“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.”
“I can change one number and it carries forward throughout the budget, which saves a lot of calculation time.”
Senior Budget Manager
Housing Authority of Snohomish County
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 partners with people who need support to achieve housing stability; communities to develop and maintain high quality housing for people at all stages of life keeping families neighbors and neighborhoods intact; as well as social service organizations helping individuals and families make progress in life.
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.
HASCO has two primary sources of revenue – reimbursement they receive from “HUD” – the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development – for the Section Eight housing vouchers they administer and rental income from the properties the organization owns throughout the county.
Prior to discovering Centage, Jenny Barker, senior budget manager at HASCO, and her team had been using Excel for their budgeting and planning. “While Excel is very good at what it does and can be quite sophisticated, it also has its limitations,” said Ms. Barker. Because of the requirements that come with being a government entity, the budgeting process was complex – especially when it came to managing and tracking multiple allocations. Excel was not powerful enough to meet their needs.
“Because we work with so many government entities and we have so many different funds, everything has to be allocated out according to those requirements either by the number of properties, the number of bedrooms at those properties and so on ,” said Ms. Barker. And as more requirements were added, the spreadsheets became unwieldy and more and more difficult to manage.
Ms. Barker set out to find a more robust budgeting solution with one of the key requirements being the ability to integrate with their accounting software, Elite. She saw a demo of Centage’s solution and was immediately intrigued and set off to learn more about how the modern FP&A platform could provide a better way to plan, budget, forecast and report financial performance. During the process she looked at several other budgeting solutions but found them to be too expensive, too complex or they couldn’t easily connect to their accounting software.
“Centage’s Planning Maestro was exactly what we needed,” said Ms. Barker. “When we first met with the team, they understood right away that even though we’re a large housing authority, we’re a fairly small government entity so there was a certain way we had to have the solution set up to manage the individual funds.”
Single Source of Truth
Because of its seamless integration with their accounting software, Planning Maestro operates as an extension of the GL, pulling in actuals data so the HASCO team could monitor and analyze budget vs. actuals on an ongoing basis. The platform automatically adjusts projected revenues, expenses, and the anticipated bottom line, offering transaction-level detail. Budget vs. actual analysis is simplified with 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,” said Ms. Barker. “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.”
Ms. Barker explains that the budget before had 1,757 line items – simple yearly amounts per account number divided by 12. Now, with Planning Maestro, she has created a budget with over 6,000 lines, providing a level of detail and visibility that couldn’t be achieved in Excel. For example, a single line for telephone expenses – she can create a budget for each of the dozen different telephone providers. “I can change one number and it carries forward throughout the budget, which saves a lot of calculation time.” When managers ask questions, she can drill down to the individual budget or actual accounts. If there is a question about why the telephone budget is higher than expected, she can break it down by vendor and show the expense for each – which she wasn’t able to do before. In addition, HASCO uses Planning Maestro to calculate rental revenue. “I let Planning Maestro do all the calculations for revenue because I can put in rent by bedroom size, then next year, I just change the rent amount for that bedroom, and everything is updated instantly.”
More Detailed Reporting
Running monthly reports has become faster, easier and provides much more detail – plus reports are created in minutes instead of hours. For budget vs. actuals reports, as well as various reports for different budget managers, HASCO takes advantage of 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 their 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 they 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,” said Ms. Barker. “It’s all in one report, instead of 20 different Excel reports.”
Planning for personnel expenses at a level of granularity is difficult, if not impossible, with Excel. Before Planning Maestro, personnel planning was done separately and then brought into the budget. Now, with Planning Maestro, HASCO 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,” said Ms. Barker. “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.”
Knowledge-Base and Support
In addition, Ms. Barker 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 she had, she was either able to 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.
The End Result
HASCO left Excel behind, seeking a solution with more budgeting and planning power while reducing the complexity involved. HASCO is now able to build their budget quickly and easily, perform critical budget vs. actuals analysis with more detail than ever before and provide leadership and the Board with greater insight into the organization’s financial position in order to make key business decisions.