Keeping close tabs on finances

The launch of a new financial management system

New public management, and new monitoring methods and control instruments. In public administration, these terms are omnipresent. Adapting these concepts to the public arena requires using business instruments. As part of his master’s degree at the School of International Business and Entrepreneurship at Steinbeis University Berlin, Thomas Dippert worked on the launch of a new financial management tool at the Brandenburg State Department for Rural Development, Agriculture and Land Consolidation.

The German state, individual federal states and local communities all carry out regular spending reviews with the aim of moving towards more resource-oriented management. Among other things, this involves ascertaining and taking into account public assets, medium- and long-term liabilities, and developments in success-related and financially driven planning methods – in parallel with software support.

The Brandenburg State Department for Rural Development, Agriculture and Land Consolidation is currently in the course of launching such financial management instruments. One of the first steps will be to use software to link existing fiscal accounting to double-entry accounting systems and supplement this with costing mechanisms and assets accounting. The idea in the long term is for the new system to be developed centrally but as much as possible be controlled decentrally, i.e. by individual authorities. The task of longterm development was given to Thomas Dippert, who looked at the topic as part of a project towards his MBA degree.

Dippert investigated the field the authorities operate in, plus internal factors, revealing four key issues relating to the introduction of a new centrally-controlled financial management system in individual offices. Based on this, he drafted a four-part plan for controlling changes efficiently in the future. The four parts: complex, decentralized, risk-based project management, optimized local control of budgeting procedures, a comprehensive change management system, and the identification of potential benefits.

One important aspect relating to Dippert’s project is information sharing and communication. To manage projects effectively outside central departments, a good overview is needed of all content areas and parts of the new financial management system. These need linking to all affected departments and functions. They should flow into the project at the right point, taking central planning into account and ensuring that people outside central departments have access to the latest data. As a result, project management was broken down into task areas, matched to those units with the organization affected by the move. Priority tasks were set according to the potential risk to the overall project.

A particularly challenging part of budget management is accessing information as future processes take place. For example, staff need to be given specific training and have to be kept informed about organizational changes. They also need to be involved in the actual implementation. To do this, a process needs to be in place to analyze critically how long it takes to forward certain documents, including examining the individual stages that documents go through by location.

Change management procedures should be put in place, matched to specific target groups. The aim of this is to raise staff acceptance for the impending changes by providing information. The potential benefits of the new financial management system were not yet totally apparent during the launch phase, so it was necessary to underscore the actual potential and share this with people affected by the project. This was achieved by creating a fictional departmental balance sheet – an important step in changing attitudes.

As the four issues described above remain constant factors for official departments in projects of this kind, the content of a major, centrally-managed projects can be implemented seamlessly and thus more efficiently. This process takes a holistic approach to longterm changes, thereby also making implementation more efficient.

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