Moving Away From Excel Saves Time and Complexity, Offering More Detailed Budget vs. Actuals Analysis
Q: Can you tell us a little about your organization?
A: HASCO - The Housing Authority of Snohomish County (HASCO) - is a nonprofit, government agency that provides housing solutions for the people and communities of Snohomish County in Washington state. HASCO works with federal and local programs that help with rent, provide affordable housing and support tenants with services. HASCO leads within a network of housing services providers, working toward a future where all Snohomish County residents have good quality housing, and places to call home.
Q: What were some of the budgeting challenges you were facing? Why did you begin your search for a new solution?
A: Prior to Centage, we had been using Excel for budgeting and planning. While Excel is very good at what it does and can be quite sophisticated, it also has its limitations. Because of the requirements that come with being a government entity, the budgeting process is complex – especially when it comes to managing and tracking multiple allocations. Excel was not powerful enough to meet our needs.
We work with so many government entities and we have so many different funds, everything has to be allocated according to those requirements either by the number of properties, the number of bedrooms at those properties and so on. And as more requirements were added, the spreadsheets became unwieldy and more and more difficult to manage.
Q: What were you looking for in a budgeting and planning solution?
A: One of the key requirements in a new solution was the ability to integrate with our accounting software, Elite. I saw a demo of Centage’s solution and was immediately intrigued and set off to learn more about how the platform could provide us with a better way to plan, budget, forecast and report financial performance. During the process we looked at several other budgeting solutions but found them to be too expensive, too complex or they couldn’t easily connect to our accounting software.
Q: What are the biggest benefits you are seeing with Centage���s Planning Maestro?
A: The first is Planning Maestro’s seamless integration with our accounting software. It has simplified our budget vs actuals analysis by providing the ability to drill down and understand why variances occurred, providing valuable insight into current and forecasted performance. It’s a wonderful thing that I can go in, hit a couple of buttons, wait a few minutes and all my actuals data comes right into Planning Maestro. And I love the ability to drill down, I have access to so much more information now than I have had before to really show what’s going on.
Also, running monthly reports has become faster, easier and they provide much more detail – plus the reports are created in minutes instead of hours. For budget vs. actuals reports, as well as various reports for different budget managers, we use Planning Maestro’s advanced reporting features to slice and dice data to provide reports containing exactly what those budget managers – and leadership – want to see, including ‘birds eye view’ reports for our Board. Some of the reports can get complex – showing the properties the organization owns, by bedroom size, whether they have been rehabbed, etc., so they can determine how much rent they should be budgeting for – which was something we couldn’t do before. It was just too complicated to do in Excel but once we set it up with Centage, I can go in and just adjust the rent as I go along. It’s all in one report, instead of 20 different Excel reports.
When it comes to personnel planning, with Planning Maestro we can budget at the individual employee level to see the implications of each employee’s taxes and benefits for example – which is especially helpful for HASCO when it comes to health insurance. There are so many different variables to account for when it comes to our personnel planning, especially with health insurance. Depending on the employee, whether they are married, single, married with children and so on – all those tables are built in Planning Maestro so I can accurately select which option the employee has and [Planning Maestro] calculates the associated cost – it’s great because it makes our budgeting much easier and more accurate.”
And lastly, I have found Centage’s knowledge base and support to be top notch. There is nothing that I can compare to the level of support we have received from Centage – I have never had this type of support for a piece of software. Any questions I have had, I either find the answers in the extensive knowledge base – the Maestro Help Hub – or from a Centage team member who provided a timely and thorough response.