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SAS® gets Queensland's vote for budget consolidation, reporting

To serve its more than 4.5 million residents most effectively, the government of Queensland – Australia's third-most populous state – must operate each department, or services stream, efficiently. So when state leaders merged five departments into one, they turned to SAS for consolidated budgeting, reporting and financial management.

Following the 2009 elections, state leaders combined five formerly separate entities into a single "super-department": the Department of Communities. Its four ministers and one director-general oversee services such as: child safety, community and youth justice, disability, home and community care, community mental health, housing and homelessness, multiculturalism, sport and recreation as well as services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, seniors and women.

One of the major challenges for the new department was the standardisation of its financial management systems. All five former departments had used different platforms for reporting and budgeting. After they came together, it was impossible for them to see a single, overall view – a requirement to ensure ministers receive the correct data.

Consistent decision support
Using SAS for budgeting, reporting and financial management, the Department of Communities gains a single, standard view across all services, providing management and ministers alike the information they need to make decisions.

Michael Sheehan, Director of Financial Operations and Systems at the Department of Communities, says the aim of ensuring all services streams were using the same system was made easier with SAS® Activity-Based Management.

"SAS can consolidate and map data in a way that is consistent, quick and repeatable," Sheehan says. "This was not something that was possible in a reasonable time using the available systems and other tools the department was using – despite the people skills we had – as the size, scale and complexity had our existing systems beaten. SAS helped us turn it around and deliver quickly and then scale up as required."

Doing away with duplication
With the departmental consolidation came data consolidation. Sheehan's team used SAS to remove all the duplicate numbers assigned to the various services in the master data.

"There was a significant overlap between the different services-streams' data, so this was not a simple process," Sheehan says. "Not only did we have to eliminate the duplication in the master data, we needed to introduce consistency in all reporting hierarchies and non-master data at the lower levels."

For example, the number that one services stream used for its professional development training expenses could be the same number another used for supply and services costs. When consolidating data, such doubling introduces reporting errors.

Controlling the budget is one of the department's most important tasks. "Unlike corporations, which can tweak their finances, we operate within a government human-services environment and generally don't charge for what we do," Sheehan says. "Therefore, what we deliver needs to be delivered efficiently."

Everything in unison
The department's operating budget is $4.4 billion. When transferring money between divisions, it is crucial to avoid double counting, Sheehan explains.

"For example, if one services stream gives another $1 million, it needs to be received at the same time as it is being transferred or the budget will appear to be less than $4.4 billion," he says. "The security controls that SAS has manage this. It realigns the budget in balanced parcels, so it ensures everything is done in unison."

Sheehan says SAS Activity-Based Management is the best allocation tool on the market. "It has the ability to take individual sectors of data down to the general-ledger account and allocate them using a driver on a consistent and reliable basis – and quickly," he says. "We load the data, smash it through the system and get it out within days, instead of within weeks using a manual process."

Overcoming cultural issues
The switch to SAS wasn't all plain sailing. Each of the former departments preferred to keep the system it already had. Sheehan says his team had to avoid sides, even if it assessed that, technically, one solution had more merit than the others.

"The general consensus was that we needed standardisation, but everyone wanted to standardise to their own system, largely because they felt they were unique," Sheehan says. "One services stream might say they were unique because they offered grants and other services streams didn't, but we explained they just needed an additional reporting tag to highlight what was relevant to them."

SAS provides the flexibility required to meet the specific needs of each service, Sheehan says. And it lets each service hide any items irrelevant to its operation – for example, not all services need the child-protection tags.

"We decided each services stream could keep their existing hierarchy and load it onto SAS to produce what they would normally produce, but show them how much faster it could be done," Sheehan says. "This didn't add much more to our workload, but everyone could see how impressive the results were."

The department also uses SAS Financial Management, which allows as many hierarchies as needed. Though it will move to a single SAS system, the department continues using parts of the old one as employees get on board.

Since going live with SAS, the department has reduced errors, and it produces reports more quickly. It's simple to change the hierarchy as needed, and the results show up immediately, Sheehan says.

The implementation was fast, too, Sheehan says. The department produced its first reports within six weeks of taking its proposal to the executive board.

"Updating and changing figures and loading them to SAS is done within hours, not days," Sheehan says. "From a reporting perspective, changes can be made and flowed though very quickly, which also gives the department more time to find any problems and have them corrected."

He says SAS has allowed two big steps to occur within the department. "It's allowed for activity-based costing, which lets us automate our reports so we can get information to the service streams more quickly," Sheehan says. "And it has given us greater accuracy and timely responses for consolidated reporting generally. If we were to wait for a consolidation of ERP systems to help get information out, we still wouldn't have reports."

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Department of Communities

Department of Communities (Queensland Government)

Business Issue:
Provide a single, consistent view of finances to support budget and spending decisions following consolidation of five state agencies into one department.
Solution:
SAS® Strategy Management, SAS® Financial Management and SAS® Activity-Based Management
Benefits:
Reports hold greater accuracy – and they're ready in hours, not days.

"SAS can consolidate and map data in a way that is consistent, quick and repeatable. This was not something that was possible in a reasonable time using the available systems and other tools the department was using – despite the people skills we had – as the size, scale and complexity had our existing systems beaten. SAS helped us turn it around and deliver quickly and then scale up as required."

Michael Sheehan

Director of Financial Operations and Systems at the Department of Communities

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