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Large western city upgrades CAFR process with Wdesk

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The controller for a large city in the western United States knows the ins and outs of producing a Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR). She’s been preparing the city’s CAFR for more than 17 years as part of her job helping to manage daily operations for the municipality. 

While technology has made tremendous advances over those 17 years, the process cities relied on for producing the CAFR have not.

For years, the city’s financial reporting team used Word® and Excel® to produce 200-page CAFR reports that contain more than 100 schedules—larger than the financial reports of some global corporations. The process sufficed, but it was challenging. The team had to download data for the report from Excel but still had to manually enter and adjust many sections.

“Our CAFR has a lot of indirect links. We found with Word and Excel, the links were not very stable,” explains the controller.

Complicating matters, the team was short-staffed due to several retirements.

In an effort to reduce the workload on her team of three and to improve the process, the controller implemented a CAFR reporting program linked to the city’s financial system. While an improvement, it wasn’t effective or flexible enough. “It was very time-consuming, and we had many employees doing just busywork,” she says.

A smooth transition

A cold call from a Workiva representative gave the controller the answer she’d been looking for: Wdesk for CAFR reporting.

“I took the time to look at it intensively,” she says. “I thought it was a good solution. It was cheaper than a lot of other things I looked at, and it did a couple of things we were unable to do.”

City leadership was anxious to get the platform in place to ease pressure on the team and make an upcoming reporting deadline, so it wasn’t long before the team replaced their previous process with Wdesk.

Implementing new software-as-a-service can be daunting, but dedicated customer service from Workiva eased the process for the city’s financial reporting team. “Our Customer Success Manager (CSM) was amazing at helping us get up and going,” comments the controller.

She says in her experience in government, receiving such attentive service is an anomaly. “Government is always kind of an afterthought for a lot of companies. I was just stunned at how well we got help. I didn’t expect that in my wildest dreams.”

One of the city’s financial analysts was deeply involved in the implementation and agrees that their Workiva CSM made all the difference. “I could just call her, and she was right on top of it to help me figure things out and work through a solution. She was incredible.”

Workiva set up the report, re-creating it in Wdesk, based on the city’s previous CAFR. Then, the city’s financial reporting team linked the text and numbers and reviewed the information. The team agrees that linking is the most valuable feature in Wdesk.

“Any time we can get solid numbers that we do not have to continually check, we are saving time,” explains the controller. “The stronger the linking, the better the accuracy.”

The financial analyst focused on linking the schedules and refining the format. “The thing I found most beneficial was how similar a lot of the commands were to Excel. That and the ability to link from our source documents to the workbooks and then from the workbooks to the production document,” he says. Now when the team adds a new schedule to Wdesk, everything updates automatically. “That is going to be huge going forward,” he adds.

Leveraging the power of Wdesk

To speed up the process, the team automatically pulls reports from Cognos®, the city’s financial performance management software, into Wdesk templates and then makes adjustments. “We don’t have to make journal entries by hand anymore. It was huge to get that process automated,” says the controller.

The team members leverage the power of real-time collaboration in Wdesk to work in the document at the same time. They set up their reports to show the status of each schedule and inserted notes to flag elements that still need to be completed, formatted, or reviewed by other team members.

Wdesk also makes fast work of other functions that used to be a challenge, such as adding schedules and graphs into notes. “I was impressed with how easy it was to set up a graph in our notes,” comments the financial analyst.

Saving time, saving money

While they’re relatively new to using Wdesk, the city’s team is already saving time. Using the previous system, another financial analyst on the team needed almost two weeks to assemble a quarterly report. Now it takes a fraction of the time. “If we have final numbers, we would be able to pull the report together in a day or two,” he says.

Not only does Wdesk save time, it frees the team up to do more valuable work. “Now we are not inputting the numbers as much as we are reviewing the numbers. We save time inputting information and can spend more time reviewing and asking questions,” explains the controller.

She says that Wdesk is saving the city money too. “It could take the place of a staff person for half of the year. That’s a significant savings.”

The improvements resulting from Wdesk haven’t gone unnoticed by city management or auditors. The city’s financial director noted the changes, and the team received positive comments about its enhanced report.

To facilitate the CAFR audit process, the city’s team extracts statements from Wdesk, downloads them into Excel, and sends the files to the auditors.

“That was a huge thing for them...being able to give them the schedules in Excel helped make their job easier,” says the controller. “Being able to give them the information as quickly as possible and being able to save time is going to make it better for them.”

She says the auditors were thrilled with the city’s first CAFR produced in Wdesk and how the report improved compared to the previous system. “It was one of the best audits we had,” notes the controller.

Now she’s considering new ways to use Wdesk to streamline other reporting processes—possibly for the city’s single audit. Until then, she and her team will continue to leverage Wdesk to refine their CAFR process.

Asked if she’d recommend Wdesk to other cities, the controller doesn’t hesitate. “Yes! It is a tool to make our reports more accurate and more compliant.”


Microsoft Excel and Word are registered trademarks of Microsoft Corporation in the United States and/or other countries.


Cognos is a trademark of International Business Machines Corp., registered in many jurisdictions worldwide.

The information contained herein is proprietary to Workiva and cannot be copied, published, or distributed without the express prior written consent of Workiva. © 2016.

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