Whether it’s school district budgets or city coffers, the Michigan-based financial transparency startup Munetrix is angling itself as a company of note in 2016.
Former business consultant and automotive industry executive Bob Kittle and database developer Buzz Brown joined in 2010 to form Munetrix as a solution for governments and school districts budget management. Key features of the cloud platform center on its knack to create simple interactive visuals for complex financials, while at the same time curating a portion of these revenues and expenditures for the public.
In January, Government Technology highlighted Munetrix as one of the top civic innovation companies in its inaugural Govtech100 list. In an interview, Kittle dives into the business’ digital innards while fleshing out a few of its core benefits.
Government Technology: What led the founders to create Munetrix?
Munetrix Co-founder and CEO Bob Kittle: As co-founders, Buzz Brown and I were both involved in public service when, in the mid-2000s it became apparent that A) the economy was shifting dramatically and starting to impact the public sector, B) local governments needed a good dose of reinvention and C) the policymakers tasked with dissecting and making tough budget decisions were themselves not equipped, in many cases, to understand the complexity of the financials they were addressing. I started performing turnaround consulting work in 2006 and was vetted as a Local Unit (of government) financial adviser by the Michigan Department of Treasury in 2009, which lead to the creation of Munetrix in 2010. Munetrix is a play on the words “municipal metrics.”
GT: What kind of financial insights does the app produce for governments that might not be seen otherwise?
Kittle: Detroit News Reporter Daniel Howes probably said it best in 2011 when he wrote an editorial on Munetrix, calling the tool “a fiscal radar.” Munetrix has two sides. One is public and adds a level of accountability into any local government because its data is going to be open to the public in a standardized transparent environment — whether they want it to be or not. The other side is a business management, intelligence and analytics tool with robust algorithms and utilities that allows local government administrators the ability to benchmark themselves and customize their data or display the story it tells. Additionally, they can model future budget assumptions using the algorithms to determine if those assumptions will lead them to safe harbor, the potential for fiscal stress, or actual fiscal stress with enough time to make course corrections. As a turnaround consultant, co-founder Kittle suggests the worst line he could ever hear is, “We are going to miss payroll.” Munetrix all but assures that will not happen in a local government or school district. The company’s Munetrix score acts like a personal FICO score for local governments, allowing them to clearly see not only what their fiscal well-being is today, but what it will be in the future.
GT: How does the platform offer transparency to citizens within city budgets?
Kittle: While Munetrix is subscription-based, it also offers a level of no-cost access that allows engaged citizens a “street-level” view of public-sector financial and demographic data in an easy-to-understand format. Local governments that subscribe to Munetrix can determine if they want to show more data to their citizens, run benchmarks, build budgets and forecasts, or just conduct deeper analytical reviews to better understand their cost centers.
GT: In what unique ways does Munetrix support educators and educational school systems with its platform? And what financial trends has it identified?
Kittle: Munetrix provides local schools and municipalities a clear and unobstructed view of their future fiscal health. Munetrix — unlike most government transparency and data visualization tools — puts data into context rather than just showing historical trends. This is increasingly important for public schools, whose funding changes dramatically with student population swings — positive or negative. Knowing how your expenses stack up against state and regional averages is important, but also knowing how you are performing against other districts is important as well. Is the money being spent in your organization generating results? Is it at the top or bottom of your performance group? If you gain or lose 100 students, how will this impact you? With Munetrix, this all becomes entirely clear. In Michigan, Munetrix has discovered that there are a lot of districts doing very well — yet at the same time, there are many that are in substantial fiscal stress as well.
GT: How does Munetrix employ predictive analytics to help localities avoid fiscal cliffs and other financial pitfalls?
Kittle: Munetrix’s algorithms use fiscal, demographic and historical economic data with trend analysis to triage large groups of public-sector entities in an “early warning” environment. The system identifies stressed jurisdictions well in advance of any fiscal cliff — or early enough for them to be able to steer clear of danger. If they are proactive enough to believe what the signs are telling them and want to control their own destiny, they can change the direction they are on using an analytics tool like Munetrix. However, even for jurisdictions who are doing great, Munetrix offers third-party validation for the administrators to share with policymakers and citizens. In a world that often seems thankless, why not toot your own horn if things are going well? Employees appreciate it even if nobody else does.