City of Gainesville, Fla., selects Comshare for automated budgeting, planning and analysis system

Jan. 16, 2002
A municipal utility in Florida has chosen Comshare's management planning and control software to focus the utility on greater operational efficiency and productivity.

ANN ARBOR, Mich., Jan. 15, 2002 -- Comshare, Inc. announced today that Florida-based Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU), the municipal utility owned by the City of Gainesville, has chosen Comshare® management planning and control software to focus the utility on greater operational efficiency, productivity and profitability.

"We have dubbed the Comshare system 'Business CENT$ for the Future,"' says Kim Simpson, a 20-year veteran with GRU, who serves as CFO. "The Comshare application is GRU's budgeting and planning solution that will ultimately help us improve our services, keep a handle on rates, and raise the city's quality of living."

The new Comshare MPC™ system will capitalize on Gainesville's Oracle database and take the utility and its managers to the next level of operational efficiency and decision-making by linking approximately 50 responsibility centers across the enterprise via the web. The application is expected to enable greater sharing of a vast amount of information used for a multitude of analytic needs.

Gainesville Regional Utilities is a community-owned utility in north central Florida that provides electric, natural gas, water, wastewater, and telecommunications services. GRU serves approximately 73,000 retail customers as well as wholesale customers in Gainesville, home to the University of Florida, and surrounding areas. As a community-owned utility, GRU provides a significant return on investment to the City of Gainesville which funds government operations such as police and fire protection, recreation, parks and transportation.

Simpson is responsible for treasury and debt management, billing, collections, general accounting, accounts payable, and mail services at GRU. As the utility's finance director, one of Simpson's jobs is to look for efficiencies.

"It drove me crazy to see the amount of time and effort wasted using the old methods for budgeting and planning -- specifically decentralized spreadsheets, email and a great deal of error-prone, manual data entry," recalls Simpson. "I remember how aggravated our operating departments became. Instead of serving as a tool to do their jobs better, budgeting and tracking became a burden to them," says Simpson.

"We'd prepare spreadsheet templates, enter data into them manually, then send them to our departments," remembers Simpson. "The departments would check them, add more data and send them back. We'd roll things up to different administrative areas and allocate those costs to the five different utilities," Simpson continues. "The process was so labor-intensive and subject to error that it took several iterations and cross-checks of the budget over a three month period to finalize it." Simpson and his team knew they needed a more centralized system that automated information sharing.

"As we looked for a budgeting solution, we started thinking about the value of the information we were not sharing and realized that we should look for a package that allowed us to share more financial and corporate analysis information enterprise-wide," says Simpson. Using such a system would mean a giant step to the next generation of enabling software for up to 60 largely non-technical users at GRU. Simpson and his team wanted to make the right decision.

Requirements of the new system included being able to interface with GRU's Oracle-based general ledger and its Access-based personnel system where all employee information resides. The new system needed to provide an interface to the existing personnel records so that Simpson and his team could handle personnel planning, budgeting and forecasting more easily. "My main focus is the personnel services portion of the budget," says Debra Daquila, a member of Simpson's team serving as budget specialist and administrator. "Extensive financial and non-financial information pertaining to our employees is a very important part of our budget. Comshare will help us manage all those elements."

In addition, the software needed to manage capital, operating, and maintenance budgets. Ad hoc analysis and automated reporting via the web were key. Version control and the ability to store and retrieve notes within the application were significant attributes required of the new system.

Comshare MPC will be implemented in stages at GRU starting with budget preparation and monitoring. Corporate reporting and long-range financial forecasting will follow.

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