In Black & White

Freeing Finance & Budget Departments from Drudgery One Article at a Time

City of San Luis

City of San Luis

  • Rachel Raymond
  • Success Stories
  • minute(s)Game Changer: City of San Luis Cuts Weeks from ACFR Process Project: ACFR Automation Organization: City of San Luis Population: 35,770 (2022) Platform: Workiva The Need The small but mighty finance department at the City of San Luis, Arizona, was looking to automate its Annual Comprehensive Financial Report (ACFR) preparation process. Their primary goals were to save as much time as possible and reduce their risk of error. They wanted a streamlined, repeatable process producing a quality, reliable report. When FHB met the City’s team, they were relying heavily on hand-keyed data entry. “We were doing the process manually…the financial information was in Excel, and the financial statements, some of that was in Word,” said Monica Castro, CPA, Director of Finance for the City. “There seem to be more errors when you do a lot of manual work. So, that's one of the things that we wanted to improve,” she said. As an added challenge, the San Luis team was knee-deep in budget season as they set out to optimize their ACFR process. The Right Tool The FHB team, led by Principal Consultant Faith Olanipekun, CPA, met with the San Luis team to assess their needs. Based on their conversations, FHB recommended that the city implement Workiva. As a cloud-based tool, Workiva was great fit for San Luis, allowing multiple people to work on the ACFR simultaneously; the software is also intuitive for anyone who’s used Excel, and specifically designed to support financial reporting. Leaving Nothing to Chance The Partnership The notion of cost savings might entice some municipalities to implement software on their own. However, Monica saw the value in a formal, professional implementation. “FHB’s expertise was crucial to the success of the project. I would not have been able to implement Workiva without the help of the FHB team,” she said “They were always available when we needed them, quick to respond to our questions and provided answers that solved our issues. Their accounting expertise was excellent," she added. “The implementation was great,” said Carolina Corral, Accountant for San Luis. “Faith was available whenever I needed help. She was good at explaining how to do things.” “FHB is a great team to work with. They really helped us through the process, gave us a lot of alternatives, especially with us being a small municipality,” said Monica. The Results Monica estimates that the ACFR automation project will save her team, "Weeks. Because for instance, the management, discussion, and analysis (MD&A) has a lot of tables in it. Before, we would update the tables in an Excel spreadsheet, then copy and paste it into a Word document. With the new software, the table is already built in that document—as long as you upload the information, it is already linked to pull the information into the note or wherever it belongs.” Another benefit of the project is the simplification and automation of formatting, which will improve the standardization and professional appearance of the team’s reports. “Everything will have the same indentation, same margin, same font,” said Monica. “Rounding was another thing that caused a lot of headaches throughout the report. So, having a rule for that and making sure that everything gets rounded as to the specifications we want will save more time,” she said. Monica’s team now feels comfortable moving forward in Workiva. “The training provided by FHB throughout the process helped us better understand the software and be able to manage it ourselves,” she said.   Looking Ahead To ensure Monica’s staff is equipped for success, FHB’s Capstone Training will be invaluable, as it includes a video capturing instructions and demonstrations specific to the City's process. Combined with Aftercare Support, to be provided by the same FHB team members who led the implementation, the training will ensure that the City won’t waste any time with questions or worries about optimal use of the solution.  In the future, Monica and her team may reengage FHB to help revamp their budget book process. “I definitely see a lot of potential in Workiva,” she said. “Its capabilities are much greater than the other application we have.” In the past, she said, “There was always a rush. We were so focused on just getting the document completed, we would just finalize it at a bare minimum. Because of the limited time, we were always working against the clock and just meeting the deadline of having the report out for compliance purposes." "I definitely think that we will be able to make a better document, and that's the ultimate goal,” she said.
Learn how FHB helped the City of San Luis cut weeks from its ACFR process while improving accuracy.
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State of West Virginia

State of West Virginia

  • Rachel Raymond
  • Success Stories
  • minute(s)West Virginia Team Automates More Than 90% of Budget Book Project: Budget Book Automation Organization: State of West Virginia Population 1.78 million (2021) Solution: Workiva Wdesk & Wdata The Challenge When we first spoke with the State of West Virginia (WV) budget office team, they were looking to automate their process for producing Volume II of their annual budget book. Heather Greenfield, Budget Analyst, explained that the team’s existing process was “all manual…you’re talking about the…domino effect…so, if you [made] one change, it [would] hit 12 different places across several different books—thousands of pages—and you’d have to remember where all of those [were].” How It Went With their 2024 budget book recently completed, WV sat down with us to discuss the project’s implementation and outcomes. “Personally, I've never gone through an implementation where I was so heavily involved. Most [of the ones] I've gone through...had a tech team heading up [the project], so this was pretty ‘hands-on' for us, but it was good... I think it helped us learn what to do and troubleshoot a lot more so than if we hadn't been so hands-on,” said Misty Reese, the office’s Deputy Director. FHB Principal Consultant Jill Moats, CPA and her team set up custom queries, tables, and scripting to automate WV's narratives, eliminating the need to update each one manually and the associated risk. FHB also provided WV with the full documentation of their configuration, with step-by-step instructions for updating scripts, creating new groups, and more. This documentation will be particularly helpful when bringing new employees on board. "There was very little that we had to do manually besides setting it up as a one-time thing...and we have a colossal amount of data...it was pretty impressive," said Heather. At one point during the implementation, the WV team ran into some technical difficulties. FHB’s tech support team did some troubleshooting and discovered that the issue was software-related—which is not unheard of, even among best-in-breed solutions like Workiva. FHB and Workiva worked together to facilitate a quick resolution. “It was helpful to have somebody to go to bat for us...it's nice that F. H. Black has had all this experience with [Workiva] and could get it sorted,” said Heather. An Expert Team Throughout the project, the WV team was in Jill's capable hands. Her public-sector accounting expertise was immediately evident, said Heather. “Every state or project is going to be different, but I felt like—even for our most complicated tasks or procedures, different accounting techniques, or details [specific to us]—she was able to pick up on [those] pretty quickly.” “Jill was awesome. Anytime we had a problem or question, she just dove into it and was relentless in figuring it out…I felt like she had our back.” –Heather Greenfield, Budget Analyst, WV State Budget Office Misty agreed. “[Jill] was wonderful. Very smart. She was really good to work with,” she said. The entire WV team was highly impressed with Jill’s responsiveness. “She would send us messages, even late at night,” Heather said. “Yeah, at 1 a.m., we [were thinking], ‘why are you awake?’,” Misty added. “We even had a meeting on her day off, so she always made time for us…I never felt like she left us hanging,” said Heather. Having an expert guide the project was crucial to ensuring an optimal outcome for the WV team. Jill adapted project steps to meet the team’s needs in real time, harnessing functionality that they otherwise wouldn’t have known existed. Staying on Track WV was also pleased with FHB’s project management approach. “[Their tool] worked really well. It was helpful to go in and see exactly what I had to do, and if I was behind deadline,” said Heather. “And then also having the links to…a Microsoft Teams meeting, or [file] or [video] links, all in one place. It kept the whole thing organized,” she said. A Measurable Outcome With the help of FHB, the WV team successfully automated more than 90 percent of their budget book document. For the first time, Heather and her team were able to beat the book's deadline by several hours. "You don't finish Volume II early. And it was done two hours early. It was crazy," she said. What's Next “[In the past], sometimes we [didn’t] have time to even proof our books. There were so many changes and... we were doing all this manual work...we just sent them off because we're required...to do so. Now, [we] don't have to worry about those little embarrassing errors. [We] can go through and read the books, [we] can do analysis if [we] want to,” said Heather. The WV team plans to make the most of its new setup. “The goal is to add other volumes...and that will save even more time…there are so many possibilities,” she said.
With the help of FHB, the State of West Virginia dramatically reduced the time it took to produce their Budget Book.
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City of Houston and Houston Airport System

City of Houston and Houston Airport System

  • Rachel Raymond
  • Success Stories
  • minute(s)Houston, we have a solution. Project: ACFR Automation Organizations: City of Houston Controller's Office & Houston Airport System City's Population: 6.8 million Solution: Workiva Wdesk & Wdata Occasionally, two connected organizations hire FHB to guide them through implementations concurrently. Such was the case for the Office of the Controller at the City of Houston, Texas, and Houston Airport System. While FHB Principal Consultant Joy Richardson, CPA, was leading the Controller’s office through automation of their ACFR process, her colleague, FHB Principal Consultant Jill Moats, CPA, began working with Houston Airport System to automate theirs. The Airport project was expected to trail behind the City’s project by about two months. However, in the end, the two implementations were wrapped up within one week of each other. The Challenges When we met the two teams, each of their ACFR preparation processes was manual and cumbersome, requiring a great deal of data entry. Former Deputy City Controller–Financial Reporting at the City of Houston, Beverly Riggans, CPA, knew the process needed to be modernized, and spearheaded the effort. “We used spreadsheets, linking, PDFs,” said Conrad Lin, Deputy Director–Financial Reporting, Office of the City Controller, City of Houston. “If we changed one page number, we’d have to [manually] change 25 other page numbers,” he said. Collaboration within each separate team was tenuous at best. “[We saved] the spreadsheet into network folders, and you could only have one person in there [at a time]. So, [you’d] see emails coming through saying, ‘can you get out of the file?’,” said Conrad. Collaboration between the two teams was also challenging. “The airport would prepare their own financial statements, and then send a spreadsheet to the City Controller, who would then…enter it into the controller’s spreadsheet. And sometimes…the captions were different, they may have entered it in the wrong line…once it [was] published, the lines [wouldn’t] line up…it just caused a lot of a lot of issues between the departments,” said Conrad. “Government’s having a hard time hiring people—qualified, experienced reporting personnel. So, we have to figure out some way to utilize technology to do some of the job,” said Conrad. Leaving Nothing to Chance Both the Airport and City teams chose to implement Workiva for ACFR automation. Out of the box, the software is a blank slate to be built upon. With the right skills and knowledge, it becomes a powerful tool for process optimization. Why Not Self-implement? While some finance teams might opt to self-implement automation software, Conrad advises against it. “I wouldn't think that would be a good idea…because the system is definitely more sophisticated and more complicated… you need some experience with it in order to set it up correctly…doing it yourself…it would take a lot of trial and error to get it to work. And typically, a regular user wouldn't know how to write a script…even if you [get assistance with] those very technical parts of the system…to do the initial setup, it will help a lot. [If there are] issues later on, you're going to be spending more time and money to try to fix it [rather than] just doing it correctly from the start,” he said. Conrad recalled that the City’s Combined Utilities team elected to self-implement a similar solution. It took them three years, and there are still a lot of updates to be made to the setup in Workiva, he added. For any city like Houston—large and complicated, with multiple entities they're trying to connect—self-implementation would be exceptionally difficult. “I’d say it would be impossible for the controllers to just set up the whole thing…you could have a whole team of two or three employees just working on [it] year-round for five years, trying to get it all integrated and connected,” Conrad said. A Powerful Partnership Both the City and the Airport System were very pleased with FHB’s performance and partnership. “Joy was very knowledgeable. She’s been an auditor. So, [our] implementation was great,” said Conrad. Nicki at the Airport System provided similar feedback. “Jill was awesome…Jill, [FHB Technical Consultant Michael Spurlin], [Principal Consultant Faith Olanepikun, CPA], all of them, were really quick to respond. Communication was seamless. We were able to get everything done right away, with no issues at all,” she said. Nicki appreciated that the FHB team was transparent about what they could accomplish, rather than trying to placate her team. “[FHB] was very good at letting us know what we could and could not actually do. They didn't...commit to something that they knew wasn't possible, which I really appreciate.” –Nicki Thibodeaux Public Sector Expertise In addition to their software expertise, all of FHB’s Principal Consultants are CPAs who bring decades of public sector experience to every implementation. “They have seen many governments’ financials and they have worked in government,” Conrad said. When asked, on a scale of one to 10, how important government experience was for a successful implementation, he replied, “A 10. I saw another implementation, without the experience, and there were multiple issues, missing pieces, costly to fix… they didn't have the knowledge of the accounting or the Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB) requirements. You have to have governmental experience to…know how to fix the issues,” he said. The Results Accuracy Nicki is relieved that many opportunities for manual error have been eliminated from the Airport System’s ACFR process. “...everything is crossfooted with the data validation table…[with] the linking, we put our number in one spot and it goes to the five places that it needs to go to... so, a lot of that tedious crossfooting [is taken care of].” Time and Cost Savings The Airport System is grateful for the time savings their new process will bring. “I think typically, [our] ACFR [isn’t] released till the end of December. And we were literally done on our deadline, which was Nov. 15—a month and a half early. Everybody sees how much [this implementation] has improved our process, immediately,” she said. Conrad’s team saw similar results. Last year marked their first time meeting the ACFR deadline. “I don't think it had ever happened ‘til last year…we actually finished it,” he said. For Conrad and his team, the implementation resulted in a time savings of 75 percent, reducing four months of work (for 10 people) down to one month, he said. This dramatic reduction in workload means “more efficiency and less stress for the staff, and reduced turnover,” Conrad said. It also means savings of approximately $150,000 for the City, which can be dedicated to other projects. Benefits of Concurrent Projects When connected teams within a larger organization implement the same solution concurrently, they are bound to see additional benefits beyond what is typically expected. This was true for the Airport System and the Controller’s Office. “The fact that [FHB] did the City and [Airport System] at the same time, we saw right away how that benefited both sides. We have a lot of work papers that were fed from the Airport to the City, and [vice-versa]. And your team was able to implement that,” said Nicki. “I loved how Jill and Joy were able to collaborate…to use the work Joy did in the first month [with the City] to speed up [Jill’s] work on the Airport,” she said. Having FHB work with both the Airport and the City, “eliminated a lot of unnecessary conflict,” said Conrad. “It’s good that the same firm [got] everything set up at once and applied the same standards, procedures, that really helps,” he said. Because the two systems were interconnected and using the same software, communication and collaboration were simpler and timelier. Nicki appreciated, “the synergy of being able to use the software with the two reporting entities and [the way] Conrad was able to add comments to [the Airport’s documents] ...it was real time [collaboration]...there was no delay,” she said. It's much easier now that we have all the workspaces connected to the airport…[the Airport] pushes [data] to [the City], the Airport [has] access to [the City data], and we [can] look at it together at the same time, so there's no difference between [the two]. And it's a much quicker process,” said Conrad. Having the two systems integrated saved the City “days of time,” he said. What's Next? As a testament to the effectiveness of FHB’s training, Conrad and Beverly successfully added their “trends” report (a shorter, simpler report than the ACFR) into their new system without any guidance. In the future, “we want to learn how to write script and…how to get different reports…so if we need to create another monthly or quarterly report, it doesn’t affect the ACFR file,” he said. Conrad’s team is also open to discussion with FHB about future Treasury and GASB work. Did you know? FHB offers a live, CPA-led course on Structured Query Language (SQL) and the basics of chains. Register for Workiva 201 today. With the Controller’s and Airport System’s projects successfully completed, the City’s Finance Department is now looking to optimize their monthly financial reporting process, Conrad said. Nicki and the Airport System team have their eyes on a couple of additional projects as well, around financial close reconciliations and interim reporting/variance analysis. “So, we'll probably be reaching out [to FHB] as we get to those,” she said. We’re always curious as to whether our clients would recommend partnering with FHB, knowing what they know once implementation is complete. When we asked Nicki, she did not hesitate to reply. “Absolutely. Absolutely,” she said.
By partnering with FHB for ACFR process improvement, the City of Houston and Houston Airport System reaped the benefits of concurrent implementations.
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Insurance Risk Management vs. Enterprise Risk Management

Insurance Risk Management vs. Enterprise Risk Management

  • Ed McCaulley
  • In Control
  • minute(s)Comparing and Contrasting Two Approaches The goal of risk management, in its myriad forms, is to help organizations achieve their objectives by minimizing threats and maximizing opportunities. Prominent approaches include Insurance Risk Management and Enterprise Risk Management (ERM). In this blog, we will highlight the similarities and differences between these two strategies. Historical Perspective As a formalized discipline, the insurance industry started in the late 1600s in a popular London gathering place for shipping magnates named Lloyd’s Coffee House. Ships returning from long voyages, laden with trade goods, represented an enormous financial windfall to their owners. However, the risks were significant, and many ships never returned, becoming lost at sea due to weather, pirates, or simply poor decisions. Initially, groups of owners got together and started sharing risks, taking a stake in each other’s ships and cargo so that a successful voyage benefitted all owners, and a lost ship did not become a financial catastrophe to a single owner. Over time, these risk-sharing arrangements evolved into risk transfers. Individual investors would promise to repay the ship owner in the event of a loss, and in exchange, they would receive a premium. To formalize these arrangements, investors (insurers) would literally write their names under the text describing the possession or event for which they were assuming some risk. This gave rise to the term “written under” or underwriting. In comparison, Enterprise Risk Management does not have a storied background; in fact, the discipline is still being developed. In the mid-1990s, several high-profile company failures prompted the creation of the COSO Internal Control – Integrated Framework. Published in 1992, this initial COSO model quickly become the de facto standard to guide an organization’s internal control activities. However, in the years following its release, organizations began to realize there were gaps. In 2004, COSO came out with the Enterprise Risk Management – Integrated Framework, which broadened the scope of the model from financial reporting and fraud risks to include all risks impacting an organization’s objectives. In 2009, the International Organization for Standardization came out with ISO 31000, a family of standards related to risk management. ISO 31000 provided thought leadership on the practical side of risk management, including guidelines and practical advice for implementation. The COSO Internal Control and ERM frameworks were updated in 2013 and 2017, respectively. Insurance Risk Management At its core, Insurance Risk Management involves the treatment of risk through risk transfer. This approach leverages insurance products to shield against financial losses stemming from unforeseen events. Here are some of its defining characteristics: Risk Transfer Principle: Insurance Risk Management principally focuses on transferring risk from the insured party to the insurance provider through the payment of premiums. However, the risk must be an “insurable risk,” which requires that the loss be accidental and unintentional, determinable and measurable; the chance of loss must be calculable; and the premium must be economically feasible. Tailored Risk Coverage: This coverage is focused on specific risks, like property damage from fire or flood; personal injury to customers, consumers, or employees for failing to meet some fiduciary standard; or business losses from natural disasters. These risks are covered by various insurance policies—including property, liability, and business interruption insurance, for example. Insurers analyze specific risks and tailor coverage to address those risks explicitly, as defined in the insurance contract. Financial Safeguarding: The primary objective here is to provide financial protection in the event of unexpected occurrences, ensuring organizations can rebound from losses without severe financial repercussions. Claims Management: Whether an organization is self-insured or purchases insurance, it has a role in managing its own claims—specifically, looking at the root cause leading to a loss and determining whether policy or process changes are necessary. For self-insured organizations, additional tasks include determining the legitimacy of the claim (aka claims adjudication), settling claims, paying claims, and establishing claims reserves. Premium Reduction: An organization’s secondary objective is to reduce its premium payments by implementing other mitigants to reduce risks. For example, a policy stating that all firefighters employed by a municipality must wear protective clothing when responding to a call helps to reduce accidents and potential injury, thereby reducing claim frequency and severity, reducing an insurer’s claims costs, and (hopefully) leading to reduced insurance premiums for the municipality. Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) In contrast to Insurance Risk Management, Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) involves a holistic approach, encompassing a systematic methodology to identify, assess, prioritize, and manage risks across an entire organization. Key aspects include: Holistic Perspective: ERM casts a wide net, considering risks across all organizational facets—spanning financial, operational, strategic, information technology, and compliance realms. It involves evaluating how these risks interconnect and influence an organization's overarching objectives. Strategic Integration: ERM seamlessly integrates risk management into an organization's strategic planning, aligning risk considerations with decision-making processes and value creation. ERM is a method for aligning risk with acceptable tolerance, starting with the organization’s strategy, which requires thinking through and identifying risks they are willing to accept, those they wish to avoid, and those for which they have an appetite. Risk Culture and Governance: ERM emphasizes nurturing a risk-aware culture within the organization and establishing robust governance structures for effective risk oversight at all levels. Contrasting Features While both Insurance Risk Management and ERM aim to mitigate risks, they differ in scope, application, and the treatment of risks. Scope: Insurance Risk Management is more confined and specific, concentrating on particular risks covered by insurance policies. ERM takes a comprehensive view, considering risks holistically across an entire organization. Purpose: Insurance Risk Management primarily seeks to transfer risk and provide financial protection, while ERM aims to integrate risk management into strategic decision-making and bolster overall organizational resilience. Approach: Insurance Risk Management operates within the boundaries of insurance contracts, claims, and premiums, while ERM adopts a strategic approach, embedding risk considerations into daily operations and decision-making. While both Insurance Risk Management and ERM play pivotal roles in mitigating risks within organizations, they operate on different scales and serve distinct purposes. Recognizing the nuances and intricacies of both approaches is crucial for organizations to effectively navigate the complex landscape of risk they encounter. It is important to note that while transferring risk through insurance is a vital aspect of risk treatment, ERM offers a more comprehensive toolkit, encompassing various strategies beyond mere risk transfer, thus enhancing an organization's capacity to handle risks proactively. A robust risk management strategy often incorporates elements from both Insurance Risk Management and ERM to create a comprehensive framework that addresses a wide array of potential threats while aligning with an organization's strategic goals. Read how to develop risk appetite/tolerance statements
Learn the similarities and differences between Insurance Risk Management and Enterprise Risk Management.
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[Workiva + Adra]: An Integration Powered by FHB

[Workiva + Adra]: An Integration Powered by FHB

  • Jamie Black
  • Workiva
  • minute(s)Adra is a leading software for the automation of the financial close process, while Workiva offers a cloud-based, collaborative platform connecting reports and data. Both solutions are known to save users time and money while improving accuracy and repeatability. And together, they equal more than the sum of their parts. FHB recognized that the combination of Workiva and Adra would offer a uniquely transparent, accurate, and controlled solution for financial close and statutory and regulatory reporting, while streamlining workflow across the entire record-to-report (R2R) process. So, we developed an integration tool to bring you the best of both worlds. Introducing: [Workiva + Adra] At FHB, we have one focus—streamlining and automating processes to lighten the workload of public sector finance and budget teams across North America. To that end, we partner with industry-leading software companies, providing custom implementation of the best available solutions to meet our clients’ needs. Workiva and the Adra Suite of Solutions by Trintech are two such valued partners. Learn more about [Workiva + Adra]. To find out how [Workiva + Adra] can work for you, schedule a call with our expert team.
Reap the combined benefits of Workiva and Adra with FHB's integration tool.
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City of Albuquerque

City of Albuquerque

  • Rachel Raymond
  • Success Stories
  • minute(s)Collaborative ACFR Process Takes City of Albuquerque to New Heights Project: ACFR Automation Organization: City of Albuquerque Population: 562,599 (2021) Solution: Workiva Wdesk & Wdata The Need When we met the finance team at the City of Albuquerque, New Mexico, preparation of their Annual Comprehensive Financial Report (ACFR) was highly manual and time-consuming. “We [entered] our adjusting journal entries in PeopleSoft, [our] ERP system...[and uploaded] them…daily, sometimes twice a day,” said Mari Hughes, the city’s Deputy Controller. “When I first started, we combined hundreds of Word and Excel files, manually paginated all of them,” said Jason Shaw, CPA, Associate Controller for the city. Mari and Jason wanted “...something more user friendly and integrated, [that was] non-relational, column based," he said. Another pain point was “not knowing how to fix certain items when they [came] up, having to rely on technical calls and help just to resize a chart, things like that,” said Jason. “If there was an issue...with a formula or something, really, it was only me who knew how to troubleshoot it,” Mari added. While the Albuquerque team appreciated the power and capability of their legacy software, its limitations for their purposes made them realize that it might not be the ideal fit for their organization. “We used to create mirrored duplicate statements in Excel to check ourselves against [our software]” said Jason. The team struggled with the unfamiliarity of their existing user interface and some of its grouping concepts. Additionally, their software limited collaboration. Because it wasn’t cloud-based, and the finance team was assigned a limited number of user licenses, only one single person could work within a document at any given time, while their colleagues had limited, read-only access. When Albuquerque connected with FHB, they were seeking a more efficient, collaborative, and intuitive solution and overall process for producing their ACFR. The Solution The FHB team worked closely with Mari and her staff to assess their current process, then recommended implementing Workiva’s cloud-based tools. Wdata would serve as a central database and single source for all data, while Wdesk would be used for reporting and formatting. Unlike the custom syntax of their existing software, which was unique to their organization, the syntax in Workiva is mostly familiar to anyone who has used Excel, making the transition to Workiva much easier and more intuitive. In terms of groupings, the FHB team would be able to leverage Albuquerque’s existing groupings (already set up in their ERP) with minimal modifications. And as a cloud-based solution, Workiva would allow several of the city's team members to work within a document simultaneously. The Implementation A Uniquely Qualified Team The implementation took 16 weeks from start to finish. FHB Principal Consultant Christine Gilbert, CPA, CA, led the project. “She did a fine job of doing as much as she could with our data,” said Jason. Steering the team away from creating new, massive, complicated codes, “she was the one who just kept coming back to, ‘use what you already have.’” “I think you guys were really easy to work with, very clear and concise in expectations, from the client and yourselves.” –Mari Hughes The Albuquerque team also appreciated Christine’s unique combination of expertise in both their legacy software and Workiva. “She holds a very interesting seat, helping people implement both of them,” said Jason. Christine also demonstrated methods used effectively by other clients so that the city could pick the right approach for their needs. “The level of knowledge and detail and thoughtfulness about our data and how to make it work best was great.” –Jason Shaw, CPA All the Automation The FHB team was dedicated to making Mari and her team’s lives easier by automating as much of the ACFR preparation process as they could. While figuring out how to set up sheets in Workiva efficiently, Christine helped develop solutions for cash flows, based on how the Albuquerque team’s data works and how they had done them in the past. FHB also worked with Mari to balance her government-wide statements. Keeping Things on Track Mari’s staff was also pleased with how seamlessly the project was managed through FHB’s project management tool, Asana. “We would start every…meeting by ticking off tasks…the communication process and tagging people, that worked [smoothly],” said Jason. The Outcomes Time Savings One clear benefit of the city’s Workiva implementation is time savings. Their team will no longer need to create duplicate statements and publish multiple versions simultaneously. “The way that Christine worked through...the implementation should virtually eliminate a lot of the mirrored work that we were doing.” Jason said. Workiva’s grouping functionality will save the city even more time. “We were able to leverage the attributes that we have in our ERP system, which we implemented…with the intent that we were going to use those for our grouping codes…the implementer for [our former software] told us we couldn't use them. But for Workiva, we're able to use them…now [we won’t] have to spend a bunch of time each year…grouping new things,” said Jason. “It's going to save some time, particularly on the more detailed schedules...it could save one to eight hours per the big funds, particularly if you've got a lot of new data,” he said. Freedom to Do More Mari is excited about using the time they’ll save to focus on higher-level tasks. “The way that we've got the citywide statement set up in Workiva, with the linking and things like that…if there [are] any issues with the reconciliation…those will be easier to identify,” she said. “And I don’t have to worry about any inconsistency there...that's going to save some time. And then I think that will hopefully free us up to do a little bit more thorough...final review.” “A repeatable process is what we're looking forward to the most—being able to teach... more than just Mari and I...how to do the critical functions,” added Jason. Ad Hoc Reporting The team is excited to be able to capture and share a true snapshot of accurate data upon request. Enhanced Collaboration Mari's team can't wait to take advantage of Workiva's cloud-based environment, where multiple people can view the data and make updates at the same time. They will no longer need to rely on screen sharing to demonstrate how to fix something, for example. “We're extremely grateful for the collaborative workspace that this will be.” –Jason Shaw, CPA Ease of Use Because working in the Wdesk report writer is like working in a beefed-up combination of Word and Excel (with which her team is familiar), Mari will no longer be the sole troubleshooter on staff. “I think it’s just more straightforward,” she said. Mari added that her team looks forward to using Workiva for report formatting, as “there’s not going to be that kind of fighting with it,” that they experienced previously. “Things like that, I think are going to make our lives a lot easier, because you don’t need to be dealing with that stuff when you're in the eleventh hour, and you're already freaking out about deadlines. And then you have a software program that's just not that easy for you to use,” she said. As icing on the cake, Mari has found the Workiva support and training site to be thorough and easy to use, she said. Looking Ahead More Hands On-deck In the past, Mari and Jason were the only team members capable of data review. “We haven’t felt comfortable [sharing the review] because…[neither of us had] time to explain more,” to staff members who expressed interest in helping. “It was, ‘thank-you, but no’,” said Jason. “At this point, I think we're going to be able to start opening some of that up as well…keeping the two of us on…the overall picture instead of the minutia of…rounding from front to back. We can let some of the other more advanced staff do things like that, [which] we weren't comfortable with before,” he said. Spreading the Word Since the implementation, Mari has become an FHB advocate. “I've already told a couple people…like my former boss…she's got a different agency now…I told her…we're going to Workiva and she [said], ‘Oh, how are you liking it so far?’ I said, ‘so far, I like it much better’…I was telling her…about being able to leverage our groupings that already exist and [such]…she [is] hoping to look into that within the next couple of years [for herself].
With help from FHB, the City of Albuquerque traded hundreds of manually manipulated Excel and Word documents with erroneous links for an efficient cloud-based, purpose-built solution for preparing its ACFR, resulting in saved time and effort.
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School District 83

School District 83

  • Rachel Raymond
  • Success Stories
  • minute(s)Time to Focus on the Big Picture: Automating Financial Statements for School District 83 Project: PSAB Automation Organization: School District 83 Students: 6,100 Platform: Workiva The Challenge The finance team at School District 83 (Okanagan-Shuswap, British Columbia) was looking to save time and money; reduce errors; and improve its reporting reliability, repeatability, and standardization; by automating its financial statements. When we met the team, their data preparation stage was heavily dependent on complex spreadsheets—requiring too much keying and leaving little time for analytics. “We utilized Excel, as well as other Office products— [like] Word for our financial notes and our financials, even discussion analysis. So, it was a very fractured overall process when we...look back on it,” said Jeremy Hunt, Finance Director for the district. The team was accustomed to finalizing, formatting, and preparing statements manually—a time-consuming and frustrating process. Additionally, they were required to complete Local Government Data Entry (LGDE) forms, which meant replicating the information from their annual report and manually keying it into the ministry’s template for online submission. Jeremy explained that in previous years, the team's work was paper-heavy. "We have binders. Nine-inch or 12-inch binders. I know they’re massive for year-end. And the [backs of those…are] all printed and messy,” he said. What’s more, the finance team frequently had difficulty finding original hard-copy source documents to back up their data. Jeremy looked forward to updating their process, so they “wouldn’t have to find a paper copy every year…that validates a number.” The district’s team also wished to collaborate simultaneously without risk of overwriting crucial information. “We wanted something that allowed access to the individual that was required to do that work, but locked down areas where we didn't want [them working],” said Dale Culler, Secretary–Treasurer/CFO. They were also interested in a multi-functional tool. “The biggest limitation that we have in our department...is staffing resources to move forward with any initiative...and when we consider the end product, we wanted to move towards something that would allow us to potentially consolidate...future reporting requirements,” said Jeremy. The Solution FHB met with the district’s team to evaluate their existing processes and develop a customized solution to meet their needs. Initially, the conversation included using Caseware. “The Caseware discussion was because that's what we...were familiar with. But we also wanted to be open, to hear [about] advancements in the industry, where it's going...Caseware requires a very specific knowledge. We wanted something [with the] structure, the rows and columns [that people are] familiar [with],” said Dale. In the end, FHB recommended Workiva. As a cloud-based platform, Workiva offers a collaborative database (Wdata) as a single source for data entry/management and an advanced report writer (Wdesk) for instant and automatic preparation of consistent, formatted reports—mitigating risk of data-entry and calculation errors and improving overall report accuracy. "It was concerning that it would be difficult to learn a new piece of software. But once we got into it and started to see the back end of it and how it really worked, and became more familiar with it, it was very Excel-based. That took away a lot of the reservations that I had, and I believe Dale had as well, [about] us being able to understand and use it in a logical manner that would follow [what] we're used to,” said Jeremy. The Service “[Christine] was on top of it. She kept us on the tracks…I can’t say enough about what she did for us. She’s very helpful.” –School District 83 Finance Director Jeremy Hunt Throughout the project, the School District 83 staff was highly impressed with the responsiveness of the FHB team. [FHB Principal Consultant Christine Gilbert, CPA, CA] did a great job…she would answer questions whenever I would throw them over, and…usually it was within like an hour,” said Jeremy. “It was a great experience.” “It's definitely appreciated that [Christine] had some experience in PSAB that we could draw support from,” he added. When asked to rate [FHB’s] general knowledge of Workiva and reporting standards on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being “the greatest ever,” Jeremy responded, “It’s a nine or a 10.” He wouldn’t hesitate to recommend FHB to peers and colleagues. “They were patient when we were struggling to keep up…they were accessible and worked with us on issues that we had…I would definitely recommend that [FHB] would be a good partner to implement any accounting-related software.” –Jeremy Hunt The Results So far, the greatest benefit of the Workiva implementation has been time savings. “It's just going to reduce the amount of…data entry that we have historically relied on. We [were using] reports from our [old] clunky system that doesn't provide great reporting…mapping was not the greatest previously. So, it's...going to speed up that manual entry time. It will help us validate data as well,” said Jeremy. Jeremy added that Workiva has far exceeded his expectations. “User friendliness has been amazing...it didn't take much training, to be honest, to understand how to use this product...on top of that, I can see how it links everything together and can easily produce something that is better than what we have previously done [over] many hours—in just an hour,” he said. Dale agreed, adding, “[Workiva] provides one place... [in which] to do review...and because it's very consistent with the way that we've been trained to look for things when...creating working papers, it'll be much quicker to do that." Before Workiva, "when things [were] disjointed...I’d have to interrupt...Jeremy...stop his workflow, so that he [could] show me where things [were]. In the new platform, I can just [look] at the progress of the review as it is...I don't have to wait for [it] to be finished; I can look at it live,” he said. Looking Ahead In light of this project’s success, District 83 has decided to move forward with two additional projects. “So … the bigger one is going to be the budget … we want to integrate our budgeting into Workiva,” said Jeremy. “We’re thinking next year, maybe toward the end of 2023, into 2024.”“...After this audit season—we’ll look at financial reporting quarterly…at some point maybe move into monthly statements,” said Jeremy. “Quarterly reporting is probably the next logical step...before we even do the budget,” said Dale. With all of the time they’ve saved, Jeremy looks forward to taking on higher-level tasks. “I'm fairly production-based right now in my job as a director, whereas I need to be more [focused on] oversight and [the] bigger picture,” he said. The District 83 team is pleased with how far they’ve come, and optimistic about the future. “We’re just scratching the surface of what Workiva can do for us,” said Jeremy.
School District 83 wanted to improve and standardize its PSAB reporting process, making it more reliable, repeatable, and faster without increasing resources. They achieved that and more with the help of FHB.
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Fairfax County ERFC

Fairfax County ERFC

  • Rachel Raymond
  • Success Stories
  • minute(s)Riding in Style: How ACFR Automation Changed the Game for Fairfax County ERFC Project: ACFR Automation Organization: Fairfax County ERFC Established: 1973 Solution: Workiva Wdata and Wdesk The Challenge For the staff at Educational Employees' Supplementary Retirement System of Fairfax County, Virginia (ERFC), preparing and publishing an Annual Comprehensive Financial Report (ACFR) was a tedious process. Multiple people were tasked with entering data and repeatedly checking each other’s work. If they changed a figure in one place, they had to manually update it in a number of other places. Allison Kelly, CPA, Senior Retirement Financial Analyst at ERFC, explained, “We have had three people working on the table of contents, reviewing it. Because we've changed things, now we have to re-review [it] … we have spent hours with … communications folks … double checking the table of contents … just that is … a day's worth of work.” Fatigued by the process, Allison broached the subject of automation with her executive director. “We were talking about the painful process we had for doing the ACFR and I said … we could get software to do this … and he said, 'Find out! Go—go do it.'” –Allison Kelly Allison began researching available solutions and polling fellow finance teams for recommendations. “I had heard from a few systems that, you know, it's painful, the conversion is painful … so I was geared up for this, this pain...” The Solution Ultimately, Allison connected with the team at FHB, who carefully reviewed ERFC’s needs, then weighed workable solutions. FHB recommended adopting Workiva’s Wdesk and Wdata. As cloud-based software, Workiva would allow multiple users to work on the ACFR simultaneously. As a single-source database-driven system, it would eliminate the need for a variety of disconnected spreadsheets. And its formatting automation would make report finalization and publishing a breeze. A Painless and Effective Implementation Once Workiva was selected, a dedicated FHB project team guided the Fairfax staff through the software’s implementation, customizing the solution to fit their unique needs. Allison was pleasantly surprised by the smoothness of the conversion. “… I mentioned to [FHB Principal Consultant Christine Gilbert, CPA] and [FHB Principal Consultant Amy Manthey, CPA] a few times, am I missing something? Because I'm still waiting for this other shoe to drop, and I'm not feeling that pain. I don't know if it was them. I don't know if it was me … but … that … was not my experience at all.” “And for us, you know, our ACFR process kind of went from riding a bicycle to … driving a luxury vehicle … it was already great. But that just made the road so smooth.” With the help of FHB, Allison and her team grew “very comfortable” working in Workiva. “Everything works just the way it’s supposed to,” she said. Her staff found Asana, FHB’s project management tool, to be user-friendly as well. “I loved how all I had to do was drop a comment in the sheet or whatever I was working in. And then Christine or Amy would just reply to the comment.” This convenient functionality eliminated the need for additional emails, phone calls, and meetings. “I really, I have no complaints. I thought the way the project was run was just … so well done, that it made my job a lot easier.” The Results For Allison’s team, one of the greatest benefits of the implementation so far has been time savings. “I think it is 110 percent a timesaver. 110 percent we’re already benefiting. I mean … we're already working on our ACFR for next year. And … that's not something we would have done in the past … we got through phase one, we did our ACFR, and then we got through phase two. And now, there's so many more improvements we can do and efficiencies that we can put into it … I have time now to work on those…” “I'm really grateful we have it. I'm glad that … the project was able to happen and that it's done for the most part, because it really is a game changer.” “If I'm going to quantify what our actual process used to be, compared to what it's going to be now, [the time savings] is absolutely in the weeks—could even be a month.” To be clear, that’s a month’s time for many staff members, not just Allison. “We get our final numbers at fiscal year-end, and there's going to be maybe 20 percent of the work to do because 80 percent of it is done up front.” Looking Ahead In light of their ACFR project’s success, there has been some discussion about whether the county of Fairfax (as a whole) might benefit from an FHB-led Workiva implementation for their budget book process. FHB Client Services Manager Rachel Raymond and Wendy Zhi, CPA, Acting Deputy Executive Director for ERFC, have plans to follow up. When asked if she had any complaints about the FHB project team, Allison joked, “Yeah. That I don’t get to see them every week anymore … I feel like we have [a] good thing going, you know, new friends, … and now it's like, I don't get to see them anymore…”
Read how Fairfax County ERFC saved weeks of work by partnering with FHB to optimize their ACFR process.
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Discovery as a Foundation for Success

Discovery as a Foundation for Success

  • Jamie Black
  • Best Practices
  • minute(s)Why Is Discovery Such a Crucial Step? Discovery sessions are key to ensuring that a project will result in the desired outcome for our clients, our partners, and ourselves. They provide a forum for all stakeholders to build a common understanding of the challenges of the current processes and tools; the needs that must be addressed by the solution; project objectives; and potential hurdles and pitfalls. A productive discovery session resolves misunderstandings and sets the tone for open, clear, and consistent communication. It is a critical first step to ensuring team buy-in and is essential to maximizing the benefit you receive from the project. Learn more about managing change. How Can We Ensure a Fruitful and Effective Discovery Session? Have the right people in the room. First and foremost, you must include those in the trenches who perform the process. The more people with this perspective you can include, the better. Only they can offer an intimate look at process details; practical feedback regarding shortcomings, nuances, and time involved in the current approach; and a thoughtful wish list of essential features in a new solution. They will ask the right questions, and their answers will provide invaluable insight. Next, be sure to include senior management and the business process owner(s). These are the people who understand the big picture—e.g., political implications, budget and time constraints, your organization’s vision, and overall goals. They can speak to how process challenges impact the execution of your organization’s strategy. Be completely candid. It’s important to make the discovery session a safe place to voice concerns and provide honest feedback, even if the conversation becomes uncomfortable. Are you short-staffed? Is your team relatively inexperienced? Are they lacking technological savvy? The more we understand your true challenges, the better we can design an implementation plan to tackle them. If We Don’t Include the Right People, What Could Go Wrong? In a word, everything. Without the right people in the room, you risk wasting countless hours, and losing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Failing to reveal key considerations up front can lead to process gaps you may not have the budget to fix. You might end up having to change or shrink the scope of your project. You might have installed the wrong software and be forced to start over. Worst case scenario, your implementation could result in complete failure. After all, a whopping 70% of IT projects fail. Change management research has revealed that making a decision about a significant change without input from your whole team will likely engender frustration and resentment, creating project adversaries instead of advocates. If We Prioritize Discovery, What Could Go Right? When all stakeholders have a voice in discovery and project goals are on target, everyone wins. As the US Navy Seals say, “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.” When you focus on conducting each step of the implementation—starting with discovery—correctly and completely, you will see your desired results more quickly. In the words of our President, Jamie Black, “Take your time. Do it once, do it right.” "I have been involved with this kind of software implementation system upgrade for many, many years...when I started to go through the procurement process, I could never imagine it would have gone so smoothly, with this level of success." -Dongmei Li, Assistant Controller–Corporate Accounting at Chicago Public Schools
Learn why discovery sessions are so important, who should attend, and what should be discussed.
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Change Management: An Introduction

Change Management: An Introduction

  • Jamie Black
  • Best Practices
  • minute(s)Key Considerations for Managing Change The way our clients react to change and their level of change acceptance can influence their success as much as their budget, choice of software, or technical aptitude. How do we know? We’ve been helping public sector finance and budget departments across North America improve and automate their most time-consuming and tedious business processes for nearly 30 years. So, we thought it might be helpful to share highlights from research behind the importance and key features of change management. What Is Change? Change is both the process through which something is made different (a verb) and the result of that process (a noun). The adaptation, growth, and very survival of human beings has long depended on our ability to manage change. Consider the crucial advent of fire-building or weapon-making, or the more contemporary prerequisite of technological savvy for success in the modern workplace. Organizational Change Change management within an organization involves the activities, functions, and tools it uses to deal with something new. As an example, institutions of all kinds use the tools of training and development  to ensure their employees’ sustained competence and efficacy amid the ever-changing dynamics of the workplace. Global research and advisory company Gartner reports that today’s average organization has undergone five significant organizational changes in the past three years—and almost 75% of those expect to expand major change initiatives over the next three years. Change initiatives range in scope and complexity from process improvements to mergers and acquisitions. Timeframes for organizational change can range from slow and gradual, like rethinking each individual step in a process over time, to quick and total, like suddenly adopting an entirely new system or approach. As with individuals, an organization’s ability to survive, stay relevant, compete, grow, and last, depends on its ability to manage change—both internally and externally. WANT TO LEARN MORE? In his 1996 book, “Leading Change,” John Kotter was among the first to apply the academic theory of change management to the world of business. His eight-step change management process remains relevant to this day. Other notable change management models include  Lewin’s Change Management Model, and Prosci’s ADKARⓇ Model Change Is Difficult Despite the inevitability of change, people (by nature) prefer stability over anything new or unfamiliar. Known as cognitive bias, this tendency is thought to be an unconscious process, whereby people cling to a belief system despite being presented with a better solution. DID YOU KNOW? One 2019 study found that monkeys (capuchin and rhesus macaques) were “significantly more likely to adopt new and more efficient shortcuts to attaining their goals than humans.” The McKinsey consulting group reports that 70% of all change initiatives fail. The reasons for failure include: Misalignment of values reflected in the change itself and values of the people experiencing the change Failure to manage employees’ attitudes toward change Lack of awareness of change’s potential benefits Change is seen as unfair or punishment Staff members may fear: A shift in duties Losing their job to automation Revealing weakness/incompetence in technology or role Loss of control Ripple effects More work An unrealistic timeline or insufficient employee participation in training can further hinder the success of a change initiative. Unsuccessfully managing a workforce through change can be costly; dissatisfied employees are known to be less productive and are more likely to leave an organization. The development of negative attitudes and adverse reactions toward change is known as resistance to change. Research suggests that employees’ readiness for change strongly influences their resistance, by transforming their attitudes. In other words, change is more successful when employees are prepared for it, not surprised by it. DID YOU KNOW? The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has identified six states of change readiness: indifference, rejection, doubt, neutrality, experimentation, and commitment. Change in the Public Sector Is Especially Difficult Government entities are typically slower to accept and adopt changes—like the introduction of new technology or business processes—than organizations in the private sector. Reasons include: Less funding Higher public scrutiny Lack of internal informational technology (IT) staff or capacity Siloed duties and departments Complicated contract processes For some public sector organizations, slow adoption of technology and process change has led to more expensive and burdensome service provision. When they embrace change, they: Help eliminate time-consuming, frustrating, and “glitchy” processes Can focus on the actual work of providing services Make their staff more accessible to the public Get help more efficiently to those who need it The benefits of change in the public sector are clear. The challenge is that government employees may be among the least comfortable or familiar with change. Consequently, greater change management support is likely necessary in those settings. To Be Successful, You Must Manage Change The Importance of Leadership Both a systematic approach (strategy) and effective leadership are critical to the success of any organizational change endeavor. A change management strategy provides leaders with steps to successfully guide an organization through change, while limiting disruption and unexpected consequences. The goal may be to change a process or approach, but the key to success is the ability to effectively lead people through the change. Keep It Human The fundamental common denominator among successful change initiatives is people. To effectively implement change, leaders must take its impact on people into account. The following steps can help garner stakeholder trust and promote acceptance (and even appreciation) of a proposed change: Clarify the desired end result in advance. Highlight pain points and the need for change. Make the change as specific as possible. Be transparent about its benefits and challenges. Listen to and address employees’ reactions. Establish their commitment to the initiative. Remember the study that found monkeys adapted to change more readily than humans? Turns out, when the benefits of using a new approach were made clear, “humans were more likely to get on board.” Why It Matters The importance and impact of effective change management cannot be overstated. Financial, cultural, institutional, and other factors make organizational change in the public sector particularly challenging. The right approach is vital to the success of any change initiative. Securing employee buy-in not only makes change easier, it establishes a relationship of trust, reducing resistance overall and minimizing the need to campaign for future reengagement and support. With the right combination of communication, preparation, planning, and support, a well-managed change can dramatically elevate both the quality of employees’ day-to-day experience and the focus of their work. Let Us Help Decades in the business of change have informed FHB’s successful approach to streamlining and automating even the most deeply ingrained and archaic business processes in the public sector. Schedule a meeting with us today to explore how we can help manage your organization’s need for change.
Learn about organizational change, why it's particularly hard in the public sector, why it's important to manage it, and how to do so effectively.
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