CitySmart Blog

Thursday, September 15, 2016
Nathan Eisner, COO

Nathan EisnerIn part one of this two-part post, we talked about how cities can better comply with the law through a set of information security best practices. Now in part two, let’s look at how specific policies help cities with compliance.

Technology alone won’t protect cities. Clear, detailed policies document important rules, procedures, and guidelines to help you comply with federal, state, and local laws.

So, what kinds of policies do you need? Generally, they will fall into two main areas. For this post, we are using the structure of Arkansas’s Legislative Audit guidelines as a way to discuss policies that are relevant to all cities.

General Controls

The Arkansas Division of Legislative Audit defines general controls as “mechanisms established to provide reasonable assurance that the information technology in use by an entity operates as intended to produce properly authorized, reliable data and that the entity is in compliance with applicable laws and regulations.”

The key here is that your city’s technology works properly and correctly while complying with the law. Overall, it helps to create an operational policy and procedure manual for your information systems that accounts for:

  • Contract / Vendor Management: Your policy should require clear, consistent contracts with all vendors along with procedures to enforce and review contracts on a regular basis.
  • Network Security: This policy should address all information security risks through your network and how your city mitigates those risks such as through monitoring, antivirus software, restricting user behavior, and procedures in case a security breach occurs.
  • Wireless Network Security: Make sure your policy covers the encryption of wireless data along with proper wireless network usage and access. The policy should specifically address wireless security related to employee laptops and mobile devices.
  • Physical Access Security: People should not have unauthorized access to machines storing electronic information. Your physical access security policy will define who has authorized physical access to equipment and how they access it.
  • Logical Access Security: Wikipedia defines logical access controls as “tools and protocols used for identification, authentication, authorization, and accountability in computer information systems.” Basically, this specific policy ensures that only authorized people have access to your city’s information.
  • Disaster Recovery / Business Continuity: This policy describes what happens in the event of a disaster (from a server failure to a major disaster like a tornado) and how you plan on continuing to access your city’s electronic information after such a disaster.

Application Controls

The Arkansas Division of Legislative Audit defines application controls as “[relating] to the transactions and data for each computer-based automation system; they are, therefore, specific to each such application. Application controls are designed to ensure the completeness and accuracy of the accounting records and the validity of the entries made.”

In other words, cities want to make sure that applications such as accounting software correctly receive, store, and deliver the right data. Policies related to application controls include:

  • Data Input: This means exactly what it says—a policy related to how data is inputted into software applications.
  • Data Processing: This policy should cover how data is processed once entered into the system so that you lessen the risk of data errors—whether that data is manually or automatically processed.
  • Data Output: This policy should cover the accuracy and security of data that is delivered to an end user—covering everything from accounting software data that a city employee sees to online payment information that citizens may view on a city’s website.
  • Application Level General Controls: This policy covers security, configuration, and contingency planning related to applications.

While Arkansas may require cities to implement these kinds of policies as part of its legislative audit, it’s a good idea for all cities to adopt policies like these. They cover the essentials of information systems and greatly help to reduce risk and liability. Plus, such documentation leads to a much more well-run IT department and helps with transitions (such as IT staff retiring or a new IT vendor getting hired).

Miss Part One of this post? Read it here.

Lacking information systems policies at your city that leave your city open to risk? Reach out to us today to talk about policy in more detail.

Thursday, September 08, 2016
Nathan Eisner, COO

Nathan EisnerOver time, information security laws only grow stronger. As information technology continues to mature, expectations grow higher that cities will protect their data. When data loss occurs or sensitive information is stolen, the financial and legal repercussions (along with the public outrage) may increase.

Most laws center around protecting sensitive information and ensuring that operational continuity occurs even if a disaster hits. After all, cities are stewards of public information and use that information to serve citizens. If a city neglects information security, they’re not just passing over nice-to-have technology perks. They are neglecting and compromising their very core mission.

In this two-part article, we’ll discuss best practices in part one and then address policies in part two. Use this checklist of best practices to begin assessing your information security.

1. Create and use strong passwords.

Weak or no passwords remain one of the biggest information security holes at most cities. Are you using some of these worst passwords like 123456, Password, or qwerty? Do your employees write passwords down on sticky notes and attach them in public view on their computers? Remember, hackers use automated software to crack passwords. The easiest passwords will get cracked, even if you consider yourself an unimportant target.

  • Use long, strong passwords with a variety of letters, numbers, and symbols.
  • Discourage employees from saving passwords to websites and applications, and don’t use the same password for all IT systems.
  • Change passwords regularly.

2. Protect yourself against viruses with software and staff training.

While antivirus software helps protect your city against viruses, don’t forget that human error often leads to viruses even if you install antivirus software. Hackers usually fool employees by getting them to click on funny images, social media quizzes, and online games on websites and social media. Email attachments with viruses also still work when employees think they come from a legitimate sender (which is easy for hackers to spoof).

A virus can really wreck your city by corrupting, deleting, or stealing your data. Protect yourself with:

  • Business class antivirus software
  • Regular audits to ensure that antivirus software installation and definitions are up-to-date
  • Staff training to educate employees about email attachments and other ways that hackers fool people

3. Back up your data.

Cities with any uncertainty related to data backup need to immediately address this problem. A data breach or information theft is really bad, but don’t forget about the risk of permanent data loss. To run a city and serve citizens, electronic information is essential. Losing data lessens trust between you and citizens.

Ask yourself:

  • Are we backing up our data? At a minimum, you need to perform daily data backups.
  • What data is critical to the city? All of it? If in doubt, back it up!
  • How will the city be affected if data cannot be accessed for extended periods of time?
  • What needs to be recovered first?
  • When did we last test our data to show that we can recover it?

Make sure you can perform onsite data backups for quick recovery and offsite data backups to recover from theft or disasters.

4. Apply all relevant security updates to software and operating systems.

Many cities neglect operating system and software updates. These updates and patches are delivered by software vendors to fix bugs and patch up security holes. Studies show that most cyber-outbreaks can be prevented by keeping computers up to date—and yet most people ignore messages on their computers about installing updates. Apply patches, ideally with an IT resource overseeing the process. And because vendors eventually stop supporting and patching applications, operating systems, and hardware when this technology gets too old, you need to upgrade these items when they have reached that point.

5. Physically secure your technology.

Physical security remains one of the most overlooked aspects of information security. It’s easy for a disgruntled employee to steal or take data from a server or computer. And when you decommission servers and workstations, be careful—those machines may still have sensitive information on them if you don’t dispose of them correctly.

Make sure you:

  • Mandate that employees lock their computers when away from their desk.
  • Ensure that servers, network equipment, and external media are locked up, with no direct access available.
  • Have IT professionals permanently and securely wipe data from any retired equipment.

6. Don’t forget the security of your city’s website.

People tend to check out your website first when they want to learn more about your city—whether it’s exploring tourist attractions, relocating their business, moving, or inquiring about city services. Not only do people expect a modern website with fresh content but they also expect it to be secure and safe. They trust you when they exchange billing information or click on links. It doesn’t take much for a hacker to defame a weakly secured website, steal people’s information, or shut that website down.

To make sure your website is safe and secure:

  • Ensure your website is hosted by a reputable provider.
  • Know where your city website is hosted.
  • Ask your website’s hosting provider if they have been audited for potential security risks by a third party.

In part two, we’ll talk about some sample policies that will help enforce and reinforce these best practices across your organization.

Questions about the strength of your information security? Reach out to us today.

Thursday, September 01, 2016
Brian Ocfemia, Technical Account Manager

Brian OcfemiaCities face more challenges than ever with video archiving. As an example, cities are capturing greater amounts of squad car video and enormous amounts of body camera video footage. Because of greater public safety scrutiny, more sophisticated body camera technology, and new laws passed each year holding cities accountable for retaining this footage, cities are understandably growing more worried and concerned about their video archiving capabilities.

Of course, the dark side of these technology and legal requirements is that budget-strapped cities struggle with video storage restrictions, costs, and technology limitations. As a result, it’s tempting to take a shortcut with video archiving or try to keep doing what you’re doing with aging, obsolete, or ill-equipped technology.

In this post, we’ll look at seven reasons why you need to modernize the way you archive your videos—before you run into critical operational or legal problems.

1. Your video storage needs will only increase. They will not decrease or remain the same.

You’ll never reach a point when your video archiving calms down and stays at the same level. Your city will grow. You will add police officers. Better technology will help you generate more footage. And think about it—your public safety department never stops. You’ll never be able to pause or take a breath. Video constantly comes in without pause. This situation will continually increase your video storage needs over time.

2. You need to legally retain video footage.

Depending on your state, you will need to legally retain body camera video footage consistent with a specific law. That means you need a place to archive and retain it. Any risk of data loss associated with body camera video footage may result in severe fines, penalties, or lawsuits. Understand how long you need to keep specific footage depending on the law’s requirements, and then use video archiving tools to help you adhere to the law.

3. You need to locate video footage.

It’s only half the battle if you retain your video footage. After all, you can “retain” a bunch of your belongings in a garage with no organization—and good luck finding a power tool or a can of paint when you need it! But if you organize, label, and structure the contents of your garage, you’ll be able to find and grab something in seconds. A similar logic works with video archiving. Modern video archiving tools help you organize your footage with the aim of making it easy to find specific video when you need it.

4. Your existing storage costs might be too expensive, so revisit them!

Are you paying a low cost for unlimited offsite video storage and retention? If you’re constantly paying more money for additional storage or capping your total amount of storage, then you need to look at more modern options immediately. Storage costs have drastically decreased over the past few years. Yet, many cities still shell out money for expensive storage because they use outdated technology or haven’t challenged their existing vendor in a long time.

5. You need rigorous security.

Because squad car and body camera video footage captures confidential, private, and sensitive information, you need to secure the footage. No excuses. Old servers or software may not have enough security precautions in place. Only authorized users should access the data—and your IT staff or vendor should be able to centrally manage this security. The information also needs to be physically secure if stored on your premises.

6. Your storage conditions must reach a high standard.

As noted with physical security above, you don’t want video footage stored in rooms that are easy for anyone to access. Servers need to reside in rooms with proper storage conditions such as air conditioning, ventilation, and a high standard of cleanliness. If you feel unable to keep up such standards, then consider a data center or cloud storage.

7. Your onsite and offsite video backup must easily recover data in case of a disaster.

Data loss is a nightmare—and even more so for video that includes squad car and body camera footage. If uncertainty exists with your data backup, then take time to evaluate your weaknesses. Ask yourself:

  • Will I be able to recover video quickly after a server failure or power outage?
  • Will I be able to recover my video footage in case of a disaster such as a fire, flooding, or tornado?
  • Do I test my data backup so that I know it works?

Cities—small or large—face a huge responsibility for their video. A modern video archiving system that addresses all of the concerns above is essential in order to apply record retention laws and compliance to video footage. Otherwise, you’re risking data loss or theft that can lead to severe legal repercussions. Thankfully, there is a low-cost video archiving option that both modernizes your technology while addressing growing storage costs.

Questions about your video archiving? Reach out to us with any questions.

Thursday, August 25, 2016
John Miller, Senior Consultant

John MillerEach state law differs for body camera records retention. Let’s take a quick look across some of the states we serve:

  • Georgia: This year, Georgia passed a law that changed the body camera records retention law from a blanket requirement of five years to one of 3 possibilities: 180 days minimum, 30 months for recordings that are part of a criminal investigation or incident (e.g. accident, arrest, or use of force), or until final adjudication for recordings that go to litigation.
  • Kentucky: Kentucky follows its state records retention schedule which says that the footage must be kept for 60 days unless it’s needed for a criminal investigation, pending litigation, or open records request.
  • Arkansas: Cities tend to build their non-evidentiary body worn video recording policies around the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, the Arkansas General Records Retention Schedule, and court decisions. For body camera video related to criminal or civil cases, police departments follow state laws for handling evidence. They must retain the video as a record (ACA 14-2-204) and keep it for three years or until the legal proceeding is resolved (including all appeals).

Even as states continue to refine video record retention laws as a result of greater public scrutiny, video data storage growth will outpace policy changes. That means you need to be prepared. And that preparation involves some technology investments and a few best practices.

1. Video Archiving

You probably already know that video files take up a lot of storage space. Well, multiply that storage space many times over by each officer and each squad car day by day collecting new videos, and you’ll understand how fast body camera video footage will quickly eat up your available storage space. You don’t want to get caught running out of available storage space on your servers, or having unexpected high charges and fees as you need to procure more local storage devices (or increase hosted storage space).

Work with an IT vendor that offers unlimited offsite video archiving to eliminate these worries for running out of storage space and increased cost as your video grows. Plus, the video data is stored offsite so that it’s retrievable in case of disaster.

2. Access and findability

Obviously, if you store body camera footage then you also need to find specific footage when you need it. Similar to how a document management system helps you label and organize documents, good body camera software will help you label and organize videos for later use. Sometimes you’ll need to sift through hours of footage, looking only for an important few minutes. Make sure that your video software allows you to quickly and efficiently search for and retrieve information.

3. Adhering to retention policies

You need to adhere to state laws and city policies for video record retention schedules. Ensure that you’re compliant for how long you are required to keep footage, dispose of it at the right time, and follow proper procedures. If you don’t comply, then you could get into a lot of legal trouble when footage is requested and you don’t have it.

4. Security and authorized access

Body cameras capture a lot of footage that needs to remain secured. A hacker exposing video camera footage to the public might be disastrous to the privacy of citizens—and you might get held liable if you did not invest in strong security. Body camera footage works just like any other city record and needs to be treated as such. Internally, every city employee should not have access to the video footage or be able to copy it onto something like a flash drive. Your city needs clear security policies about authorized access to body camera video footage and an IT vendor that understands how to manage that security.

5. Modernized technology hardware and infrastructure.

Last but not least, it helps to use modernized technology if you are going to operate body camera equipment and software. Even if the body camera hardware and software is modern, it may not work well (if at all) with aging servers, computers, or operating systems. Also, if your networking equipment (such as routers or firewalls) are not up to the task, then you could have usability or security issues. Because body camera video footage may soon become mandatory, it helps to think about modernizing your technology infrastructure so that you can handle the demands of storing and accessing lots of video.

Wherever your city is located, it’s best to start thinking about body camera technology. It’s already here and will become a standard part of police department operations. If you already have body cameras, then is your technology up to the task of using them? If you’re thinking about getting body camera technology, then what other technology do you need to make sure it works properly?

Questions about how your technology can handle the demands of body cameras? Reach out to us today.

Thursday, August 18, 2016
Anthony Fantino, Network Infrastructure Consultant

Anthony FantinoEver watch or participate in a pickup game with friends? You play by your own set of rules. The game might start and stop randomly. You might lose track of the score. But if you watch a professional game right after your pickup game, you’ll notice everything that was missing. The rules, the framework, the organization, and the professional capabilities of the players. While there is room for spontaneity, a professional game is sleek and efficient—run like a machine, overseen by officials, and aligned to professional standards.

The same difference exists between having and not having information systems management best practices in place. You may have experienced organizations where the information systems feel more like a pickup football game rather than a professional football game. It’s only fun until something gets out of hand—and it seems like something always gets out of hand.

Cities need disciplined information systems management to reduce risk, improve operations, and even help comply with legislative audits such as those that occur in the state of Arkansas. Here are some best practices that can get you there.

1. Start with an information systems risk assessment.

First, it helps to understand the state of your information systems. What do you have? How old is your hardware and applications? What’s the state of your information security? Are you backing up your data? Use one of our risk assessments as a starting point and make sure you take a close look at your:

  • Website
  • Data backup and disaster recovery
  • Ease of finding information and responding to open records requests
  • Hardware, software, and network equipment
  • Issues getting IT problems resolved

By assessing your risks, you can focus on your city’s biggest problems first.

2. Create clear roles and responsibilities for people involved with information systems.

It’s easy to overlook. Cities may chug along managing their information systems without asking some key questions about everyone’s roles and responsibilities. Who does what? Who is responsible for information systems? Who has access to information? Who is authorized to grant access? What outside vendors have access to information?

At the very least, create a list of people and vendors along with their roles and what they do. For example, a small city may have a simple information systems org chart that includes the city manager who makes business-related technology decisions, a city clerk that works with the IT vendor to help them understand business needs and requirements, and an outside IT vendor that monitors and maintains all information systems on a day-to-day basis.

3. Create a policy and procedure manual.

While it might contain some technical information that you need help drafting, your city needs to have stakeholders create a policy and procedure manual for your information systems. You will need to define and document important items such as:

  • Information access and authorization
  • Business processes related to information systems
  • Physical security
  • Data backup and disaster recovery
  • Document workflows
  • Website rules and requirements

4. Back up your data and systems to provide for disaster recovery.

As one of the most important pieces of information systems management, your city needs a plan for restoring data and systems in case of a server failure or a major disaster. Some of the questions you need to address include:

  • What data do you need to back up?
  • What’s the most important data?
  • Who is responsible for data backup?
  • How often are you backing up data?
  • What happens in case of an onsite data loss event (such as a server failure)?
  • What happens in case of a full disaster (tornado, flooding, fire, etc.)?
  • Who is testing your data backup?
  • Are you documenting your data backup processes and following all laws?

5. Train users.

User training is important on many, many levels. First, empowering users with knowledge about your city’s information systems helps with their proficiency and productivity. If you’re investing in this technology, then training users allows you to maximize your investment. But secondly, training users also helps with lessening security risks. Many users may not be aware of the dangers of malicious websites, email attachments, online quizzes, social media games, and software that seems innocent. The more you teach users about the possibilities of your information systems along with some of the security risks that exist, your efforts will ripple positively across your organization.

Manage your city’s information systems like a professional football team, not a pickup game. By following the five best practices above, you will build a great foundation for your information systems, reduce risk, increase productivity, and comply with important laws.

Questions about your information systems management? Contact us today.

Thursday, August 11, 2016
Ryan Warrick, Network Infrastructure Consultant

Ryan WarrickObviously, your city must already have some kind of records management in place. After all, it’s the law for cities to keep records, respond to open records requests, and supply information for audits and investigations. But many cities don’t have a records management system in place beyond paper and cabinets, or they use a subpar records management system that frustrates more than it helps.

While a city clerk might not be able to change an existing records management system overnight, there are a series of steps they can take to help them modernize and align their city with records management best practices.

1. Review any city clerk handbooks for your state.

As a baseline, review your state’s city clerk handbook (if it exists). If you cannot find an official handbook, then contact your state’s city clerk’s association or municipal league to see if any equivalent materials are available. Review any sections related to records management to make sure that your city is—at a minimum—following the law and any best practices that would be easy to implement. That includes:

  • Creating a records management plan.
  • Understanding and following your state’s records retention schedule.
  • Maintaining records on an ongoing basis while following consistent policies.
  • Ensuring that records are secure, including both paper and electronic records.

2. Make sure you can easily locate all public information—electronic or otherwise.

In case of an open records request, you need to provide any public information on demand. How easily can you do it? Public information includes paper documents, electronic documents, emails, and other computer-based information. Where is that information stored? Is it in a cabinet or on a server where authorized personnel have access? Is it only on one person’s computer? Do you even know? It’s good to make an assessment of where all public information is located, note any unknowns, and identify any challenges in case you need to access it.

3. Identify weaknesses in your records management system that you need to remedy.

If going through an open records request is a time-consuming nightmare, then you need to consider a modern document management system that helps you organize, access, and retrieve documents in a more efficient way. Some things to consider include:

  • Data backup and disaster recovery. What happens in case of a disaster to your paper and electronic information? Have you scanned your important paper documents and converted them into electronic files? An offsite disaster recovery plan is critical and, in some states, it’s the law for electronic documents.
  • Search and retrieval. Can you easily search for and retrieve documents with ease? That includes documents such as Word files and PDFs along with emails.
  • Records retention schedules. Are your record retention schedules automatically applied to documents so that you consistently follow state law and city ordinances?
  • Security. Are you applying information security best practices to secure your records from hackers and prevent unauthorized employee access?

Consult with your state’s city clerk association and municipal league to consider recommended document management systems that shore up your weaknesses and modernize your technology.

4. Get records management training.

To keep up on new laws, trends, and best practices, consider receiving ongoing records management training. If available, take basic courses that lead to certification. Then, take any ongoing training classes and attend sessions at conferences. In some states, you will be required as a city clerk to take some records management courses.

5. Connect with city clerk associations and fellow city clerks.

Other city clerks will have years and even decades of experience with records management. Learn from them by attending city clerk conferences and events. Network with city clerks and give them a call with questions. In many cases, they will reinforce the points we’ve made above and also help you dig into deeper detail about what works for them.

For additional information, consider the following resources:

Friday, August 05, 2016
Dave Mims, CEO
Dave MimsIT in a Box is one of the many services provided by the Georgia Municipal Association to Georgia cities. To learn about all GMA services, check out the "We Are GMA" video below.
Thursday, August 04, 2016
Robert Parker, Network Infrastructure Consultant

Robert ParkerWith software, cities feel that they often face a dilemma. Standardized, out-of-the-box software lowers cost but restricts customization. Customized software better meets the needs of cities but may increase cost. What to do?

Let’s specifically look at document management software as an example of resolving this dilemma. Luckily, document management software has existed for a long time. That means it’s matured over time and gives cities the best of both worlds—standardization and customization. Sound too good to be true? Let’s look at both sides in more detail.

Standardized Benefits

Over the years, document management system creators and practitioners have learned a lot about best practices that apply to all organizations. These best practices get baked into the software and you benefit from them without needing to customize. In fact, many of these standardized benefits feature items you may not have thought to include if you had created your own document management software requirements—and they come right out of the box.

  • Security: Modern document management systems keep information secure through encryption, strict authorization and permissions settings, and the ability to comply with laws and policies.
  • Storage: Often stored in the cloud, your electronic documents rest in a low-cost yet rigorously maintained set of data centers that eliminates your need to buy and maintain hardware. These storage benefits allow you to easily back up data, store large amounts of electronic documents at a low cost, and scan paper files for electronic upload.
  • Implementation: With a standardized document management system, implementation usually happens more quickly than with a customized solution.
  • Folder and file structures: Document management systems usually enforce folder and file structures that allow you to easily organize and find data. Unlike how document organization gets confusing when you manually handle it on your computer, a document management system will help guide you toward organizing your information in a structure that makes sense to all users.
  • Workflows: With workflows, documents are guided through a series of steps such as drafting, editing, reviewing, and approving. Workflows help you follow a quality control process for documents.
  • Search: Similar to looking up something on Google, document management systems offer search tools that make it easy to find files. You can either search for documents based on keywords that you’ve tagged onto certain documents or you can search for phrases within documents. Search algorithms also work on the backend to help bring up the most relevant items first in a list of search results.

Customized Benefits

While standardized, document management software also offers customized benefits that are relevant to cities.

  • Automatic filing of documents: You can set up rules for filing documents that happen automatically. For example, cities can apply their record retention schedules to specific documents to make sure they are filed, stored, and purged according to state law and city ordinance.
  • Document organization: While the software provides some standardized structure as noted above, you can also customize the organization of your documents. For example, you may want to set up different document management repositories for each city department that have unique organization, rules, and workflows.
  • Dashboard: You are able to customize the dashboard you see after logging into your document management system. For example, your dashboard may only show your to-dos, your most recently opened documents, and links to your most accessed document folders. You can customize dashboards in a way that applies to all users or you can allow users to tweak their own dashboards.
  • Application integration: When setting up your document management system, your IT staff or vendor can help you integrate with important applications. One common application integration is with Microsoft Office. In that case, you can open and create Microsoft Word, Excel, or PowerPoint files within your document management system without having to separately open those Microsoft applications.
  • Look and feel: While look and feel may seem the least of your worries, it shouldn’t get overlooked. For example, you can customize the look and feel of your document management system so that it contains your city logo and colors to create a personalized touch. Look and feel is a small but important detail that allows people to log into something every day that appears pleasant and fun to use.

With document management software, you absolutely can have it both ways—customizing it for your city while enjoying standardized benefits baked into the software. It helps to have IT staff or a vendor work with you on the technical aspects to make sure that you’re properly customizing your document management software in a way that meets your needs and complies with the law.

Questions about document management software? Reach out to us today with questions.

Thursday, July 28, 2016
Nathan Eisner, COO

Nathan EisnerYou most likely have city employees who work at departmental sites that are separate from your office building. At the very least, they check emails on their smartphones. Are you finding it difficult to support employees who work across separate sites? Could it be that your IT staff or vendor hasn’t kept up with the pace of technology?

Department heads and staff at these remote sites grow frustrated because their technology is essentially broken—and responses to technical issues are very slow. A modernized helpdesk remains inexpensive and yet accommodates the needs of a remote site workforce. If you’re evaluating whether or not your helpdesk meets these needs, then consider the following areas where they must succeed.

1. 24/7/365 Support

Obviously, time comes into play when supporting city workers. It’s not uncommon that staff need help with their laptops, smartphones, and tablets before and after normal workday hours. Also, servers may fail at two in the morning or a night shift officer may need support when encountering an IT issue. An IT helpdesk can’t go home at the end of a workday and return the next morning. They must remain available to handle IT problems 24/7/365.

2. Multiple Devices

Employees will need help with laptops, smartphones, tablets, printers, and other machines spanning many devices and operating systems. An IT helpdesk cannot limit itself to only a select few devices such as workstations in the office. A wide breadth of knowledge and experience with both old and new devices, operating systems, and applications is critical in supporting the needs of cities as technology continues to rapidly change.

3. Security

Any modern IT helpdesk helping remote employees must have security down to a science. While serving remote sites, your helpdesk can help with making sure:

  • Firewalls are manually “hardened”—which just means that any entryways to your servers and workstations from the outside world (such as hackers) are closed off unless needed by authorized users.
  • Network accounts are only set up and accessed by authorized users.
  • Users are authenticated when contacting helpdesk and gaining access to applications.
  • Users have the correct permissions and rights to access certain types of information within databases and applications.
  • The city logs information about user activity in order to help document data access and diagnose issues.

4. Remote Sessions

An essential element of remote help is the use of remote helpdesk sessions. That’s when an IT engineer will temporarily request access to your computer so that they can help resolve a specific issue as if they were physically present. Whatever software your helpdesk chooses with which to conduct remote helpdesk sessions needs to be secure and non-intrusive so the user remains aware when support is engaged. Remote sessions can even take place with smartphones and tablets.


If after taking a look through these four areas you realize that you’ve got some holes in your IT helpdesk, then work with your IT staff or vendor to address these gaps. Some of these elements may seem out of your reach or like overkill (such as a 24/7/365 helpdesk), but they’re really not. IT helpdesks have evolved as quickly as the technology you now hold in your hands. If you want to better serve or enable your employees, then a modern IT helpdesk is a must.

Evaluating IT helpdesk options for your city? Reach out to us with any questions.

Thursday, July 21, 2016
Victoria Boyko, Software Development Consultant

Victoria BoykoMany cities post minutes to their websites. However, questions remain about how to best do it. Currently, there are no specific laws that require cities to provide minutes on their website (because all cities do not have websites). As a result, cities may not post minutes to their website at all, they may post them irregularly, or they may post them in ways that make it hard for citizens to find.

While not a legal requirement, posting minutes to your city’s website is a helpful service to provide your citizens. This activity hits upon many things that are important to cities and citizens—government transparency, information sharing, and civic participation. Plus, sharing minutes on your website gets your information out to the most people in the quickest, most convenient fashion.

Use this checklist to see if you’re posting your minutes properly and making them easy for citizens to find.

Publish approved minutes at a minimum.

If you have a website, at least post your approved minutes when they are ready. However, you also have the option to post draft minutes before they are approved if you’d like to quickly share information with citizens. Make sure you clearly indicate if you are posting draft minutes versus approved minutes.

Post your minutes in a timely fashion, and keep them indefinitely on your website.

Similar to how you normally distribute minutes, you can follow a similar process for your website. Either post the draft minutes to your website (such as within two business days of the meeting) or wait to post the approved minutes. Once posted, keep the minutes on your website indefinitely—similar to how you keep them indefinitely in your city’s archive.

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for a city to fail to keep minutes updated on their website. That can be frustrating for citizens. Make the task of posting minutes to your website as routine as your normal drafting and approving of your minutes as dictated by law and ordinance.

On your meeting minutes webpage, at least show the current year’s minutes, previous year’s minutes, and a link to archived minutes with all previous years.

To keep your minutes webpage uncluttered and easy to use, consider at least showing links to:

  • The current year’s minutes.
  • The previous year’s minutes.
  • An archive of all other minutes.

By highlighting the current and previous year on your minutes webpage, you make it easier for people to find these most commonly searched for minutes. It is less likely that people will search for old minutes, so you can create a link to an archived minutes page for that purpose. Many cities also just put up links on their minutes webpage for each year, which is also fine—as long as the current and previous year’s minutes are prominent and easy to find.

Make it easy for people to find and access minutes from any webpage.

Your city website likely has navigation links at the top of each page that never change—such as Home, Government, Departments, Business, Community. etc. Make sure that people can easily find minutes through these links. For example, there may be a link right on the Home page for Agendas and Minutes. Or, there may possibly be a link under Government to the City Council page where the Agendas and Minutes link could be found. Either would be easy to find.

On the other hand, if a person can’t find an easy path to your minutes then you are making them hard to locate. Grab three or four people who don’t know your website well and ask them to try finding your minutes. If they’re all having trouble, then consider rearranging how you get people to this information on your website.

Label the minutes by year, month, and day, and publish in PDF form.

When people look for specific minutes, they will look for the year, month, and day. Label files with that information so that filenames communicate what the document actually contains. Also, minutes need to be presented in an unaltered, official, and final form. A PDF is usually the best publishing format for this requirement. Publishing a PDF is the best way to ensure that you are offering the official, final version and it's also the most convenient type of file for people to download and print. A PDF is a universal file format that works on any computer and it's usually preferred by city clerks.

Overall, publishing minutes to your website is one of the services you can provide your citizens who primarily access information through the internet. When doing so, it’s best to follow your current laws and ordinances, make it easy for people to find minutes, and provide the files in the most convenient format. If you follow the tips above, then you’re scoring some major service and transparency points with your citizens.

Questions about posting minutes to your website? Reach out to us today.

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