Pittsburgh's Financial Data Portal Open to All
June 05, 2019 by
Photo credit: Paul.Wasneski/Flickr
Pittsburgh, a city once defined by the steel industry, is turning toward a future fueled by STEM industries.
Recently, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center unveiled plans for three new hospitals, representing a $2 billion investment. And, construction on the $750 million mixed-use Lower Hill Redevelopment project, which includes the city's 28-acre former Civic Area site, could begin this fall.
In 2018, the mid-sized city was ranked the second most livable city in the U.S., according to an annual report from The Economist Intelligence Unit, and it is frequently ranked among the "best cities for millennials."
Officials know these jobs and skills are crucial to spur population growth and drive quality-of-life factors that impact people's decisions on where to lay down roots. However, underneath this optimism is the complex financial reality, says City Controller Michael Lamb.
The city's data-sharing websites, powered by Socrata, help reveal this nuance.
"Our office believes that Socrata provides the most comprehensible financial analytics based on extensive usability research with all types of users, from those with no financial background to financial analysts," the city said in a statement.
The City of Pittsburgh is a Tyler Excellence Award winner for its use of the Socrata data platform. Read more on this government's data journey:
How did the Office of the Controller executed the overall project?
The Pittsburgh City Controller's Office is using the Socrata Public Finance platform. It took almost an entire year to get the site up and live. Our office believes that Socrata provides the most comprehensible financial analytics based on extensive usability research with all types of users, from those with no financial background to financial analysts. Our office wanted a solution for data visualization to view multiple years of historic general ledger and budget data, see year-over-year trends, drill down to the budget object level, and download and share financial data in multiple forms such as tables and graphs. The data should be filterable and divisible by fund, department, or expense/revenue type. All graphs and tables should be exportable as images or as spreadsheets for analyzing, presenting, or sharing. Socrata Open Budget displays the operating revenues, operating expenses, and details of the capital budget onto our branded website Fiscal Focus Pittsburgh. Socrata Open Expenditures allows users to easily understand and explore checkbook-level details of spending. Socrata Open Payroll publishes payroll information where visitors receive instant answers to common questions, including total size of the payroll, top employees, top departments, median pay, and more. While financial transparency is a key component of the project, the independent and objective oversight by the city controller must maintain the trust of our constituency. The truth is, when giving a data-backed presentation, it's not enough just to throw some well-designed data visuals on a screen. To truly communicate effectively, you have to use the data to deliver the story you are trying to tell.
What was the outcome of the solution, and how did this achievement advance your organizational goals?
We know the saying 'a picture is worth a thousand words.' In our ongoing effort to enhance transparency and public engagement in city government, Socrata provides something that gathers the city's financial data and organizes it into visually appealing and clear graphics. As mentioned earlier, it took almost an entire year to get the site up and live. Mostly this was due to an internal office team of two in the controller's office. It was easy enough to access the data from one place (JD Edwards), but we quickly realized the developing a coherent Socrata Schema for the different descriptions in the same data sets. The greatest hurdle after the schema was the implementation of Open Payroll. In everything the controller's office does, we believe in safeguarding the fiscal health of the city of Pittsburgh and protecting city tax dollars from waste, fraud, and abuse. Fiscal Focus Pittsburgh is a valuable tool for keeping all citizens involved and informed about what their city government is doing to serve their community. Our next steps for our site include the implementation of Socrata Perspectives and other visualization capabilities for adding the necessary contextual narrative and commentary to the financial trends and analysis. As we continually monitor city services, we strive to expand upon our ability to connect and transform data into opportunities that improve internal functioning, public integrity, and ongoing city-wide advancements, efficiently. Our site gives the viewer, whether a citizen or a city employee or the media, insight into spending trends or budget revenue shortfalls. We hope to expand upon our ability to connect and transform data throughout the City of Pittsburgh.
How can your solution benefit peers using Tyler products and services?
Government programs generate massive amounts of data, but most of it is locked away is department silos or dated spreadsheets. There is no substitute for local knowledge in making decisions about open data. Each municipality will have variations on what data sets are chosen to be prominently displayed. Municipal financial reporting is not always easy. Too often we can get swamped down in long, exhaustive reports or budget conversations that have to introduce entirely too much information. In everything the controller's office does, we believe in safeguarding the fiscal health of the City of Pittsburgh and protecting City tax dollars from waste, fraud, and abuse. The goal of Fiscal Focus Pittsburgh is to be a valuable tool keeping all citizens involved and informed about what their city government is doing to serve their community. We believe that the Socrata financial products are designed to provide both simple interfaces for citizens and policymakers as well as advanced functionality optimized for analysts and internal users. The consulting, training, and support over the implementation process was extremely helpful for insight and perspective during the establishment of project goals and objectives.