Getting Started on Financial Data Initiatives.

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State and local governments are increasingly looking for better ways to make their information available online for their public audiences and internal users. Doing so helps organizations become more efficient and achieve better fiscal oversight by giving leaders a more strategic view of the management and distribution of financial data, according to Best Practices for Agency Financial Data Initiatives, a report from Tyler Technologies. It also helps improve interactions with the public.

"The most successful agencies do not think of their public-facing and internal initiatives as separate," the report says. "They operate on the philosophy that, where possible, internal decision makers and public stakeholders should have access to exactly the same quantity and depth of information." Starting out with this philosophy makes the path to a good return on investment (ROI) for a financial data publication program clear. "Agencies can use their knowledge of the demands of their stakeholders. For internal users, they can review records of the reports that are most frequently published internally. And, for public users, popular FOIA and media requests can guide publishing decisions."

The most direct path to ROI for a proactive data publication program is to replace hours that staff is spending on routine reporting with tasks that relate more directly to the government's mission. "It is common for agencies to have dozens or hundreds of slightly different versions of common reports to meet the slightly different needs of different internal users. If reports are automated, hundreds of staff hours can be redirected towards higher-value work like fiscal forecasting, process improvement, and waste, fraud, and abuse detection," according to the report. An example cited in the report identified 54 versions of an advertising performance report, each requiring one to three hours of staff time.

Governments should start by identifying costly bottlenecks; these are the prime candidates for automation. If certain systems are particularly burdensome to use, staff members have long backlogs of report requests, or...

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