any step of the financial data journey, we find ourselves in need of additional information about the number in front of us at a particular moment. If it is an aggregated value, what are the component parts? Where did the number come from? Was it imported from another system? Did someone enter the number? Was it calculated? Is this number tied to a specific fund, bureau, program, project, or strategic goal? Has this number changed? Who changed it? When did they change it? What was it before they changed it? Did it require approval to be changed? Who approved it, and when? What other numbers are impacted if this number changes?

This all comes down to what is possibly one of the most over-used, erroneously defined, and diversely understood terms in government finance: analysis. This is perhaps because the term is used outside of government finance in virtually every field imaginable. In fact, I recall in a music composition class in college, we analyzed Bach concertos. But, when it comes to government financial data analysis, it can be summed up as the process of uncovering the “back story” of numbers. How it got here and what it really represents. There are possibly as many ways to analyze financial data as there are to interpret the term. The following is a discussion of some of the most common methods of financial analysis in government today and some of the pros and cons of each:

1 – Call Someone

This is the most basic solution to the analysis problem. We need to know detailed information about a value so we phone/email the person we think may have the required information. This may be the correct person, or maybe not. The response may be swift, or maybe not. There is often no knowledge of the level of effort required from the responder to produce the information being requested. This method is most effective for executives or consumers of information who typically are just dealing with very high-level aggregations of data and infrequently have inquiries of this nature. The return on investment of their time to get access and training to use any other method may not be worth it to them or the agency.

Pros:

Cons:

2 – Use Spreadsheets

spreadsheets

This method is widely used. This is the method used by many of the people on the receiving end of the requests in method 1. This involves IT produced data extracts which then are mapped and uploaded into legacy data structures such as Essbase or TM1. Then the add-ins are used to connect to that data. The effectiveness of this method can vary greatly depending on the structure of the source data, the structure of the intermediary data storage area, and skill and availability of the IT team involved in extracting and maintaining the data. Many agencies continue using this method simply because they have done so for a very long time.

While there certainly is a high level of familiarity in this method, getting to the needed information can be very time consuming. The needed data often resides in more than one system. There may be financial transactional data in one system, budget data in another, workflow and approval tracking in another, account reconciliations in another, and audit information in yet another. This can make the process extremely complex, or depending on the requirements, impossible.

Pros:

Cons:

3 – Use Business Intelligence Tools

Many agencies have various business intelligence (BI) tools such as Tableau, Qlik, or Cognos. These are used to explore data, build dashboards, track key performance indicators, and produce reports. Many of them have fairly sophisticated ETL (extract, transform, load) capability to join tables and pull data from source systems while others rely on 3rd party ETL tools. In most cases they rely on utilizing data in a data universe, warehouse, data lake, or data mart.

While BI tools require specialized training, most agencies with these tools in house have experts on staff. However, these experts tend to reside in an IT (Information technology) group or other operational teams and may not have the financial acumen needed. Rarely does any type of audit or control information get moved from source systems to a data warehouse and the BI tools lack any audit capability on their own. BI tools also lack financial intelligence, so any financial treatment of data requires extensive configuration and/or programming.

Pros:

Cons:

4 – Use a Financial Management Platform with Analysis Included

Financial Analysis

A newer option to address this need is utilizing an intelligent finance platform that has financial analysis capability built in such as OneStream. Instead of pulling data from a budget system, a consolidation system, an account reconciliation system, a document management system, a reporting system, and a workflow system, this is all done in a single platform. Several forward-thinking agencies are currently using this new technology or in the process of rolling it out. But the majority of agencies still have multiple siloed systems to manage these various functions as this was the only technology available until fairly recently.

These older systems were state-of-the-art when implemented 15 to 20 years ago. The newer technology manages these functions in a single platform with all the analytic capability residing in the same platform. This allows a user to drill-down and analyze a data element from anywhere in the system with full audit and data control. This could be a budget formulation data entry screen, a KPI dashboard, a CARS reconciliation, or a section of a CBJ or AFR. When a user sees a number and has a question regarding that number or visibility into who made any changes, they can get the “back story” from wherever they are in the process in real time. This is possible since all the functionality is contained in a single platform.

Pros:

Cons:

Hopefully this was a helpful overview of some of the most common ways to get the underlying details of your numbers. All have their place and their pros and cons. And every agency has to decide what works best to understand the “back story” of their numbers.

To learn more visit the OneStream web site.

COVID-19 is impacting almost every individual and organization across the globe. And while we are several months into the pandemic, there are still so many unanswered questions. Will our largest population zones revert back to shelter-in-place restrictions? Should we really anticipate up to three-fold increases in remote work as Hackett’s Finance 2020 research suggests? And when will consumer demand and supply chain activity return to pre-COVID levels, if ever?

State and local government and education (SLED) and public higher education face the same questions as their private sector brethren. How so? Because existing annual or biennial budgets no longer reflect the economic environment under COVID. The impact and uncertainty from COVID are bringing many questions about these organizations’ funding sources considering the variability in macroeconomic conditions. Why? Because public higher education operating budgets receive anywhere from 15%-40% of their funding from state and federal funds. And with uncertainty permeating across federal, state and local agencies, the challenge for leaders within higher education to focus on structural classroom changes is becoming increasingly difficult. State and local governments face similar pressures too, as 50-60% of their tax receipts (e.g. sales and property tax) are typically generated from the retail and other tax generating industries which have been decimated throughout the pandemic.

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The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is one of two annual bills designed for Congress to oversee the budget for the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD). The authorization bill determines the agencies responsible for defense, establishes funding levels, and sets the policies for allocating budget dollars. And this year, the budgeting requirements create the perfect environment to deploy corporate performance management (CPM) solutions too.

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The Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) is a US government-wide program that provides a standardized approach to security assessment, authorization, and continuous monitoring for cloud products and services. It was designed to support the need for federal agencies to rapidly adapt from old, insecure legacy IT to mission-enabling, secure, and cost-effective cloud-based IT systems.

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