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Brisbane City Council: Australia
Brisbane City Council (BCC) is in the business of creating a better Brisbane, Australia. Its mission, by the year 2010, is to ensure that Brisbane is a prosperous city, enjoyed by residents, admired by visitors, and respected nationally and internationally for its achievements.
In 1999 BCC had two corporate performance management issues it wanted to address in support of this mission. First, this progressive organization was undertaking a fundamental review of its budgeting process for the headquarters and 12 departments and commercialized business units. The council wanted to move from a program-based accrual budget to a results-based accrual budget and meld together the strategic planning and budgeting processes.
As this reengineering was taking place, BCC also recognized a need to replace its homegrown budgeting system, which resided on a non-Y2K-compliant mainframe. This system was difficult to maintain and enhance, and provided inflexible budgeting and cumbersome reporting capabilities. The system was increasingly being augmented by the use of
Corporate Performance Management at Work
spreadsheets, which introduced security problems, version control issues, and maintenance woes.
According to Greg Ponych, principal finance officer—budget for BCC, “We wanted to better execute our strategic plan and reflect it in our operational plans. This required considerable effort, coordination, and management. We needed a system to make this process easier and more effective, one that could help us achieve our vision to make Brisbane the most livable and progressive city in the Asia-Pacific region.”8 To unify its CPM processes and improve the reliability of its information, Brisbane City Council chose a technology solution with a centralized database. The single application was able to integrate planning, budgeting, and reporting. Additionally, it was one of the few web-based systems available at the time that could operate on the council’s Oracle database. The system’s openness was also a factor in the choice. According to council members, “Elements of our budget process reengineering were still evolving, and we needed to be sure that any future direction we wanted to pursue could be supported by our choice of a new technology system.”
The council’s budget analysts and strategic planners participated in the design of the system. Starting in December 1999, they began rolling out their application. The first phase addressed budgeting. The second phase addressed monitoring and analysis. The third encompassed strategic planning. Each phase took approximately three months to complete. Today the system is used by BCC’s financial controllers, strategic planners, the chief financial and chief executive officers, and approximately 300 operational users.
“Our CPM system helps us attach the ‘why’ and ‘how well’ to the ‘who,’ ‘what,’ and ‘by when,’” reports the Council, which improves strategic execution and organizational accountability. “We use a combination of Balanced Scorecard, triple bottom line [a measurement of the economic, environmental, and social value an organization creates or destroys], and key performance indicators to help us measure how well we have implemented our strategy—that is, how well the people of Brisbane accept the services we provide and the impact of providing these services. Many of our measures are nonfinancial.”
With the unified database, BCC has been able to eliminate duplicate and triplicate versions of data and the problems associated with this occurrence. “We don’t argue about the validity of the numbers anymore,” according to the Council. Users are confident that the data are consistent and reliable. “With the single business model and web architecture,
The Strategy Gap
we’re also able to keep pace with structure changes without having a truckload of programmers,” members say. When the application is updated or information is added, the results are immediately available to the organization, ensuring that users always access the current application and data.
“Another benefit is the ability to analyze information and make recommendations instead of just reporting numbers,” according to the Council. “Users are alerted to exceptions in the underlying data and can spend time analyzing significant business issues rather than spending that time wading through bulky reports. We’re starting to look at trend information over longer periods of time, too, and we are beginning to get an idea of what the future might look like. Our users also have begun to see that they can look at overall performance, not just the financials.”
While Brisbane City Council reports that there has been some reduction in process cycle time—saying “Corporate review of the budget prior to its presentation to the CEO has been reduced from three weeks to one week” and “We don’t have people working on the budgets and reports until 2:00 a.m. anymore,”—members feel that the real value of CPM has been the reduced burden involved in budgeting and the value the organization is getting from its processes. “The quality of what we’re doing is so much better,” they report.