Addressing the Data Deficit to Identify Savings, Increase Collaboration and Improve Transparency

Public sector agencies and in particular their procurement teams are under mounting pressure to do more with less, to collaborate better with their neighbors, and to be more transparent with their  constituents.  The economic conditions have lead to budget cuts, furloughs, and layoffs for many agencies.  To date, the majority of projects aimed at reducing costs within and increasing collaboration between public sector bodies involve time consuming and extremely expensive Information Technology or consultant based solutions which can take years to implement and further additional years to see results.

Every agency has a financial management system and each and every one of these systems are different.  Even if every agency in a geographic area utilized the same core system from the same supplier, the implementation would vary wildly in terms of level of sophistication, quality of implementation,  coding and departmental structure used and effectively every other facet of the system other than the underlying hardware.  Financial Management systems in the public sector are always individual to the agency – they aren’t bought off the shelf.   While the financial management systems are perfectly capable of enabling the agency to control cash flow and monitor spend to budget, the systems do not supply the quality of data, in a consistent and comparable format, and classified to a common standard that would allow and individual agency procurement team to interrogate their own expenditure information, let alone to identify collaborative opportunities between agencies to identify group cost savings.

The additional challenge for public agencies is how to better engage with the electorate and to produce information about the spending of an agency that is accessible by an ordinary citizen. Creating a website to host a raw data file exported from the financial management system is the current best approach and the one being taken by a number local governments and states.  The challenge is not building the website and posting the raw data.  The challenge is producing fit for purpose data, which is presented in a format that can be quickly viewed and understood by the ordinary citizen.   

The data deficiency is the problem which the procurement teams in the City of Naperville, The Naperville Park District, School District 203 and 204, and the City of Aurora have set out to find a solution to.  If the data deficiency problem can be solved, a whole host of opportunities become possible.  How can five public agencies identify savings, collaborate more effectively and increase transparency without spending a significant amount of money up front?  The answer is that once the data deficiency has been corrected, a significant number of opportunities become available.

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