Public Sector

Key questions to ask when replacing an end of life budgeting system

When budgeting software reaches the end of its product lifecycle this can be a challenge for the public sector organization who now needs to replace it.

 

Over the last few years, several budgeting software vendors have stopped supporting older systems. Examples include Oracle’s now defunct Public Sector Budgeting (PSB) system, Infor’s Lawson Budgeting and Planning, and most recently CGI’s Budget Reporting and Analysis Support System (AMS Advantage BRASS), which is scheduled to be decommissioned by the year 2020.

 

While vendors who stop supporting one system will often offer a new replacement solution – such as Oracle’s Hyperion or CGI’s Advantage 360 – that is not always the case, nor is it always the best choice for the public sector organization who needs to replace their end of life budgeting software.

 

On the surface purchasing a new budgeting software solution from the same or similar vendor may appear to provide the “path of least resistance” when transitioning from your existing end of life system. That vendor’s system may be built on a similar platform, interface or reporting structure. However, don’t rush to sign a contract without first considering other options. The “easy” solution might not be the most cost effective, or the best fit for your organization’s specific short and long-term needs.

 

Before deciding on a new budget preparation and management software solution that could affect your organization’s efficiency, long-term productivity, and public perception, financial professionals and administrators should ask some probing questions to determine if the vendor is really a good fit with your organization.

 

We’ve structured a list of these questions into five key areas of consideration:

  1. Experience and success
  2. Hosting and security
  3. Integration and configurability
  4. Implementation and cost
  5. Training and support

Experience and success

An investment in budgeting software is long-term commitment between your organization and the vendor. The best vendors should have a thorough understanding and knowledge of the public sector and the specific and often diverse needs of the various agency types – government, healthcare and education. This knowledge only comes with hands-on experience working with customers of all sizes and complexity. Vendors should be knowledgeable about public sector business processes, funding models, reporting requirements, etc.

 

It’s great if a vendor has a solution that meets your needs now, but do they understand enough to anticipate your needs tomorrow? Solid companies are constantly investing in the future, adding to the core product in anticipation of changes to the overall product suite as well as the changing marketplace.

 

Make sure you talk about the future with any vendor you are considering. Are you expecting major changes at your organization such as change to other internal systems that may interface with the new budgeting solution, and can the software scale up with you? Get a complete view of your partnership with potential vendors, and make sure your vendor of choice is financially stable and focused on a long-term strategy — because transitioning again will be no small task.

Questions to ask
  • How long has the vendor been in business? Less than five years, or over a decade, or more?
  • Does the vendor focus on the public sector? Or is their focus is spread across a variety of unrelated industries and software solutions?
  • Do they have referenceable customers who are reflective of your organizational type and size?
  • What type of organization is the vendor? Are they a boutique firm with only a few staff? A large software company where the budget solution is only one small piece of the business? Or do they fit somewhere inbetween?
  • Are they privately held or backed by venture capital funding and potentially a mergers and acquisitions target?
  • Does the vendor have a track record of vesting in their product? Are there frequent new releases with meaningful product enhancements and a demonstrated
    commitment to innovation through research and development?
  • Does the vendor have a software development map for how the budgeting system will adapt and grow for the future?
  • What is the current technology platform the budgeting solution build on? Is it dated technology? Or is it universal technology?
  • Is the vendor certified with technology partners?

Hosting and security

Every public sector organization has unique priorities and concerns, which is why a vendor should be able to offer you multiple deployment options for their budgeting solution. The best hosting and deployment options for your organization will be time and cost-efficient and not disruptive to the workflow of the organization during or after implementation.

 

Cloud or on-premise

There’s no right or wrong answer for choosing either a traditional on-premise or a cloud-based budgeting software solution. It’s about what works best for your organization. Historically, many public sector organizations were concerned about potential security and privacy issues related to cloud software. Today’s cloud-based hosting provides security that may be difficult or cost prohibitive for some organizations to achieve on their own.

 

Cloud-based and/or subscription-based offerings can also provide upfront savings since an organization is not paying for hardware or spending time applying infrastructure patches and upgrades. As well, cloud-based solutions generally outperform on-premise solutions when it comes to minimizing outages and guaranteed uptimes or recovery times.

 

However, some public sector agencies don’t have the option of hosting their data in the cloud. Some organizations have specific rules about software use and installation. Institutions with specific types of data sets, such as hospitals with patient information or government agencies that control 911 dispatch and undercover police operations, often choose to utilize on-premise budgeting software installation and management.

 

On-premise hosting allows organizations to retain its information completely within their n secure networks. However, if your organization chooses on-premise budgeting software, you will need to provide funding for your own IT infrastructure, software licensing, and IT chargebacks. Also, your IT team will need to educate themselves on how to maintain the budgeting software. Finally, since you are solely responsible for the data, you’ll need to arrange for security and redundancies.

 

Security

Security concerns don’t end at the discussion of hosting and implementing a budgeting software solution. Since a budget platform contains sensitive and even confidential information, it should be viewed and changed by only those individuals who have been granted authority. The right product for your organization should be one that allows administrators to determine access based on the principle of least privilege. Executives and department heads should be able to specify, and modify if necessary, the information that your staff can access and change within the system.

 

Multi-tenant versus single tenant

If the vendor offers a cloud deployment option, is it in a multi-tenant or single-tenant environment? With a multi-tenant environment many organizations are sharing the same version of the budgeting software, and your data may or may not be completely segregated. A multi-tenant environment also means that all customers must accept software upgrades at the same time, whereas with a single-tenant environment your organization’s data is segregated, and you can control the timing of all upgrades, much the way they would if you choose onpremise hosting.

Questions to ask
  • Does the vendor offer their budgeting solution with different deployment options? For example, do they offer on-premise and/or cloud hosting?
  • Does your organization have the IT staff and capabilities to maintain the software, hardware or spend time applying infrastructure patches and upgrades?
  • For cloud-hosting, will your data be hosted in your country and under the legal protections of the laws your legal department is most familiar with?
  • Can the software administrators set permissions and user-based access to the system? Also, are those changes tracked within the system and does the system
    provide an audit trail?
  • Does the vendor offer only automatic system upgrades, or can your organization choose when to implement software updates and upgrades?
  • Are there any imposed limits or other controls for how the vendor’s budgeting software can be used or customized?

Want to learn more about the cloud? Download our white paper on the key considerations for choosing cloud or on-premise budgeting software.

Integration and configurability

Public sector organizations draw financial information from numerous departments and systems, and a budgeting platform isn’t useful and cost-efficient if it doesn’t seamlessly integrate with your pre-existing software to import the necessary data. The right choice for a new solution works with your enterprise resource planning (ERP), financial, payroll, human resources and other programs to ensure the right data is always available.

 

It is important to understand the difference between system configuration and customization. Budgeting software almost always should be configured before use. This may include items such as setting up the organizational structure, costing centers, general ledger accounts, configurable screens, etc. Most software is designed to handle various configurations and behaves predictably in any allowed configuration.

 

Customization is always an option and may include rewriting part of the delivered functionality or development of new or additional functionality. However, these customizations may be invasive and/or costly to maintain, so it’s important to understand what impacts any customization will have on the performance and usability of a potential budgeting solution.

Questions to ask
  • Does the software offer configuration options that allow you to incorporate your own business rules?
  • Does the vendor have experience integrating with a wide variety of financial and other systems, or only a few systems that are tied to their budgeting software?
  • How many customer integrations have they done for each financial system? Are they referenceable?
  • What about reporting and analytics capabilities? Does the system have usable out-of-the-box reports?
  • How easy is it for a user to create a report or dashboard? Or does your organization need to go back to the vendor every time to create a new report or dashboard?

Case Study: The City and County of Denver, CO

With a population approaching 700,000, the City and County of Denver in Colorado needed to implement a new budgeting solution that was flexible, comprehensive and provided customizable analytics and reporting.

 

Denver’s existing budgeting system (AMS Advantage BRASS) was old and no longer met the requirements of flexible and comprehensive budgeting. Forecasting wasn’t available, scenarios were hard to create and time-consuming and the system was not robust. It also lacked analytics, which was key to balancing responsible budgeting with the needs of a rapidly growing city.

 

The City and County issued an RFP for a new budget reporting and analysis solution and after careful consideration Questica was awarded the contract. Denver purchased
Questica Budget’s Operating, Salaries, and Capital modules.

 

While Questica Budget doesn’t change what information is collected, it does change the way Denver can use it. Questica Budget aligned with Denver’s existing budget process so the budget development process remained largely the same. However, the process of submitting, reviewing, and approving the budget has been streamlined and the visibility of the data has been greatly improved.

 

“Questica Budget allows us to house all budget information from all our departments in one centralized place,” says Kelly Greunke, Director of Finance, Budget
and Management Office, City and County of Denver. “Having a single budget source gives us the ability to have better insights and reporting which provides management the information they need to make better decisions for Denver and its citizens.”

 

Questica Budget originally integrated with PeopleSoft, but then Denver switched to a new financial system Workday. Questica was able to make the integration change with Questica Budget and Workday with minimal effort and disruption.

 

Base budget entry is easy, and budgets can be rolled over to the next year, saving the time required to recreate them. With Questica Budget Salaries module, the City and County’s Budget and Management Office is able to handle the complexities of position and personnel budget development. The ability to run “what-if” scenarios on costs such as salaries, furloughs, and other benefits has been very timely. Long-term forecasting is available for variables, regular increase, revenues and expenses, and other elements.

 

As well, with the system’s robust reporting capabilities, the Budget and Management Office and other department Managers have designed and built reports and dashboards to meet their specific needs. Some of these reports include: monthly revenue year-over year, personnel comparison report, financial summary reports, and a summary report for all change requests.

 

“While we chose Questica because the budgeting solution is a good product,” states Greunke. “What we’ve really found we really like best about Questica is the team
of people that we work with. They are always very helpful and responsive to understand and meet our business needs.”

Implementation and cost

The cost of new technology is a major consideration for any organization. Whether it is hardware, software or the associated implementation costs, a public sector agency
needs to ensure its money is well spent and that the latest purchase will benefit the organization for many years to come.

 

The decision of which budgeting software vendor to go with shouldn’t be made strictly on the price of the solution, but rather on the short and long-term goals and objectives of the organization. Evaluating the factors including hosting, security, integrations, customizations, training, support and vendor fit will drive your organization’s budgeting solution success during implementation and beyond.

 

Try to include a very specific, detailed set of requirements when comparing vendors. Vendors will quote based on those requirements, as aggressively as possible, to
provide the best value and most competitive quotation they can. Undoubtedly, there may be some additional requirements that the implementation team will realize only once the process has begun – some unique functionality needed, or a custom report that they wanted but forgot to include in the initial requirements. Make sure vendors have a project management process that helps to determine these additional items early on.

Questions to ask
  • What does the vendor’s project management process look like? What stakeholders are involved (i.e., Sales, Project Management, Developers, Support)?
  • Does the vendor include user testing and training as part of the implementation plan?
  • Can any customizations can be done within the implementation timeframe?
  • How long will the transition from implementation to “go live” take?
  • Does the vendor quotation include a detailed scope of work? Does the contract include pricing for additional work requested outside of the scope of work?
  • Do the vendor’s implementation resources have the requisite industry experience to offer insights into business process improvements throughout the
    implementation process?

Training and support

A new budget solution isn’t merely a tool that your agency purchases. It’s an opportunity to create a partnership with a provider that benefits your organization for years, which is why you should choose a solution that comes with comprehensive training and support offerings.

 

Training

Technological investments will fail if employees don’t know how to use them. If your new budget program isn’t intuitive, well laid out or delivered with proper training, any money or time saved prior to implementation is quickly lost. Employees need to be able to use their new budget solutions from day one. It may take a few training sessions to bring them entirely up to speed, but the system must be well documented and intuitive.

 

Support

You should always look at a multi-level support services package that will allow for a proactive approach to issue resolution and assistance for your budgeting system. Consider vendors that have the full spectrum of infrastructure, which would include professional services, technical support, project management, consulting and internal product development.

 

Also, look for vendors that deliver all implementation services with their own resources, as they will have a deeper understanding of how their system should be configured to best address your specific needs. The best vendors will offer resources not only for implementation and troubleshooting, but also for ongoing customer success through proactive engagements to assist your organization with optimizing the value of your software purchase.

Questions to ask
  • Where and how will training and support take place?
  • Does the vendor have a strategic focus on training and support for clients including comprehensive tools, documentation and training packages?
  • Does the vendor offer integrated help functionality within the budget system?
  • Are there other training resources available such as user manuals, training videos or user-base articles? How are these articles accessed? And are they available for all users of the system?
  • Does the vendor offer other training and networking opportunities such as webinars and user group meetings?
  • What about maintenance? You will want to know how software budget will be addressed and fixed. Most software is frequently updated so be sure to understand who is responsible for these updates? How are they communicated? Will you experience a disruption?
  • How does customer support work? Does the vendor take an active role in helping you get the most out of the software?

 

The Questica advantage

Ultimately, we want you to make the choice that’s right for your public sector organization. At Questica, we believe that choice begins with open and honest dialogue about the requirements for your organization, and what’s best for your needs.

 

Experience and success

For over 20 years, Questica has been a market leader for the development of budgeting, performance and transparency oftware solutions for the public sector. With customers in 45 states and 10 provinces and territories, we have extensive experience and expertise in implementing solutions for local governments, colleges, universities, K-12 schools, hospitals, healthcare facilities, charities, foundations and associations.

 

As a privately-held and growing mid-sized company with offices in Huntington Beach, California, and Burlington, Ontario, we believe firmly in continuous and responsible investment in our people and solutions. Questica’s ability to develop products to meet the diverse needs of our customers centers around the expertise of our employees, as well as the feedback and needs analysis of our over 600 public sector and non-profit customers.

 

Hosting and security

Questica Budget is 100 percent web-based and supports the most commonly used browsers. With Questica, there is also no footprint on individual workstations and no need for IT to install or distribute software when new releases or updates are made available. Unlike some vendors, we recognize that you own your budget data, and we allow you full access to your budget data at all times and in any way.

Whether you choose on-premise or cloud hosting, our service is customer centric, secure, reliable and affordable. Our software is installed as single-tenant, so you’re always able to get changes and updates on your own schedule. And we back up data at regular intervals, so you can be confident that there will be minimal disruption in any emergency. Most importantly, we offer expert consulting and advice to help you determine what solution is best to meet your organization’s goals and objectives.

 

Integration and configurability

he Questica Budget suite delivers all the necessary budgeting tools while also offering multiple options for a high level of configurability. Our modules including Operating, Capital, Salary/Position Planning, Performance and Financial Statements, enhance Questica’s software, enabling the platform to benefit any organization no matter the size. Other budgeting solutions may offer many of the same capabilities, but only through extensive customization that increases both your organization’s financial
and time investment as well as the overall complexity of the solution.

 

Questica’s focus is on improving the budget management process for public sector organizations, not making these agencies adapt to a new solution. Our products offer tailored workflows, change requests and interdepartmental allocations, user-defined fields and configurable entry screens. They also provide report scheduling and
automated distribution, dashboards, and advanced search capabilities for detailed analysis and better decision-making.

 

Questica Budget can handle diverse budget requirements including multi-year budgeting, salaries and staff planning, allocations, performance indicators, and much more. Questica’s robust analytics, dashboards and reporting capabilities mean that public sector organizations have access to trends, insights and alerts to make better management decisions. Plus, our transparency and sharing tools allow organizations to better engage with their internal and external stakeholder groups for better understanding and outcomes.

 

We’ve integrated Questica Budget with over 25 financial systems and have extensive experience with SAP, Oracle, PeopleSoft, Dynamics GP, JD Edwards, Cayenta,  Lawson, Munis, New World, SunGard THE, Workday, and others. We also integrate with human resource and student information management systems.

Implementation and cost

Questica understands the pressure public sector organizations face to maximize the value and return on their investments, which is why we offer a comprehensive end-to-end budgeting platform at a competitive price. We have decades of experience with project management and control methodologies to manage the project and  implementation process efficiently and effectively. We also offer both license purchase and SaaS costing models giving you the flexibility to choose the option that fits within your budget and your total cost of ownership valuation.

Training and support

Questica provides full installation documentation with every release, as well as implementation assistance, technical support and online help. Plus, we have complete training for administrators and general users through Questica Help, our online learning and knowledge base tool.

 

Our Customer Success team serves as your advocate within Questica. Working from onset, through implementation and ongoing usage, they are focused on maximizing your value from adopting Questica Budget. Through regular business reviews and touchpoints, Customer Success will understand and address your changing organizational needs, objectives, goals and challenges.

 

Questica also offers additional user group education and networking opportunities. These include regular customer webinars and in-person user group half and full-day events to identify and address topics of interest, sharing experiences, trends and best practices.

 

If you’d like to learn more about Questica, visit our website. Check our success stories to learn more about our products and decide which one is right for you. Interested in setting up personalized demonstration of how Questica Budget can help your organization? Contact us today!

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