It wasn’t the 25 years of public finances software experience in the Government of Canada that attracted Manuel Pietra to Ottawa-based FreeBalance. With global executive experience, Pietra realized the potential to bring proven Government Resource Planning enterprise software to the world. What started as a quest to help countries grow through software has become a mission to propel smart prosperity through smart governance innovation and technology.
Value of Government-Specific Technology
Recruited as FreeBalance President and CEO in 2006, Pietra was intrigued about the company’s recent international successes against the top enterprise software firms. Had FreeBalance solved the riddle of poor technology implementation success rates in the public sector? How had FreeBalance inexpensively enabled public finance efficiency?
Pietra was a pioneer in the Enterprise Resource Planning market when software manufacturers used core functionality to enter new vertical markets. Here was a company defying conventional wisdom. And, winning. From the front-line to the executive suite, FreeBalance staff was laser-focused on providing public value through government-specific functionality. This social mission and deep public financial management experience led the company to find what works in government.
And, to anticipate future needs.
Some were skeptical that FreeBalance spearhead into the global government market would work. And, that FreeBalance could overcome the risks associated with GRP deployment in emerging economies.
First Global Government Resource Planning Software
FreeBalance introduced the web-native FreeBalance Accountability Suite 3 years later in 2009. Using feedback from international government customers and public finance experts, the Suite had a global design covering the entire budget cycle with budgeting, financial, treasury, revenue, expenditures, civil service, and performance functionality. Countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean now use FreeBalance software as the national financial system of record. FreeBalance customers range from line ministries to full national governments. From small to large countries. From developing countries to developed. In 26 countries and over 1,000 government entities managing an estimated $300 billion in annual budgets.
Governments leverage the FreeBalance Accountability Suite for good governance for country growth. For improved fiscal controls and unified decision-making information. To “follow the money” across the budget cycle from policy planning to citizen outcomes. The government-specific design supports massive configurability, eliminating the burden associated with code customization. And, configuration supports functional progressive activation supporting government change, decentralization, reform, and modernization. This makes the FreeBalance Accountability Suite financially sustainable by governments. Easier to adapt to meet current and future needs. And, a Suite built on a governance platform for extensibility to support the widest range of public finance needs.
Unique “Glocal” Business Model
Pietra and his management team understood that following the money in government differs from business. For one thing, government budgets are the legal embodiment of policy. FreeBalance brainstorming sessions in mid-2006 provided Pietra with important insights. FreeBalance needed to defy prevailing conventional thinking in enterprise software: customer-centric firms cannot innovate, software manufacturers should not participate in government implementations, and the public sector is just another market to exploit.
FreeBalance began the customer innovation journey by participating in all government implementations to better understand public sector needs. SWAT teams were formed to handle important government opportunities and challenges. FreeBalance executives are accessible to government customers. Local staff who understood country contexts became a lynchpin in the combined global and local business model, known as “glocal.”
The FreeBalance International Steering Committee was formed to enable governments to adapt the services and product roadmap annually. Later, the FreeBalance Minister’s Roundtable, a biannual event, provides a forum for government ministers and international experts to share lessons learned and provide insight into the future of government. Unlike the traditional approach, these events are salesperson-free. And, attendees have full access to FreeBalance executives and experts.
Most importantly, Pietra realized that FreeBalance had a social mission to help governments grow sustainably. Unlike companies with Corporate Social Responsibility programs, FreeBalance core activities represent CSR, as a social enterprise.
Good Governance Country Growth Impact
Global companies like FreeBalance can lose touch with emerging customer needs. The customer-centric approach, enshrined in the company ISO9001:2015 certification, keeps FreeBalance connected. Pietra and his team found that FreeBalance technology had a broader impact than anticipated. The government-specific approach across the public finance budget cycle improved public sector decision-making. FreeBalance staff witnessed improved infrastructure planning and development when visiting countries: new hospitals, schools, bridges, and roads. The sites, sounds, and smells of bustling commerce. And, improved social investment outcomes that improved trust in government.
By 2012, Pietra realized that FreeBalance was perceived as more than a GRP provider. With so many government interactions at senior public service levels, FreeBalance was seen as a trusted advisor in government financial, process and technology modernization. This insight came thanks to the glocal business model, an outlier in the enterprise software market space.
Pietra embedded FreeBalance in the government market space. FreeBalance leadership attended Harvard Kennedy School Executive Education. The company participated in more global government events. Pietra became the President of the International Consortium on Governmental Financial Management for two years.
As a result, FreeBalance developed modernization, “GovTech,” and “CivicTech” advisory services. Governments use FreeBalance expertise the navigate the journey from systems of record to systems of engagement, and systems of intelligence.
These insights led to budget, procurement, aid, and public investment results transparency. To minister dashboards. Better budget planning. Fiscal decentralization. The elimination of ghost workers. Improved budget credibility. Improved salary predictability. And, the transition to accrual accounting.
The “Smart” in Smart Government
Pietra’s insight in the common aspirations among governments for improved policy to drive sustainable country prosperity merged with the global phenomenon of sustainable development through the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Technology from FreeBalance and complementary providers enables “future of government” results when implemented effectively. This is government digital transformation and smart prosperity. It’s the future of government.
What is the promise of smart city and smart government technology? Among many benefits are reduced resource use with smaller carbon footprint through smart utilities. Improved citizen services and lower costs through digital services. Reduces infrastructure costs through smart assets.
And, increased business investment thanks to government fiscal transparency.
Despite the clear benefits of smart, governments are challenged to determine what technologies should be used in what combination to meet national goals.
FreeBalance realized that the core of government digital transformation is transformation. It’s not about smart government technology; it’s about smart prosperity outcomes.
How can governments determine the impact of the Internet of Things, social media, blockchain, cloud computing, and artificial intelligence on smart prosperity outcomes? How can governments finance technology infrastructure with significant returns with limited financing avenues? By following the money. That’s the “smart” in smart government enabled by a set of FreeBalance innovation tools and a unified governance platform. This provides a 360-degree view linking policy, budgets, debt, financing, procurement, assets, and performance outcomes. Results from social and infrastructure investments improve policy decision-making. Governments become data smart.
The Future of Government Innovation
It’s an exciting time for smart government innovation. FreeBalance is at the forefront of the future of government, and the new digital social contract. Good practices in agile software development, project management, and country development have been adapted by Pietra and his team. Innovation tools include country-context data collection from over 200 sources, many of which have multiple information sources. FreeBalance templates, blueprints, and canvases enable governments to distill policy complexity into what matters.
Government smart prosperity aligned with national objectives is possible. Breakthrough policy effectiveness is possible thanks to new innovation methods.
Smart prosperity outcomes have been embedded in the internal FreeBalance balanced scorecard. The glocal focus for smart prosperity led Pietra to champion citizen well-being in policy as chair of the H20 government track of the World Happiness Summit.
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