REVIEWER: Kim Simpson, chief financial officer for the City of Gainesville Regional Utilities.

BACKGROUND: In 1912, when a private electric company threatened to turn off the streetlights in Gainesville, Florida, over a disputed bill of $7.30, the citizens fought back by operating their own electric company. Now 90 years later, City of Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) has grown, providing not only electricity, but also gas, water, wastewater services and telecommunications services to almost 80,000 customers.

PLATFORMS: Comshare MPC is running on an Oracle8.1.7 database. The server is Windows 2000. Client PCs are using Windows 95, 98 and 2000 Professional.

PROBLEM SOLVED: We were wasting too much time and effort on budgeting and planning. GRU used decentralized spreadsheets, e-mail and a great deal of manual data entry. The process was so labor-intensive and subject to error that it took several iterations and crosschecks over a three-month period to finalize the budget. This was quite frustrating to our operating departments. Instead of serving as a tool to do their jobs better, budgeting and tracking had become a burden. We chose Comshare MPC management planning and control software to help us make these processes more efficient and effective.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Comshare MPC helps organizations integrate their planning, budgeting and reporting processes. Data is entered directly by our employees into a centralized database. This single repository helps us insure there is only one version of the data, plus it eliminates the errors and lack of responsiveness that were inherent in our old spreadsheet-based budget system. With the proper security authorization, employees throughout our organization have immediate access to information, results and analyses via the Web. We're able to perform ad hoc analysis without IT assistance, as well as provide automated reporting. Our mission is to be a more connected organization. Comshare is helping us fulfill that mission.

STRENGTHS: We are able to centralize and automate financial and nonfinancial information and analyze what our information is telling us. We're saving money, making better use of our resources and becoming even more productive. We're sharing more information with more people in our organization. We've taken a giant step toward the next generation of enabling software for up to 60 largely nontechnical users at GRU. It's helping us improve our services and will ultimately assist us in keeping a handle on our rates and raise the city's quality of living.

WEAKNESSES: Because we have a large amount of data, we have experienced some performance issues. We are continually working to get local consolidation timing down to an acceptable level. We found some refreshing issues with the Web-based product which confuse and frustrate the users.

SELECTION CRITERIA: As we looked for a solution, we thought about the value of the information we were not sharing and decided to look for a package that allowed us to share more financial and corporate analysis information enterprise-wide. The new system needed to interface with our Oracle- based general ledger and Access-based budgeting personnel system. The software needed to manage capital, operating and maintenance budgets. The ability to provide ad hoc analysis and automated reporting via the Web was key, as was the ability to store and retrieve notes within the application. Comshare seemed more mature than the other systems and more flexible. It was much easier to use and integrate.

DELIVERABLES: Phase one was to implement budget preparation and monitoring. Phase two will include corporate reporting and long-range financial forecasting. We also envision Comshare MPC interfacing with our marketing software to help us analyze customer information, tying key performance indicators to customer and financial data. The more we learn about Comshare MPC, the more ideas we get about how we can use it.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Comshare has experience and a proven methodology to help keep the implementation on track. Its representatives were very knowledgeable, thorough and pointed out a number of things that we could do to get started. They seemed to be sincerely interested in our success. This is a partnership between our two companies. That's important to us.

DOCUMENTATION: GRU received documentation during administrator and budget controller training sessions. We felt the documentation was good and helpful during the training; but for our purposes, it was more useful for us to create our own in-house training manuals for the end user and administrator. We do use the original documentation for reference. However, we did note that some of the screen prints and printed information was out of date with what was being demonstrated to us during training. We have not used the online guides at this point.

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