State, Local Government Budget Teams Using Tech to Build Trust

State, Local Government Budget Teams Using Tech to Build Trust
August 19, 2019

Many of the most effective leaders I’ve worked for were career bureaucrats. Some of the most intelligent visionaries I have been around were politicians. With over a decade of public sector experience, both at the municipal and state level, I know this to be true. But the buzz around government workers doesn’t always feel so affirming.

A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that trust in the federal government to do what is right is at 17%, dipping near historic lows. A separate survey found the public’s trust in state and local government is considerably higher. An annual governance poll by Gallup shows that 72% of U.S. adults have a “great deal” or “fair amount” of confidence in local government, and 63% trust their state government.

Even at 60% to 70% confidence in local and state governments, that means there is still plenty of room for improvement. Public trust is built on the foundation of integrity, consistency, and communication. Many forward-thinking leaders are using advances in technology to strengthen these foundations, starting with one of the most visible outputs of government activity: financial reporting.

The fast followers

In a recent piece for Governing magazine, contributors David Eaves and Ben McGuire argue government doesn't necessarily need to lead innovation in operational software, but the public sector can be quick to adopt top solutions. "Leaders should instead invest in the skills and organizational flexibility that will let them be fast followers of proven private-sector practices and get smart about how to integrate technologies into efficient, effective, equitable governance," they write.

As part of the government team at Workiva, I have seen firsthand where private-sector success has been replicated in the public sector.

One great example of modern government in action is the City of Pittsburgh. They are following the lead of financial reporting professionals in the private sector who have upgraded to cloud solutions to produce better data, streamline processes, save time, and work smarter.

The benefits are twofold. First, advanced reporting tools reduce the time spent on administrative tasks and manual copying and pasting, making it easier and faster to produce accurate budgets, compliance reports, and KPI dashboards. Second, better technology drives greater job satisfaction because it leads to more meaningful, engaging work that demonstrates value and transparency to citizens, boards, and officials.

Pittsburgh transformed its budgeting process with Workiva and has not looked back.

“I have greater control over our budget and process now,” says Patrick Cornell, Senior Budget Analyst in the city's Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The team can divide a 400-page document, and different analysts can work on separate sections simultaneously. The solution automatically manages the versions.

It is easy to note what people are doing, when, and why, Patrick says. The team can link data throughout a budget document to update all linked instances quickly and accurately.

When there are discrepancies in a document, it is also easier to pinpoint them. Patrick recalled an instance where a city department was missing a large sum from a total. With the transparency that comes from connecting everything within the Workiva platform, Patrick traced the problem to an entry error in the workbook and solved the issue in five minutes. “It would have taken us an hour before,” he says.

“Prior to Workiva, publishing the budget was a major component of our budget process,” says Kevin Pawlos, Assistant Director, Operating Budget. “The Workiva solution allows us to focus on content instead of formatting.”

Bringing state and local governments into a new era

Here are a few additional highlights on how Workiva is transforming budgeting and financial reporting at the state and local level:

Greater insight
Workiva helps governments connect their data directly from the source for producing accurate budgets and reports; analyzing information; and creating and sharing tables, charts, and more. The insight and confidence that comes from using the same reliable information across outputs creates greater data integrity for state and local financial reporting teams. Improved data integrity and consistency, in turn, helps build trust with state and local decision-makers and with citizens about fiscal issues and projects that affect their everyday lives.

Less tedium
The number one complaint about legacy reporting tools and processes is the amount of tedious, time-consuming work required to create reports and budgets. Linked data, workflow tools, templates, and audit trails slash the amount of time users spend on mind-numbing, lengthy processes like emailing colleagues for status updates, formatting tables, double-checking numbers for accuracy, and manually updating columns of numbers. With that time-savings, financial reporting teams can focus on more worthwhile tasks—and work less overtime.

More engagement
Financial reporting professionals in state and local government want to do what they do best—analyze data and use it to drive strategic decisions for their communities. When they have the tools to do that, they are more productive and more engaged in their jobs. That pays off not just in a far better reporting process, but also in a more satisfied, effective workforce.

Faster reports
The five-member Pittsburgh budget team once spent long hours producing the city’s 400-page budget using traditional spreadsheets, manually produced PDFs, and outdated budgeting software. Making even the smallest change could take hours, and the team often worked nights and weekends to make last-minute revisions. Now that they use Workiva, when the mayor asks for a late change, it’s no problem.

“Workiva allows us to implement budget changes quickly and accurately,” Kevin says. The powerful financial reporting solution handles the time-consuming work, so his team has time for more important tasks that help city leaders make crucial decisions. “Workiva allows us to focus on content instead of formatting,” he says.

Connected data, collaboration, and accurate reporting—these are the keys to increasing trust, and this is what Workiva is bringing to the public sector.

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.