How to Take Control of Your City’s Finances During COVID-19

The City of Garden Grove is undergoing a significant overhaul to its financial system. The City is going from a homegrown solution we’ve had for 40 years to an entirely new system to streamline processes and standardize operations. A technology conversion like that is already a major undertaking, add in a global pandemic, and there is an entirely new set of complex challenges.

However, despite the temporary challenges, the benefit of a technology project of this size is significant.  We have a chance to carefully review our business processes and completely transform them to improve efficiency and transparency.  It forces us to rethink how we do things to best meet the needs of our decision makers and constituents in terms of reporting, expenditure tracking and data analysis. Here are two specific areas in which we made immediate improvements with our financial system upgrade:

1. Powerful cost tracking during COVID-19

The number one requirement we sought at the onset of this technology project was a good reporting and flexible cost-tracking structure.  We invested months in redesigning our entire chart of accounts, which is the backbone of the system.  The efforts came to fruition during the COVID-19 crisis, where cost tracking and robust reporting are critical for us to obtain financial assistance and make timely decisions. At the beginning of the pandemic, we asked all personnel to start tracking the expenses that were directly related to COVID-19 in order for us to get the appropriate reimbursement and aid relief. With our legacy system, these expenses would have been gathered under one cost center within the finance department, regardless of whether it was police overtime or community service program expenditures.

With the new system, we’re able to correctly assign the respective cost centers yet still track all cost under the COVID umbrella. We no longer have to manually adjust various reports and are able to save a significant amount of staff time. This was just one of many benefits directly related to tracking the financial impact of the pandemic.   

2. Streamlining the invoice process to generate greater efficiency

Another financial goal for Garden Grove with this project was to centralize invoice processing. In the past, vendors sent invoices to any department or individual. The finance department might not have received every invoice for a number of reasons – if someone was on vacation, there were personnel changes or if the specific department didn’t have a sufficient budget and was holding on to the invoice.  This practice caused delays in payment processing and impacted the accuracy for reporting. It became a reporting deficiency identified in our previous financial audit.

By centralizing the invoice processing, invoices are sent directly to the Finance Department. Finance enters the invoices into the new financial system and uses workflow to obtain approval.  All invoices are accounted for, and department-spending information is updated in a timely manner.  The new process creates direct time savings and ensures proper internal control procedures are followed.

Calculator on desk

Continuing to adapt to COVID-19

COVID-19 emerged unexpectedly during our financial system upgrade.  Although it will continue to create significant change within the economic landscape and pose greater challenges to us, Garden Grove has always managed its fiscal affairs prudently. We are one of the few entities that had sufficient reserves due to responsible past practices and unified, consistent communication across various departments, city management and our elected officials. Our recent financial system upgrade has given us an increased level of confidence in managing the City’s finances.  It enables us to collect the data we generate daily and transform it into useful information that will allow the stakeholders to make informed decisions, promote accountability, and effectively allocate scarce resources to best serve our community.

Author Bio: Patricia Song is the Finance Director for the City of Garden Grove, California.