In Black & White

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

Deschutes County

Deschutes County

  • Rachel Raymond
  • Success Stories
  • minute(s)Deschutes County Made Massive Efficiency Gains in Minimal Time with Only Moderate Guidance Project: Budget Automation Organization: Deschutes County Population: 204,801 (2021) Solutions: Workiva Wdesk & Wdata Budget Book: 2022 Adopted Budget Book With a single automation project, the Deschutes County Finance and Budget Department team reduced their budget book preparation time by 60-65% in year one and anticipate greater efficiency gains in the coming years. Like many public sector organizations, the County's finance department was plagued by inefficient business processes and inadequate tools, tempering their ability to commit sufficient time to higher-value tasks like long-term forecasting.   The Search Deschutes County enlisted the help of the experts at F.H. Black and Company Incorporated. Working together, they reviewed the county's existing processes, identified areas for improvements, generated a list of requirements, and assessed the qualifying solutions.  "We looked at quite a few solutions, probably 8 or 9 different platforms over 6 to 7 months... FHB answered all our questions and steered us in the right direction." Daniel Emerson, Budget Manager at Deschutes County The Right Solution - Workiva After carefully assessing their requirements and stringently reviewing industry-leading solutions for the best fit, the county opted for Workiva. A combination of Wdesk and Wdata gave the county a robust cloud-based automation solution that enabled seamless collaboration with all contributors to the book. The intuitive and familiar interface of Wdesk enables the team to instantly generate automated reports and create custom data sets and calculations in seconds.  "We absolutely love Workiva! Right now, there’s an over 50% probability that at some point in the next year, we will reach out and talk about an ACFR implementation. We'll recommend F.H. Black for that as well.” FHB's Guided-Self Implementation Having selected Workiva as their reporting automation solution, it was time for the county to implement, configure and optimize the solution for their environment. Workiva's seemingly limitless potential and plethora of features meant that if the county wanted to optimally implement the solution to maximize automation and collaboration, they would benefit from expert help.  The question was, how much help? As no two organizations, finance departments, or implementations are the same, FHB offers its clients many options.  Implementations are scoped, packaged, and priced based on the client's  requirements, budget, and availability to contribute to the project. The county was offered a sliding scale of services: On one side, you have a Delegated implementation. This option would see the county delegate the implementation to the CPAs at FHB. They would have to provide a little information, but almost all of the work would be completed by the team at FHB. This is the most expensive option; it requires very little input from the county and is fast. On the other side of the scale, there is the Guided-Self implementation. This is the least expensive option and designates most of the work to the team at the County. FHB provides initial infrastructure setup, training, guidance, and any additional custom development work requested. Confident in their ability and availability to self-implement the solution with guidance from FHB,  the county opted for a Guided-Self Implementation. Besides the cost, this option has the added benefit of including the county's team in just about every step of the implementation process, resulting in the team having familiarity and knowledge of the solution that they otherwise would not. The county also knew that they could always approach FHB for additional services if they ran into a problem.   “I think that this project by the end of July would have already paid for itself”. Next year and beyond No matter how you measure it, the county's budget automation project was a massive success. As a result, the county can declare in no uncertain terms that it has massively improved the efficiency, reliability, repeatability, and accuracy of its budget preparation process, with far-reaching implications for the budget team, the department, the organization, and the community.  
Deschutes County reduced its budget book preparation time by 60-65% in year one and anticipate greater efficiency gains in the coming years. Learn how they made massive efficiency gains with only moderate guidance.
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Strategies for getting Council to understand and support your budget

Strategies for getting Council to understand and support your budget

  • Joy Richardson
  • Budget Book
  • minute(s)It's budget time, and you're ready! Painstaking detail and effort have gone into making sure that all 300+ pages of the budget book have been checked and rechecked. While this may feel like a job well done, the hard part (communicating) is just beginning.   The reality is that a budget without context is just as ineffective as a map without a legend. The presentation of the budget's information is your chance to help Council, the Board, or any other stakeholders map out where your organization is today and its future direction (remember the map)!   With lots of information to share in a limited time, effective communication is essential. Therefore, when developing your strategy, you should consider the objectives of: Informing, and Engaging.  Informing is the starting point for communication and is based on the following:  Information flow is in one direction  Reading a budget book is an example of the one-way flow of information. The reader receives the information. However, without any accompanying conversation, they do not have the opportunity to ask questions or give feedback. Further, just providing the information is not enough. Communicating with the goal to enable understanding helps Council focus on and interpret the data so that the intended messages are received.   Simple strategies for improving comprehension include using:  Progressive disclosure to keep things focused  Progressive disclosure keeps information at the summary  level until the reader asks for or needs more detail. Providing too much information at once is overwhelming, causing that glazed-over-eyes phenomenon we have all seen! Learning efficiency benefits greatly from the use of progressive disclosure. Information presented to a person who is not interested or ready to process it is effectively noise. Information that is gradually or progressively disclosed to a learner as they need or request it is better processed and perceived as more relevant. Universal Principles of Design, Lidwell, Holden, Butler Using a drill-down approach provides additional information as necessary when the readers are ready to make sense of it.   Style for understanding  When it comes to style, remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Thus, the focus should not be on what looks pretty but on understandability. To convey the message, consideration should be given to using the right combination of text, tables, and graphs. Find more information on this topic in our 3 questions to answer before report design blog.   Engaging provides Council with the opportunity to receive information as well as respond with questions. The benefits of this multi-directional approach become apparent as heads begin nodding with understanding instead of the usual nodding off.   While the Council presentation and budget deliberations themselves are forms of engagement, tools such as real time-modeling can make things even more dynamic. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a simulation is worth at least a million. Simulations can help demonstrate individual budget components, their relationship with other areas, and the impacts of making changes that are often hard to articulate. Specifically, a simulation can:  Demonstrate the inherent trade-offs that come with competing resources and desires  Highlight the differences between discretionary and non-discretionary items and how they impact the budget  Show both the short- and long-term impacts of budgetary changes  Shifting your Role:  It is no secret that finance and budget departments' resources are limited, and much of those resources are already allocated to just preparing the budget. This begs the question of how to implement these strategies? If you are familiar with our work, you may have already guessed the answer: Best Practices paired with the appropriate Technologies.    There are various software solutions that can free up staff resources by:  Soliciting community engagement and integrating it into the budget  Automating the preparation of the budget publication  Assisting with a real-time, interactive presentation  Budget simulators are one such tool you can consider. Read more on their utilization for engaging stakeholders. Using technology to reduce the more manual and mechanical processes, you can shift staff resources to focus on better communication and engagement. This allows finance departments to add value as not just number crunchers but as trusted advisors.
Go beyond just submitting and presenting your budget book to Council. Use these strategies for stakeholder buy-in and informed feedback.
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What a difference a year made for the City of Fort Wayne

What a difference a year made for the City of Fort Wayne

  • Rachel Raymond
  • Success Stories
  • minute(s)The City of Fort Wayne cuts budget book preparation time by 75%. That's 300 hours!  Project: Budget Book Automation Project Scope: Automate balances and narrative GFOA Budget Book Award compliance Replicate appearance of existing book Organization: City of Fort Wayne, IN Population: 265,752 (2019) Solutions: Workiva Wdesk & Wdata Budget Book: Operating Budget Book The Challenge The City of Fort Wayne was using multiple disjointed systems to prepare the budget book. The budget department would bring balances from Excel into Munis, their ERP system. Any required changes would be manually keyed into the ERP system. The team would then run "really clunky" Crystal Reports and open them in Excel. They then pivoted the data by inputting appropriate parameters by fund and department. If a department like Police, had sub-departments (police admin, radio shop, and records) any changes to a sub-department would require a report to be run at the sub-department level before being rolled up for a department level report. They then needed to review for accuracy before going back to Excel for any updates.  "Every time we made one little number change, it caused at least another 30-45 minutes worth of work" Kathleen Smith Finance Manager at the City of Fort Wayne   The Solution Having had great success with the reporting automation solution used to prepare the city's ACFR, the team opted for more of the same: Workiva's Wdata & Wdesk, customized and implemented with F.H. Black & Company Incorporated. What does the process look like now? Data is pulled from the City's ERP system and imported into Workiva. The budget book is then automatically populated with balances. All participants have the ability to access the system and provide their contributions. Any required changes are updated in a single location in Workiva, and the book and all other applicable materials are automatically updated. Reports that would have taken hours to prepare before now take moments, and data can be pivoted in an instant. "I just can't say enough about how much efficiency and accuracy improved" The Implementation After carefully considering the implementation service levels offered, the city contracted FHB to automate the budget book on a "guided-self" basis with onboarding support. This meant that while costs were kept low, Kathleen and her team would do the majority of the work under the guidance of FHB's experts once they had completed the initial setup and customization. FHB assigned a team to work on the city's project and the work began. As with all FHB led implementations, the initial kick-off meeting defined scope, assigned tasks/deadlines, and trained the city's team on using their project management tool. Next, FHB implemented a pre-built data model designed for public sector organizations, and built a connection from the city's ERP system, Munis. FHB recreated the prior year budget book template in Workiva, set up basic sections and ten pages of linking to train the city's team. We then assisted the city with the tasks assigned to their team, which included loading, tagging, and grouping imported data by object and function, building and linking schedules, notes, and statements, before reconciling, reviewing, and testing. "We had the budget book done probably a week earlier than we normally do and that was while learning and implementing a whole new system" The Result The city achieved a 75% time savings while improving its budget book preparation process. Kathleen and her team now have robust, documented, and repeatable processes making onboarding new team members a breeze. Having automated the ACFR and the expenditure budgets, the city is planning another project to automate the revenue side. "I was here a lot of evenings making sure everything looked right and tied together correctly. We didn't have that this year, I didn't find myself working any evenings or weekends." 
The city of Fort Wayne reduced their budget book preparation time by 300 hours, that's 75%! This is how they did it.
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Frederick County, MD Unifies and Automates the Budget Book

Frederick County, MD Unifies and Automates the Budget Book

  • Rachel Raymond
  • Success Stories
  • minute(s)Frederick County Unifies All The Pieces Of The Budget Book Under A Comprehensive Solution Project: Budget Book Automation Organization: Frederick County, MD Population: 271,717 (2020 Census) Total Budgeted  Revenues: $905 million Solution: Questica Budget Book powered by CaseWare Budget Book: Adopted Operating & Capital Budgets Success Story: Frederick County The Challenge Frederick County's, Budget Department faced a challenge common to Public Sector organizations when preparing the Budget Book. They spent countless hours gathering and reconciling pieces of their Budget Book across multiple applications. They had pieces in Questica Budget, pieces in Excel, pieces in Word, and they presented it in Adobe. To ensure confidence in the data, every change or update would require a time-consuming review.   "Budget Book pieces were coming from every direction, that's what we had to solve" Tanya Kauffman, Budget Analyst III at Frederick County Government   The Solution Replace Microsoft & Adobe with CaseWare and integrate it with Questica Budget. CaseWare hosts the Budget Book template and pulls balances and narratives directly from Questica. Any changes applied to the budget are made in Questica and flow straight through to all applicable locations in the book, facilitating greater confidence in the data and reducing the requirement for constant review and reconciliation. In addition, CaseWare's document management functionality allowed contributions from all parties to be stored and managed in a single location.  The Project F.H. Black & Company Inc. assisted the team at Frederick County to implement the solution with the FHB method.   Discovery - What are the County's wants and needs. Scope - Defining the parameters of the project. Planning - Working backward from the project goal to define a timeline and assign tasks. Configuration  - Configure the selected solution to meet the County's needs. Training - Provide training to the County's budget team in the use of their new tools. Management - Weekly meetings and communication to ensure the project stays on track. Completion - Mutual agreement that the scope of the project has been completed. Ongoing Support - FHB continues to support and work with the County to improve and refine their processes.  The Result The County has unified its piecemeal budget book under a single comprehensive solution resulting in increased confidence in the data and an estimated 25% reduction in the time it takes to complete budget book preparation processes. We asked Tanya if she has anything to add about the project. Here's what she had to say... For more on this project, read the full story. 
Frederick County unifies and automates the budget book with a comprehensive solution for outstanding results.
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City of Garland Modernizes its Budget Processes

City of Garland Modernizes its Budget Processes

  • Rachel Raymond
  • Success Stories
  • minute(s)The Forward-Thinking City of Garland Overcomes 3 Budget Challenges With 1 Project   Project: Budget & Budget Book Preparation   Organization: City of Garland, Texas   Population: 239,928 (2019 Census)   Annual Budget: $1.1 billion (Operating + CIP)   Solution: CaseWare Operating & CIP Budget Books   Budget Book: Annual Operating Budget   CIP: Capital Improvement Program   Success Story: City of Garland   The Challenge The city of Garland's Budget Department faced a trio of challenges that shared the same root cause: antiquated software solutions, and the business processes required to make them work. The city relied on legacy budget software to prepare the budget and a combination of Word, Excel, and Adobe to prepare the Capital & Operating Budget Books. The processes were slow, disjointed, and error-prone. The Solution After extensive research, the city's Budget Director, Allyson Bell Steadman decided on Questica Budget to prepare the budget, CaseWare to prepare the budget book, and F.H. Black & Company Inc. to integrate the two and ensure the budget book solution was optimally implemented to maximize their benefits and guarantee project success. The Project The implementation process was managed and guided by consultants from FHB. It started with a planning meeting, introduction to FHB's online project management tool, allocation of deliverables, and scheduling of software training. Once trained in the use of their new tools, the FHB team built the Capital Improvement Program budget book template based on the City's specifications. Once complete, a similar process was carried out for the Operating Budget Book.  The Result By the end of the sixteen week implementation, the City was able to produce and publish both the proposed and adopted 2020-21 CIP & Operating Budget Books. The City now has a robust, documented, repeatable, and largely automated process for preparing their budget book. "The Budget & Research Department is in a much better position to produce and distribute budget documents. Our most recent success was having our 2021 Adopted CIP document finalized for publication on the City’s website and distribution to City Council two weeks after adoption". For more on this project, read the full success story here.
The City of Garland modernizes its Budget, Capital Improvement Program, and Annual Operating Budget Book preparation processes with a single project.
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Engaging residents to address the impact of COVID-19 on the Budget

Engaging residents to address the impact of COVID-19 on the Budget

  • Jamie Black
  • Budget Book
  • minute(s)Public sector organizations across North America are facing considerable budget pressures as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This may necessitate slashing funding to programs and/or increasing tax rates. That is likely to be very unpopular with your stakeholders (council, board, and/or residents). Working through these options will require careful planning, making trade-offs, and effectively communicating new realities to stakeholders to get their buy-in and earn/maintain their trust.  If you've read our Style & Substance blog articles before or attended our webinar series on best practices for communicating financial information, you know we have strong opinions on effective communication. In a time of massive budget challenges, your team's ability to communicate your message clearly and effectively is more important than ever. Over and above what we have laid out in our articles and presentations, what can your finance or budget department do to help stakeholders understand the complex issues you are facing?  Too Much or Too Little Detail Stakeholder engagement is nothing new. Publication of large budget documents, public meetings to discuss these documents, focus groups, and advisory committees have been utilized for decades to engage with residents to educate them and receive their feedback. These approaches are often challenged by the complexity of the topic and the time investment required to execute them. Who wants to read even a 200+ page budget book? If they do read it, the result may not be what you expect:   An implication for government transparency is that transparency initiatives that expect citizens to make sense of technical and abstract information, especially in large amounts, (such as the many line items and millions of dollars described in a typical public budget) probably face a much greater hurdle to increasing trust than their well-meaning originators thought. In fact, at worst, too much information could actually decrease trust. Transparency: A Means to Improving Citizen Trust in Government -  Government Finance Officers Association As an alternative, local governments can utilize surveys or online budget tools to broaden the public meeting's reach. A classic example of this approach is the "digital budget book."  These tend to be more approachable and, therefore, attractive to a typical stakeholder. This comes at the cost of the depth of detail and nuance necessary to truly educate the audience about the organization's constraints.  Further, the act of merely putting a budget book online does not tackle the underlying barrier presented by large volumes of complex technical information noted by the GFOA. What you need then is: the ability to reach as many stakeholders as possible, in a way that encourages their participation, focuses on educating them on the context, constraints, and challenges we face and solicits their feedback. Engage Stakeholders with Budget Simulations This is where simulations come in. As technology has evolved, simulations have proven themselves to be the best of both worlds: broad reach and accessibility to maximize participation combined with the right amount of detail and nuance. Participants are invited to investigate the budget initially at a highly summarized level. This has the advantage of minimizing initial complexity and enabling understanding of the budget's overall state (e.g., surplus, deficit). They can drill down into more and more detail to understand the composition of the budget. Finally and most importantly, stakeholders are asked to increase or decrease budgeted amounts by department, service area, or program based on their own priorities and preferences. You can present them with a series of options to choose between that will impact the budget. Participants attempt to craft the budget they would like to see but will regularly bump into problems. Want to triple the budget on policing? Sure! But that puts us into a major deficit. How will you fund this increase? Participants can add comments explaining their rationale. All this data is collected for the hosting finance/budget department to analyze and leverage in refining the budget. Not having learned it is not as good as having learned it; having learned it is not as good as having seen it carried out; having seen it is not as good as understanding it; understanding it is not as good as doing it. ..He who carries it out, knows it thoroughly. The Works of Hsüntze Bringing your stakeholders into the budget process with simulations will allow them to understand the challenges you are facing and provide the feedback necessary to ensure you are optimally meeting their expectations. 
COVID-19 has hit some public sector budgets hard! See why some organizations are choosing to educate and engage residents with budget simulations for stakeholder buy-in.
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The ADA & US Government: What you need to know in 6 minutes

The ADA & US Government: What you need to know in 6 minutes

  • Jamie Black
  • Financial Reporting
  • minute(s)While many have heard of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), few truly understand its importance: Why should a finance or budget professional care about it? What do the laws (there are three) specifically require? How must I comply with the laws? This article answers these questions. 1) Finance & Budget Departments Should Care Designing documents that are easily understood by your audience is challenging. When some of your audience have visual impairments, there is an additional set of considerations. There are three primary reasons you should care about this topic: As a public sector organization, you want your message available to everyone. Approximately 5.5 million people have visual impairment in North America today. This is expected to double by 2050.  To “read” your Comprehensive Annual Financial Report or Budget Book, visually impaired individuals must use assistive technology. These tools read the PDF to them electronically. Unless specifically designed for accessibility however, your PDFs will not be readable by assistive technology. Your organization is legally required to ensure all public documents are accessible (readable by assistive technology). Accessibility for your documents is legally mandated if: you work in a local government, a federal agency, or, a place of "public accommodation" (privately-owned, leased or operated facilities like hotels, restaurants, retail merchants, doctor’s offices, golf courses, private schools, daycare centers, health clubs, sports stadiums, movie theaters, and so on), and you are located in the United States, and you publish content to a publicly accessible website. Numerous lawsuits have been launched for failure to ensure accessibility both for businesses and local governments. As identified by Seyfarth Shaw LLP, these lawsuits are becoming more and more prevalent.   2) The Laws Mandate Accessibility Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 In 1998, Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to require Federal agencies to make their Electronic and Information Technology (EIT) accessible to people with disabilities. The law (29 U.S.C § 794 (d)) applies to all Federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology. Under Section 508, agencies must give disabled employees and members of the public access to information comparable to the access available to others. On January 18, 2017, the U.S. Access Board published a final rule updating accessibility requirements for Information and Communication Technology (ICT) covered by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and Section 255 of the Communications Act. E205.4 of this final rule stipulates the accessibility standard mandated by Section 508: Electronic content shall conform to Level A and Level AA Success Criteria and Conformance Requirements in Web Content Accessibility Guidelines ( WCAG 2.0) (incorporated by reference, see 702.10.1). Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) It was signed into law on July 26, 1990, by President George H.W. Bush. The ADA is one of America's most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation that prohibits discrimination and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else. The ADA has three "Titles" (think sections), and it is Title II that applies to the programs and activities of state and local government (title I is employment practices and title III covers private entities that are considered public accommodations).  While the ADA does not explicitly reference requirements for web content, the Department of Justice (DOJ) Civil Rights division has confirmed their opinion that the ADA does in fact cover content on web sites. Unfortunately, there is no technical definition for ensuring your web content complies with the ADA. Congress sought clarification from the DOJ in 2018, but their response was noncommittal as to the standard required: Absent the adoption of specific technical requirements for websites through rulemaking, public accommodations have flexibility in how to comply with the ADA's general requirements of nondiscrimination and effective communication. In late July 2019, a series of questions were again raised to the DOJ from several senators looking for clarification. In particular, the senators attempted to learn if the DOJ "consider WCAG 2.0 an acceptable compliance standard". No response from the DOJ has been received as of this writing. California Assembly Bill No. 434 This legislation states that by July 1, 2019 all web content of the state agency or entity must meet... the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0, or a subsequent version, published by the Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium at a minimum Level AA success criteria. 3) Standards Determine Compliance Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) Two of the three pieces of legislation above specifically reference Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 as the relevant standard that our documents must conform to. These guidelines were developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C),  an international community that develops open standards for the Web. WCAG 2.0 contains 12 guidelines designed to make content published on the web more accessible for those with impairment. Testable criteria are also provided to allow for the assessment of your content. Any piece of content can be assessed into one of three levels of conformance : A (lowest), AA, and AAA (highest). Note that the legislation mentioned above specify the level that your content must achieve. PDF/Universal Accessibility (PDF U/A) We mention this standard here as you may hear it and be confused by it. PDF/UA is the informal name for ISO 14289, the International Standard for accessible PDF technology. A technical specification intended for developers implementing PDF writing and processing software, PDF/UA provides definitive terms and requirements for accessibility in PDF documents and applications. PDF/UA defines the technical specifications to enable PDF documents to meet WCAG 2.0, but WCAG 2.0 has additional requirements that call for an author’s attention. For these and other additional requirements, the W3C’s technique documents (both general and PDF-specific techniques) guide authors interested in complying with WCAG 2.0. In short, if you are a state or local government in the United States and want to be confident that you comply with the various pieces of legislation, all content you publish to the web must conform to WCAG 2.0 level AA standard. Watch this space for our next article on the technical requirements of WCAG 2.0 and a methodology to employ to make your published documents fully compliant with the standards mandated by the ADA, Section 508, and California Bill 434.   
Accessibility - Why should finance & budget professionals care? What do the laws (3!) require? How can you comply? This article provides the answers.
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Budget Book VS. Financial Statements: What's Worse?

Budget Book VS. Financial Statements: What's Worse?

  • Jamie Black
  • Automating Financial Reporting
  • minute(s)Finance professionals in government and education have several daunting (frustrating, annoying, I could go on..) reporting challenges to address each year: the Annual Audited Financial Report, the Budget Book and some special purpose reports like the FIR for governments in Alberta & Ontario or the CAUBO report for universities & colleges While automating the annual financial statements is generally recognized as a major win for your finance team, perhaps an even bigger win is automating the budget book. To an outsider, this might be a surprise. Isn't going through an audit the worst thing possible? Admittedly, it's not a lot of fun and yes it is incredibly time consuming; but the budget book is worse. Here's why.. 1) Much more content  How long are your annual financial statements? For many of our clients (governments, universities & colleges, large publicly traded companies) a typical set of statements include: a cover page a table of contents 4 statements 20 - 30 notes 4 - 6 schedules All told, the report is perhaps 30 pages.  For a regional district or a local government in the USA that must prepare a Comprehensive Annual Financial Report the page count is likely to increase to 200 + pages. In any case, there is a lot of complexity to these reports. A budget book (sometimes called the "financial plan") is almost always much larger. 200 or 300 pages is actually a small budget document. For those clients that participate in the GFOA Distinguished Budget Presentation Awards program, their guidelines tend to result in very large budget books. Some even approach 1,000 pages! All of this content means more work. More tables, more text, and more numbers that must reconcile.   2) Considerable emphasis on non-financial data For the most part, financial statements are focused on financial data. There are text portions (the policies and notes), but even then they are either relatively static (e.g. your revenue recognition policy is not changing year-by-year) or primarily about details of the financial data. In contrast, it is very common for the budget book to contain hundreds of pages of narrative. Large narrative discussions of the following are required of GFOA Distinguished Budget Presentation Award Program participants in a budget book: the budget process, entity-wide long-term financial policies, organizational charts and descriptions of the organization, its community, the population and background information related to the services provided. Why does this make the process harder? More content means more page breaks, larger table of contents, more pages to number etc. In short, it means more elements to have problems with. Secondly, much of this narrative changes year after year, necessitating a process of collecting, organizing and updating hundreds of pages of content.  3) Graphs & pictures Annual Financial Statements rarely include graphs & pictures. They tend to be very utilitarian documents, comprised almost exclusively of tables of data and a few pages of narrative in the notes section. Very few of our clients even add a logo or picture to the cover page!  Contrast this with the budget book. The vast majority of these documents contain many graphical elements including: organization charts graphs pictures of ongoing projects, the finance team, local wild life etc. A quick review of one of the budget book for one of our clients showed that in the 425 pages, there were nearly 300 graphical elements! Just like the challenges listed above in large narrative sections, graphical elements must be managed and updated year after year. To make matters worse, consider that many finance professionals are not expert in how to use graphical elements to maximize communication effectiveness.  4) A much broader collaboration In most organizations, assembling the annual financial statements is primarily the task of the core finance team. While dozens of folks may contribute reconciliations and supporting documents, perhaps only a handful of people contribute to the statements directly.  For the budget book, dozens or even hundreds of people contribute to that huge volume of text we mentioned earlier. It might only be a few paragraphs per person, but it seems like every Tom, Dick & Wendy contribute to the budget book content.  That means the team that assembles the book needs to track who is contributing to each section. Then they need to know if that individual provided their content yet, and when they do provide the content someone has to make sure that it gets reviewed, approved and finally correctly inserted into the end report. That is a lot of little steps which must be repeated potentially hundreds of times to arrive at the completed book. The End Result The end result of these four points is one absolute fact. If your budget document is hundreds of pages bigger than your financial statements, budget book automation will be an incredibly valuable accomplishment for your organization.
Budget book automation provides massive value for universities & governments by reducing time investment, eliminating errors & more. Here's why...
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