Moving budgets out of spreadsheets and into the cloud
- By Amanda Ziadeh
- Sep 20, 2016
It’s hard for local governments to champion progress if they’re still assembling annual budgets with basic spreadsheets.
Greenwood, Ind., was no exception. “We were using Microsoft Excel for the majority of the heavy lifting -- to actually calculate and prepare the budget documents,” City Controller Adam Stone said.
His team would meet with department heads and go through the proposals line by line on paper. “I know for the department heads, it didn’t feel like the most collaborative process,” Stone said. After each meeting, he’d send them a revised copy or draft, exchange comments via email and manually incorporate those changes into a budget for the city council.
But this summer, Stone began using a new budgeting service from OpenGov that allows state and local government budget teams to prepare, report, edit and share budget proposals on a single platform.
Budget Builder, which streamlines governments’ annual budget process is the latest service from OpenGov, a provider of public sector cloud solutions for budgeting and reporting. It lets users prepare a budget, report on spending against the budget, analyze performance metrics and share the information with citizens and officials.
“We think about 90 percent or more of governments are doing their entire budgets in Excel. Excel is not a budgeting tool,” Nate Levine, co-founder of OpenGov, told GCN.
Budget Builder is a cloud-based solution, and it can help do away with printed Excel spreadsheets, printed documents, email-based proposals and time-consuming clerical work. Departmental budget and finance teams can use the tool to submit proposals and documents into a central system, and budget managers can approve, comment on or reject them, according to the company’s announcement.
“Budget Builder is a central online repository of all that information, where every stakeholder in the process can collaborate, work on the same numbers,” Levine said. Data and proposal updates are available in real-time, and the automated workflow can help reduce errors caused by manual processes.
Budget teams can create interactive budget milestone reports to keep city officials updated. They can also track performance against the budget, manage budget amendments and publish results.
The tool is built to easily integrate with a public agency’s financial system and cloud provider to give immediate insights from existing financial data. “Our solution is designed to easily work with whatever other systems that they’re using today,” Levine said, meaning users can upload data into Budget Builder and export data back into internal systems. It even supports single sign-on and encrypted data storage.
According to Levine, a handful of OpenGov clients have been using Budget Builder for a few months now, including Greenwood. The city's Finance Department had been using OpenGov services since 2014 and was able to start using Budget Builder in the spring of 2016 as an early adopter. Because all the department’s financial data was already in the OpenGov system, Levine said, the Budget Builder implementation was seamless.
One of the biggest advantages has been the transparency, collaboration and engagement between Stone, the deputy mayor and the department heads. Prior to meetings attendees can log into Budget Builder and see the latest version of the budget, which can be updated during and after the meeting. Budget teams can track and share their milestone reports internally or systemwide. As an administrator, Stone can assign role-based document access to users.
Budget Builder also lets users see the prior year’s actual expenses and compare them with the proposed budget. This feature helped Greenwood Police Department realize its 2017 budget did not account for enough police cars to accommodate an extended staff. Finding the money for the squad cars was much easier than it would have been before Budget Builder. “We collectively made additional reductions on certain items based on the past in order to accumulate money to buy those cars,” Stone said.
Amanda Ziadeh is a former reporter/producer for GCN.