Seven years ago, California began work to implement the most ambitious IT project in state history. The Financial Information System for California, commonly known as FI$Cal, sought to integrate the state’s wide range of financial management processes onto one comprehensive platform.
Today, FI$Cal is a working system with more than 15,000 end users processing about $300 billion in expenditures each year. Like any project of such wide breadth, FI$Cal has had its share of unforeseen challenges and delays, but it’s important for the public and our legislators to understand where the project currently stands, where it’s headed, and its key role in providing accountability and transparency into California’s state government spending.
Work to implement the finalized concept we know as FI$Cal began in 2012 with an increased scope and the hiring of the system integrator. The project goal was to integrate the state’s cash management, budget, accounting and procurement processes onto one system. Following initial build, groups of departments began switching from their legacy system into FI$Cal.
Accounting, procurement ad budget pieces have been complete since 2016. As of October 2018, 152 state entities, and more than 15,000 state employees transact in the system. The State Treasurer’s Office functionality that is now live handles about $2 trillion in state government banking transactions per year. The original scope of the FI$Cal system is 97 percent finished. Departments are paying their bills and balancing their budgets every single day using the FI$Cal system.
California now offers a window into the way tax dollars are spent through the Open FI$Cal website powered by data from the system. More than half of all state entities currently transacting have their expenses loaded into Open FI$Cal for the public to slice, dice, download and review. By October 2019, expense data from the remaining departments and entities using FI$Cal will be available.
Despite this success, we can’t ignore that some departments and staff have struggled with learning a new way of doing business. FI$Cal is a true accounting system that requires significant user training, as well as expertise in accounting concepts. This is a fundamental shift for many state departments and their employees. There are some processes that require more detailed information than was provided in legacy systems, take additional steps, or will continue to take more time until the final piece of the system is complete.
We will continue to collaborate with our departments to improve their experience using the system. We recently held a three-day design thinking event called Imagine FI$Cal, to hear what the people who use the system day-in and day-out have to say. We are reviewing the concepts that came from Imagine FI$Cal and working with partners on how we can move solutions forward.
In response to recent feedback from departments and from our partners, we are extending the project schedule by one year. This extension will give users more time to learn and adjust to what is available now and allow more time to test the new functionality to come. We are requesting funding over the next two years to provide new training, testing environments and artificial intelligence tools for our users. (Techwire will follow up on the one-year project extension and funding request.)
FI$Cal is helping California make better informed decisions. Any project worth doing takes great effort and commitment, and we are committed to completing this system to benefit the public and state government.
Miriam Barcellona Ingenito is the director of the Department of FI$Cal.