Commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) software is a term for software products that are ready-made and available for purchase in the commercial market.
Public sector organizations are relying more and more on COTS applications to supplement, enhance or replace proprietary systems. This dependency is driven by the promise of improved functionality and reduced total ownership cost, as well as a concern over an inability to develop and maintain proprietary IT solutions versus COTS IT applications.
To improve their budgeting process, public sector organizations can implement a COTS budgeting application to take advantage of the following benefits:
1. Implement budgeting best practices
As recommended by the Government Finance Officers Association, best practices help your public sector organization link strategic plans to the budgeting process. By utilizing best practices, you can prepare the budget more efficiently, have more time for analyzing and forecasting, and can engage non-financial staff in the budgeting process. However, when your budget data is in different locations or data is difficult to retrieve from your legacy system, implementing budgeting best practices is not possible. A COTS purpose-built budgeting application will help you take back control of the budgeting process by housing all of your budgets in one place, creating one version of data truth that you can trust.
2. User-friendly and collaborative
Successful budgeting requires the participation of non-financial staff in the budgeting process. Legacy systems or spreadsheets may have served as the backbone to your organization’s budgeting process for years, but the system can be difficult for non-financial staff to navigate. Even with training, when a legacy system is cumbersome to use and doesn’t provide the capabilities needed to budget, adoption rates by non-financial staff are likely to be low. A COTS budgeting application is designed to be user-friendly and provide intuitive dashboards that show critical data in a visually rich and interactive interface. With workflows, approvals and role-based security, non-financial staff can only access the parts of the budget requiring their action and spend reporting once the budget is approved. Integration with financial, human resources and payroll systems will provide a seamless flow of information making it easy for non-financial staff to collaborate on the budget and become more engaged in the budgeting process.
3. Actionable information for data-driven decision making
Public sector organizations need to quickly make decisions and adapt to changes in funding or program and service needs. If they choose to budget with a legacy system or work-arounds like Excel spreadsheets, they could find themselves struggling to keep up. Budgeting requires a dynamic and sophisticated solution that can produce an accurate budget and the key insights that lead to data-driven decisions that provide value to your stakeholders. The ability to handle forecasting, scenario budgeting, allocations, priority-based budgeting, and other functions key to the public sector, are severely limited in most legacy systems. A COTS application provides robust reporting capability with standard reports and ad hoc reporting, as well as the ability to assemble actionable data from anywhere in the system using intuitive data queries and shareable dashboards. You can create unlimited what-if scenarios, decision packages and multi-year budgets for better analysis, forecasting and planning.
Implementing and maintaining a legacy system is a costly and time-consuming endeavour from the start. Not only does the system’s modules and platforms need to be purchased, but possibly additional IT infrastructure and hardware, network and security upgrades, user licenses and subscriptions. Adding a module or customization that may not have the functionality needed for budgeting, but adds additional cost to an already expensive system, is not the best solution for solving your public sector organization’s challenges. A COTS application that allows you to create operating, salaries and capital budgets will streamline your budgeting process while increasing accuracy and saving time. Adding financial statements, performance management and Budget Book publishing tools are easy enhancements to take your budgeting process to the next level. Finally, sophisticated data visualization tools that can transform your budget data into engaging visuals, such as charts, tables and graphics with descriptive texts, will increase transparency and accountability with stakeholders. When your budgeting process is constantly evolving, a COTS solution designed specifically for government, education and healthcare budgeting is a smart investment that will reward you in the long-term.
5. Eliminate Excel spreadsheets from the budgeting process
When legacy systems are unable to provide the functionality needed for budgeting, public sector organizations have used Excel spreadsheets to help them prepare the budget. However, after spending countless hours entering data, creating formulas, checking calculations and fixing errors, it is clear that Excel was not designed to be a budgeting system. Due to the manual data entry format of spreadsheets, calculations and formulas in Excel are susceptible to human error. The study “What We Know About Spreadsheet Errors” states that one percent or more of all formula cells contain errors. When your public sector organization needs to deliver an accurate budget on a deadline, you do not have time to be manually checking your data or fixing broken formulas.
6. Increase transparency and engagement with stakeholders
A transparent budgeting process is vital for any government, education or healthcare organization to earn the trust of stakeholders. While traditional methods of engagement, such as annual reports or new websites, are simple to implement, the disadvantage is that it might not be enough to engage and inform your councils, citizens, boards, students, patients or other stakeholders. Transparency will help your stakeholders understand the tough budgeting decisions your organization makes with the funding available. Using a COTS application to prepare your budgets and share key insights will help stakeholders understand how program and services are allocated, and engage them in determining which of these are of most value to the communities your organization serves.
A COTS application that is specifically designed for public sector budgeting provides you with a ready-made solution to create operating, salaries and capital budgets, plus the capability for analyzing, forecasting, reporting and tracking performance management. If your organization chooses to budget with legacy systems or cumbersome workaround, your organization may struggle to keep up with changes to funding or the needs from the communities you serve. By choosing an end-to-end system for more accurate, time-saving and collaborative budgeting, public sector organizations can make the data-driven decisions that provide value to their stakeholders.
To learn more about how Questica Budget Suite can help your government, education or healthcare organization transform the budgeting process, read one of our success stories, our blog, Why your budgeting journey should be with Questica or sign-up for one of our free monthly informational webinars.
For over 20 years, Questica been working with public sector organizations – government, healthcare, higher education, K-12 schools and non-profits – to better enable data-driven budgeting and decision-making, while increasing data accuracy, saving time and improving stakeholder trust. Our customers are using our Questica Budget suite to drive budget transformation by creating a single source of data truth. Over 700 organizations across North America in 47 states and 11 provinces/territories have eliminated spreadsheets opting for smarter planning, budgeting, performance measures, management, reporting, transparency and engagement with our software solutions. To learn more about Questica and how our software solutions can help your public sector organizations – check out our resources and news/blog sections, or request a demo today!