The daily struggle with traditional software for government reporting

The daily struggle with traditional software for government reporting
January 26, 2016

Part Two: Government agency data system pitfalls

For years, government agencies have looked for ways to keep up with increased demands on financial reporting teams. As the complexity of finance and accounting reports for state and local governments deepens, the volume of data needed for these documents has grown, along with the number of agencies contributing that data.

As always, reporting teams have found a way to make it work with the resources at hand. This commonly takes the form of a homegrown agency data system pieced together with database platforms, such as Access™. These systems may provide adequate functionality and help corral and keep track of a large volume of data, but the platforms they're built on aren't designed with your specific process in mind. A permanent solution is needed to build a sustainable and repeatable process that can handle increasing levels of demand.

There are three major stumbling blocks when relying on homegrown agency data systems as a viable solution to reporting needs:

  1. Implementation
    Developing a structured data system can potentially require heavy IT involvement. Even if someone on your team is versed in Access, it takes an enormous amount of time to build in the level of functionality to meet your needs. Beyond that, teaching those who need visibility of that data how to navigate through the system becomes a never-ending chore.

  2. Content control
    Aggregating data once it's been successfully entered into a homegrown system poses additional challenges. A system built from the ground up may allow fields to be customized to the preferences of the person building it. However, this customization is often intuitive to that one person—making it difficult for everyone involved in the reporting process to find and make use of reporting data.

  3. Platform maintenance
    While all data systems need occasional updates, new versions, or add-ons, many agencies using homegrown systems will ignore these for fear of changing how their unique system works. This also means it's entirely up to the system owner to make sure functionality keeps pace with reporting needs. The added responsibility ultimately ends up draining the time and resources of the people who the system was supposed to help.

Having a data system that can support a repeatable and sustainable process is vital for the future of every government agency. The nature of most homegrown systems necessitates an intimate knowledge of multiple forms and templates—and more importantly, how to navigate them.

Passing this knowledge on is not only difficult, it's inefficient and rife with potential risks. When considering ways to streamline your current reporting process, it's worth looking into emerging technologies such as cloud-based systems. Sometimes, the best way to improve a process is to upgrade the tools supporting it.

If you haven't already, check out the first post in this series, Part One: The burden of spreadsheets on data transparency.

Access is a trademark of Microsoft Corporation in the United States and/or other countries.
Mike Sellberg

About the author

Mike Sellberg is Executive Vice President and Chief Product Officer at Workiva. He is the former EVP and CTO at iMed Studios and the former Divisional General Manager at Engineering Animation, Inc.