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Education, Fiscal Health, Municipal, News, Press Releases

Munetrix Provides Live, Interactive Map of Coronavirus Cases to Any Government Agency at No Cost

Free Embed Code Allows Governments to Provide Visualized Map for Any Website

Munetrix, a data analytics solutions provider serving municipalities and public school districts, has developed and launched a visualized map that renders live coronavirus cases data by county, and is making the map available to any municipality, county or government agency that wishes to embed it on its own website.

The Michigan Association of Counties was the first such organization to embed the map on its home page, and since then, more than ten others have embedded the map, including regional councils of government, counties, cities and more, representing more than 5,000 cumulative user views of the map in total as of April 13th.

The interactive map visualizes various data in a live, interactive and scalable manner, with various ways to render the most recently reported government data, including the number of cases, the number of deaths, as well as cases and deaths per 100,000 population, which is sortable by county, council of government and other geographic criteria, as set by the user.

“Access to updated, actionable information is critical right now, both for governments and the constituents they serve,” said Bob Kittle, President and Chief Executive Officer of Munetrix. “It’s vital that the data be visualized, easily understood and widely accessible, as leaders, administrators, health departments and the general public alike make critical and, oftentimes, life-or-death decisions during this COVID-19 pandemic.

“We felt, as a data visualization company, it was our duty to do whatever our technology would allow to deliver that intelligence to those who need it, and to make it easy for anyone to display, use and understand,” he added.

Munetrix will provide a copy-and-paste embed code at no cost to any agency or government entity that would like to display the map on its own website. Simply contact Munetrix or the Michigan Association of Counties to submit a request.

About Munetrix

Auburn Hills, Mich.-based Munetrix, among the nation’s largest aggregators of municipal and school district data, promotes municipal wellness and sustainability through its cloud-based data management tools and proprietary performance management applications. In partnering with Munetrix, municipalities and school districts are able to manage their data and access cost-effective products and advisory services to make meaningful and reliable budgets, financial projections, trend reports and better-informed forward-looking decisions.


Coronavirus

Education, Municipal, News, Opinion

Munetrix Offers New COVID-19 Dashboard to Michigan Municipalities and School Districts at No Cost

Company Partners with Bloomfield Hills Schools and the Metro Bureau to Develop and Distribute Dashboard Statewide

Munetrix, in partnership with Bloomfield Hills Schools, has developed and launched a new COVID-19 dashboard and is making the dynamic dashboard available to any municipality, county or school district that wishes to embed it on its own website, at no cost to that government entity. In addition, Munetrix has partnered with the Metro Bureau to distribute dashboard embed codes to its member organizations across the state of Michigan.

First deployed on the Bloomfield Hills Schools homepage, the COVID-19 dashboard was developed initially to address the desire of Bloomfield Hills Schools administrators to provide clear communication regarding the school district’s readiness to return to face-to-face learning to parents in a way that would be as easy to understand and as readily updated as possible. In doing so, district officials approached Munetrix to develop technology that would source data from state of Michigan’s coronavirus case data and display relevant metrics to provide clear indicators as to the most current moving averages of new cases per 100,000 population, sortable by county, as well as to display each county’s rolling percent-positive data.

The dynamic dashboard draws state data that is both updated (with new cases) and refreshed (updating prior case data) daily, giving district parents the most accurate, timely and geographically relevant data available.

The two data visualizations provided on the dashboard are intended to give parents and community members an instantly intuitive snapshot regarding a given district’s readiness to return to face-to-face learning or its risk level of regressing to all-virtual learning environments using a color-coded graphic representation of moments in time, dating back to March 1, 2020. The system utilizes the Harvard Global Health Institute Model developed by Dr. Ashish Jha and others to create standards for risk factors and thresholds by which a school district can establish triggers for moving from one phase of risk tolerance to another. For example, the Bloomfield Hills Schools parameters dictate that the county remain at least 21 consecutive days in a given risk level before the district is eligible to enact predetermined protocols for moving to a next phase of learning modality.

Leveraging the standards established by the Harvard Global Health Institute Model, Munetrix displays risk ranges in the conventional red-orange-yellow-green convention, making the data intuitively accessible and visually clear, educating parents, children, district personnel and the community at large as to a district’s current state of return readiness at any given time.

Making Difficult Decisions Easy to Understand

Not only does this accessible dashboard allow for quicker, data-based decision making, it is a tool that serves to provide transparency and information to parents during a time when uncertainty and anxiety are heightened, making such information accessible on-demand, 24/7.

“We’ve heard of parents who watch the numbers on our dashboard like you might watch the stock market—three times a day!” said Patrick Watson, Superintendent of Bloomfield Hills Schools. “It also gives parents the information when and how they want it, no longer relying on answered phone calls and returned emails that may take some time to address,” he added. “The number of phone calls and emails into the office, with people looking for updates and information, has dramatically reduced, allowing our staff to focus their energy and resources on optimizing our learning environments, both virtual and in-person.”

“As a data visualization company, we continue to consider it our duty to do whatever our technology allows to deliver easy-to-understand, actionable intelligence to those who need it, and to make it simple for anyone to display, use and understand,” said Buzz Brown, Vice President of Customer Engagement and Chief Data Officer with Munetrix. “There has never been a more urgent time for accurate and timely information than during this pandemic, especially given how it’s affected our schools, educators, administrators, families and learners.”

Melissa Baker, Executive Director of the Metro Bureau, immediately recognized the value that this new dashboard provides to school districts and their constituents, offering to facilitate the distribution of free embed codes provided by Munetrix to its membership. “This is such an incredible value-add to our district members,” she said. “People are craving accurate, timely and understandable data these days, and our members are committed to providing it. Anything that makes this easier on everyone is something we as an organization are committed to broadly distributing.” 

Munetrix and the Metro Bureau receive requests for embed codes daily, with dashboards now being displayed on several district home pages across the state…east and west, north and south. 

Munetrix will provide a copy-and-paste embed code at no cost to any school district or government entity that would like to display the dashboard on its own website. Simply contact Munetrix to submit a request, or Metro Bureau members can complete this form to request a code. 

To see how this dashboard is being deployed by local school districts to make informed decisions about learning environments and communicate transparently with parents and the community in real time, watch the story that Local 4 Newscasters shared with their viewers. 

About Munetrix

Auburn Hills, Mich.-based Munetrix, among the nation’s largest aggregators of municipal and school district data, promotes municipal wellness and sustainability through its cloud-based data management tools and proprietary performance management applications. In partnering with Munetrix, municipalities and school districts are able to manage their data and access cost-effective products and advisory services to make meaningful and reliable budgets, financial projections, academic achievement metrics, trend reports and better-informed forward-looking decisions. Learn more at www.munetrix.com.

Education, Fiscal Health, Municipal

Budget Planning at the Height of Uncertainty

Scenarios are Critical When You Can’t Predict the Future

[This article also appears in American City & County Magazine.]

For many working in the public sector, budgeting for an upcoming fiscal year is well underway. Has there ever been a more challenging time to account for future unknowns than the current crisis we find ourselves working to overcome?

Budget planning during a “normal” fiscal year is difficult enough, as unknowns and what-ifs are a part of the budgeting process. Past experiences and fairly settled patterns on which we can generally rely help us predict many of our budget assumptions. But forecasting and projecting an annual plan at a time when “facts on the ground” are changing so fast makes the plans we craft today seem like a fool’s errand.

School administrators and municipal managers should be forgiven for feeling ill-at-ease during their fiscal year-end planning and next-year budget planning sessions: Even the “experts” are getting projections wrong. Their models were off. New data emerged. We failed to account for this or that.

But the numbers will soon be due, and telling. There’s no sense in denying reality. The good news is that there are measures we can take today that won’t necessarily eliminate unpredictability in the future; but can at least account for it…and maybe even prepare for it.

Dynamic Events Demand Dynamic Scenario Building

A school superintendent friend of mine made a profound statement the other day, suggesting that, “Every district better have three budgets in their pocket when they start the 2021 school year!” Great advice!  But how?

One of the best ways to hedge against uncertainty is to create various and disparate scenarios, then calculate the outcomes to provide a range of projections for what the future might look like. The problem many budget builders are having right now is that inputs are seemingly infinite: What if income tax receipts drop 10%? Or 15%? What will our parking revenue be? Not knowing when our retail businesses will be back up to full stride, how much sales tax will they generate? How many children will  show back up for school when it reopens? How will we bus them? How will cafeterias function? With so many jobless claims, how “off” will our income tax revenue be? What if our expenses rise tenfold? With so many unforeseen investments suddenly necessary and urgent, such as PPE being sold at prices four to ten times higher than normal, new cleaning supplies and systems, increased investment in remote technology, ambulances that are wearing down quicker, with longer wait times for replacements, etc.? What if? What if, What if? 

We can’t reliably predict the relevant time horizons to inject any sort of end-date confidence into these projections. Yet, we don’t have the luxury of time to wait for a return to any semblance of “normal,” when projections and forecasts can be more reliably made. So now what?

NOW is the time to act – even if the budget isn’t due for a couple months or more. If we wait too long, too much will have changed, so much new information will have to be accounted for, and we’ll find ourselves scrambling to make best guesses and insert relatively random estimates in the interest of urgency. That’s a recipe for error, and even greater uncertainty. A perfect budget isn’t a reasonable expectation. Budgets are a plan, and plans are subject to change. 

Our advice is to look at the big picture…many of them, in fact. Whereas financial professionals have the natural gift, inclination and patience to make calculations in a very granular manner, the current moment demands that we take a step back and look at broader trends, larger impacts, and to be inclusive of line items we’ve never accounted for in the past. If we don’t, our granular and exacting attention to detail will be swept away with the tide of this rushing wave of new information.

In short, these are dynamic times, to be sure. Events, facts and data change hourly. Your budgeting needs to be equally dynamic and nimble to adapt right along with them.

Start with Three; Adjust as Needed.

With so few knowns and so many questions, we recommend that budgeters start by bracketing uncertainty to limit the range of unpredictability. From there, we can hone in. Start with three budget scenarios, after you’ve made your best-case analysis (likely an educated guess) where you are in the current budget cycle (be conservative) and use a top-down approach (i.e., you can’t spend more than you have), and start with revenues.

  • Best-Case Scenario: What is the most optimistic—but realistic—vision for future revenues and expenditures? Don’t be overly bullish…rather, very cautiously optimistic. This exercise will inject greater calm and confidence, and help you prepare for the future absent negativity, emotion or panic. Just as the coronavirus models themselves improved as behaviors changed, it is possible to emerge from this challenge better off than we’d originally feared. Be sure to have a plan for that eventuality.

  • Worst-Case Scenario: The counter exercise will allow your mind, your team and your planning process to put a bracket around your worst fears. Documenting those not only allows you to start planning now for the worst possible outcomes, it can have the effect of actually easing anxiety, as your budgeting should demonstrate your entity’s ability to withstand the coming storm, if you start accounting for the tough road ahead sooner.

  • Realistic Middle Ground: Only after going through the prior two exercises will your brain and your budget be able to wrap itself around the most likely scenario, factoring in both the negative and positive possible versions of the future. Clarity should emerge. You will get to a point where your focus is on some version of a reasonable forecast, from which you can tinker and tweak to account for deviations in inputs as actual data becomes available.

From there, you’ll want the ability to quickly and repeatedly adjust variables, including revenue and expenditure parameters, once unknowns become likelihoods, and eventually, knowns. It is absolutely critical, though, to build that framework now, so you can continue to make adjustments along the way, rather than build something new from scratch 20 times between now and the budget’s due date.

Of course, standard, off-the-shelf spreadsheet software will make this onerous and rigid. If there was ever a time to make an investment in a nimble, predictive and agile technology to create, envision and modify budget plans, it’s now. The minute you have a scenario settled, the facts will change. And even accounting for numerous and varied scenarios, you can be assured that once you find yourself presenting that budget to a room full of decision makers, someone at the table will inevitably ask, “Have you ever considered what this will look like if X happens, and not Y?”…presenting yet another scenario to consider! 

You’ll want to have that answer in minutes…not weeks or months. For all its utility, Excel will not be up to that challenge. Being able to adjust assumptions on the fly is critical.

Three scenarios may not even be enough. You’ll want a tool that can overlay five or more, and demonstrate side-by-side comparisons, so that informed decisions can be made easily, confidently, collaboratively and quickly.

In the Meantime, Cash is King!

Now is not the time to rest on our laurels and wait for the dust to settle. Apart from working hard on budgeting for an unknown future, we can and must take actions in the more certain present to mitigate future hardship, if at all possible. 

Consider pausing collision insurance on fleet assets, like school busses or dormant DPS vehicles. Before you do, fill the entire fleet up with historically inexpensive fuel, and even try to buy future fuel contracts. Adjust your HVAC controls. Turn off ISPs and cable TV access for buildings not in use. Renegotiate payment terms with vendors, including discounts for early payment terms. Nothing should be off the table. It’s time to re-evaluate everything!

In our experience, chaos breeds opportunities, and there is no time like the present to start addressing an uncertain and ever-changing future.

Need help or ideas? Contact us! Always happy to have conversations and explore scenarios! I can be reached personally using bob@munetrix.com, or leave a message at (248) 499-8355.

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