CITY OF SACRAMENTO DEPARTMENT OF UTILITIES CASE STUDY
From 27 “Monster” Excel Files to One Agile Decision-Informing Platform
Learn How a Utility Agency’s Long-Range Planning Team Discovered Modeling Efficiencies and Simplified Decision-Making With Synario
5 min Read
× Non-existent multi-user collaboration
× Model version-control issues
× Inability to efficiently handle initiatives and scenario management
× Excel model was “dated and cumbersome”
× Manual analysis processes and stalled decision-making
In Synario’s Virtual Solutions Summit, the City of Sacramento Department of Utilities detailed the considerable reporting and modeling issues facing their company, resulting in lost time, money, and manpower.
After implementing Synario, however, they were able to completely transform these and other processes, gaining greater visibility into their expenses, revenues, and budgets.
Where report creation and executive meetings once took days or even weeks to plan and execute via outdated Excel systems, after implementing Synario, Sacramento Utilities was able to adjust models in real-time, removing time-consuming manual preparation from the equation.
By using Synario for all their financial modeling and scenario analysis needs, the City of Sacramento Department of Utilities was able to improve cost controls and gain deeper insights into long-range planning and financial forecasting.
Before and After: How Synario Helped Sacramento Utilities Adapt
Brian Martin, Sacramento Utilities’ Rates Analyst, kicked off the summit by introducing his fellow long-range financial project managers, Dean Fujimoto and Tyler Stratton, providing a brief overview of how the Sacramento Department of Utilities operates under government regulation in terms of revenue and rate management.
Dean then formally addressed the company’s current financial planning processes and issues prior to onboarding Synario.
Before using Synario
Previously, Sacramento Utilities had struggled with a homebrew Excel-based system from 2013 that required manual data input and multiple versions for each of the company’s different funds: water, wastewater, and storm drainage.
Other modeling challenges included requiring print copies at meetings, multiple versions of each model (about 6–9 per item) that cost valuable time and resources to produce, and the need to revisit, replan, and restructure models based on questions and hypotheticals posed at executive board meetings.
The team knew they needed a better process for financial planning and modeling. But as a public agency, Sacramento Utilities faced a strict procurement process for new modeling systems. They were required to issue a Request for Proposal (RFP) in order to rid themselves of their cumbersome applications and pursue a new rate model system under one provider.
Fortunately, they received approval to start implementing Synario in October 2020, and completed the process towards the end of November. In total, it took just six weeks to both retire their 2013 modeling system and engage with Synario.
After Onboarding Synario with minimal effort
After their team was trained on how to use Synario, the differences and time savings were astonishing.
Brian’s team no longer needed to schedule additional meetings and create brand new models to answer decision-maker questions. Rather, they were able to make live edits on the spot during meetings, and the entire model would recalculate itself automatically.
They were also able to combine their models into a single source of truth that allowed users to toggle between the three different funds without the need for three unique models.
Last but not least, the time needed to input, upload, and manage all that financial data dropped significantly, allowing the team to dedicate more time and energy to analyze and interpret the data instead.
“When we did our QA/QC [of our excel models], we found a 99.6% accuracy rate,” Dean said of the implementation process. “Now, you may ask yourself what happened to the 0.4 percent? The irony of the matter? Synario was 100% accurate, and we found buried in one of our multiple worksheets—we must have inadvertently overridden a formula years ago.”
This goes to show how easily errors can and often do occur (and remain unnoticed) with manual, spreadsheet-based systems. All it takes is one small mistake to ruin an entire year’s budgeting.
Luckily for Sacramento Utilities, the inaccuracy Dean mentioned was quickly caught and corrected before it could spiral.
How Synario Helps Organizations Visualize Cash Flow
Tyler Stratton, the company’s Capital Finance and Grants Manager, took the opportunity to talk about the Department of Utilities’ cash flow across its various funds.
With Synario, the City of Sacramento Utilites was able to upload data to match with set object codes in Synario’s system. This meant they could see a 10-year summary of expected savings, expenses, and revenues that could be adjusted to reflect real-time events.
Previously, Excel’s manual input and upload format left abundant room for human error across all three fund models. Synario streamlined the process to be easier and more automated, reducing the risk of human error while greatly increasing visibility and transparency into necessary financial data.
With Synario, Tyler said they were able to better observe and manage the company’s debt service line as well as its general fund tax, allowing them to see exactly where money was going or what it was doing at any given time.
Tyler also took advantage of Synario’s “Explain” feature, which helped his team visualize the data, providing an even more in-depth look at relevant information within a particular fund (in this case, the water fund).
Synario also provided budget cap improvements over a period of five years alongside estimates for longer periods, and charts that helped visualize year-to-year expenses, making it much easier to analyze and dissect the projected cost drivers.
What’s more, Synario’s Initiative Builder improved the decision-making process by offering greater visibility into projects that were currently underway, including projected costs and contributions, as well as one-time and ongoing expense and revenue impacts.
With all these tools at their disposal, as well as a configured rate increase toggle, Sacramento Utilities was able to successfully examine key measures that helped keep the whole organization on target financially.
How The City of Sacramento Utilities Shifted Gears
Tyler praised Synario for its superior data upload strategy when compared to manual data entry. He also noted that Synario’s cash flow summaries, toggle-ready visualizations, and initiatives and scenarios option made it possible to keep employees more engaged, track changes more clearly and easily, and update information seamlessly to reflect new models or decisions.
Not only did these features reduce the chances for human error, but they also drastically reduced the time Sacramento Utilities previously spent inputting, adjusting, and editing data with their old system.
The Sacramento Utilities team asserted that Synario helped them demonstrate clear needs and project solid forecasts in a clear and concise way to decision-makers. Synario’s onboarding and training team also helped with all their concerns and questions, working with Sacramento Utilities every step of the way to help them build their cash flow summary from the ground up, while also archiving crucial learning videos for future trainings.
Brian, Dean, and Michael emphasized the inefficiencies and pitfalls of their company’s previous financial planning and forecasting process, which relied heavily on manual inputs. After implementing Synario, they were astounded by how much time, money, and effort they saved, and by how much more efficient their systems became.
Synario completely revitalized the Sacramento Department of Utilities’ financial planning processes for the better, and strives to do the same for impactful, change-making organizations around the world.