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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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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.
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).
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.
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.
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:
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.
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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.
2 – Use 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.
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.
4 – Use a Financial Management Platform with Analysis Included
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.
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.
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.
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.
Finance leaders must increasingly navigate the interconnected challenges of organizational complexity. To drive performance, they must execute critical processes with efficiency and support decision-making across the enterprise with timely access to financial and operating results.
And now, suddenly, Finance teams must also adapt and respond to the unprecedented increase in the demand for remote operation spurred by COVID-19. It’s now more critical than ever for them to drive efficiency in financial processes. But success in this complex environment hinges on having sophisticated collaboration and process management capabilities.
For finance leaders in the public sector, the discussion around government off-the-shelf (GOTS) and commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) software has been around for a long time. And like many of the great debates in government, odds are this debate isn’t going away anytime soon. Why? Well, with all the buzz on digital transformation taking place in comptroller and budget offices, finance leaders are taking matters into their own hands. How? They’re taking control of their future by choosing the right corporate performance management (CPM) solution to address the planning, programming and budgeting execution (PPBE) and financial close and reporting processes.
Despite improved U.S. economic conditions, state and local agencies are continuing to grapple with uncertainty. Want proof? Consider the impact the lasting effect high debt burdens and pension shortfalls are having during the budgeting process. And if that’s not enough, fluctuations in tax policies aren’t helping either, as the resulting impact to income receipts make cash flow planning murky at best.
The war for talent is also a challenge for state and local agencies, as qualified personnel resources are difficult to find. And at a time when audit oversight and operational regulations are adding additional scrutiny to the budget formulation process – top talent is also difficult to retain.
OneStream recently received the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) Moderate authorization, an important qualification for federal agencies seeking cloud solutions that are secure and meet federal standards. In fact, OneStream is the first cloud CPM provider to achieve the FedRAMP Moderate authorization.