Riding in Style: How ACFR Automation Changed the Game for Fairfax County ERFC
|Organization:||Fairfax County ERFC|
|Solution:||Workiva Wdata and Wdesk|
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...”
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.”
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.”
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…”