What’s New, What’s Next in Federal Financial Management
Improving government agency relationships with the people they serve is becoming more important, especially with trust in the government falling to levels near historic lows. To better serve the public and each other, federal government agencies should adopt the same "customer-first" philosophy that successful businesses and others have embraced. That was one of the key themes from agency leaders at the 29th Annual Government Financial Management Conference.
The conference, featuring experts from the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), included a discussion of how to make it easier for the public to access agency services and data, find answers on demand, and pay the government using modern electronic methods, for example.
What's new: a customer-centric approach
Of course, the federal financial management community has always worked to serve the taxpayer. But now, there is a renewed focus on the user experience, both to improve agency-to-agency service and the agency-to-taxpayer experience. Teams are finding more engaging, interactive ways to share data with the public, as well as exploring how to use chatbots to quickly answer questions at any hour.
Just as flight attendants encourage you to secure your oxygen mask before helping others, in order for agencies to serve their "customers" well—especially when it comes to data—they first have to help themselves. When teams struggle with connecting data across agency silos, managing disconnected processes, and using outdated technology to complete their existing day-to-day work, they will not have the visibility, data, and time to fully solve their customers' challenges. This is especially true when it comes to federal financial management.
Consider, for example, the amount of time it can take the government to answer questions like, "How much did the federal government spend on alleviating disasters last year?" and "How much is my state receiving in federal grants?" These are basic questions that siloed government financial managers are not set up to answer quickly and accurately for their customers because they are bogged down with ticking and tying financial data and meeting compliance requirements.
A simple way that finance and accounting professionals can improve customer service is to ask customer-centric questions. For example, rather than asking whether there were deficiencies found in internal controls over invoice processing, a better question is, "How can we make it easier for managers to adhere to internal controls when approving invoices?"
This is the difference between checking the box and generating greater value from government's financial reporting and compliance activities.
What's next, from cloud solutions to automation
To enable change, agencies can leverage new technology to transform how they meet routine reporting and compliance requirements. Agency financial managers can better support overstretched program mission areas by not only reducing burden but also increasing the value of financial management and compliance activities.
Conference presenters discussed innovative uses of robotic process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence (AI) to streamline how agencies interact with taxpayers, process invoices, and take on manual tasks. When asked, "How do you get started?" the panelists gave a few excellent tips:
- Look at what is happening in the market. How are corporations dealing with financial reporting and compliance challenges? What technology are they using?
- Start with a proof of concept. Then, move to a pilot. Be sure to partner with subject matter experts.
- Build a business case. Articulate how the new technology or process will solve critical business challenges and achieve agency goals.
- Don't forget about security. Involving your security and infrastructure team at the beginning will save time down the road.
- Tech innovation also requires social innovation. Think about how to operationalize the new technology. Once it's set up, who will run it, and how will it scale?
What federal financial managers can do today
Transforming the way you work doesn't have to be a multiyear project. For federal financial managers, serving the public well starts with serving your employees well, with the right tools to efficiently complete day-to-day tasks and fulfill the long-term agency mission.
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About the Author
Renata Maziarz, Senior Director of Product Marketing, brings over 10 years of experience in financial management to Workiva. Prior to joining Workiva, Renata served as the acting Deputy Assistant Commissioner for Data at the U.S. Department of Treasury, Bureau of the Fiscal Service, where she oversaw a full range of policy, management, and operational activities related to federal financial data and analytics. She holds a bachelor of arts degree in Political Science from Providence College and a master's in Public Administration from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University.