Ron Galperin’s statements in his interview with the Jewish Journal is nothing short of encouraging.
According to the article, he wants to introduce the city’s bureaucracy to “big data.” That’s not the name of some character from The Sopranos.
Multi-billion dollar corporations could not survive without systems capable of crunching countless transactions while slicing and dicing them into meaningful information. Analysts and investors would be lost without timely reports that suggest trends in individual companies or entire industries.
Yet, the City of Los Angeles manages its finances from hand to mouth. Why else do deficit projections and cash flow forecasts jump around by hundreds of millions of dollars in a few short weeks? Why does it take the City Controller’s Office almost a year to publish audited financial statements?
It hasn’t helped that we have lacked a true controller since computer systems became the standard for financial reporting and analysis.
It goes beyond just having a system in place. The main system must be integrated with other information modules in a way that allows data to flow to and from with little or no time-consuming manual intervention. Manual transfers of data can also lead to higher error rates or lost detail.
The users of the systems are critical, too. Managers and staff charged with the responsibility of reconciling and reporting have to be savvy when it comes to extracting information and using it to guide them.
The Controller also must insist on regular variance reporting from the general managers. Variance reports compare actual performance against budgets or other metrics. They are the key to making timely adjustments in operations.
I hope Mayor Garcetti considers the financial acumen of the general managers when he makes them interview for their jobs. That would make Galperin’s job a little easier – and he has a huge challenge in front of him.
Selecting new systems, enhancing existing ones, developing processes that support the timely flow and exchange of information in an environment that still operates in the Mid-20th Century will require the vast portion of his department’s time.
But Ron has enough wonkiness in him – and the personality and professionalism to complement it – to make it happen.