In Black & White

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

An Interview with Queens University

An Interview with Queens University

  • Jamie Black
  • Success Stories
  • minute(s)For more than 175 years Queens University in Kingston, Ontario has gained and maintained a reputation for excellence. Educating thousands of scholars and researchers including 2015 Nobel Prize winner Arthur B. McDonald. The University services more than 25,000 students and as of April 30th, 2019 its endowment was valued at more than $1 billion. The Challenge Queen's University wanted to reduce the time it took to prepare their annual financial statements while increasing their confidence in the data. We interviewed Peter Viveiros, the Associate Director of Financial Analysis and Reporting in Financial Services, to discuss their experiences in overcoming these challenges. The Interview 1 What was your business process to tackle the Annual Financial Statements previously, and how much time did it take? What product were you using before and why did you want to switch? Our previous business process was done through the use of Microsoft Excel and Word after pulling a trial balance from our accounting system. We had a set of multiple spreadsheets to allow us to map our accounting system trial balance into various financial reports like the statement of financial position, statement of operations, statement of operations by fund, statement of operations by consolidated entities and various tables to feed the notes to the financial statements. We also had spreadsheets to produce tax related financial reports. This mapping adventure took us approximately a week, and was usually delayed until we had confirmation that the numbers were close to final to avoid the risk of having to update the spreadsheets several times over. In addition to the time spent updating these spreadsheets, numerous hours were also spent in the review process to ensure that the numbers tied in and that subtotal and totals added correctly; not to mention rounding! A few members of our Financial Reporting team had previously used CaseWare, so that switch was a no brainer to eliminate the amount of time spent on updating spreadsheets and reviewing the numbers over and over again.    2What other solutions did you consider? How did you hear about FHB, and what was the key factor(s) in choosing our solution? As mentioned, a few members of our Financial Reporting team had previously used CaseWare, so we did not bother seeking other solutions. In addition, our auditors confirmed with us that CaseWare would definitely compliment their audit process. We first heard of FHB at a Canada-wide conference that our Controller attended.  The key factors in selecting FHB was the ability to contract out the implementation process as opposed to self-implementation; and FHB’s experience in implementing CaseWare for other higher education institutions. 3 Were you concerned about working with someone other than the software vendor for implementation? Or working remotely? We were not concerned about working with a consultant.  We had expectations of what we were looking for with implementing CaseWare, and FHB was able to demonstrate from the very beginning that they were more than able to meet our expectations and did so throughout the entire process. We had no concerns with working remotely. In fact, working remotely was key in us gaining approval to proceed with implementing CaseWare as it kept the implementation costs down.      4 What process did you follow to implement CaseWare?   We chose to outsource the implementation to FHB as oppose to self-implement. They reconciled our numbers, which allowed us to continue with our day to day responsibilities while FHB was in the background setting up our account structure in Caseware, including the financial statements. With the exception of touch base meetings to discuss the progress and questions from the FHB team during the implementation, the process was very hands-free for our team. I would recommend to anyone considering implementing CaseWare to really consider the delegated implementation route. Our decision was based on the fact that we had limited internal resources to commit to a successful self-implementation and felt that we would be better served by having FHB perform the implementation given the size and complexity of our financial reporting requirements. The implementation process consisted of regular meetings with our FHB consultants to ensure that we were on the same page, which included hands-on illustrations of our file as the implementation progressed.  There was also review steps throughout the process to ensure that the end product met our expectations. Our staff attended formal training provided by FHB to ensure that we were well equipped to take on the software once it was ready to be moved into production.  5 From your perspective, how is the University in a better position now as compared to with your old solution? Is the process faster? Could you estimate the time savings, or provide any examples? CaseWare has tremendously enhanced the University’s ability to produce its set of financial statements for both annual and interim requirements as well as tax filing requirements. We are now rolling into our third year of using CaseWare and have definitely gained efficiencies in our financial and tax reporting processes.  We have also gained comfort on the accuracy of mapping our figures from one financial report to another; not to mention a decrease in the number of hours committed to reviewing the figures. Our week long process in moving from our accounting system’s trial balance to our financial statements now takes a few hours to complete, and we can also begin this process the minute we import the numbers into Caseware (we used to wait until the numbers were close to final!). If we had to put a number to it, I would say we saved a week or so (down from six weeks to five) in regards to the direct switch from the manual process of mapping the numbers to the automation provided by CaseWare. 6 What are the biggest benefits of the CaseWare Tool vs. your old system?  For all the reasons that have been stated in the answers above, but one of the biggest benefits is the automation that takes place once the trial balance is imported…we have a set of financial statements shortly after that! 7 What was your experience with FHB like? In our opinion, FHB is an expert on the use and capabilities of CaseWare. We were impressed with their ability to setup the software to meet our reporting needs with minimal intervention required from our team.   8What is our client service like? Did you feel that we carefully managed your project? Did you feel like you were well taken care of by your consultants, that your concerns were heard, and your questions answered? The client service received by FHB was super. The implementation deadline was met; allowing us to use it for our fiscal 2018 year-end process as planned.  Our consultants, Tricia Fraser and Noreen Vavrek, were extremely helpful throughout the process and did a great job in keeping us on schedule while ensuring that all our questions and concerns were adequately addressed. 9 Is there anything you wish you knew at the beginning of this process that you know now? Advice for others considering a similar automation project? Have a clear understanding of what other types of reports you might want to prepare using the automation capabilities that CaseWare offers; so that the initial implementation incorporates these needs upfront as opposed to revisiting it afterwards. Although not a deal breaker, but something that would have saved us time during the implementation. 10 Would you recommend FHB and specifically the CaseWare solution to other finance departments and why? Yes, we would definitely recommend FHB and the CaseWare solution to others. The time savings that are gained from the automation capabilities more than outweigh the annual costs associated with maintaining the software. Not to mention the inherent comfort that it provides knowing that it reduces the risk of errors and increases the consistency of the financial reports.
The University of Queens automated their annual financial statements to reduce the time it took to prepare and increase their confidence in the data.
READ MORE
An Interview with The City of Rock Springs

An Interview with The City of Rock Springs

  • Jamie Black
  • Success Stories
  • minute(s)Home of the infamous outlaw Butch Cassidy, The City of Rock Springs a.k.a the City of "56 Nationalities" attracted emigrants from far and wide to the Union Pacific Coal Mines in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  With a population of 23,350, it's the 5th largest City in Wyoming. The Challenge The City was using multiple, inefficient solutions to prepare their annual financial statements, which was very time consuming and labor-intensive.  When their solution, CAFR Unlimited discontinued support for the software they knew it was time to find a new solution.  The Interview 1 What was your business process to tackle the Annual Financial Statements previously, and how much time did it take? What product were you using before and why did you want to switch? Prior to using CaseWare, we were using a software called CAFR Unlimited as well as Microsoft Office/Microsoft Excel to prepare and draft our report. To start, we would extract the financial information from our accounting software and import into CAFR Unlimited. Once the information was in CAFR Unlimited, we would make any necessary journal entries, after which we would extract the information from CAFR Unlimited into Excel tables. Once the information was in Excel we would write our financial and compliance report using Microsoft Word and linking with Excel to “pull” the tables into the report. This was quite time consuming, and if there were any major changes Microsoft Word can be difficult to work with regarding formatting. While this whole process is very manual and a pain, it was all we had, and we really were unaware of anything better until we were forced to switch from CAFR Unlimited as the software was no longer supported by the vendor.   2 Did you look at other solutions and if so, what was the key factor(s) in choosing our solution? Besides CaseWare we briefly looked for other options (Opengov, CAFR Online, and a software option through Harris as we currently use some of their software) but really were unable to find anything that suited our needs as many weren't tailored to governmental financial statements and others lacked data. In addition, our auditors use CaseWare as their primary auditing software, so in theory we could provide the auditors our CaseWare file and they could audit from that point.  We also really like that CaseWare has a document library (content) that is specifically tailored to governmental entities. Another big plus is that the City’s senior accountant came from a public accounting background and was fairly familiar with the CaseWare software which allowed for an easier transition for the City.  Furthermore, CaseWare is a big software company so we didn’t have to worry as much about support ending for it. 3 Were you concerned about working with someone other than the software vendor for implementation? Working remotely?  Working with a Canadian company? We were not concerned about working with a consultant. We’ve done similar types of implementations many times previously.  In addition we had no concerns about working with a Canadian company. 4 What process did you follow to implement CaseWare? Perhaps provide a summary of the process?  We elected to do a self-implementation to help keep costs down. We initially took two 16 hours classes with F.H. Black to learn how to work with the software. Once the classes were complete we started our implementation. We met with F.H. Black weekly to discuss progress, address questions/concerns and to receive direction on what to do next. We elected to implement using the FY2017 report (as it was audited and complete) so we had something to work towards. Once we had rebuilt the FY2017 report in CaseWare, we were able to start work on the FY2018 report. 5 From your perspective, how is the City in a better position now as compared to with your old solution? Is the process faster? Could you estimate the time savings or provide any examples? For the implementation we elected to start using the FY2017 report, we chose this as it gave us an audited statement to work towards rebuilding in CaseWare. For the current year report (FY2018) it was hard to see exactly how much time we will be saving, as we were still working on the implementation of FY2017 while working on the FY2018 report. Going forward we feel that the overall process will be faster for report preparation. We can say for sure that preparing the current year report was much quicker than the process has been in the past. 6 What are the biggest benefits of the CaseWare tool vs. your old system? The biggest pro is that now we are able to prepare the adjusted trial balance and prepare the compliance and finance report all in the same program. The CaseWare tool allows for us to draft the financial statements in a much more automated fashion. Previously we were using Microsoft Word and Excel to prepare the statements which was a very time-intensive process, especially when the auditors had changes/adjustments. 7 What was your experience with FHB like? Specifically, can you speak to our knowledge of: Technology generally and CaseWare specifically Year end processes & GASB requirements We feel that FHB had an excellent understanding of the CaseWare product and its capabilities. FHB was very easy to work with and was able to help us navigate questions/issues we had with CaseWare. We also feel that FHB had a comprehensive understanding of GASB requirements and the process needed to build a compliant report. FHB was able to provide great suggestions as to format as well as ensure we were able to keep the spirit of the report we provided previously. 8 How did the self-implementation go? Did you feel like you were adequately equipped to do it with our training and project management?  Were you able to meet your deadlines timely without excess effort?  Would you do it again? We feel that the self-implementation process went really well. We were able to meet our current year audit deadlines which was very important to us. We also feel that we were well equipped due to 1) the required FHB CaseWare classes, and 2) the weekly status meetings with FHB. We both feel that we would do it all again if given the option. 9 Is there anything you wish you knew at the beginning of this process that you know now? Advice for others considering a similar automation project? We think it is important to try and keep the end goal in mind when setting up statements and other report content. FHB had mentioned it to us; however, it really hit home with us and set in when we were in the latter stages of the report and were glad that we had taken the time to set things up correctly. Additionally, we would suggest that other clients not underestimate the time commitment to implement, this is something that needs to be properly planned out; however, it is well worth the time and effort. 10 Would you recommend self-implementation of CaseWare to other state or local government finance departments and why? We would wholeheartedly recommend the self-implementation process to another government. We feel that it really helped us to gain a better understanding of how CaseWare really works as well as the overall process. When working on the FY2018 year report it was much easier to make changes to the templates since we were the ones who created them in the first place (with FHB’s help). We just cannot imagine gaining the same depth of understanding with having FHB perform the implementation for us. In addition since the initial implementation of CaseWare, the City implemented a budgeting software that is compatible with CaseWare (Questica Budget) and we are currently working with FHB to automate the process of our budget book and it is going great. Watch this space With a successful implementation under their belt, the City is now working with FHB and CaseWare to automate their budget book. Once implemented, we will interview them again for more valuable insights. To be notified when this and other finance-related articles are released Subscribe to our Blog.
The City of Rock Springs automated their financial statements. We interviewed them about the process and their experience. Here's what they had to say.
READ MORE
An Interview with Washington County: Budget Book Automation

An Interview with Washington County: Budget Book Automation

  • Jamie Black
  • Success Stories
  • minute(s)Washington County is the second largest of 36 counties in the State of Oregon. As of the 2010 census, its population was 529,710 and its largest city Hillsboro had a population of 91,611. With a $1.2 billion total budget proposed for 2018-19 to include investments in infrastructure, transportation and affordable housing to name a few, the county's budget department has 'its work cut out for it.' The Challenge The county's budget book spans more than 300 pages. It took four of the team's six staff members approximately 75% of their time from March through the end of June to prepare. Links to Excel in Word documents would routinely break or malfunction randomly; these errors plagued their processes as they would change numbers in multiple locations unexpectedly. The Interview We interviewed Washington County to learn their thoughts on the budget book automation project we completed with them in 2018 (see the book that resulted here). Here are the highlights:  1 What was your business process to tackle the Budget Book previously, how much time did it take and why did you want to switch? Our process was to download information into an Excel Spreadsheet after the information was entered in Questica, open a series of Word Documents by our Functional Area’s then link the spreadsheet that pertained to a specific Org Unit to the correct page in the Word Document, write the budget analysis and present to the Deputy County Administrators for their review and input. As the Deputy County Administrators recommended changes, the changes would be entered in Questica, downloaded into Excel, update the links, reprint the page for further review. At the end of all the changes then the summary sheets would need to be redone with new downloads, the prior links were updated, the budget analysis sections would need to be proofed to verify the words and numbers matched the linked tables. Then after the Budget Summary Book was completed for the public hearing it would need to be re-done after the year-end changes and impacts changed by the budget committees before it was produced as an Adopted Budget Summary in July. This took four staff members approximately 75% of their time from March through the end of June. The desire to switch to a different process was generated as a result of the Excel links in the Word Documents continued to break or malfunction randomly, the mistakes that would plague the process due to changing numbers in multiple locations and a desire to automate some of the processes, standardize language and writing style and have increased confidence in the final numbers in all reports. 2 What other solutions did you consider?  How did you hear about FHB, and what were the key factors in choosing our solution over the others? We looked at a few other solutions that were more of a publication software style and did not link to Questica or provide number checking abilities. Two staff members were able to attend the Questica conference two years ago and watched a demonstration from FHBlack on the ability to link Questica to preparation of the Budget Summary Book. In addition, Questica sales representatives assisted us with finding other agencies who had implemented CaseWare as a CAFR solution. The key factors for our selection were the interface ability to link CaseWare to Questica and the standardization of programmed sentences and fonts. 3 Were you initially concerned about working remotely or working with a Canadian company? We had very limited experience working 100% remotely on software implementations so yes, we did have some reservations at the start. We had no concerns about working with a Canadian company. 4 What process did you follow to implement CaseWare and how did you feel the implementation went? Perhaps provide a summary of the process? We used the consultant for all implementation of the software and preparation of the past year Budget Summary Book. We met weekly during the development and provided results of queries from Questica that the consultant built. The consultant was given access to our systems or was able to direct us on what was needed during our webinar sessions. All sessions were attended by the County team so that we were all learning about the software, provided the consultant information on how our budget process worked, accounting structure, how the software used the data to provide the summary pages, spreadsheet view, pictures, and how other outside the system documents were added. We were then able to work more independently when putting together the new year budget summary with the assistance of the consultant. The consultant was very knowledgeable about CaseWare and was an invaluable partner in the successful implementation of the software. He was very adept at learning our account structures, setting up what was needed and provided a best practices approach to how the book went together. He was great at problem-solving and thinking outside the box to find solutions that benefited our project. The implementation was successful and the experience was one of the best we have encountered. 5 How many team members at the County worked with the CaseWare Budget Book Solution? We had six staff members on the County team, a Project Manager, Chief Financial Officer, Controller and three other budget analysts. 6 From your perspective, how is the County in a better position now as compared to with your old solution? Is the process faster? What are the biggest benefits? Could you estimate the time savings or provide any examples. We are just now about ready to begin our second actual year of preparation of the Budget Summary book. Our process starts with getting the budget into Questica before we can begin using CaseWare. We envision that the process to interface the needed information from Questica to CaseWare will go smoothly. The interface is required in order to prepare the first draft of the summary pages with the financial information linking smoothly.  We do plan to use the consultant to assist us with the initial conversion to the new fiscal year so that we have clear written directions to complete the process.  We believe that the time staff use to put into downloading information into spreadsheets, unhiding rows, adding new organizational units etc. will be better spent providing additional analysis, and free up time to work on other projects that often get delayed during this budget preparation time. One budget analyst is also having time re-directed to assist in the implementation of CaseWare for our CAFR reporting implementation project. I would estimate that we are saving about two of the FTE who were working on this part of the budget development. 7 What is your perception of our expertise? Specifically, can you speak to our knowledge of: Technology generally and CaseWare/Questica specifically Budget Book process & requirements Our consultant was very knowledgeable on both CaseWare software and Questica information and queries. The consultant we used was great and his knowledge of the Budget Book process and requirements was outstanding. He was able to build our document to meet our needs, troubleshoot issues that arose and make many great suggestions to assist us in this process. The software is complicated enough that I am not sure we would have been successful without his direct work and interventions when we had difficulties. 8 What was our client service like? Did you feel like we carefully managed the project, knew and met your deadlines? Did you feel like you were well taken care of by your consultant and that your concerns were heard, and your questions answered etc. Client service was great. Some interim project deadlines were allowed to slip by the Chief Financial Officer. However, the overall project deadline was met. The consultant was dedicated to making sure the project was completed and we were happy with the final product. All our concerns and questions were answered by the consultant and his level of patience and willingness to provide additional training were excellent. From a project perspective, F.H. Black exceeded our expectations. From day 1, their project manager (Darryl Parker) made us believe we were his one and only client.  With his deep knowledge in governmental accounting, he had a clear understanding of our practices and challenges.  Also, project timelines were clearly communicated.  When challenges arose, Darryl seemed to do magic getting us back on track!  A true pleasure to work with!  9 Would you recommend FHB and specifically the CaseWare Budget Book solution to other state or local government finance departments and why? Yes, we would recommend both FHB and CaseWare Budget Book to other jurisdictions. We believe the time savings going forward will more than offset the annual cost for access/licenses. The ability to customize the look and feel of the book to match our prior books, add our own other documents that did not make sense to build into CaseWare including charts and graphs are key to the successful build of our Budget Summary Book. 10 Do you have plans to tackle any other automation projects (CAFR, monthly, quarterly, state-mandated reports etc.) with CaseWare and FHB? If so, please discuss them and why you feel the county will benefit from these automation projects. We have just begun the implementation project to automate our CAFR. In addition, we have two other departments within the County who are interested in automating some of their quarterly or annual financial reports. The automation of the CAFR is anticipated to save a great deal of staff time chasing down numbers that change during the development of the CAFR. Every time a number changes in the current process causes additional time to find and make the changes in all places impacted. CaseWare will carry through the changes to all needed tables/pages so that this additional review time will be saved. The other departments see the value of this software and are excited to develop projects to assist them with meeting their reporting needs.  
Washington County automated their budget book with the help of F.H. Black & Company Incorporated by implementing the Questica Budget Book powered by CaseWare solution, drastically streamlining the processes while producing a more reliable report.
READ MORE
CAFR Automation Success - An Interview with the State of Maine

CAFR Automation Success - An Interview with the State of Maine

  • Jamie Black
  • Success Stories
  • minute(s)The State of Maine is thrilled with its new automated approach to preparing the CAFR (see the resulting document here). We interviewed them to learn more, and share their insights with others considering a CAFR automation project.   Read the full interview: The Interview 1 What was your business process to tackle the CAFR previously and how much time did it take? We import a trial balance from our accounting system that is formatted for use by our reporting application using Excel.  We request information from numerous state agencies and other sources for the purpose of posting adjustments (over 300 manually entered adjustments and over 100 "auto-reversals") to account balances and compile other information for note disclosures, required supplementary information and statistical information. Our previous CAFR reporting software generated only numerical financial statements in Excel format.  Narrative information was generated with Word.  Desktop publishing was a completely manual process that involved converting multiple documents into PDF format and compiling numerous PDF documents into one published document.  The entire process began with some "prep" work in August, with the full commitment of all five members of the financial reporting team beginning in September.  Draft financial statements typically were issued by approximately the second week in December and often the Auditor's Opinion letter would not be received until the last week of December, with the deadline to qualify for a Government Finance Officers Association Certificate of Excellence being December 31.  A significant amount of time involved in generating the CAFR requires the compilation of information, making calculations, documenting, reviewing and filing workpapers for review by our Auditors.  Additionally, we are the reporting entity for several component units, who must complete their financial statements before we can include their information in our statements.  Thus, it would be difficult to push the timeline back further than approximately December 1st. 2What product were you using before and why did you want to switch? We used "CAFR Unlimited."  The product was a Microsoft Access based application that was originally developed by a lone developer and sold to a software development company.  The company discontinued support for the original application and planned to convert the application to a networked, SQL server platform, but discontinued support for that product as well.  The product was simple to use and worked well for us.  But, it had no desktop publishing capabilities.  The reports that CAFR Unlimited produced were all Excel based reports.  Thus, we switched, number one, for the lack of product support; and two, we wanted a more robust product that provided publishing and workflow capabilities. 3Did you look at other solutions and if so, what was the key factor(s) in choosing our solution? We were provided with demonstrations of other products, but none of them had all the capabilities that CaseWare offered.  We also liked the staff at FHB and felt comfortable that they would provide excellent customer service.  After a demonstration of CaseWare, we were instantly intrigued by the product.  When we asked the presenter "will CaseWare do this?", the answer was in most cases "Yes, this is how that is done."  The decision to go with CaseWare was easy. 4Were you concerned about dealing with someone other than the software vendor for implementation? No, not at all.  In fact, after the implementation, we had a couple of minor "glitches" to resolve and in a least one case, F.H. Black resolved the problem quicker than CaseWare International's support staff.  So, we're very happy we have the support of FHB. 5Were you initially concerned about working remotely or working with a Canadian company? We had no concerns about working with a Canadian company.  We were initially skeptical of working remotely.  But, remote screen sharing and group calling technologies worked very well for us.  And, FHB always kept our scheduled appointments. 6What process did you follow to implement CaseWare?  We installed CaseWare on our computers and received four days of training from an F.H. Black consultant in two separate 2-day sessions. We provided the consultant with the prior year CAFR and our previous trial balance "crosswalk" or "rollup" codes. The consultant recreated the prior year's statements, notes, and various schedules based on Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) templates. Through online "Goto Meetings" we met with the consultant at least once per week to discuss questions we had and offered our comments about changes that needed to be made. During this process, the consultant maintained the "master copy" of the CaseWare Working Papers file. Once the prior financial statements had been substantially recreated, the consultant performed a "roll-forward" to create the current year (new working papers file) financial statements; and control of the master copy was handed off to us. We entered adjustments to account balances as usual during the report compilation period. During this period, we continued to make editorial improvements to the CAFR report with the help and support of FHB. The final step of publishing the CAFR merely involved "hitting the print" button. 7How did the implementation go? It was a lot of work and required the effort of five of our staff as well as three of F.H. Black's staff.  Considering that our CAFR is an extremely complex and detailed 250-page document, the process went quite well. 8From your perspective, how is the State in a better position now as compared to with your old solution? Is the process faster? Could you estimate the time savings or provide any examples? We believe we are using a much better tool than before.  We are comforted in the fact that we have support of a company with knowledge and expertise in financial reporting and supports mature industry-leading software with an international presence. It's difficult to measure "fast" in our circumstance.  CaseWare's strength is with its desktop publishing capabilities.  But, in terms our timeline, since we are a relatively large governmental entity, we post numerous adjustments (approximately 300 plus), that must be processed through our rigorous documentation and review process.  This takes a tremendous amount of time regardless of the tool(s) used. CaseWare does save us the time and tedium of having to manually enter every adjusting journal. At the end of the reporting process, we used to compile numerous Excel workbooks and Word documents, send files to a "PDF printer" and import many PDF files into the final published version.  Since individual documents came from so many different sources there was no consistency in page margins, page numbering, fonts and font sizes, etc.  CaseWare is "heads and shoulders above" our previous software in terms of the quality of the published report.  We also believe the overall integrity of the report to be much better and the risk of errors and omissions is less than before. 9What are the biggest benefits of the CaseWare tool vs. your old system? The biggest advantage is the desktop publishing and the ability to reference values between statements to ensure that all values agree.  Our prior reporting application had no desktop publishing capabilities.  The exceptional feature of CaseWare is that anyone can see a real-time view of the draft report at any time during the report compilation period.  You don't have to wait until the end of the process to view a compiled "camera ready" draft product. CaseWare provides the ability for the user to formulate unlimited diagnostics and analytics to ensure the completeness, accuracy and integrity of the final product. CaseWare allows the user to easily generate customizable reports using its "automatic document" functionality.  These reports were invaluable in establishing and verifying account rollup balances during the implementation phase and the reports were extremely useful for auditors as well during the first year of our CAFR reporting.  Our old system did not allow the user to save customized worksheet reports; whereas CaseWare allows users to create as many "worksheet" reports as desired and organize them anyway they want. Our prior tool allowed for the import of the trial balance only.  CaseWare allows user to import trial balances, budgets, revenue forecasts, performance measures, and even adjustment data from properly formatted Excel workbooks.  The import functionality is extremely convenient as it eliminates the time and tedium of entering data that we've already "crunched" in our complex Excel spreadsheets.  The import functionality also limits or eliminates data entry errors. 10 What was your experience with FHB like?  The consultant assigned to our project has over ten years of experience, his combined background in accounting and computer programming and technical acumen makes him an invaluable resource for us and FHB. 11 Did you feel like we carefully managed the project, knew and met your deadlines etc? Yes.  We were very clear in communicating our timeline to FHB.  We had established a reasonable timetable at the beginning of the implementation project.  We believe that effective planning and communications by all parties was key to the success of the project. 12 What was our client service like? Did you feel like you were well taken care of and that your concerns were heard, and your questions answered etc? We believe FHB's customer service is "top notch."  The team made a concerted effort to understand our requirements and concerns.  We participated in periodic "how's everything going" meetings.  We got the sense that FHB strives for continuous improvement in servicing its clients; and is genuinely concerned about its clients' opinions and satisfaction with FHB's products and services. 13 How well did we communicate? Were we clear and concise, were we readily available to discuss your concerns? Did we do a good job of setting expectations and keeping you updated each step of the way? The consultant assigned to our project was extremely knowledgeable, helpful, easy to work with, and explained every detail of the technical, "under the hood" aspects of CaseWare whenever we had specific questions about how the application works. 14 Is there anything you wish you knew at the beginning of this process that you know now? Advice for others considering a similar CAFR automation project? We can't think of anything that we wish we knew at the beginning of the process.  However, as one would expect, the more complex the set of financial statements, the more lead time an entity should provide itself to implement CaseWare.  Our CAFR is 250 pages that includes introductory information, management discussion and analysis, basic financial statements, notes to the financial statements, required supplementary information, notes to the required supplementary information, combining and individual financial statements, and statistical schedules, all prescribed by GASB standards.  We started our implementation project in April of 2017 with training.  The recreation of the prior year's financial statements, to be used as a template, took place from May through August.  The generation of the current year's financial statements occurred during the usual time frame from September through December.  We completed the published report approximately two weeks ahead of the usual timeframe.  As with any project, proper planning, delegation of tasks, and adherence to deadlines is important to achieving a successful outcome. 15 Would you recommend CaseWare to other state or local government finance departments and why? Absolutely...Yes.  Based on our research and experience, CaseWare appears to be the most comprehensive reporting application on the market - the one tool that "does it all."
The State of Maine automated their CAFR with the CaseWare solution and are thrilled with the results. We interviewed them to find out more about what they did before, the implementation process, and where they are now.
READ MORE
Palmetto proves automating the CAFR benefits small organizations too

Palmetto proves automating the CAFR benefits small organizations too

  • Jamie Black
  • Success Stories
  • minute(s)Palmetto is a waterfront community located on the Gulf Coast of Florida, midway between Tampa to the north and Sarasota to the south.  With a population of just over 14,000 residents, the City has seen dramatic growth in recent years while maintaining the “Old Florida” charm that residents and visitors have come to love.  The Challenge The primary challenges for the City's Finance Department were three-fold, they needed to: Reduce Time Reduce the Risk of Errors Formalize Processes Everyone wants to reduce the time it takes to produce the CAFR & mitigate the risk of errors. Of particular concern for Palmetto was the impending retirement of the City's Finance Director. The finance department, made up of just four members, was very concerned about how this loss & associated "brain drain" would affect the department going forward.   The Wrong Turns Not one to wait for a small problem to become large, the Finance Director anticipated the problems that would arise from her departure and took steps to mitigate them immediately.  After extensive research, the finance department eliminated all spreadsheet-based applications and decided to proceed with a CAFR focused solution.  Unfortunately, two-thirds of the way through implementing the solution, the City was abandoned by the provider.    Sometimes even the best-laid plans go awry due to circumstances beyond your control. The Solution Convinced a better solution was still 'out there', the evaluation of vendors resumed. This time CaseWare International was the victor, a combination of the Working Papers & GASB Financial solution were just what the department needed. Perceived Road Blocks When asked why CaseWare was eliminated for consideration initially, the answer was simply “it was way too big for what we needed.” The perception was that the program was too large & complex, it would take too long to implement. In steps CaseWare authorized implementers F.H.Black & Company Incorporated.  The Results Reduced time required to produce the CAFR including over 50% reduction in the time it takes to prepare Fund Statements, Reduced risk of errors, Documented, simplified & formalized processes that will ease the transition to a new Finance Director, Centralized-database for single location modification, Positioned to reclaim Government-Wide statement creation from auditors. A word of wisdom from the expert Karen Simpson, Finance Director, shared that no matter the size, “the same amount of work still has to be done.” As the number and complexity of regulations and requirements for financial reporting continue to increase, municipalities of all sizes are quickly realizing that spreadsheets and word processing software that have been used in the past to prepare financial reports are no longer sufficient. Read the full success story here.
The City of Palmetto proves that automating the CAFR with CaseWare provides time, cost & operational savings for smaller local governments too.
READ MORE
City of Burlington automates their financial statements with CaseWare

City of Burlington automates their financial statements with CaseWare

  • James Goligher
  • Success Stories
  • minute(s)Boasting over 1,400 acres of parkland, Burlington has been consistently ranked as one of Canada’s “Best Places to Live.” This year, MoneySense magazine named Burlington the best mid-sized city (population of around 175,000) in which to live in Canada, the best place for new immigrants, and the fourth best place to retire. The city supports 47 service lines, which are represented by 15 departments and 6 local boards. The Challenge Improve accuracy and efficiency in the preparation of year-end financial statements for the City. The Solution Switch from Excel to CaseWare Working Papers & Financials for financial statement preparation.  The Results Automated preparation of financial statements and enhanced relationships with auditors. Less than Excel-lent Before implementing CaseWare, the City of Burlington's Finance Department created their annual financial statements in Excel. While spreadsheets can be useful for analysis, they found that efficiently converting large volumes of data into financial statements was challenging. Another significant issue with Excel was the time-consuming process of creating the financial statements. They would often take weeks to complete, and require several attempts to get in balance. If a change was required, it needed to be entered manually across the entire statement. Since the numbers were hard coded into the spreadsheet, rather than being linked directly from the source data, the process was tedious and prone to inaccuracies. Impact on the Audit Upon switching to CaseWare, the Finance Department found that the time spent preparing year-end financial statements was dramatically reduced. “We usually didn't have our financial statements ready until the end of the audit," explained Michelle Moore, Coordinator of Accounting at the City of Burlington, "but now we are producing them before the auditors even arrive. That is a huge win for us.” Moore continued that last-minute changes would previously take hours to apply throughout the financials, but with CaseWare now only took a few minutes. Getting the financial statements to the auditors early in the audit has provided the Finance Department with more time to assist with any requests while the auditors are still on site. “Our auditors were extremely happy when we told them that we were implementing CaseWare,” Moore shared. CaseWare has allowed both the Finance Department and the auditors to be more confident in the information they are working with, which can be attributed to creating reports directly from a central database with referencing to the original source. Time for a Change Change is never easy, and implementing a new software is no different. Due to the numerous account groupings and cost centers used by municipalities, it can be a tedious process to make sure that all of the groups are set up appropriately from the onset. Although the initial setup took some effort, the City of Burlington remained positive. Moore noted, “It was a good educational process for us to learn and really understand how we have developed our financial structure.” F.H. Black & Company Incorporated to the Rescue F.H. Black & Company Incorporated (FHB), Canada's sole authorized consultant for CaseWare's governmental solutions, stepped in to aid in a smooth implementation. “[They] were great support for us especially when we started out,” says Moore. Moore also commented that FHB consultants were always available whenever they were needed and were happy to answer any questions. “They have so much knowledge and they know how to do things instantly.” To have that level of support available was comforting. Two of the Financial Department associates attended basic and advanced training on CaseWare provided by FHB and liked how hands-on the training was. Some of the training materials provided are still used today when any questions or issues arise. Continuing with CaseWare The City of Burlington is interested in continuing to explore the many additional features and add-ons available with CaseWare, such as quarterly financial reports and the FIR add-on. Moore expressed, “I think the opportunity to grow with (CaseWare) is pretty endless at this point.”
The City of Burlington automates their annual financial statements with CaseWare, saving 2 to 3 weeks of work per year. Next step - Automate the Ontario FIR!
READ MORE
Financial Statement Automation Saves Time & Money for Lethbridge

Financial Statement Automation Saves Time & Money for Lethbridge

  • Jamie Black
  • Success Stories
  • minute(s)Lethbridge, is a commercial, financial, transportation, and industrial centre with a population of 89,000. The City of Lethbridge provides both essential and nonessential services to its residents, from fire and emergency response to museum and library operations. The City’s Financial Services department is staffed by a team of professionals charged with bringing efficiency, accuracy, and transparency to the organization. CaseWare Working Papers and Financials are the tools the department relies on to fulfill that goal. More and More Spreadsheets As the PSAB (Public Sector Accounting Board) requirements changed, organizations like the City of Lethbridge were forced to change the presentation of their financial statements. Many turned to spreadsheets to accommodate the changes. Municipal governments within the province of Alberta are required to file a Municipal Financial Information Return (MFIR), which must be submitted to the Municipal Affairs office along with audited financial statements by May 1 of each year. At the City of Lethbridge, preparing it involved a multitude of spreadsheets and the dedicated work of one of the City’s most tenured employees. The City of Lethbridge has been using CaseWare Working Papers for many years, although in a limited capacity. “We were just using CaseWare for our balance sheet items,” recalls Tricia Fraser, Financial Reporting Supervisor for the City. “Essentially it was serving as a document holder only. We created our financial statements and other financial reports in Excel®. We needed a better way, as it was just too manual and time consuming.” Embracing Efficiency The City engaged F.H. Black & Company, a CaseWare certified consultant, to help it gain efficiency and reduce manual data entry tasks. “F.H. Black has been a tremendous resource,” says Fraser. “Their knowledge and experience with CaseWare has helped us make more strategic use of the product.” Financial Statements Completed in Record Time Using CaseWare Financials the City tackled financial statement automation. Now the City’s annual financial statement is completed substantially faster than before. “In fact, I had staff asking me what we had forgotten because they were so surprised that we were done so quickly.” That time savings is being put to productive use, Fraser says. “We used to spend so much time preparing documents and assembling the report, that we had little time to analyze the data and look for improvements. CaseWare buys us strategic planning time, time where we can consider what didn’t work, what worked well, and what we can do better. That’s priceless.” Three Weeks Saved in Production of MFIR F.H. Black showed the City how to use CaseWare Working Papers and CaseWare Connector to populate the MFIR report directly. “As a test, we prepared last year’s MFIR both ways, the old way and using CaseWare for the portions we automated,” says Fraser. “Both ways produced the exact same result, only CaseWare did it instantly. Now, instead of handing our auditors a series of spreadsheets and a binder of supporting documentation, we will hand them a CaseWare file.” Fraser says this single change will likely result in lower audit fees, and enables the City to complete its MFIR three weeks sooner than in the past. Improved Accuracy and Security Another benefit the City is realizing through CaseWare is increased accuracy. In the past, personnel would be assigned to troubleshoot and validate the Excel spreadsheets. “Now, when something is out of balance, we can easily follow the trail to the source and make the corrections,” says Fraser. “And because there is no manual input, the opportunity for errors is greatly reduced.” The move to CaseWare Financials has led to improved data security. “I used to be scared to give anyone else access to the spreadsheets, fearing someone would change something and I wouldn’t know who did it or why,” Fraser explains. “In CaseWare, I’m able to set up security so that I can control who has access to what. Now, we have 20 people working in CaseWare, and the data is accessible, auditable, and secure.” Leverage the Investment The City is leveraging its use of CaseWare by using it to produce other financial reports, including sections of its unaudited financial statement that is sent to council prior to the publication of the audited report. “This report is due during our busiest time of the year,” notes Fraser. “We were able to put it into CaseWare and the time savings is unbelievable. Frustration levels of staff during this crunch time are dramatically reduced.” Fraser and her family are relocating soon, and as she discusses new employment opportunities with potential employers, she is certain to ask one question: “I always ask if they use CaseWare. If the answer is no, the conversation is over.”
The City of Lethbridge uses CaseWare Working Papers to automate annual financial statements and the MFIR, driving significant time savings and reducing cost.
READ MORE
Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health Automates Financial Reporting

Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health Automates Financial Reporting

  • Jamie Black
  • Success Stories
  • minute(s)Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health works to improve the health of 250,000 residents of Wellington and Dufferin counties and the city of Guelph with a wide range of health services and resources, including immunizations, dental care, parenting support services, travel information, and infectious disease control. With 230 employees spread across six locations and an annual operating budget of $27 million, Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health embraces technology and the efficiencies it can provide to enable it to devote more resources to its mission. CaseWare Working Papers and Financials are two pieces of technology the organization relies on to streamline their financial reporting. Working Papers for Municipalities “We implemented CaseWare in 2013,” recalls Shanna O’Dwyer, Manager of Finance for Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health. “My first year here at the organization I used Excel® spreadsheets - and a lot of them - to produce the annual financial statements. I remember being concerned through the entire cycle that something would get missed and not updated properly. It was a stressful time.” O’Dwyer had used Working Papers in her prior position with an accounting firm, so was familiar with the solution and its capabilities when she saw it in action at a Municipal Finance Officers conference. “I met F.H. Black & Company Incorporated at the conference and learned how they have successfully implemented CaseWare for dozens of municipal organizations like ours across Canada,” she says. “We determined CaseWare would be an ideal fit for us.” Professional Implementation The implementation went very well says O’Dwyer. “F.H. Black & Company was fantastic. They were highly organized and very methodical in their approach. They kept the project on schedule and saw that we were informed and involved throughout the process.” Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health also appreciated the easy access to members of the F.H. Black’s consulting team. “We are able to view their calendars online and book a time slot that’s convenient for us,” O’Dwyer says. “But if we have an urgent matter, they are always directly available.” Simplifying Complex Tasks After receiving training in the solution and the mechanics involved in generating the financial statement templates, O’Dwyer was able to create the organization’s templates herself. She then set about duplicating the prior year’s financial statements in Working Papers as a proof of concept. “F.H. Black & Company helped with the export of the trial balance data from our accounting system,” O’Dwyer says. “It’s complex data with many different departments, segments, and funds but with their help we got it done.” During the past fiscal year, Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health has made a number of changes to its financial statement layout. “F.H. Black & Company helped us modify the templates to meet our needs and we were good to go,” says O’Dwyer. “It would have been a nightmare to try to incorporate all those changes if we were still using spreadsheets.” In subsequent years, O’Dwyer anticipates the time savings that Working Papers will deliver will be substantial. “In a short time frame, we are able to produce accurate, consistent financial statements.” Quality, Confidence, and Control Using Working Papers has improved the quality of Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health’s financial statements and made them more consistent O’Dwyer says. “Before CaseWare, we were copying rows of data from our financial statements and dropping them into the spreadsheets. Now we establish the account groupings in CaseWare and it does the work for us. Changes made to the working papers flow to the statements so we are confident that it’s right.” Previously, Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health’s auditors would take the organization’s spreadsheet data and produce the financial statements for them. Now, the organization produces its own statements through Working Papers. “We feel we have much more control over the process now,” says O’Dwyer. Paperless Process O’Dwyer says the first year with Working Papers, the organization continued its practice of building a paper binder, but that they have now eliminated paper entirely. “CaseWare is so reliable and secure, and we are able to link various references to outside documents such as funding agreements, that we determined paper was no longer needed.” Streamline Quarterly Reporting Building on the successful roll out of Working Papers for its financial statement generation, Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health plans to expand the solution’s use to quarterly reporting. “We’re still doing this in Excel, and there’s no reason why CaseWare can’t be leveraged to help streamline this task as well,” says O’Dwyer. She concludes, “We are really pleased with CaseWare. It has proven to be a real asset to us, and the great support we receive from F.H. Black & Company makes it all the better.” Ready to learn more about what CaseWare® Working Papers could do for your organization?  Join us for a free webinar.
Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health automates financial reporting with CaseWare Working Papers and increases efficiency, effectiveness & reliability.
READ MORE
Sunshine Coast Regional District Finds Bright Solution in CaseWare

Sunshine Coast Regional District Finds Bright Solution in CaseWare

  • Jamie Black
  • Success Stories
  • minute(s)Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) is the regional government serving the residents of the Sunshine Coast, a picturesque area located along the southwest coast of mainland British Columbia. SCRD’s 250 employees provide the region’s 28,000 residents with a wide range of diverse services, from recreation to regional water. The organization has complex and highly specific financial reporting needs, and it meets those needs with one solution – CaseWare Working Papers. 95+ Distinct Entities Create Complexity The complexity of SCRD’s financial reporting requirements becomes obvious when one considers the more than 95 distinct services the organization provides. “It is appropriate to think of each of our different services as a separate company,” explains Tina Perreault, Treasurer for SCRD. “Each has its own set of financials and we need consolidated reporting as well.” With an annual report running longer than 50 pages, the work required to gather the financial statements data was extensive, and potentially error-prone. Changing Requirements SCRD actually began using Working Papers in the late 1990s, but as changing public sector accounting requirements demanded adjustments to financial reports, the organization began relying more and more on spreadsheets to balance components of the financial statements. “We knew CaseWare was more than capable of handling the new requirements, but we didn’t have the knowledge to make the necessary adjustments,” explains Perreault. “So, instead we used dozens of different methods to balance sections within the financials, from leadsheets to spreadsheets. When a change was required, we had to make adjustments to each component.” SCRD went in search of a better way. Review Reaps Rewards “We met F.H. Black & Company, an Authorized CaseWare Consultant, at a GFOA (Government Finance Officers Association) conference and spoke to them about our situation,” Perreault recalls. “The firm’s knowledge of governmental accounting and of CaseWare is impressive. I was quickly convinced they were the partners we wanted to help us make better use of CaseWare.” F.H. Black performed what it calls a health check of the organization’s CaseWare implementation, and recommended some changes. One of the recommendations was the use of the GAAP Financial component of Working Papers, and the results have been significant. “We learned that there are a number of things that we could have been using CaseWare for, to help streamline our operations,” says Perreault. “The software offers extensive forecasting, budgeting, and statistical analysis capabilities that we can now use to our advantage.” Saving Time, Effort, and Money “We are saving so much time and effort,” says Perreault. “F.H. Black was able to precisely duplicate our financial reporting structure in CaseWare Financials, so we get the results we need with a fraction of the effort.” SCRD’s auditing firm uses CaseWare as well, and Perreault says that she anticipates that this will result in lower audit fees for the organization: “Our auditors will be able to gather the information they need much more quickly, and it’s in the format they are already using. They spend less time, and it will save us money.” Training the staff to use Working Papers was a simple task thanks to the software’s intuitive nature. “After a introductory class they can navigate and problem-solve easily,” notes Perreault. “It is a tremendous benefit to the organization to have multiple people capable of sharing the workload. In the past, we really had only one person who understood the whole system, and that is risky for the organization.” Visibility and Control Perreault likes the level of control SCRD maintains by producing its financial statements in-house. “We are working to more fully automate our entire audit process, and CaseWare is making that possible,” she says. “We have visibility into our statements long before we hand the data off to the auditors. Having this information more quickly helps us be even better at what we do.” Ongoing Return on Investment Perreault reports that obtaining funding for the software review and implementation of GAAP Financials was a simple matter. “Our Board recognizes the value of investing in technology,” she says. “We were able to communicate the benefits and CaseWare has delivered on those.”  She concludes, “I speak to local governments like ours about CaseWare. I’m always astounded when they say they still rely on spreadsheets and pivot tables. CaseWare is relatively inexpensive for the value it delivers, and the return on investment is rapid and ongoing. Frankly, I think it would be crazy not to use CaseWare.”
F.H. Black & Company performed a health check of the Sunshine Coast Regional District CaseWare implementation & optimized their CaseWare usage.
READ MORE
Learn how the City of Saint John Modernized Its Financial Reporting

Learn how the City of Saint John Modernized Its Financial Reporting

  • Jamie Black
  • Success Stories
  • minute(s)Saint John is the largest city in the province of New Brunswick, but it is even more notable as the oldest incorporated city in all of Canada. The city is home to 70,000 residents, with a nearly equal number in the surrounding metropolitan area. Its location on the Bay of Fundy at the mouth of the St. John River gives the city a rich maritime history. Today’s Saint John is also well-known for its research and technology sectors, its large arts and culture community, and broad tourism base. The City of Saint John, with an operating and capital budget of $226 million, is charged with administering city services, including police and public safety, parks and recreation, roads and transportation, fire and rescue, water and sewage, and many more. To meet its complex municipal, provincial, and federal reporting requirements the City of Saint John relies on CaseWare Working Papers and Financials. Change In Accounting Standards Assistant Controller, Hilary Nguyen, CGA, MBA, took on the financial reporting responsibilities for the City just as it was facing new reporting requirements for the upcoming year. “We had to begin reporting under the Public Sector Accounting Standards (PSAS),” she recalls. “This represented a huge change from our previous fund-based reporting format.” Up until this point, the City of Saint John was producing its financial statements using Excel® and Word®. It was a cumbersome process, but doable. With the new requirements, though, continuing without a purpose-built reporting tool would have been tremendously difficult. “We have well over one hundred different city functions and 17 separate entities that have to be consolidated and integrated,” explains Nguyen. “It would have been challenging, if not impossible, to accomplish in Excel.” Meeting a Tight Timetable Nguyen’s predecessor had already identified CaseWare Working Papers and Financials as the ideal solution for the municipality. F.H. Black & Company Incorporated, an Authorized CaseWare Consultant, was initially engaged to duplicate the City’s existing financial statements using CaseWare, satisfying the current year’s reporting requirements. “They are recognized experts in both CaseWare and municipal reporting requirements,” notes Nguyen. “We value that experience and look to them for assistance developing best practices for our reporting cycles going forward. Our province has additional unique requirements. F.H. Black was familiar with these requirements and could help us meet them using CaseWare.” Consultants’ Help Adds Value F.H. Black first helped the City of Saint John build fund-based reporting templates in CaseWare that matched the existing reporting format. The City next engaged F.H. Black to help it meet the new Public Sector Accounting Board (PSAB) required statements for the upcoming year. “We initially planned to have F.H. Black create the templates and we’d take it from there. Due to our short timeline and our small staff, though, we engaged F.H. Black to build both the financial statement templates and assemble the actual financial statements,” says Nguyen. “It was a good decision for us. F.H. Black met our deadlines and our statements are precisely how we need them to be.” Once the rush of the reporting cycle was complete, F.H. Black gave Nguyen and her staff more extensive training in CaseWare, empowering them to take over the task in the coming years. “The people at F.H. Black make a tremendous difference,” says Nguyen. “They are responsive and efficient and always provide us with a very high level of service.” Reporting Success Using CaseWare, the City of Saint John successfully generated their annual PSAB-compliant financial statements. With the templates in place, Nguyen expects to substantially reduce the time spent on the process in coming years. “We can roll the numbers forward and easily import the new year’s figures,” she says. “CaseWare is a highly efficient tool. If we need to make a change, that change automatically flows to the appropriate sections of the report. With Excel, we had to be extra cautious to ensure we updated every reference.” Leveraging CaseWare’s Capabilities for Financial Reporting Automation  The successful project of converting its financial statements to the PSAB format with CaseWare prompted the City of Saint John to consult with F.H. Black about other ways to leverage the software within the municipality. “They’ve since built additional templates for some of our distinct entities that file separately,” says Nguyen. “And we’re speaking with them now about how to use CaseWare to produce our quarterly and annual reports.” She concludes, “CaseWare represents a huge improvement over our old reporting process. It allows us to be more efficient, minimizing the manual data entry and the opportunity for errors that come with manual processes. I would definitely recommend CaseWare to other municipalities - it’s an easy decision.”  
Learn how the City of Saint John successfully tackled financial reporting automation and PSAB with CaseWare & F.H. Black & Company Incorporated.
READ MORE