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.
READ MORE
Chicago Public Schools

Chicago Public Schools

  • Rachel Raymond
  • Success Stories
  • minute(s)Chicago Public Schools saved hundreds of hours and tens of thousands of dollars in ACFR preparation costs  The Challenge Project: ACFR Automation Organization: Chicago Public Schools Population: 636 Schools with 340,658 Students Solutions: Workiva Wdesk & Wdata ACFR: 2021 Annual Comprehensive Financial Report The dedicated team at Chicago Public Schools (CPS) was fighting a losing battle. A combined one thousand hours of overtime was not enough to prevent missed deadlines, extension requests, and reporting errors. The problem was clear, manually generating the Annual Comprehensive Financial Report (ACFR) with generic tools was extremely inefficient. "We could not provide the report on time, we tried, and we couldn’t turn it around quick enough to meet our board meeting timeline." Dongmei Li Assistant Controller-Corporate Accounting at Chicago Public Schools Manual Overload Using Word and Excel to prepare the ACFR's contents and then compiling it into a PDF meant that nearly every word, number, graph, and chart in the organization's 214-page report had to be manually keyed in. In addition, any time a modification was made, it was down to the finance team to ensure that all associated information was updated in all applicable locations.  Not only was this process time-consuming, it left lots of room for errors to creep into the report.  Formatting to exhaustion Formatting the ACFR is not something often thought about outside the finance department, but those who generate it know it's a monumental task of great importance. A poorly formatted report is challenging to follow, invokes doubt, invites misinterpretation, and often results in poor planning/decision making. For finance departments formatting reports with inadequate tools this represents a relative black-hole of lost time. Typically, financial reports are not simply formatted once. Every seemingly insignificant change results in another round of review, spacing, page number changes, table of content updates, chart and graph modifications; the list goes on and on.  "We had a hard time dealing with formatting issues for our report. It took soo long! That's time I should have spent on other areas, but instead, we have to figure out how to correct formatting issues in the PDF...If we wanted to have a 3rd party compile the report, it cost more than $30,000." One review, two review, three review, more. The highly manual nature of the organization's ACFR preparation meant that the report had to be constantly reviewed and validated. Updating a balance or text didn't just mean modifying a cell in most cases; it could mean updating several cells, charts, graphs, and the MD&A to assure that all the data was correct and flowed the way it should. Then, checking over the formatting again, how did the change affect margins, page numbers, images, etc. The worst part - the lingering doubt that accompanies the process, "what if I missed something?". Staff shortages "A main problem right now for the whole country, not only for school districts or state and local government, is a shortage of staff. It’s harder to maintain staff, and one of my solutions is to use a lot of automation. That way, we can reduce a lot of unnecessary work, and we don’t have to rely on so many staff." The Solution After reviewing several competitive solutions, including Gravity, CaseWare, and OneStream, as well as some offerings from smaller companies, CPS opted for Workiva's Wdesk and Wdata platforms. Wdesk serves as the organization's report writer, while Wdata is the database on the back-end driving automation. When asked what tilted the scales in Workiva's favor, Dongmei advised: "While some of the other solutions could accommodate our requirements for automating content and linkages. Workiva can also provide a very nice presentation, which is critical for us." The benefits didn't stop there. Dongmei continued to discuss the advantages of automation, fiscal and time savings, and improved collaboration with the Auditor. Automation "I just need to set up one master worksheet and all the information flows to all the different worksheets; it’s done, it’s like a miracle happened. We saved soo much time and headaches." "We don’t see a lot of errors now. Before, we would have errors because of technical issues. If we change something in one place, it's not automatically reflected in other areas; those types of errors happened all the time. This year because we are using this wonderful automation tool, we didn’t have this problem at all. It was a high-quality report. We were so happy about it". Fiscal and Time Savings "This software really saved us a lot of cost on the reporting piece, $30,000 at least...For a lot of other solutions, any time we need to change anything, we need to contact the vendor for support, and it becomes very costly." "We saved at least 500 hours; that’s minimum... I remember in 2020, I needed to work on the report to meet the timeline for the board meeting. I worked 30 hours straight to get the report done." The Audit "Communicating with the auditor was very easy. We could send them a single package with all of the supporting documentation. We didn’t need to send excel documents back and forth…the Auditor was really happy with the solution as well." The Implementation It's not the first time that Chicago Public Schools has attempted to implement a solution to automate its ACFR.  An attempt was made in 2015, and the project never really got off the ground. The team at CPS credits the consultants and best practices of F.H. Black & Company Incorporated for the success of the implementation.  "I have been involved with this kind of software implementation system upgrade for many many years...When I started to go through the procurement process, I could never imagine it would have gone so smoothly, with this level of success." In conversation, Dongmei's Auditor discussed another client who works with Workiva but had self-implemented. While Workiva was working for them, they were still working out the kinks and did not implement as many efficiencies as Chicago Public Schools had with FHB.  "I feel like I am the lucky one. Thanks to F.H. Black, we did not have any issues, we met all our deadlines, and we are really confident in our solution. F.H. Black has the best consultants I have seen in my whole career. Not only are they IT experts, but they know the accounting side. ..I am a CPA and also a Certified Public Financial Officer, but I think our consultant is a level above me." The Result  "This project was really successful, but it's way bigger than that. If we failed, if we couldn't meet our deadline, or there were issues, or the auditor complained, I don't know how I could convince senior management to make other improvements that our team, that the whole organization needs. This project proved that we could successfully implement technology, and it's just the beginning. Now we have the confidence to work with F.H. Black to improve the whole finance department."    
Chicago Public Schools saved hundreds of hours and tens of thousands of dollars in their Annual Comprehensive Financial Report preparation costs. We interviewed them to learn more.
READ MORE
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.
READ MORE
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.
READ MORE
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.
READ MORE
City of Greensboro Budget Book Automation Project

City of Greensboro Budget Book Automation Project

  • Jamie Black
  • Success Stories
  • minute(s)With a population of nearly 300,000 and growing, the City of Greensboro is the third-most populous in North Carolina. The City's 2020-21 adopted budget of $602 million spans 169 pages and was awarded the GFOA Distinguished Budget Presentation Award. Long-time Questica Budget users, the City is extremely happy with their processes for preparing the budget. The Budget Book however was another story. Like many finance departments, the City used Microsoft Excel, Word, and Publisher to prepare the book. The process was time-consuming, repetitive, resource-heavy, and disjointed; it was time to make a change. The team at Greensboro had heard about F.H. Black & Company Incorporated at a Questica conference and reached out for help to improve their budget book. Once the project was complete, we gave the City a little time to bask in their achievement before interviewing them about their journey. Here are the highlights of that interview with the City's Budget Database Specialist, Leah Price.   The Old Way "We used a combination of Microsoft Excel, Word, and Publisher, and it was very time consuming for all staff members. The Budget Analysts had to manually enter all of their departments’ numbers line by line twice: once for the Manager Recommended version and again for the Final Adopted version. The Budget Database Specialist also had to make sure all of the formatting was correct in Publisher, and finally work with our internal print shop to make sure every page had the perfect amount of space between the text and the hole punches. When we heard there was a software that we could use to import the numbers from Questica directly into the budget document, we jumped on it."   The Project "We sent our FHB consultants a copy of our former budget document and a copy of our budget data from Questica. The consultants built a template for us that was similar to the old format, and then worked closely with our staff to make sure that the budget data was going to the right places in the document. We have over 25 operating funds and many tricky aspects to our budget rules overall, so assigning the budget numbers and FTEs where they needed to go was the biggest struggle. However, it all came together in the end."   The Benefits "The process is more streamlined and controlled. It probably saves the analysts a couple of weeks’ worth of time because they no longer have to do any manual data entry." "The budget analysts are an important resource to our departments, and their new found availability during the budget development process allows them to help out more with current year concerns."   The Relationship "Our (FHB) consultants have always helped us meet our deadlines and make sure to work us into their schedule if we have last minute issues." "I have mainly worked with Joy, and I am so grateful to her for all of her help and expertise! I really appreciated that she wanted to make sure that I was learning how to do (almost) everything we needed her help with. It was my first year being responsible for the budget book and I had very little knowledge of CaseWare. I truly could not have done it without her." Considering a reporting automation project? Schedule a meeting with one of our experts to explore your options.
The City of Greensboro implemented an automated budget book solution that pulled data directly from their Questica Budget software resulting in a better book in less time.
READ MORE
City of Iqaluit keeps calm and carries on

City of Iqaluit keeps calm and carries on

  • Jamie Black
  • Success Stories
  • minute(s)The City of Iqaluit is the capital of the Canadian Territory of Nunavut and is an ecological wonderland. Famed for an abundance of natural landscapes and wildlife, it attracts visitors from around the globe.  The Challenge Located on beautiful Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic with a population of just 7,740 (2016 census), the City's finance department has experienced some difficulty attracting qualified staff due to a remote location, housing shortage, high cost of living, and limited infrastructure to facilitate travel. When the City required urgent Payroll support, CAO Amy Elgersma was certain that employing an experienced, qualified Payroll Administrator could not happen before the next payroll run. Elgersma needed a quick, temporary solution so the organization's 150 employees would continue to be paid on time. With time of the essence, the City turned to F.H. Black & Company Incorporated to fill the gap until a suitable replacement could be on-boarded. She knew of FHB from a presentation they provided at a recent conference, and the work they had done with the Government of Nunavut previously.  The Response After a few brief conversations, FHB assigned several members of their team to support the City: Michael Switzer, CPA, CA, was formerly the Town of Collingwood’s Deputy Treasurer with responsibilities including preparation of both the year-end financial statements and the annual Town budget as well as managing the town's receivables, payables, and payroll. Joy Richardson, CPA, was formerly the Chief Financial Officer of Thomasville, Georgia where her primary responsibilities included managing both the budget and year-end financial reporting processes as well as overseeing receivables, payables, payroll and all the other day to day activities of the finance department. Tina Steliga rounded out the team. Utilizing 16 years of experience managing the receivables, payables, and payroll processes for numerous clients of all sizes. Michael, Joy & Tina's decades of experience working in government finance made them an ideal addition to immediately and completely meet the City's needs. Within a week of the request,  consultants Michael & Joy were onsite working with the team to transfer responsibilities and document processes. They were followed shortly thereafter by Tina, who assisted in administering payroll onsite before commencing remote support. FHB’s response time was exceptional. Their CPA's had the knowledge, skills, and experience needed to learn, document, and process the payroll system efficiently. They also had excellent interpersonal skills and were able to understand processes quickly. Once FHB was on board and started working with us, we were confident that payroll would be completed by the deadline. Disaster Averted The first step in the project was developing complete process documentation. Extensive interviews with City staff allowed FHB to build extremely detailed process documentation. The decision was made to put the documentation into a project management software to allow for the ongoing assignment of tasks and monitoring of the process by both FHB management and the City. This ensured FHB would not miss any steps and resulted in the proper execution of payroll each and every time. As the City's search for a Payroll Administrator was underway, FHB continued to process the payroll remotely. From mid-October to the end of February. We were able to arrange to have the payroll done via distance, this saved us time and money. The entire process was documented using a project management software tool. Ultimately the City successfully recruited a Payroll Administrator to take on the role. FHB transitioned to provide assistance getting the new Payroll Administrator up to speed and support them through the first few payroll runs. I would absolutely recommend FHB to other finance departments. They were able to process payroll with very little notice and continued via distance. They had a strong knowledge of the payroll and finance systems and could adapt to our processes easily.
The City of Iqaluit required urgent support to keep its payroll on track. They turned to FHB's team of experienced CPAs for assistance.
READ MORE
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 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report 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 Comprehensive Annual Financial 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 (Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, 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 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. 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 Annual Report is anticipated to save a great deal of staff time chasing down numbers that change during the development of the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. 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