Detroit Public Schools Community District Uses Excel Add-in to Cut Days out of Creating Financial Statements

As the largest school district in the state of Michigan with more than 50,000 students, the Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) manages a budget of over $600 million USD and has made timely and accurate financial reporting a priority. For more than 10 years, the district’s Finance and Accounting team has used the PeopleSoft ERP system for financial management and related processes, but ultimately found the system’s native PS/nVision (nVision) reporting tool inefficient for tasks like month-end closes. In 2017, DPSCD turned to a new reporting tool that took up to three days of work out of creating its month-end financial statements.

Living with nVision Inefficiencies

On the surface, the nVision reporting tool brings some advantages for PeopleSoft users. For example, as a PeopleSoft product, it comes with and is well integrated to the ERP system. It also has an Excel-based interface linked to real-time PeopleSoft data that allows some users to drill down into spreadsheet figures. However, as the DPSCD team discovered, creating a monthly reporting package still involved multiple, inefficient steps. Also, new report creation required a rare, specialized skill set that has become increasingly harder to find.

“First, it took several steps to pull a report from nVision in terms of layout, setting the time period, setting the data we wanted to see, and other variables,” explained Arthur Jackson, deputy executive director of Finance for DPSCD. “After we pulled the required reports for our monthly financial reporting package, we then had to manually combine the various spreadsheets to get the one we actually needed.”

All of these manual steps amounted to Jackson spending from two to three days working on reports. When DPSCD revamped its requirements for a faster month-end close, Finance and Accounting knew a better process was needed to meet that goal for the school board and finance review commission.

A Better Excel-based Reporting Option

Reporting from Excel with access to live PeopleSoft data was an advantage valued by the Finance and Accounting team, so when a newly-introduced Excel-based tool that integrated with PeopleSoft became available, they were receptive to trying it. The Excel add-in, GL Wand, quickly demonstrated it could do what nVision could—but much faster and with better analysis capability.

“The first thing I did with the new add-in was the one-time initial creation of the various reports with their specific formulas, which was straightforward because the tool is Excel-based,” said Jackson. “Once the reports for the financial statement were in the workbook, all I had to do was update the period and click the mouse to run the reports, which takes about five minutes.”

Now, Jackson says, most of his time is dedicated to quality control.

“My focus has shifted from running reports to verifying the numbers so we know that the financial statement matches our trial balance, which takes about 30 minutes to an hour,” Jackson said. “So, because our reports run in just five minutes with the new add-in, probably the most time we spend on the monthly reporting package is one hour as opposed to two to three days with nVision.”

Education Audits and Report for Government Authorities

Special audits of education finances are another area where the new Excel add-in has improved DPSCD’s processes. The auditors typically request to see balances of certain accounts and then the details behind those balances for a certain date, down to the voucher level, according to Jackson. Such “back and forth” requests have been expedited by the new reporting tool’s ability to provide this information quickly and in an easily viewed spreadsheet format where users can drill down into real-time PeopleSoft data. Also, if there are fields missing from the drill down detail, adding them to the layout is a matter of seconds using the simple drag-and-drop designer.

“Before, we usually ran the audit requests in PeopleSoft, which typically outputs a PDF, and then had to run another query if the auditor wanted more information,” Jackson described. “With the Excel add-in, we make the balance query based on the date requested, and then just click on that figure to look at the related vouchers and journal entries behind it. It’s just a much smoother process than using PeopleSoft alone.”

Currently, DPSCD has seven users of the new add-in on the Finance and Accounting team, with another two in Cash Management. In the future, Jackson plans to apply the new add-in for various period-end reports that DPSCD has to provide to state and local authorities, viewing it as a much easier way to access the requested data.

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