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Thursday, September 11, 2014
Alicia Klemola, Account Manager

With the media using its usual scare tactics, it’s tempting to follow their alarmist lead and view the recent celebrity cloud nude photo hacking scandal as a sign that the cloud is an unsecure place to store data, files, and documents. After all, if private nude pictures cannot be protected from hackers, then how will you protect your business’s much more important confidential information and intellectual property? One alarming fact you’ve probably read is that many of the celebrities said they had deleted their photos long ago. Yet, those photos were still found by hackers in the cloud despite this deletion.

Let’s slow down a bit and digest this incident. First, despite their celebrity status, these people are still non-technical individuals—not IT experts. Many common individual errors in personal data privacy were committed by these celebrities. And the flaws mostly came down to weak passwords and a misunderstanding of how cloud security works.

For your business or city, we offer some reassurances in the wake of the scandal to let you know where these celebrities messed up and how your business should differently operate. 

1. Your cloud data should be protected by enterprise-level firewalls.

Free cloud software managed by vendors usually has solid firewalls in place. But because they are serving millions of consumers who are not paying for the cloud services, these vendors may not ratchet up their security as much as for a business or government entity that needs more firewall power. For example, different classes of firewalls exist that enforce higher security to keep out unauthorized users. These firewalls can be customized for your particular security needs.

2. You need to enforce strong passwords and possibly extra layers of user authentication security.

In many of the nude photo hacking scandal articles, a common point of entry was weak passwords and user authentication. It’s easy for many hackers to go after sensitive information with programs that crack weak- to medium-strength passwords. You need a policy that enforces strong passwords with a mix of letters, numbers, and characters. The passwords should also be a certain minimum length such as 8 characters and changed monthly or quarterly. In addition, you can doubly ensure password security by adding an extra layer of authentication such as a mobile confirmation once a password is entered.

3. Train your people to spot phishing scams and other suspicious links and attachments.

People are still one of the weakest links in your cyber security chain. They often present easy access points for hackers attempting to steal your sensitive information. Train your employees about how phishing scams work, how to spot suspicious emails and attachments, and when giving away usernames and passwords is legitimate. There are still too many cases when employees are fooled by an email with links that look legitimate, and the employee ends up giving hackers an access point to your data.

4. Deleting files is not as simple as clicking delete.

We talked about this in detail in a recent post, but it’s extremely important to know that deleting a file may not delete it for good. First, simply deleting a file on your computer only means that the space it takes up is available to be overwritten by a new file. It’s often still there. Second, files may or may not be synced everywhere in the cloud. Or, new files may be synced but not deleted files. Deleting in one place may not delete a file everywhere. In the celebrities’ cases, they thought that deleting a file on an iPhone meant it was also deleted in iCloud. In their case, it wasn’t. An IT professional can help you configure your archiving and deletion policies to make sure that deleted files are truly deleted.

5. Syncing files without proper oversight exposes you to security and data backup risks.

Be very careful about syncing cloud data to other devices. Ideally, you should store data and allow access to it from one central cloud location. If the data replicates itself locally on various devices, you open up the risk of your data appearing in a less secure location. It may be easier for a hacker to hack a personal device rather than your cloud servers. But if your sensitive data is encrypted and only accessible via your cloud servers (with view-only mobile access), then it’s much harder for a hacker to grab that data.

Waves of alarm always occur about the cloud when something like this scandal happens. It’s easy to blame cloud security when we should be using this incident as cloud education. If these celebrities understood how their data is stored, accessed, and deleted, then they would not have run into this issue. These are individuals, and so they can survive such an attack relatively unscathed. But as a business or government organization, you need to take advantage of the cloud’s benefits and high security while adopting common sense best practices that help protect your most sensitive data. Use the cloud, but don’t make the same mistakes as these celebrities.

To about cloud security in more detail, please contact us.

Thursday, September 4, 2014
John Miller, Senior Consultant

In many organizations, email is quite simply a mess. Sometimes, you might have loose policies where you can keep any email forever as long as there is storage space. In other cases, you might have arbitrary or necessary storage limits where you are responsible for deleting emails just to make room for more email. Either extreme is not healthy for a business or government organization.

You might say that keeping emails is understandable, for obvious reasons. If emails are needed for legal reasons or a city receives an open records request, it’s important that emails are accessible. As long as the email is somewhere, everything is fine. Right?

Actually, there’s much more to email archiving than just storing your emails in any old place. In this post, we offer up five reasons why you need to have business-class email archiving in place at your organization. 

1. Employee searching and reference.

The most obvious and prosaic argument for email archiving is simply that emails often contain a lot of important business and historical information that is useful to employees. Old emails might include notes about a project from two years ago, a forgotten vendor name from a meeting last year, or login information to a website. If employees are forced to delete emails or if they’re responsible for storing emails, there is a risk of losing important information. Email archiving ensures that employees can easily look up information from past emails.

2. Protection of sensitive information.

With a business-class email system, your email will be encrypted and protected by a variety of security measures. If employees are left to do their own archiving, there is a risk of storing old emails in insecure locations such as an external hard drive, thumb drive, or folders on the desktop that an unauthorized person might be able to access. With automatic archiving features in a business-class email system, the archived email will be set aside, encrypted, and protected against unauthorized users.

3. Storage.

Despite many cloud email systems offering more and more storage space, email storage can still grow unwieldy with many zip files, PDFs, PowerPoint presentations, pictures, audio files, and video files. Email archiving goes a long way toward compressing the size of old emails and storing them in a place where it’s expected you won’t be accessing them often. If your server storage is limited, this aspect of email archiving is critical to free up space.

4. Data backup and disaster recovery.

Email archiving forms part of a comprehensive data backup and disaster recovery strategy. Any archived emails need to be encrypted, easily accessible, and stored properly when backed up both onsite and offsite. If an email server fails, you need to make sure you don’t lose archived emails. You are still legally bound to produce important emails if requested, and the excuse of poor data backup and disaster recovery will not cut it with authorities.

5. Legal requests and compliance.

Your records management is extremely important when you are bound by law to produce emails. For businesses, you may need to produce emails as the result of following a contract, responding to a legal request, or complying with something like Sarbanes-Oxley. For government, you may need to respond to open records requests and correlate your archived email with record retention laws. You don’t want to be caught in a situation where you’re legally bound to produce an email and you are unable to do so. That failure could result in lawsuits and expensive fines.

To get started with email archiving, it’s good to look at the quality of your current email system. Are you using a free email service (like organization@yahoo.com)? Are you using an outdated email server with limited archiving and storage capabilities? Are you storing sensitive emails in insecure locations such as tape backups or thumb drives? Once you assess your current email capabilities, consider switching over to a more modern email system that encompasses email archiving and mechanisms to help you follow the law and retain emails the right way.

To talk about email archiving in more detail, please contact us.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014
Brian Ocfemia, Technical Account Manager
A recent Forbes article references a study from Docurated that highlights some alarming statistics about the current state of document management. Some key stats that the Forbes author highlights in the article include:
  • “Despite the hype around Cloud, 77% of respondents still use file servers as their primary repository.”
  • “Cloud Storage is being deployed but more than 79% of documents are still stored on-premises.”
  • “68% of organizations have 5 or more storage repositories.”
It’s likely that many cities and small businesses are in the same boat as the majority of respondents from Docurated’s survey. With the cloud and modern document management systems making it easier for cities and small businesses to create, store, and maintain documents, there’s no reason why these organizations need to settle for obsolete solutions that make business more difficult to conduct. Here are some tips that will help you get up to speed and put yourself in the minority of organizations that are doing document management right. 

1. Move your documents to the cloud to help disaster recovery.

As the statistics relate, too many documents are still stored on-premises. This increases the risk of a fire, flood, tornado, or other disaster wiping out important city or business documents. Ask yourself: If your documents were completely lost, how would that affect business? You would probably experience irreparable harm and possibly go out of business. Many cities would become crippled and unable to serve citizens effectively. Moving your documents to the cloud stores them safely offsite, including all of your paper documents (once you scan and store them). 

2. Move your documents to the cloud to make them more accessible from different locations.

If you still store documents on file servers, those servers tend to be closed off unless you’re at the office. In today’s world, people use laptops, tablets, and smartphones to work on the go. Teleworking becomes more and more of the norm as salespeople, creative workers, and business travelers work outside the office. They need access to documents without having to come into the office or use a difficult remote access VPN connection. The cloud makes it easy to not only keep documents secure but also gives people access to them while away from the office.

3. Move to one cloud document management solution to centralize your documents in one place.

So, you’re looking for an important business document. Is it on this file server? Another file server? Someone’s individual computer? The statistic about an average of more than five document storage repositories at many organizations is a sign of undisciplined document management. Different departments, probably out of frustration, simply started storing their documents themselves through the lack of an organization-wide policy. Moving to the cloud gives your organization the opportunity to centralize your documents in one place so that it’s easier for people to find them.

4. Organize and label your documents to help people find them.

Even if documents are centralized in one place, it can still be difficult to find them due to poor organization and labeling. This activity is something your organization should tackle anyway, so moving to the cloud in a centralized location presents the opportunity to sort out documents into a specific structure, decide what to keep or toss, and label using metadata (such as department, author, date approved, etc.). We’ve written some articles about this difficult but rewarding process.

5. Update your document management to help you follow the law.

For cities, this means following laws related to open records requests and record retention schedules. Modern document management systems help you store documents without fear of losing them, allow you to easily access them, and give you the ability to archive or delete them through the help of automation. Sure, you can follow the law manually, but isn’t that a lot tougher and more prone to human error? Leverage technology to ease your burden and automate your legal policies and procedures for documents.
If the above tips intrigue you and you had not been aware of how document management can solve a variety of your current business problems, shop around for some cloud solutions and explore the capabilities of modern document management systems. In this case, it helps to build out some requirements about what you’re looking for. You might be surprised to find that there’s a document management system out there waiting for you that can tackle your requirements—and a whole lot more. To talk about document management systems in more detail, please contact us.  
Friday, August 22, 2014
Nathan Eisner, CMO

It takes a lot of effort to purchase software. But once it’s inside an organization, the vigilance and due diligence seems to stop. It’s a like a person who spends a lot of time shopping for clothes but neglects the clothes once they’re bought and hanging in a closet. Because software needs to support business functions, unused software becomes a bad investment that wastes your money. In fact, the technology industry has a term for unused software: “shelfware.”

If you doubt the severity of this problem, consider the Internal Revenue Service. They wasted $11 million in unused mainframe software licenses. Other research confirms that a majority of organizations do not track software or know how much of it goes unused. While wrapping your head around your organization’s software can be intimidating, it’s a necessary step toward potentially saving you a lot of money.

Software grows like weeds, cropping up on computers everywhere throughout an organization and accruing over the years. Here are some tips to pin down and declutter your software with the goal of streamlining your budget. 

1. Take a software inventory.

Too many organizations don’t even have a sense of what software they have. If they do, it’s recorded on random Excel spreadsheets floating around an organization. Conduct an inventory to track down every last piece of software you’re using on computers and servers. Collect this information in a centralized place that’s easy to access. That information should include essential information about the software such as the version, date of purchase, number of licenses, etc. Automated software is available to help you with this inventory if your environment is large and complex.

2. Describe the business problem solved by the software.

This is a reality check for your organization. It may seem like a time waster, but this is an important question that rarely gets asked head on about your software. Why did you purchase it? What business problem is it solving? Just writing down the reason makes you realize if the software has a clear use, a vague use, or no use at all. If people begin debating the software’s use, then that’s a discussion worth having. Describing the business problem the software solves brings a lot of inefficiency and waste to light.

3. Prioritize the software’s importance to your organization.

After outlining the business problems, analyze your software based on priority. What software is mission critical? What software is for specialized use? What software seems to just waste space and collect dust? For example, you may have initially invested in an electronic note-taking software that had a clear business purpose but that no one ever adopted. Or, you might have GIS software that a particular department heavily uses to do their jobs but that no one else uses. A sense of software priority helps you understand if you’re maximizing your investments.

4. Look at the frequency of use.

While different kinds of software may have different intensity levels of use, it’s good to look at the reality of the actual use. For example, is the note-taking software referenced above not used because of user apathy or lack of training? Or is it because traditional note-taking is faster or the note-taking software’s benefits are too incremental to make an impact? Frequency of use will bring to light software that may be underused, which means your investment is not paying off. It helps you spot areas that you can remedy through policy and training, or possibly software that isn’t of much use that you can let go.

5. Explore options to reduce software costs.

Based on the data you collected in the first four steps, you now have the analysis needed to justify what you can cut, adapt, and save. For example, you might find that your GIS software is used heavily by five people but you bought 30 software licenses. In that case, you might consider switching to a cloud version where you pay by the user, and pay for only what you need. Or, you might revitalize the use of a particular piece of “shelfware” by training users, leveraging your support contract more, and creating policies that require use of the software in order to save you time and increase employee productivity.

Software is an investment, and it needs to pay off. If you scrutinize every capital purchase and analyze monthly operational expenses, then it doesn’t make sense to ignore software investments that flush money down the drain through disuse. There are plenty of remedies to apply once you get a handle on your software. Getting rid of it, cutting down the number of licenses, and moving your software to the cloud can all help you reduce costs. Use our tips on collecting the data, and then cut the bloat from your software costs to positively impact your bottom line.

To talk more about conducting a software inventory, please contact us.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014
Clint Nelms, COO

Too often, many businesses and organizations have a data backup solution in place and assume it’s working. As long as it appears to back up your data in some form, you feel fine. But if you’ve had an unchallenged data backup process going on for even just a few years, you might want to ask some questions.

That’s because many data backup systems still fail to restore data when an emergency occurs. Assumptions...well, you know the saying. Too many businesses and organizations still assume their data backup is working when they have no clear idea of what’s being backed up, how it works, and even who is backing it up.

Answering the following five questions is essential for understanding if your data backup solution needs an overhaul or a serious upgrade. 

1. WHY are you backing up data?

This may seem like an obvious first question. But different data has different priority. Often, businesses and organizations will spend a lot of time and money backing up everything—even old, uncritical documents that take up a lot of space. It’s good to spend time assessing your data. What’s the most mission-critical data that you need to restore the quickest? What’s next in priority? Is there any old data that does not need regular daily or weekly backups?

2. WHERE are you backing up data?

A recent article from Network Computing indicated that many organizations still use tape backup. That means a majority of organizations—possibly yours—rely on outdated, corruptible technology when better data backup solutions exist. Manual onsite data backup with traditional storage devices like tape, external hard drives, or thumb drives places your data at critical risk. It’s better than nothing, but too many things go wrong with these solutions. At a minimum, you need to back up your data both onsite and offsite through automated servers or a cloud solution to ensure full security and disaster recovery.

3. WHO is backing up your data?

In too many circumstances, non-technical people are saddled with handling manual data backups such as tape or external hard drives. When someone wears too many hats, data backup can easily fall off someone’s to-do list. Professional IT staff or an IT vendor needs to handle the complicated processes of data backup to ensure that your data is captured, tested, and recoverable in case of a disaster.

4. WHAT are you using to back up your data?

As mentioned above, manual data backup solutions have become outdated and high-risk. Typically, businesses are better off if they use an onsite server to back up data but the risk of full disaster still exists if your building is destroyed or severely damaged. Using the cheap storage of the cloud helps with offsite backups, and using cloud applications ensures that you can access your data from any location. Sometimes, you might still find a need to use an onsite redundant server (or servers) for certain applications where a server failure might risk data loss or interrupted business continuity.

5. WHEN do you back up your data?

This is also why it’s important to ask “Why?” Depending on the importance of particular data, you may want to back it up every hour, every day, or every week. We recommend at least every day for mission-critical or highly used data. For example, you might use an onsite server to capture hourly snapshots of financial or ecommerce data during the day. For all files (including non-essential documents), you might send a daily snapshot at the end of each day to the cloud. Having a regular schedule that is automated and enhanced by modern technology avoids issues of infrequent data backup (such as every week) or forgetting to back up data.

It’s also worth noting that cost may inhibit you from thinking about answering these questions and looking for a better solution. First, consider the cost of data loss. If a server fails or a disaster hits, what will happen? That’s usually a sobering thought and highly encourages many businesses to make the investment. But second, technology has significantly advanced to the point where many modern data backup solutions are comparable or even less costly than traditional tape or server backups. When you add automation and reliability to your cost-benefit analysis, it definitely doesn’t hurt to shop around for a better solution.

To talk more the 5 Ws of data backup, please contact us.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014
Alicia Klemola, Account Manager

It’s summer, and you’re probably enjoying the season but not the air conditioning bills that always skyrocket to keep you cool. With heat and cold, you clearly see the direct cause and effect relationship. You know that if heat waves extend over long periods of time, your power consumption will rise. If power bills become severe on a tight budget, then you might think of ways to reduce your air conditioning bills given the special circumstances.

Yet, technology increases your power consumption 24/7/365, stealing your money like a thief in the night. The cause and effect is less apparent. You know you need your servers and computers to help you run your business. Whatever it takes to maintain those machines, you’ll do it—including lots and lots of air conditioning to make sure servers and computers don’t overheat.

Luckily, there are ways to reduce your power consumption—and save money—if you know how to eliminate as much of your hardware’s power hungry appetite as possible. Use the following tips to assess your technology and explore if you can find ways to recoup some money through power savings. 

1. Reduce your total number of servers.

We live in a day and age when cloud computing has revolutionized technology. That means you don’t need as many servers. Instead, you can access critical software and applications through the Internet. This software is hosted in massive cloud data centers where you don’t have to worry about cooling and maintaining your own servers. The more servers you have, the harder your air conditioning has to work. So, the more servers you eliminate and switch over to cloud software, the more money you save.

2. Replace older desktops and laptops.

As technology improves, hardware manufacturers build leaner and meaner desktops and laptops. That technology includes advances in power efficiency, and so newer machines end up using a lot less power than older machines. Your older desktops and laptops are far less power efficient than newer models. Of course, while power consumption alone probably isn’t enough of a reason to justify replacing a computer, it’s another argument for your business case if you’re looking for reasons to purchase new computers.

3. Implement a telework policy.

An obvious way to lessen power consumption is by not using it at all. If your staff can work as effectively at home as they can in the office, let them stay home all or part of the week. Beyond power consumption, teleworking has proven to offer many benefits for both you and your employees. It gives your employees more flexible time to do their work while taking care of personal needs (such as kid-related activities or taking care of relatives), and you benefit from increased employee morale and productivity. Offering teleworking also helps with recruiting talent for your organization.

4. Power down or decommission servers and computers that no one is using.

This might sound like a silly or obvious tip, but you’d be surprised. In many business environments that we’ve seen over the years, we often find servers and computers running 24/7 that no one is using, and that no one has used for years. If you’re not using a server any more, work with your IT staff or vendor to decommission it properly. The same logic applies to computers that are just on and running. Only power up hardware that is regularly or semi-regularly used for a specific purpose.

5. Check load balancing on any servers that are running onsite.

Load balancing is quite technical and we won’t get into the nuts and bolts of it here. But it’s something your IT staff or vendor should rigorously monitor and check. On a high level, load balancing ensures that a server or servers aren’t overtaxed beyond what they’re capable of (such as a small email server trying to serve too many employees) or running at full capacity when they’re not being used much or at all (such as a GPS software server that few people use but that takes a lot of power to run). Load balancing helps make sure servers are handling as much input as they are capable of handling in the most efficient way.

From the obvious to the technical, there are quite a few ways to reduce your technology power consumption. Much of the time, we tend to run machines in wasteful ways that we wouldn’t do with other equipment. By powering down and eliminating hardware waste, you not only save money but also encourage a greener business environment. A lot of sensible energy policies center on waste, and the more waste you eliminate the better it is for the environment—and for your bottom line.

To talk about energy consumption in more detail, please contact us.  

Tuesday, July 29, 2014
John Miller, Senior Consultant

A recent tragic murder investigation in Atlanta led to a news report by 11Alive about how investigators used computer forensics to uncover deleted files from the alleged killer’s computer. In some discussion about the case as passing conversation, we heard a good question from a client: “If I want to make sure that sensitive business information is deleted from a computer, how do I make sure?”

In this alleged murderer’s case, he didn’t realize that even seeming to permanently delete files does not actually delete them. While investigators are thankful that this person didn’t know any better, it does bring up an important issue for cities and businesses. Simply reverse the situation: What if these investigators were professional criminals, corporate spies, or IT-savvy angry ex-employees who were looking through your seemingly “discarded” hardware with sensitive information inside? How do you protect yourself?

First, it’s good to understand two common misperceptions about deleting data from computers. 

1. When you delete a file, it’s not actually deleted.

You might already know this, but many users do not. They think by deleting a file that it’s gone forever. Tell them to go up to that Recycle Bin or Trash Can icon on their desktop. Double click. And yes, there’s all of their deleted files. It’s only when you delete files from this repository that you “permanently” delete all of your files. If a user does this, those files are now usually inaccessible to both themselves and non-IT savvy users.

2. When you permanently delete a file, it’s not actually deleted.

What? This is an extremely common misperception, and it’s a very dangerous one. Most people do not know that files still exist on your computer even when you “permanently” delete them. On a high level, what happens when you “permanently delete” the file is that you tell the computer that the space that the file takes up can be used if needed. Unless it’s overwritten by other data (which usually only happens if you’ve almost run out of disk space), it’s still there.

These misperceptions lead to cyber liability issues. Let’s say you sell or recycle a computer, and it ends up in the hands of someone outside your organization who is unauthorized to access sensitive information (like intellectual property or social security numbers). All they would need is a professional (for maybe a few hundred dollars) to recover any contents on the hard drive and use that information in a negligent manner. The rarity of such an incident is no excuse for allowing such information to get out there. All it takes is one breach of sensitive information for your city or business to face a lawsuit or even a criminal charge.

So, how do you really delete data? There are three levels of protection and assurance to make sure that deleted data cannot be accessed by people outside your organization. 

1. Encrypt your hardware’s data.

The information is still on your hard drive, but at least the probability becomes nearly nil that anyone can access it. Essentially, you require encryption passwords by a user to access anything on their computer. This is a separate password and set at a higher level than the password for opening up Windows or an application. If a computer gets into someone’s hands through a sale, recycling activity, or theft, the information will be worthless without the encryption password.

2. Professionally wipe the hard drive completely clean.

Encryption still offers a slim chance that someone could access the data. Unfortunately, there is no user-friendly “Wipe Hard Drive” button. To completely wipe the hard drive clean, you need an IT professional to handle the task. You can also try the process yourself, but it’s difficult for a non-technical person and introduces the risk that you haven’t properly wiped the drive clean. It often includes complicated software, technical steps, and even removing the hard drive from your computer and mounting it onto another computer. Let IT professionals handle such a procedure, and they’ll also make sure you’ve complied with cyber liability best practices.

3. Physically destroy the hard drive.

Similar to professionally wiping the hard drive clean, you don’t want to do this yourself. To be thorough and safe, let an IT professional handle the proper destruction of a hard drive to ensure that it’s done safely, completely, and in an environmentally safe way. This is the way to really have confidence that no one will access any data on a hard drive. If it’s gone and destroyed, there’s really no way for that data to be retrieved ever again.

As the alleged murderer found out, data can still be found unless you take further precautions. For cities and businesses, understanding this issue is a great help for cyber liability. Deletion on a computer just isn’t enough, and you risk that data getting into the hands of malicious people. At the very least, encrypt all of your computers (including tablets and smartphones). Then, when it’s time to decommission, use professionals to ensure that your computer’s hard drive is a blank slate or goes to hard drive heaven.

To talk more about encrypting and decommissioning computers, please contact us.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Brian Ocfemia, Technical Account Manager

One of the biggest burdens we try to lift off our clients’ shoulders is what we call “vendor management.” For non-technical people, “vendor management” is the time wasted trying to diagnose technical problems on the fly and spending hours on the phone with the vendor’s support technicians when you’ve got your normal job to do. Plus, you’re not a technical expert, so you’re often not sure about specific details related to the problem, knowing if the vendor really solved the problem, and feeling sure that you’re talking with the right person about it.

Through our experiences, we’ve seen time wasted and even money lost when vendor management slips out of your control. These situations can range from getting bamboozled into purchasing software with too many bells and whistles to vendors not properly following their support agreements. Here are five common scenarios where you’ll most likely lose time and money without professional vendor management vigilance. 

1. Following and sticking to business and technical requirements.

Sounds simple. You build out requirements, and that’s what you need to buy. You’re probably laughing because you’ve experienced “scope creep” with vendors. You only need X, but they try to sell you X, Y, and Z. The time to “splurge” on requirements is when you objectively create them before you start shopping. After reining in your ideas into what’s feasible and cost-sensible, you then shop based on those requirements. From a computer to complex software, it helps to have an IT professional who knows the kind of noise that vendors make when selling bells and whistles. That IT professional will work to keep the vendor focused when evaluating their products and services.

2. Ensuring proper configuration and installation.

Vendors can be lazy and indifferent once you’ve purchased a product or solution. Sometimes you’re stuck installing it yourself. Other times, you may receive limited remote or onsite help. Even then, these technicians are experts about their product but not with your particular IT systems. If you rely too much on their limited experience, you might have problems getting your product or software quickly up to speed. An IT professional can help troubleshoot through any common issues with the vendor and ensure that your product or software is installed correctly.

3. Monitoring and maintaining any hardware, software, or equipment in your environment.

Only an IT professional who regularly monitors and maintains your environment will be able to holistically note red flags that a vendor’s hardware, software, or equipment is causing. Product vendors might have some limited monitoring capabilities but they won’t have access to your overall server and workstation management dashboards. IT professionals help manage this process by ensuring that patches and updates are applied, technical problems are noted, and the product is working harmoniously within your environment.

4. Handling technical issues efficiently.

This is one of those areas that’s often time-consuming and frustrating. You call, try to explain the problem, talk to a Tier 1 support technician, then another, and then another...and soon you’ve wasted half a day on the phone. An IT professional can save you a lot of time here. They know the game, they know basic Troubleshooting 101, and they can explain a problem faster. If that requires escalating the problem to a higher support technician, they can assess that quickly and push for a fast resolution. Plus, when an IT professional handles those phone calls, it’s like an accountant handling your taxes—a huge sigh of relief.

5. Enforcing support contracts.

Vendors usually provide support within their contracts but many organizations often don’t enforce and use them to their fullest benefit. Your IT staff or vendor might be very skilled, but they are not experts in your vendor’s product. When major problems arise, the vendor needs to send their people over to solve them. An IT professional can help organizations enforce those contracts, coordinate the vendor’s support, and make sure the vendor provides what they promised. Support contracts not only provide you things like security patches and updates but also help pay for expensive parts and give you customer service priority.

Like any technical activity such as finances or the law, technology vendor management can be overwhelming when you’re an owner, director, or manager running a business or organization. We’ve noticed that when we take “vendor management” off of someone’s plate, it saves huge amounts of time and money. Plus, we often uncover productivity issues, configuration problems, or parts of support contracts that weren’t previously enforced. Technology is a tough area for non-technical people to wrap their heads around. Just as lawyers deal with lawyers, let IT professionals deal with other IT professionals.

To talk about vendor management in more detail, please contact us.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014
Nathan Eisner, CMO

It’s fairly conventional for city websites to include history pages that summarize highlights throughout the decades and even centuries that the city has existed. Interesting facts abound as most cities grew throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, and cities like to know that their efforts in the 21st century rest upon a rich history. So how are you approaching your history page?

Chances are that it’s not really a priority. If it’s not helping serve citizens and if it’s not essential for day-to-day business, then it’s easy for history pages to become an afterthought. Yet, a lot of important information is communicated through your history page—much more information than you think. But a quick scan of many city websites showcase only dry, dusty information that sounds like an old-fashioned encyclopedia, with maybe a few photos added.

How can you spice up your history page while also improving your engagement with both citizens and non-citizens? Read on for some tips.

1. Connect the past to the present.

One mistake that many cities make is to give a dry recounting of old history and just leave the text sitting there, like a dusty antique on a shelf that no one looks at. Instead, use your history to highlight themes that are important to your city today. Maybe your city has had a historical commitment to diversity. Or perhaps there is a particular kind of industry that was important to your city’s growth. Look to your past to find themes that resonate in the present so that citizens feel they are living in a city where its history is still being written.

2. Add visuals to help illustrate your history.

Photos and videos help bring your history to life. High quality professional photos of buildings and landmarks will interest people as they read the text on your history page. Plus, consider using digital imaging to scan old historical photos so that you can share them on your website. Present a few photos to accompany the text and then consider creating a separate page or slideshow in case people want to spend a lot of time looking at many photos.

3. Offer a timeline to highlight key events in your city’s history.

A timeline is another visual device that helps people easily grasp key events that happened in your city throughout the years. You can create a simple list or table, but you may also want to hire a graphic designer to help make something more visually appealing. While New York City’s timeline might seem a little fancy, it’s actually a good model for how a timeline might work for your city with easy to read facts and dates.

4. Tell stories about significant or interesting events in your history.

While a chronological overall timeline is good because it includes all of your city’s history, don’t be afraid to take interesting stories and expand upon them if they’d be of interest to people. Maybe a founder of your city was an interesting person. You might have a unique building or landmark with a neat story. Or a famous fair or sporting event was held in your city at one point. Tell the colorful stories of your city’s history to draw out its character and charm.

5. Connect your history to tourism.

Let’s say you interest people in your city’s history through your overview, visuals, timeline, and stories. You’ve intrigued them and they want to visit. But there’s no information on the history page telling them about locations or what’s open to the public, and so they stop at just reading the history. Link to any locations you mention. Better yet, provide a list of information about historical places that people can visit including festivals and other events related to these places.

Your city history page is really an extension of your marketing, public relations, and tourism efforts. If it’s dry and lifeless, it makes your city look like a relic. But by connecting history to your city’s vision, mission, and themes, you create the idea that your city is a work in progress. The foundation of your current governmental, business, and residential efforts builds upon the past while looking toward the future. Use the past to make the present seem that much better.

To talk more about your city’s history page, please contact us.

Thursday, July 10, 2014
Dave Mims, CEO

Sophicity was flattered to see our IT in a Box service recently featured in a Georgia Municipal Association interview with Mayor James Grogan of Dawsonville, Georgia. More specifically, Mayor Grogan spent a lot of time highlighting the importance of a modern website for cities. As a small city of about 2,500 residents, Dawsonville did not use the size of their city as an excuse for keeping an old, outdated website that wasn’t frequently updated with new information.

Mayor Grogan recognized that our Internet use has matured to the point where it’s second nature for citizens to expect that city websites are one-stop shops for city news, information, and services. In case your city isn’t convinced that it needs a website upgrade, don’t take it from us. Here are five reasons that we’ve extracted from this GMA interview that highlight what Mayor Grogan felt was important about websites and convinced him to update his city’s website ASAP.

1. Design impacts the impression citizens will have of a city.

Just like a city hall building is the face of a city, the same is true of a website on the Internet. Do you keep your city hall looking good, or do you let it get dirty, unkempt, and damaged? While most cities would never let their city hall look awful, they unfortunately let their websites look awful. Yet, ironically, more people are probably looking at your website than your city hall building. You don’t need an expensive web design budget to update the look and feel of your website. Many sleek, modern designs are available in template form to cut down costs while still making your website look good.

2. Cities need to keep websites updated with fresh, timely information.

Mayor Grogan pointed out in the interview that “When I go to a website and there’s nothing happening there, I’m not going to go back and I’m definitely not going to go visit the city.” Too many cities let their websites decay like abandoned buildings. Citizens look to websites for information about events, news, and minutes from city council meetings. If you’re not posting that information, it makes your city look lazy and even negligent. Modern websites have content management systems built in to make it easy to add and update content every day in a timely fashion.

3. Visual content helps make your website pop.

While photos and visuals seem like a secondary concern on your website, they can actually have a great impact—positive or negative. Old, outdated photos make your city look out of touch, and unprofessional photos make your city look amateurish. Take professional, beautiful photos of your best city landmarks and points of pride. Visual content should also include photos of key city employees, especially those who serve and interact a lot with the public.

4. Supply more content that meets the needs of citizens.

Many city websites have major content gaps and scanty, bare bones information. That’s not good enough anymore. Offer up overviews and detailed information about each city department to help orient, inform, and serve citizens. Post events and news so that people can stay engaged with your city activities. Keep citizens informed about city council business and major projects to stay transparent. And continually think about what information might best help citizens—and then supply it on your website.

5. Reduce paper costs by posting newsletters online.

Like Dawsonville, your city may send out expensive printed newsletters to citizens. Whether they go out with a water bill (like Dawsonville) or separately, you can cut out those paper costs by putting your newsletters online. While there still might be a few citizens who prefer the paper newsletter, we now live in an era where almost everyone now has Internet access. If you still want to send a paper newsletter, make it something that citizens have to request and opt into. Everyone else can access it online, and you might publicize it through an email to citizens.

Mayor Grogan’s insights from his experience of implementing a new website directly correlate with the needs of your city. Your website is like an online city hall. It’s the first place that many citizens and even non-residents are going to check when looking for information about your city. Like a city hall, it needs to look good, provide services, and supply information. Thankfully, you are probably in the best position today to transition to a new website that meets all of these needs while staying low-cost.

To talk more about transitioning to a new website, please contact us.

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