new showcase of using best practices, current technology and a more professional work environment will help to recruit high-quality candidates, according to Jeffrey Rosengard, senior vice president of The Hackett Group.

"It's going to be a completely different model, so that where you may have a highly educated candidate who [might] not [normally] even consider state government because of the negative perception -- this is really going to help change that," Rosengard said.

Who's In

Many states, like Florida, cheer NASACT's benchmarking agenda, but stop short of joining right away.

"We are in the process of installing a new accounting and cash management software program, so we are smack dab in the middle of redoing all of our business processes, a whole new chart of accounts -- getting ready to roll out agencies," Darling said.

Many states are neck deep in similar rollouts and don't have time to implement new projects midstream.

"If we had [the NASACT contract] a couple of years ago, we could have considered [it]," Darling said, adding that he wants to use it in the future.

Tennessee's back office always has lagged behind the technology curve, but now it's in the market for its first ERP system -- the perfect time to start benchmarking, according to Sylvis. The state was the first to sign on to the NASACT contract, and will conduct all four benchmarks for every one of its agencies. It will do one benchmark before installation of the ERP and one afterward to measure the new system's effectiveness.

Delaware isn't far behind -- another state shopping for an ERP system, and wanting to benchmark before and after implementation to measure its return on investment. The state will do a financial benchmark of all its agencies no later than June 2006, according to Trisha Neeley, director of the Division of Accounting in the Delaware Comptroller's Office.

"We're going to be the first out of the chute," Sylvis said. "We have to wait a little while for that comparative data to come back to us from the other states that haven't signed on to it yet, [but it] is going to be a powerful tool."

The benchmarking studies will depend more heavily on state agency metrics, and less on private-sector metrics as more states get benchmarked. For now, a supplement comparison of private-sector organizations of similar complexity will join the roughly 100 government benchmark studies Hackett already has on its books -- the company has done 3,300 studies of nearly 2000 private-sector organizations.

The consensus from The Hackett Group and Accenture was that a good private-sector candidate for comparison was large, decentralized and domestic -- not a global company with vast geographical dispersion.

"When you do benchmarking, this is not something that is absolutely quantitative down to the last red cent," Wilson said. "What benchmarking really gives you is a good feel for where you are outside of the norms in costs or effectiveness."

For example, a government transportation or public works organization doing a lot of construction might be compared to a large construction company. An agency's collections division could be compared to a utilities or publishing company managing a heavy volume of incoming receipts.

Before the NASACT Deal

Government executives had done various forms of nonsystematic benchmarking for years. It essentially involved sharing stories over the phone with each other about what worked well in their agencies and passing along ideas from conferences -- nothing empirical or quantitative.

Then in 2002, Washington state's 12-agency venture into systematic benchmarking, with the Mercer Group and Sierra Systems, sparked interest in many comptrollers' offices. NASACT secured Sadie Rodriguez-Hawkins, assistant director for the Accounting Division in the Washington state Office of Financial Management to chair the NASACT

Andy Opsahl  |  Staff Writer