Local governments across the country generate extensive amounts of data, creating significant opportunities to identify insights and increase performance. Extracting and analyzing this data for decision-making is often a manual and time-consuming task for local administrators. Forecast5 Analytics is dedicated to enabling local governments to improve their financial planning strategies; the company has introduced a suite of decision support tools to help automate these tasks and create efficiencies so more objective insights are possible. Founded in 2012 and headquartered in Naperville, Illinois, the company has created unique analytics software for government administrators, which can be utilized for performance benchmarking, budget development, multi-year financial projections, resource allocation planning – and much more. In an interview with Insights Success, President and CEO, Mike English, described the progressive journey of the company and briefed about its future aspirations.
Below are the highlights of the interview between Mike and Insights Success:
Can you provide a brief overview of the company, its uniqueness and its vision?
Forecast5 Analytics was founded in 2012 with the purpose of making a profound and positive impact on local government decision-making. Prior to the birth of Forecast5, the principals had spent a considerable amount of time working on financial management issues for the public sector. A key belief of the company is that every local government, including schools, cities, and counties, should have a comprehensive 5-year financial forecast…which ultimately guided the naming of the company.
Over the last six years, the company has solely focused its development efforts on creating decision-support software for local government administrators. Clients of the company are using the applications in a number of different ways including performance benchmarking, budget development, multi-year financial projections, and resource allocation planning. While financial analytics and business intelligence applications have been widely used in the private sector for more than a decade, Forecast5 has had the opportunity, in many cases, to introduce and customize the technology for public sector use.
What are the cutting-edge solutions offered by Forecast5 Analytics, Inc.?
5Cast™ is a multi-year forecasting and budgeting tool designed to accelerate the financial planning process by eliminating time consuming data gathering and model building. Populated directly from a client’s accounting system, 5Cast’s powerful hybrid database engine integrates historical perspective, trend analysis and scenario comparisons, generating reports instantly to support decision making.
5Cast™ Plus allows users to upload detailed expenses and revenues for processing, analysis, and reporting on a monthly and quarterly basis. This allows them to project and analyze current year financial data based on monthly historical trends. In addition, 5Cast Plus allows for quick disaggregation of general ledger data to create an automated Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) report that meets the new federal requirement for K-12 school districts.
5Sight™ is a powerful data and peer comparison tool that leverages business intelligence and analytics to produce custom analysis with speed and efficiency. Administrators can present complex information in clear, simple and attractive charts and visualizations to better communicate their story to stakeholders.
5Lab™ is a student achievement and performance tool that connects administrators’ disparate data sets and empowers them to generate powerful data analytics, reports and customized dashboards to help better determine the health of their district. 5Lab is an easy-to-implement solution that will provide valuable insights and views for all levels of administration.
5Maps™ is an advanced mapping software tool that provides new insights by loading location data into simple, interactive charts and map visualization templates. This tool can assist with projects such as boundary management, staffing, student performance, student enrollment, and more.
How did the company get its start and what was the general vision behind those first steps?
Mike English is the President and CEO of Forecast5 Analytics, Inc. While asked about the inspiration behind Forecast5 Analytics’ inception, he mentions, “The path to starting Forecast5 was actually a sequential extension of other work and projects I had been doing for the first twenty years of my career. In the 1990’s, I had the opportunity to create two start-up companies, both an SEC registered broker-dealer and a registered investment adviser. As part of an investment management process, we were always trying to look ahead for our clients and asking the questions of how to best accomplish their long-term goals from a financial perspective. That really led the team and I to start thinking about the operational and strategic decisions that governments were making and how those decisions were impacting their financial profile. Forecast5 became the engine to jump ahead of the financial outcomes and go really deep into the decision-making process to see if we could start making positive, long-term impact on our clients’ futures.”
With the emerging trends in budgeting & forecasting solutions, how is Forecast5 Analytics, Inc. driving itself to create an impact on its customers?
More and more, we are seeing local governments use comparative analytics to guide budgeting and staffing decisions. In the majority of the government sector, 75-80% of the budget is allocated to “people costs”. We can help our clients gain a perspective on how to plan and budget for those costs by offering benchmarking tools to provide insights on things like compensation, healthcare costs, pension obligations, and staffing ratios. By providing a wide field of view through Forecast5 products, we can illuminate opportunities to look at the budgeting process differently.
We are also finding great opportunities to impact the month-end accounting close out process. By introducing new efficiencies into the monthly reporting process, Forecast5 is allowing CFOs to spend more time analyzing budget variances and providing the tools to analyze variance scenarios and better project the year-end finish.
Describe the experiences, achievements or lessons learned that have shaped the journey of the company.
We can definitely say that we are on a journey…with our clients. We have been smart enough to develop flexible solutions and then have open eyes and ears as we partner with our clients. We have also been fortunate to be able to work with leaders in the government sector that have led us to a number of discoveries and opportunities. We view ourselves as problem solvers, and our clients have invited us into their daily lives and they have allowed us to partner in many problem-solving endeavors.
What are the challenges faced while providing budgeting & forecasting solutions and how is Forecast5 Analytics, Inc. serving to tackle them?
There have been a couple of key issues for us to overcome. One issue is the fact that many of our clients are working on legacy accounting platforms that do not provide many “bells and whistles” in terms of analytics and visualization. So, to overcome that challenge, we need to create an analytics platform that could work with any accounting software used by our clients.
A second challenge in any budget forecast is the accuracy of the baseline budget. If a forecast is being built from a budget that has been prepared with too much conservatism, the financial projection will compound the “fluff”, and the projection will be inaccurate. We have overcome this challenge by providing a detailed historical analysis of actuals and then complementing it with “live” variance analysis that can be used to produce updated multi-year forecasts. Essentially, Forecast5 clients can use their live activity against an original budget and understand how the variances might play out over a five-year projection period.
What could be the potential future of budgeting & forecasting and how does Forecast5 Analytics, Inc. envision sustaining its competency?
Public sector finance managers are responsible for many disparate projects related to financial data. Forecast5 is providing the maximum level of benefit by using the client’s general ledger as the central data source to effectively complete several mandated projects – including cash flow analysis, budget development, financial projections, and reporting and transparency. Our clients are getting the maximum amount of leverage in a single system without having to struggle to find data or build and maintain separate analysis models. We think this is a key component for our future success.
Where does Forecast5 Analytics, Inc. see itself in the long run and/or what are its future goals?
We are really excited about a recent announcement we have made regarding our partnership with Riverwood Capital. By gaining a partner that has an incredible track record in the tech sector, and with the new resources available to the company, we are looking forward to expanding our reach in the government sector and beyond.
What Forecast5 Clients Are Saying
“The Forecast5 team has been so amazing and responsive to assist with learning and using their software tools. One of their frequent questions: ‘Hey Wendy, what are you working on in your district, and how can we help?’ ” -Wendy Rimmelspacher, Executive Director for Financial Services, Clarkston School District, Washington
“Consider the value of your time. What could you be doing in the time you would save utilizing the functions of this program?” -Ashley Supry, Executive Director of Finance and Operations, North Mason School District, Washington
“We like the instantaneous ability to demonstrate the effect of proposed changes to the bottom line with an easily understandable graphic representation.” — Jim Dombek, District 427 Board President, Illinois
“Don’t be afraid to jump in with both feet. The product support team is incredible with assisting their clients along the way. Once familiar with the product, you’ll be glad you have it! There is such a vast amount of insight by way of using Forecast5’s products; it will be difficult to rely on regular spreadsheets!” -John J. Brucato, Assistant Superintendent of Finance, Kenmore-Tonawanda UFSD, New York
“The support from the customer relationship team at Forecast5 has been superior. The Forecast5 team has a strong vision to meet the future needs of financial planners in the public sector.” -Tom Ridout, former VP of Finance, Northeast Iowa Community College, Iowa