By Neeraj Chauhan, Chief Deputy Director, FI$Cal
We all know this has been a long and difficult year, with the weight of a global pandemic affecting work everywhere, including at FI$Cal. Despite the move to telework and a department reorganization going on at the same time, we have managed not only to survive but to thrive. Our staff has worked long and hard to prove what I already knew – that we have a dedicated group of professionals willing to do what it takes to continue the amazing progress we are making. And make no mistake – FI$Cal has accomplished a lot in 2020.
For one, we are closer to fully realizing the full integration of California’s cash management, procurement, accounting and budget processes. In July, we formally closed out seven areas of major functionality that had been deployed for more than a year. Deployed functionality closeout reports, which were accepted by the California Department of Technology (CDT), acknowledge that most of the project has been successfully completed.
FI$Cal also submitted Special Project Report (SPR) 9 to CDT in September. SPR 9 describes the status of the FI$Cal project and details one primary change from SPR 8 – a 24-month schedule extension for implementing Milestone 5, Priority 1 and Priority 2 functionality of the SCO/STO Integrated Solution. The additional time is for State Controller’s Office (SCO) non-project staff to conduct more testing before deploying the tools and reports to enable validation of FI$Cal ledger data with SCO legacy system data. This Milestone 5 functionality will allow SCO to produce the Budgetary Legal Basis Annual Report (BLBAR) and Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) in parallel systems, with these reports produced both from SCO’s legacy system and from FI$Cal after the system has collected one year of data. The year after, we expect to create parallel CAFR reports from the FI$Cal system. The combination of having all the ledgers in FI$Cal and also the logic to generate CAFR reports will drastically cut down time needed to generate these important reports.
We also released or improved upon a large number of enhancements and tools to improve user experience and customer service, continually adding innovation to the system. FI$Cal added to Department 360, a department-specific dashboard feature in the FI$Cal PeopleSoft application that provides quick access to several tools and reports. We also rolled out a tool to automate month-end close and streamline the process. Departments can run the tool and it will systematically close their fiscal periods. In July, we partnered with Department of General Services and the California Prison Industries Authority (CALPIA) to develop an online “punchout web catalog” that interfaces directly with the FI$Cal system. The “punchout catalog” functionality allows FI$Cal users to shop and submit CALPIA orders directly through the FI$Cal requisition module using an Amazon-like shopping experience. In the fall, we began the release of a series of work centers, by module and function, which enable users to access specific and prioritized tasks and actions in a central location. We also added several modules to FI$Bot, our much-improved chatbot.
Through Microsoft Power BI and Azure Synapse Analytics, FI$Cal is bringing innovation and cloud computing to state finances. FI$Cal developed and deployed new commitment control (KK) dashboards and reports, as well as a budget-to-actuals report. We have initiated a COVID-19 Transaction Dashboard that can track the state’s pandemic-related spending. These new tools are part of FI$Cal’s effort to continue its work on expanding departments’ ability to explore, analyze and report their own insights and trends from data. We continued deploying robotic process automation (RPA) in a number of important tasks. RPA automates many of the more mundane, repetitive tasks that workers perform, such as loading purchase orders or extracting documents from multiple transactions, and does it dramatically faster.
FI$Cal made the state government’s financial information more transparent through Open FI$Cal, the website that opened California’s books to the public. As of July, the site displays expenditure information for 150 departments transacting in the FI$Cal system, updated every month, and it continues to evolve. Over $400 billion in expenditures have been listed on the site so far, totaling more than 20 gigabytes of data.
Departments are improving all the time in their month-end and year-end close performance, and our relations coordinators stand ready to help in this all-important process. Our most recent numbers show that 95.6 percent of departments had closed their previous fiscal year in the FI$Cal system by the end of October this year. That contrasts with just 55.8 percent two years ago, so the improvement is obvious. A lot of this success comes from the hard work by our joint support teams from FI$Cal, the Department of Finance and SCO. I also want to thank the departments and their end users for all the work they put in to learn and adjust to a new system.
When everyone was forced suddenly into telework last March, we weren’t sure exactly what would happen with our customer service – especially the ability to conduct trainings. But since then, as we transitioned from in-person user support labs to virtual sessions, we haven’t skipped a beat. From July through September, we conducted 19 more courses and user demand remains strong, with classes filling up quickly. We continue to offer town halls, forums, workshops and monthly FI$CalTv webcasts that are well-attended and effective.
In June, the FI$Cal Service Center began to offer the ServiceNow Chat pilot as an additional customer service option to connect users immediately to live analysts.
And there is more in the pipeline, including the Workforce Development Center (WDC) and the new FI$Cal Learning Center. The WDC will serve as the face of FI$Cal to our client departments. The Learning Center, which replaces the University of FI$Cal, will be a one-stop learning experience to help end users master the skills needed to become confident and successful system users. You will see more information on these education and training systems in the months ahead.
I am proud of the way our staff was able to pivot amid the pandemic and remain as productive as before. It’s a testament to our dedication and professionalism, and it brings me confidence going into 2021. We have an exciting new year in front of us. As always, we are here to help and want to hear from you. I wish you and your families a safe and happy holiday season.