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Finance

Cloud City

How is the fast-changing City of Oakland modernizing with cloud-based IT?

by Monica Mehta

Summer 2017

Oakland, California, is one of the fastest-growing cities in the US. In 2016, the city’s job growth rate outpaced the national average and unemployment was below 5 percent. Large companies such as Uber and Blue Shield of California are opening offices in the revived downtown area. The city has one of the highest-demand housing markets in the country, thanks to its proximity to Silicon Valley and San Francisco, California, and home values have grown an average of 10 percent in the past year alone.

Snapshot

City of Oakland

Headquarters: Oakland, California

Industry: Public sector

Employees: More than 5000

Oracle products: Oracle E-Business Suite, Oracle Planning and Budgeting Cloud Service, Oracle Business Intelligence Cloud Service, Oracle WebCenter, Oracle Enterprise Manager, Oracle Management Cloud

Katano Kasaine

CIO and Chief Business Transformation Officer

Length of tenure as interim CIO: Two years

Education: BA in administration, Dominican University; Master of Public Health Administration, Loma Linda University

Personal quote/mantra: Be true to yourself. To be successful, one has to believe in the ability to get things done and to not listen to naysayers.

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Yet despite the economic transformation it is undergoing, the culturally diverse municipality of more than 400,000 residents still deals with the same issues of outdated IT and budgetary constraints that most cities face. To keep up with its increased growth, in 2015 Oakland decided to modernize its critical enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, which disperses payroll to the City’s more than 5,000 employees. This included reimplementing Oracle E-Business Suite and adding Oracle Planning and Budgeting Cloud Service and Oracle Business Intelligence Cloud Service to the system.

City of Oakland

Launch the Slideshow

Now, the City is on its way to achieving greater transparency, higher productivity, and cost savings. It serves as a prime example of how public-sector organizations, even with fiscal and administrative constraints, can modernize their systems around the edges to reap the benefits of the cloud.

“Citizens are asking for information at their fingertips,” says Katano Kasaine, treasurer and interim CIO of the City of Oakland. “Cities like Oakland need to utilize the cloud to create open, transparent government and start on the path to becoming smart cities.”

Time to Modernize

Oakland bought Oracle E-Business Suite in 1999 and had not upgraded it since 2007. Many processes were still paper-centric, such as documentation related to purchase order approval and application documentation from citizens for housing and business tax licenses.

After a previous attempt to upgrade the system that was sidelined after a false start, Kasaine, then the City’s treasurer, was called in to become interim CIO and to oversee the reimplementation. It was a bold decision, given that she didn’t have core IT experience—but she knew the system well, because she managed various fiduciary functions. As treasurer, she was also in charge of the human resources module of Oracle E-Business Suite.

419,267
Number of residents in Oakland, California, in 2015
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To aid in her efforts, Kasaine hired Horizon Projects Consulting’s Lawson James, an independent project manager, and she brought in Oracle Platinum Partner BIAS Corporation as the systems integrator. Kasaine also enlisted the support of Raj Sarma, a member of Oracle’s customer support team, to ensure that the project was completed successfully this time.

“I needed the entire team to be cohesive to get this project done,” says Kasaine. “Everyone had their areas of IT expertise. My job was looking for roadblocks and finding a way through them.”

The City could not move the entire ERP system to the cloud because it had just invested in a number of servers and needed to keep certain customizations, such as those related to the financial aspects of grants. This is the case for most public-sector entities with fiscal limitations and complex bureaucracies. Nevertheless, Kasaine wanted to set up the ERP system so that it could eventually become cloud-based. “I went to the city council and told them that if, in the next few years, we needed to make changes to the system, we must be prepared to move to the cloud,” she says.

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Rate of job growth in 2016
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Still, the current system had hundreds of customizations, many of which were no longer needed—making an immediate move to the cloud more challenging to undertake. To standardize the system and cut down on the number of customizations, the City decided to reimplement Oracle E-Business Suite. “By reimplementing, a few years from now we will be able to have a cloud-based ERP system, which will help us save the resources needed to host and manage an on-premises system,” says Myron Lai, deputy CIO of the City of Oakland.

Citizens are asking for information at their fingertips. Cities like Oakland need to utilize the cloud to create open, transparent government and start on the path to becoming smart cities.”–Katano Kasaine, Treasurer and Interim CIO of the City of Oakland

Although the entire ERP system could not yet be moved to the cloud, Kasaine’s team saw an opportunity to easily move parts of the system to the cloud—specifically, planning, budgeting, and business intelligence.

Modernizing the Budget Process

Budgeting is a major element of public-sector finances. In Oakland, a city with a vocal and active citizenry and a checkered fiscal past, there is big demand for making the budgeting process more visible to both government leaders and residents. This transparency was a major driver for Kasaine’s team in choosing Oracle Planning and Budgeting Cloud Service and Oracle Business Intelligence Cloud Service.

10%
Rate of increase of home values in the past year
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“We are envisioning our planning and budgeting system to be available not only to our mayor and city council members but also eventually to the entire city, so that the citizens of Oakland can see how we are spending their dollars,” says Kasaine.

Oracle Planning and Budgeting Cloud Service represented a good way to update a part of the system without major disruption. “Oracle Planning and Budgeting Cloud Service is relatively small and contained, while it still was touched by all parts of the system, so it became a great candidate for our move to the cloud,” says James.

By putting planning and budgeting in the cloud, and pairing it with business intelligence in the cloud through Oracle Business Intelligence Cloud Service, the IT team will be able to build dashboards and reports that anyone can easily access and read on the internet.

Cloud-based planning, budgeting, and business intelligence also help save on system support. “We have been spending way too much time and resources patching and maintaining our system,” says Lai. “Now, with Oracle Planning and Budgeting Cloud Service and Oracle Business Intelligence Cloud Service, we don’t have to do that. Oracle maintains the system and worries about downtime, and we can just focus on using the applications. The cloud has freed us up to move to the next level.”

Lai also sees benefits in using a standardized cloud application versus a customized on-premises application. “Our focus now is on helping our users learn the application’s standard functionality, building it out, and integrating it—and that’s where our expertise is, so I see a huge value in the application today versus in years past.”

Oakland starts its budgeting process in November, so the IT team had to get the applications up and running within six months. Choosing a cloud-based application helped shorten the implementation time. “We didn’t have to procure the hardware and software,” says Lai. “We were able to jump-start the product and start building it out right away.”

The Benefits of Cloud

Users have found the web-based Oracle Planning and Budgeting Cloud Service “more intuitive,” says James. “Prior to Oracle Planning and Budgeting Cloud Service, users called the IT Help Desk to resolve issues, but now they are self-sufficient. They picked it up very quickly, and it has made them more productive.”

The time it takes to generate budget reports has also improved drastically.

“It used to take weeks for the IT department to create reports,” says Lai. “Now, the analysts can extract the data they need and generate the report by themselves within a day. The wait time has been decreased dramatically because of this product.”

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Number of professional sports teams
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Users can create most internal reports with Oracle Planning and Budgeting Cloud Service. They use Oracle Business Intelligence Cloud Service for more-customized or more-specialized reports, and they will eventually use it to make data available to the public. “As we prepare the budget for this coming year, we hope to publish that data on Oracle Business Intelligence Cloud Service so that it’s available to everyone,” says Lai.

The visual interface of Oracle Business Intelligence Cloud Service was also appealing to Kasaine’s team. The public will be able to view and understand the budget through charts and graphs instead of through long lists of numbers.

Every year, the City gets a number of Freedom of Information Act requests for its budget figures. Oracle Business Intelligence Cloud Service can allow Oakland’s citizens to have access to that information directly, potentially reducing the number of filings and the resources spent on handling those filings.

Oracle Planning and Budgeting Cloud Service integrates with the on-premises Oracle E-Business Suite system, so when changes in salaries or positions are made, they transfer easily to the reporting process. “With Oracle’s open platform, the integration is seamless. This will help us roll out other applications more quickly, which is great for not only the users within the city government but also for the citizens of Oakland,” says Lai.

Hybrid IT for the Public Sector

A hybrid IT environment, in which the hardware infrastructure and certain systems such as ERP are on premises while planning and budgeting are in the cloud, is working well for the City of Oakland, and Kasaine says it makes a lot of sense for public-sector organizations.

“In the public sector, with the number of budgetary and compliance issues you face, you have to decide what you need instantly and what you can wait for,” says Kasaine. “A hybrid system allows the flexibility to make those decisions.”

Also, Oakland’s payroll is, and will remain, complex due to its various negotiated contracts. “We need to keep many customizations because of the way these contracts have been negotiated,” she says. A hybrid IT environment can support this type of complexity until simpler processes can be rolled out in the human resources organization.

Eventually, the City plans to put its IT infrastructure into the cloud.

“With infrastructure as a service, we won’t have to buy more on-premises storage, and we’ll be able to move disaster recovery from physical tapes to the cloud,” Kasaine says. “We want to be able to store and restore data more easily and securely.”

Disaster recovery is key in Oakland, given that the city and the surrounding region are home to the Hayward Fault, a major geological fault line. “In the event of an earthquake, we need our data in the cloud, not in a room next door or even a few miles away,” says Kasaine.

Oracle planning and budgeting cloud service is relatively small and contained, while it still was touched by all parts of the system, so it became a great candidate for our move to the cloud.”–Lawson James, Independent Project Manager, Horizon Projects Consulting

The City also plans to enable mobile apps for Oracle E-Business Suite, which will provide capabilities such as enabling police officers to enter their time while they are in the field instead of having to come into the office.

In addition, Oakland implemented Oracle WebCenter to digitally handle public access to information, such as applications and documentation related to business tax licenses, building permits, and housing. Lai predicts these types of enhancements to the system will benefit Oakland’s residents. “They’ll see more content out there,” says Lai. “They’ll be able to look up any public document online versus having to come in for it. They will have better, easier access to information.”

Having a cloud-based IT infrastructure, and continuing to connect new technology to the cloud, will make it easier for Oakland to become a smart city, with capabilities such as an online self-service portal for residents and 311—a centralized, automated phone number for citizens to access services.

“The next thing this city must do is be innovative, because that’s what the community expects from us,” says Kasaine. “Connecting the different siloed departments with a strong foundation is key to getting on that path.”

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