Why Governments Should Move To A Modern Budget Process

Modern Local Government Budgeting

The traditional government budget process is full of manual, time-consuming, and potentially error-prone tasks. From back and forth emails, to consolidating multiple spreadsheets, to ensuring formulas don’t break, and even to collecting paper request forms, it’s left a lot of finance directors saying, “There’s got to be a better way!” As so many other aspects of running a government have been modernized, it’s time to move to a modern budget process as well. 

Let’s take a look at some of the traditional challenges of Collecting, Creating, and Communicating your various budgets, plus modern approaches that streamline tasks.

Collect

The first step in the budget process is to collect requests from department heads. These include capital, personnel, and operating requests. The overarching challenge of the collection process is that it is usually very manual and requires a lot of back and forth with department heads. 

Examples of Traditional Challenges & Modern Solutions

Capital Budgeting

Challenge: Requests are often manual, and details can get lost in back and forth emails. Capital requests usually involve a significant amount of supporting documentation and with disparate files and emails, there’s no convenient way to collect everything in one place where you can easily review each request. Collaboration is limited to emails or meetings, and it’s often unclear whose court the ball is in or what information is needed to move the request to the next stage of approval.

Solution: Create customized online collection forms that support file attachments and automatically route requests to a centralized location. Keep everyone on the same page by proactively communicating deadlines, milestones, and other important information about the process for collecting and approving requests with department heads.

Personnel Budgeting

Challenge: The personnel budget can be the largest part of your budget, often two-thirds of the total. It relies heavily on HR and other stakeholders for input, and new positions and reclassifications require extensive funding justification and supporting documentation from department heads. Personnel budgeting also comes with the additional layer of confidentiality and the need for tightly controlled access.  

Solution: Move to a dedicated cloud-based personnel budgeting solution. With modern software, stakeholders have specific access to what departments, employees, job titles, and salary/benefits information they can see and edit. Instead of email, paper forms, or managing access on multiple spreadsheets, stakeholders submit requests and collaborate in a secure central environment.

Create

Once you’ve collected requests, it’s time to create each part of your budget. The primary challenge when creating your budgets usually comes from having to pull all of the requests together to view them in one place — often in a spreadsheet. The problems with spreadsheets are plentiful, but one of the main challenges is that they lack visibility. It’s difficult to see what the numbers really mean, especially for non-financial team members.

Examples of Traditional Challenges & Modern Solutions

Capital Budgeting

Challenge: With capital budgeting, it’s necessary to create multi-year scenarios to help prioritize capital projects and see how different scenarios will impact other parts of the budget. These scenarios are time-consuming to manually create in spreadsheets, and the risk for errors changing certain numbers from scenario to scenario is high. Once the scenarios are all created, the lack of visibility in spreadsheets becomes very apparent and it is difficult to compare them.

Solution: Move to a cloud-based capital budgeting solution that helps you automatically create multi-year, multi-scenario options. A budgeting tool enables governments to create as many scenarios as they want in order to zero in on a budget that is optimized and aligned with their strategic goals. Visualization is a key part of this optimization process, and a dedicated platform will automatically create charts, graphs, and other visual elements that allow you to easily compare scenarios and how the changes to each impact the overall budget.

Operational Budgeting

Challenge: Coordinating with all department heads for input, manually consolidating spreadsheets, and reconciling hundreds (or thousands) of line items in the operating budget is time-consuming. Moreover, the data is difficult to understand in a spreadsheet, so visual elements must be created manually and separately to help the numbers make sense.

Solution: Move to a purpose-built operating budget solution that lets you centralize and organize requests by department and invite department heads and stakeholders to collaborate in real-time. A modern, cloud-based budget platform will also automatically create visual elements that can be used when sharing the budget with internal and external stakeholders for input.

Communicate

The final step in the budget process is to communicate — both with internal stakeholders as well as citizens in your community. Every year, you are required to create a budget book that communicates the state of your government’s financial health. Is it a printed and bound document? An online PDF? Are you paying attention to how your citizens want to engage with you and find budget information – usually via the internet and on mobile devices? The purpose of creating an annual budget book is to inform your community about how their tax dollars are being spent, which is why it’s important to have a clear plan to communicate the budget in a format that makes the most sense to citizens.

Examples of Traditional Challenges & Modern Solutions

Communicating The Capital Improvement Plan

Challenge: It’s challenging to effectively communicate capital improvement projects, funding sources, and timelines to the public in a way that’s easy to understand — especially in a static, printed document or PDF. Potential solutions, such as dedicated capital project websites, are expensive to build and time-consuming to maintain.

Solution: Move to web-based transparency portal and capital budgeting solutions that automatically generate dedicated project pages for each approved project in your CIP. Project pages are organized alongside the rest of your budget data in a user-friendly, accessible, easy to update, transparency page that citizens can visit at any time.

Sharing Your Annual Budget Book

Challenge: Typically, the main challenge of communicating the budget is the format. Printed budget books are cumbersome and it’s difficult for citizens to find the information they’re looking for. Even digital PDF budget documents on your website can be tedious to scroll through, and they may lack the level of visual elements and context that the public needs to fully understand the budget data.

Solution: Move to a web-based digital budget book that automatically creates fund summary pages, charts, tables, and many other elements of your budget. The interactive component of a digital budget book makes it easy for citizens to find the information they’re looking for, drill down to line items on department pages, view historical budget data, and manipulate charts to display data in a way that makes the most sense to them.

ClearGov Makes It Easy To Budget Better

ClearGov’s full suite of Budget Cycle Management tools help you overcome traditional challenges and modernize your budget process. When you’re tired of thinking, “There’s got to be a better way!” contact us to learn more about our budgeting solutions specifically designed to help governments just like yours budget better.

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March 31, 2022

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.