Case Study: Palo Alto
The City of Palo Alto is more than 100 years old, and is named after a majestic 1,000 -year old coastal redwood tree along San Francisquito Creek. With approximately 66,000 residents, the City of Palo Alto is located 35 miles south of San Francisco and 14 miles north of San Jose.
As the City known as “Birthplace of the Silicon Valley”, Palo Alto is recognized worldwide as a leader in cutting-edge technological development. Palo Alto is unique among California cities, as it is a full-service municipality that owns and operates its gas, electric, water, sewer, refuse and storm drainage services for its residences.
The Office of Management and Budget was developing the City’s annual budget of approximately $470 million for 80 funds through spreadsheets and manual processes. The City of Palo Alto required an integrated budgeting system that would streamline budget development, forecasting, labor cost modeling, financial reporting and workflow management.
Questica Budget Capital and Operating
Questica Budget now provides the City of Palo Alto with a centralized budget, with the flexibility to manipulate data and to spend more time on analysis and higher value projects.
- Time savings leading to staff retention
- Cost savings
- Configurable workflow
- Flexibility to manipulate data
- Secure web-based solution hosted by Questica
- Financial reporting and monitoring
The City of Palo Alto historically developed its annual budget ($470 million for Fiscal Year 2015) for about 80 funds through a variety of manual processes and spreadsheets. Departments submitted their annual budget proposals to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on spreadsheets and then entered their proposals (numbers only) into SAP’s budget planning module. All tasks including the General Fund long range financial forecast, labor cost modeling, financial reporting and the monitoring of the city’s budget were all completed on spreadsheets. The manual workflow process was tedious, time consuming and resulted in multiple errors.
In October 2013, the City of Palo Alto sent out a Budget System RFP with six companies responding. Questica was chosen in June 2014 as the most technically qualified professional firm who submitted the strongest proposal that offered the lowest price for a vendor hosted solution. Implementation started mid-July and was completed by October in time for Palo Alto to develop its ten-year financial forecast in Questica Budget. By the end of December, the workflow and budget submittal process was set up so all departments were able to submit budget requests in Questica in January 2015.
Palo Alto benefits from the accessibility and centralized database of Questica Budget. Questica Budget is accessible from any computer running Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome or Safari and can be installed locally on an organization’s server or deployed in the cloud as the City of Palo Alto chose to do. As a state-of-the-art web based solution, Questica provides a familiar and intuitive spreadsheet like grid for data entry, minimizing the required training time, and allowing users to quickly get up to speed on the solution. Individual departments can access and track budgets in real-time, offering transparency and accountability to the budget process.
Questica Budget offers the City of Palo Alto the opportunity to develop and submit their budgets quickly and seamlessly. Additionally, budget changes after the adoption of the budget are submitted and approved in Questica. Through an overnight batch process with the City’s financial system, approved budget modifications are synced up.
Time savings leading to staff retention
By using Questica Budget, Palo Alto staff saves time as there no longer are multiple data entries and spreadsheets being passed around. With a centralized budgeting system, there is only one point of data entry and seamless integration with Palo Alto’s SAP financial system.
With the time savings of implementing Questica Budget, Palo Alto staff can leave at their normal time to go home and be with their families. Questica Budget simplifies the budgeting process so staff does not have to work long hours and burn out. Staff retention has increased with the implementation of Questica Budget.
Being web-based, staff can also log in and make edits at night if needed during peak budgeting season. Staff are no longer tied to their desks and can work when needed from home.
The time savings with Questica Budget also allows staff more time to be spent on analysis and higher value projects. Thereby the implementation of Questica Budget saves Palo Alto more than $85,000 annually in productivity costs as the City can dedicate 0.5 full-time equivalent (FTE) Senior Management Analyst towards higher value tasks and projects.
The City of Palo Alto’s previous workflow process was that all departments submitted their proposed budgets to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and then entered their numbers into SAP. OMB then reconciled all the spreadsheets and tabulated the proposals to provide the decision-makers with a packet of information for each budget and financial summary of each department.
With Questica Budget, this old workflow process is automated, allowing the Senior Management Analyst in OMB to focus on performance measurement analysis and other value-added program enhancements.
Flexibility to manipulate data
Questica Budget provides team members with the ability to set permissions on who can make changes to their budget at each stage of the budgeting process. Staff has the flexibility to duplicate, download and manipulate data. In addition, Questica Budget allows team members to view a record of all changes made, by whom they were made, and when they were made, using Questica Budget’s Logging feature.
Any changes can be done easily throughout the year with the budget change request form, allowing money to be moved between GLs. Palo Alto staff can submit change requests and attach all necessary documentation in the notes section with Questica Budget’s centralized system. This process leads to quicker approvals of funds.
Secure web-based solution hosted by Questica
As a web-based solution, Questica Budget allows Palo Alto staff to have access and full control over the day to day management of their budgets. Instead of emailing staff asking them to make small edits to the budget, this ownership enables staff to make changes to their budgets in a timely manner, allowing them to understand the full impact of their budgets.
We provide customers with the option of having the Questica Budget solution hosted by Questica. This was a key selling point for Palo Alto as they wanted the guarantee of having their budgets saved securely externally. By having Questica host the City’s system, it allows for quicker recovery and flexibility in the event of potential natural disasters such as earthquakes.
Financial reporting and monitoring
Questica’s Dashboard component delivers the ability to provide an “at-a-glance” summary of critical data and other relevant information in a visually rich and interactive interface.
Former Director of Palo Alto’s Office of Management and Budget, Walter Rossmann’s favorite feature is Questica Dashboard as it allows him a quick glimpse through the day at the City’s budget versus actual expenditures along with key performance measures and status of budget request reviews.
Budgets can be monitored with dashboards and drill-down capability allowing Managers to control their budgets at a fund level, department level or cost center level. Dashboards can be developed for individual users, groups of users, departments, roles, or specific functional areas within Questica Budget.
Thanks to more efficient budgeting, Palo Alto is brilliant.