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Commentary: FI$Cal Has Users and Vendors in Mind as It Looks Ahead

“... We’re looking at ways to possibly digitize the invoice process so vendors can upload their invoices to the FI$Cal system and departments will no longer have to deal with paper invoices,” writes Neeraj Chauhan, chief deputy director of the Financial Information System for California.

The following commentary first appeared in this month’s newsletter from the Financial Information System for California.

As we pivot from the final release of functionality, it’s time to look ahead to a year packed with initiatives focused on customer service. In the next fiscal year, we will continue to aggressively support departments with their Month-End-Close (MEC) and Year-End-Close (YEC). In addition, we have many upgrades in the works including a variety of new enhancements, improvements to the FI$Cal Learning Center (FLC), an enhanced ServiceNow Self-Service Customer Portal, as well as a new FI$Cal Manual. We’ll also be upgrading FI$Bot, increasing our implementation of artificial intelligence (AI) and hosting many interactive events like Imagine FI$Cal and FI$CalTv to engage directly with our customers. We will continuously measure our effectiveness from the metrics and analysis of these initiatives, and from our customers’ feedback to ensure improved performance.

If you’re a brand-new user, we’ll give you access to a lot of resources so you can hit the ground running and be productive right away. If you’re an intermediate user — have been working in FI$Cal for the last couple of years — and come across an issue, you can get just-in-time help through insightful training sessions and improved self-service tools. If you’re a seasoned user who’s been in the system for three to five years doing the deeper level accounting work, we’ll match you with the right strike team or the right self-service tool to meet your needs. So, in the coming year, we’ll have something for everybody who’s working in the system.

Simultaneously, over the next two years, we’ll continue with the remaining project work of running the FI$Cal system in tandem with the State Controller’s Office (SCO) legacy system. We are committed to this work, and now that FI$Cal has all of the project functionality built into the system, we anticipate a positive downstream impact on all departments as it decreases the steps they have to perform outside of the system.

We had a very successful year supporting our departments through MEC/YEC by working with our control partners at SCO and the Department of Finance to assign dedicated strike teams to the departments needing help. Overall, we saw a 10 percent year-over-year improvement, and we now have new guardrails in the system to decrease the chance for errors. Earlier this year, we launched the MEC Automation tool which increases self-service capability, and as a result, we have noticed a reduction in tickets to the FI$Cal Service Center. Another customer service enhancement is the enhanced ServiceNow Self-Service Customer Portal we’re launching later this summer. The portal will be the place to find helpful resources such as job aids and answers to common questions quickly and efficiently while transacting in the system.

FI$Bot, our virtual chatbot, can now converse across modules, providing immediate assistance while working in FI$Cal. FI$Bot has matured to the point where you can ask it anything, from the easy questions about purchase orders to the harder questions about general ledger or commitment control. Moving forward, we are working on a human handoff concept where FI$Bot hands off the chat to a human subject matter expert if the chat becomes too complex for its programming. I highly recommend you go to FI$Bot first for quick answers to your questions!

Last year we introduced the FLC, our new training portal. This year we have a lot of improvements lined up in the training arena, specifically one which emerged from our May “Imagine FI$Cal” workshops. We’re looking closely at bringing back certifications similar to what we had in our previous training portal, where users can certify at various levels of expertise in the system, but we’ll be making it a more interactive and fun user experience.

Other topics of discussion during the Imagine FI$Cal workshops were the need for a FI$Cal manual. The FI$Cal Manual was a concept that was developed during the 2019 “Imagine FI$Cal” held in Southern California. Work on this concept began a year ago, and before we got too far down the road, we wanted more feedback from our users. During this year’s “Imagine FI$Cal,” we took a deeper dive to make sure we are meeting your expectations. We are working to release the manual in the coming fiscal year.

Another “Imagine FI$Cal” topic was improved reporting capabilities. We are continuously working on expanding departments’ ability to explore, analyze and report their own insights and trends from data. Whether it’s improving simple reports or complex reports or a combination of the two, we continue to have a pretty healthy run rate of releasing new features in the system.

This year we plan to do much more with AI to analyze and create solutions for the end users. We want to study end users’ behavior in the system so we can make intelligent changes to get the biggest bang for the buck. AI can also give us insights into enhancements that users might not be asking for but can make the process faster and more efficient. For example, we’re looking at ways to possibly digitize the invoice process so vendors can upload their invoices to the FI$Cal system and departments will no longer have to deal with paper invoices.

As always, we take system performance very seriously. We constantly monitor our metrics and solicit customer feedback to make sure key reports our departments use on a regular basis run fast and run timely, so there is no delay in the critical accounting activities our departments have to do.

Throughout the coming fiscal year, we will continue to deploy innovative tools, measure our efforts as well as departments’ success in closing timely and solicit end user feedback to help shape our priority initiatives. We are dedicated to providing the best customer service possible.
Neeraj Chauhan is Chief Deputy Director and Project Director of the Financial Information System for California (FI$Cal) since June 2015. Chauhan has worked for the State of California since 2005, managing several complex mission-critical services and implementing large projects. Previously, he was with the California Department of Technology, having served as Project Director for the CalCloud Project and as Network Chief.