Port Coquitlam brings Clarity to financial reporting system

The City of Port Coquitlam in British Columbia is saving itself a thousand hours per year on financial reporting thanks to Clarity 6, a performance management suite from Clarity Systems.

The City, just east of Vancouver, has to report muncipal accounts according to standards set by the Public Sector Accounting Board (PSAB), and the standards are extremely rigorous, explains the City’s budget officer, Jason Rude. “We need transparency, and accountability. It’s more stringent for us,” he said. “If you wanted to know how much I made all you’d need to do is ask for the information under the Freedom of Information rules. You can get any fact about us, anything that we’ve done.”

Rude’s department uses a specialist government-focused enterprise resource planning system called Cayenta, which Rude said wasn’t designed with reporting in mind. His department would have to take the information and rekey thousands of lines of accounts into Excel spreadsheets, which then had to be aggregated before reporting could begin.

The City’s nine departments and their various subdepartments produced up to 30 spreadsheets covering different budget lines, some of which would have up to 76 different tabs, explained Rude. The rekeying had to be particularly fastidious because errors would have political ramifications. “You want to be as accurate as possible so that the tax increase or decrease resulting from the budget report is truly representative. If I make a mistake, the tax will be arbitrarily adjusted,” he explained.

Consequently, preparing reports took around three weeks, which left little time for actual data analysis, said Rude. His department decided to roll out a reporting system to cope with the problem.

After evaluating roughly 40 vendors, the City decided on Clarity largely because of its customization capabilities. Clarity 6 reports can be customised to look like Excel spreadsheets, explained Rudes, meaning that the end-users don’t have to relearn a new formatting system.

The system, which is accessible via an intranet, was installed in around two months. It takes information directly from the Oracle database tables underlying the existing ERP system, meaning that data can be gathered in real time. Rudes’ department then spends two days analysing the data to produce reports for the City’s councillors, mayor, and other users.

“We can now look at what the figures mean,” said Rude, explaining that the City can now analyse variances in figures more effectively, and find efficiencies in its budgets. “Instead of frantically trying to get them together without investigating variances, because the software does the legwork, we have the ability to analyse the numbers.”

Such variances might include a rise in the cost of materials used in road surfacing projects, for example, or a fall in attendance rates at a particular recreation centre. These trends can now be spotted and acted upon.

The City is now experimenting with real-time alerting in the Clarity system, which is saving it roughly $60,000 per year and will pay for itself within two years. “The first phase was just to replace the existing functionality. Users have a lot of feedback and next year we’re going to modify the system,” concluded Rude. “I think that’s one reason why we had a successful implementation.”

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