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Local Government Budget Officials Everywhere: Sorry, Excel, It’s Not Me, It’s You

Local Government Officials Excel

A government’s budget is one of the most important documents it produces, and it’s understandable that officials are protective of their budgeting process when so much time and effort goes into it every year. But just because you’ve always done something a certain way doesn’t mean it’s the most efficient way. In fact, sometimes in order to improve, we need to leave behind what’s most comfortable.

Excel, we’re talking about you, and it’s time we break up …

Dear Excel,

You’re Too Restrictive

A healthy relationship allows for flexibility! When creating an annual local government budget, the finance director and city manager require input from department heads about operating expenses, personnel, and capital requests. There’s a lot of back and forth, and it’s nearly impossible to collaborate using Excel.

You can use shared workbooks on the company’s network, but security concerns, lost data, and corrupted files makes this a risky option. Alternatively, you can email worksheets directly to department heads and manually try to consolidate them to a master on your local computer. But this option is time-consuming and error-prone, and doesn’t allow you to work from anywhere.

You’re Difficult To Keep Track Of

You should always be able to see what’s going on with your budget. When multiple people are making changes to Excel worksheets, it can be difficult to manage workflow and deadlines. It’s essential to enable version control to track changes, but when mistakes are made or data is lost, it’s still a tedious and manual process to work backwards, compare versions, and find the source of the errors. Not to mention, errors that go unnoticed could cost millions of dollars.

You Allow For Communication Errors

Clear communication is key to any relationship – but budgeting with Excel is prone to errors. Because it requires that data be manually input, there’s naturally a higher chance for mistakes. While formulas can be used to link data and automatically update data in different places throughout the master budget, anyone who’s ever used Excel knows these formulas break all too often, must be constantly checked, and are difficult to correct. In the absence of using formulas, changes must be made manually in multiple places, greatly increasing the probability of errors.

You’re Too Needy

Separate spreadsheets are needed to control access by department, particularly for personnel budgeting between the finance director and department heads. Additional spreadsheets manage operating expenses and capital expenditures. The challenges include juggling multiple budget category spreadsheets, reconciling the input from department heads, and correcting errors introduced during data entry. It’s a disjointed, time-consuming, and stressful process that often spans months of sleepless nights.

You’re Keeping Me From Achieving My Goals

Local government officials need their budgets to be accessible, helpful, and meaningful to civic leaders and residents. Part of that is creating an ADA-accessible budget book for residents with disabilities. Another part is creating a budget book that is easy to understand and completely transparent.

This is typically achieved by following the guidelines established by the National Advisory Council on State and Local Budgeting and the Government Finance Officers Association best practices on budgeting. Following these guidelines creates a better experience for everyone, and also increases the ability for your government to earn a Distinguished Budget Presentation Award Program from the GFOA.

With Excel, the process of creating an award-winning GFOA budget book is not streamlined. The budget book presentation must be manually formatted and each section cross-checked against the lengthy GFOA requirements to ensure it is accurate, easy to understand, and includes all of the required transparency elements. This adds countless hours to an already labor-intensive process.

Our Relationship Is Confusing And Undefined

Straight budget numbers are rarely understood by non-financial people. Separate charts, graphics, and narratives generally have to be created and inserted into local government budget books to provide insight to complex financial data. Doing this shows that you care about your residents reading and understanding your city’s budget. However, with Excel as your foundation, creating these graphs and charts requires extra time during a tedious and time-consuming process.

You’re Holding Me Back From Growing

Just ok is not enough when it comes to your city’s budget. It’s understandably frustrating when residents have to dig into a 300-page PDF budget book to learn how their tax dollars are being spent. It can lead to residents becoming disengaged from the budgeting process – the exact opposite of what a city that promotes transparency wants to happen. Ideally, residents not only read the budget, but are involved in the process for developing it by learning about, and voting on, important issues.

Streamlining your budgeting process and creating a readable, interactive, quality budget book means a better experience both for city officials and residents. Your government is saving time by adopting a simple, efficient, and accurate process for creating budgets, and residents can understand budget data that used to be confusing and frustrating.

You Demand Too Much Of My Time

All of these issues with Excel equate to wasted time that could be better spent. Depending on the size of your government and your current process, it could take hundreds of hours to create your budget every year. Not only is this cutting into your employees’ precious family time, but it’s time they could spend on more important tasks.

Collaborating with department heads, manually reconciling sheets and inputting data, double checking formulas, and creating a meaningful budget book year after year is tedious, time-consuming and inefficient when you’re using Excel.

I Want To See Other People

If you’re frustrated with your budgeting process and constantly thinking, “There’s got to be a better way to do this.” You’re right! Dumping Excel frees you up to explore new relationships with someone who’s committed to the success of your local government. It’s time to break up with Excel and start a healthy relationship with a cloud-based Budget Cycle Management solution that modernizes your budgeting process, saves you time and money, and is affordable. If you want to see other people, ClearGov wants to show you what we have to offer!

The Solution Is Clear

Thinking about dumping Excel? ClearGov will be there with a pint of ice cream and a solution that won’t let you down. Stay tuned for our next post where we dig into the cloud-based Budget Cycle Management solution to give you the courage to break up with Excel once and for all!

October 21, 2020

Matt Benati

Matt Benati is Vice President of Marketing for ClearGov®, the leading provider of Budget Cycle Management software for local governments. Matt is passionate about helping organizations modernize their annual budgeting process by automating workflow, increasing collaboration, and improving transparency between governments and citizens.

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