3 Ways Visionaries are Changing Government Finance Forever

3 Ways Visionaries are Changing Government Finance Forever
October 17, 2019

In my last blog post, I declared that many of the most effective leaders I’ve worked for were career bureaucrats and that some of the most intelligent visionaries I have been around were politicians. I’ve since gotten a little push back on that (smile), so I would like to take this opportunity to introduce you to a government leader and visionary I met earlier this year.

"Leader" and "visionary" are reserved for a select few. While images of Steve Jobs or Bill Gates presiding over world-altering, tech empires likely come to mind, you can find change agents in all industries at all levels—including state and local government. That’s right: the government.

What might be even more surprising is where you can find some of the most innovative leaders in government: the finance department. Yes, finance.

Just like high-tech visionaries and entrepreneurial business moguls, pioneering leaders in government finance can have a broad, positive impact. Take Scott Paasch, a former financial reporting supervisor who was recently promoted to Budget Director for the City of Missoula, Montana. Scott’s team manages the data and reports that support the city departments and the city council in allocating public funds.

Until recently, Scott’s team cut and pasted tens of thousands of lines of data to build reports, and then hand checked them against a general ledger. “It was so time-consuming, and the risk of making a mistake was always there,” Scott says.

Then they switched to the Workiva connected reporting and compliance platform. Using Wdata, the city is connecting data automatically from systems of entry to budget reports, ensuring accuracy, removing the risk of human error, supporting collaboration, and letting the team focus on more value-added work.

“With Workiva, we have streamlined and automated our budgeting process through dashboards, which provide greater transparency—so much so, the city council looks forward to budget season," Scott says. "We can show, in real time, how the council’s decisions will affect the citizens, so the council can make better, more informed decisions. Workiva has been instrumental in connecting the government with the citizens.”

Better tech is the key

Federal, state, and local government budget and financial teams have innovative ideas. They just need the right tools to execute on those ideas. Many government finance teams still struggle with legacy software and outdated processes that impede their productivity and their ability to plan strategically for the future.

In fact, 78% of senior finance professionals, including ones in the public sector, are hampered by data constraints, including lack of tools and resources to manage their data, poor data governance, and lack of insight into their data, according to The FSN Future of Business Partnering Global Survey 2019.

3 ways to empower state and local finance teams

Visionaries like Scott who have transitioned to cloud-based financial reporting tools prove the value in upgrading and are experiencing a paradigm shift in their financial reporting with better collaboration, fewer errors, and expedited processes.

1. Improve collaboration

Siloed data, separate teams, and the inability to collaborate hinder the entire financial reporting process. In the FSN Future of Financial Reporting Survey 2017, 57% of respondents said it’s difficult for more than one person to work on the same report when putting together financial accounts.

By connecting people, data, and processes effectively in the same environment—while still enforcing the proper levels of security—government finance teams can unleash contributors to focus on what they do best.

2. Increase accuracy

In the same survey, more than half of respondents said financial reporting involves huge amounts of manual checking every time a change is made, and 60% believe they spend too much time cleaning and manipulating data.

Without the right tools, productivity plummets and financial reporting teams are stuck in an endless loop of checking and rechecking numbers—and worrying something was missed. No wonder only 3% of the survey's respondents said they sleep soundly.

Government agencies that harness technologies that link data are able to increase accuracy, decrease the risk of human error, reduce pressure on the team, and create peace of mind.

3. Accelerate processes

Demands on finance teams—whether private or public sector—aren’t slowing down. Unfortunately, financial leaders say outdated processes and legacy software aren’t keeping up. Chief financial officers report that instead of looking ahead and spending time on strategy, they’re wasting time finding perfect data, navigating organizational silos, correcting errors, and validating and reconciling information, according to a study by Accenture. The study shows this complicated, frustrating work cycle eats up about 80% of the finance organization’s time.

Saving time is a major focus for most financial reporting leaders. Two-thirds of CFOs want to reduce production times for financial information, according to a 2018 report by PwC.

Workiva does just that, automating tedious tasks to save teams hours—even days—of reporting time. Municipalities can also use the platform to create real-time dashboards that help finance managers and government leaders make decisions based on the most up-to-date information.

Real-time data for real-time decisions

Back in Missoula, Scott says Workiva accelerated his reporting process which helps city leaders move more quickly, too. “Workiva allows me to make quicker decisions about my budget because now I have all of my data in front of me in real time,” he says. “As we move more processes to Workiva and link other source systems into Wdata, I foresee being able to get more complete information into the hands of decision-makers much faster.”

Visionaries see the opportunities that others can’t see, and leaders empower individuals to be bigger and better than they may be on their own. Sometimes, simply introducing the right tools to the right people can improve more than the way they work—it can improve entire communities.

michael johansen

About the author

Michael Johansen, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Workiva, works with the government and higher education markets. With over a decade of public sector experience, Michael began his career as a Council of Governments consultant, worked as a city planner, and held numerous positions at the State of Iowa’s Department of Economic Development. Michael completed his undergraduate work at Iowa State University, graduating with a degree in community and regional planning and a minor in Spanish. Michael holds an MPA with an emphasis in policy development from Drake University.