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With valantic's assistance, the ministry publishes budget figures using an online tool
Gaining citizens’ trust is one of government’s main concerns. And a government that doesn’t have anything to hide can publish all of its financial information and decisions in order to achieve this goal. These are the thoughts of Oliver Paasch, Minister President of the German-speaking Community of Belgium, whose vision is to provide maximum transparency by publishing current budget figures. A business intelligence solution was used for this, the one that underlies the so-called Finance Monitor.
The ministry posed clear requirements for the Finance Monitor: it had to be easy to use, interactive, visually appealing, responsive, high-performance, and always provide up-to-date figures. With the online tool, it should be possible to view current budget figures – income, expenses, liabilities, etc. from anywhere at any time. This is how the government of the German-speaking community wanted to provide maximum transparency for its citizens.
“We worked with the latest BI version of Cognos Analytics in order to integrate a state-of-the-art interface and the newest functions,” says Jennifer Kell, the responsible project manager and consultant at valantic.
valantic developed the predecessor of the Finance Monitor and used it as the basis here. It then built a second data warehouse, connected the existing database, and simplified the data structure in order to be able to use it for the new platform.
The new tool was highly praised in the Parliament. Employees of the ministry profit from the quick access and easy operation of the Finance Monitor. It also makes work in communities easier, for they can see right away what subsidies they can expect. The ministry is already working with valantic to plan the next steps with the Finance Monitor: More detailed content, still better performance, and the expansion of the responsible Web design are on the agenda in order to continue the success story of the Finance Monitor.
Speaker for Finance and Budget, Ministry of the German-speaking Community in Belgium
”We were already familiar with valantic, as we had been working with them successfully for many years. Of course this also meant that valantic was familiar with our internal processes, something that plays an even larger role in a ministry than at a company.“
Speaker for Finance and Budget, Ministry of the German-speaking Community in Belgium
”valantic's concept won us over, as did the fact that they had extensive expertise from previous projects and had already proven to be a reliable, motivated partner.“
Where does tax money go? How high are current debts? What projects are financed with which budget items? And will these projects benefit citizens in the long run? In Eastern Belgium, people have been able to answer these questions with just a click since summer 2018, for the Finance Monitor has been live since then. Its purpose is to provide real-time insight into the community’s financial situation, at any time and from anywhere. The numerous crises of confidence of recent years, for example the financial crisis, have marked and damaged the culture of trust in Europe – with the Finance Monitor, the ministry provides a state-of-the-art instrument for restoring and securing this confidence. When logged into the citizen information portal ostbelgienlive.be, everyone has quick, easy access to current income, expenses, liabilities, debts, and account balances, planned investments and investments made, as well as infrastructure plans.
“The Minister President wanted to provide citizens with detailed insight into the ministry’s actions. With the Finance Monitor, this is possible to a depth never seen before,” says René Miribung, Speaker for Finance and Budget in the Ministry of the German-speaking Community. This way, for example, citizens can see how much is invested in health and social programs and how much of the available monies they get back. “The government doesn’t want to leave any questions unanswered here,” adds René Miribung. But the Financial Monitor can also respond to internal requests from the Parliament, for daily research about current budget figures can consume a lot of resources. The Finance Monitor should make government employees’ work much easier and give them some room to breathe.
A reliable partner once again
For the Finance Monitor, there was already an internal basic solution: For years, Dany Bongartz, the acting General Secretary for Finance and Budget, had wanted budget figures for internal use to be presented intelligently and available all the time. That’s why valantic, the ministry’s longtime partner, developed the predecessor of today’s Finance Monitor in 2017. It was a dashboard based on the business intelligence solution IBM Cognos BI, which displayed the income, expenses, and budget figures of the German-speaking community in tabular form.
The ministry issued the tender for the Finance Monitor across Europe in 2017 and received numerous applications. valantic also participated in the tender and knew that they would have to win the ministry over once again. “We were supposed to make a new proposal without reinventing the wheel,” says Jennifer Kell, responsible project manager and consultant at valantic. “For years, Cognos BI has been the ministry’s chosen reporting tool, and the dashboard we created provided the basis for the new online tool automatically – anything else would have been twice the work,” she explains, and adds: “It was clear to us from the start that we wanted to use the existing system. However, we had to think several steps ahead.” What should the Financial Monitor look like? How can we display the finances in appealing fashion? In what colors and with what design? To answer these questions, valantic consulted colleagues from marketing, sales, and consulting in order to be able to make a timely proposal. Then valantic sent an initial design for the dashboard to the Minister President – and got the job. “We were already familiar with valantic, as we had been working with them successfully for many years. Of course this also meant that valantic was familiar with our internal processes, something that plays an even larger role in a ministry than at a company,” explains René Miribung. He adds: “valantic’s concept won us over, as did the fact that they had extensive expertise from previous projects and had already proven to be a reliable, motivated partner.”
Project beginning: Interplay of designs
What followed was an iterative process: “The first challenge was to define precisely what the Finance Monitor was supposed to look like. People had ideas and made special requests, but there was no comparable image. So we had to consider the details: What precisely should we display and how?” says René Miribung. The early days involved an interplay between the ministry and valantic, a time in which designs were sent, corrections made, and changes made.
In order to launch the Finance Monitor, many different departments at valantic and the ministry worked together: the valantic project team and its IT department, and on the ministry side the Finance and Budget departments, the IT department, and the communications service, as well as the Minister President’s press office for the cabinet. valantic’s tasks included project coordination, technical implementation, design, set-up, and configuration of the system, as well as communication and coordination of the various departments. The ministry’s Finance and Budget department provided the necessary information, plus graphics and corporate design suggestions. All in all, the project took 60 man-days for valantic in a period of approximately six months up to the go-live in July 2018.
Technical challenges during the implementation
Since the predecessor version had already proven itself internally, it was possible to use the figures and reports it already contained for the Finance Monitor. To do this, valantic had to build a second data warehouse and connect it to the existing database. The challenge here was to simplify the data structure in order to be able to use it for the new platform. “It had to be high-performance and fast,” says Jennifer Kell. That’s why valantic put the basic database on a new server. The focus was on the constant availability of the data.
Behind the scenes, various systems came into play at the ministry: Employees enter and maintain their figures with ERP software. Overnight, an automatic ETL process runs, through which this data flows into a so-called dashboard, which integrates the graphics and reports into the Finance Monitor. Jennifer Kell emphasizes the security aspect of this process: “There may be no interruption on the line between the old and new systems. That required the integration of additional safety mechanisms – also in able to prevent unauthorized access to Cognos BI.”
Design, GDPR, and display optimization
The Finance Monitor was supposed to be easy and intuitive to operate, as well as interactive and visually appealing. “We worked with the latest BI version of Cognos Analytics so we could integrate a modern interface and the latest functions,” says Jennifer Kell. valantic began with the first tiles on the start page, used existing graphics, incorporated pie and bar charts, and accommodated the department’s request for a certain detail depth – for example through the integration of a mouse-over for displaying informational texts. The infrastructure plan was depicted with a road map, which displays future individual projects split up with their corresponding dates. Something that required special consideration was the simultaneous enactment of the General Data Protection Regulation on May 25, 2018; it requires anonymization of people and associations, among other things.
Despite all of this, all the possibilities for publication were exploited, including travel expenses, fees, and the like, visible as a category so that you can see how much they were. Another challenges was the integration into the citizen information portal ostbelgienlive.be. For this, valantic worked closely with the website provider. “Currently, we are incorporating the Finance Monitor into the portal via iFrame, however we are already seeking an alternative since the display in some browsers causes problems,” explains Jennifer Kell. The ministry’s goal is that the Finance Monitor should be responsive and thus optimized for every solution and accessible in any browser.
Positive feedback from politicians and communities
Its popularity in the Parliament proves the initial success of the Finance Monitor. It’s not just that Minister President Oliver Paasch praises the tool again and again in interviews; employees of the ministry profit from quick access and the intuitive operation of the Finance Monitor – it is also used regularly during government and budget sessions so that people can view and discuss current budget figures. The Finance Monitor not only makes work easier at the ministry, but also in the communities, where people can see right away what subsidies they can count on. “The Finance Monitor also serves as a justification instrument. The government has nothing to hide and puts all the information on the table – which increases citizens’ trust in their government,” says René Miribung.
Exploiting potential in the future
The ministry is already working on planning the next steps with the Finance Monitor: In the future, its content will be enhanced, to include more detailed reports for various communities. For this, the partners have to start with internal reporting to use it as the basis for optimizing the Finance Monitor. Furthermore, performance is another important concern: “We would like to see even faster loading times and optimal performance so that nobody has to wait long to see the desired figures on the website,” says René Miribung. In addition, expansion of the responsive web design is on the agenda, as is the expansion for adherence to safety guidelines in all browsers. René Miribung adds: “In the Finance Monitor, we have created a simple and practical tool that we can make available to our citizens. Our plan is to make it even better and more transparent in the near future by enhancing it.”