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CitySmart Blog

Tuesday, July 8, 2014
Clint Nelms, COO

In the past, you may have gone through a long technology or software approval process. Knowing that new hardware or complex software would be a large capital investment, you took your time with the technology procurement process. You identified your requirements, secured budget approval, researched solutions, watched demos, sourced and interviewed vendors, whittled down your finalists, and finally made a decision. This process could take many months or even years.

A recent article in ZDNet by Joe McKendrick points out that these long technology procurement cycles are made obsolete by the cloud and that sticking to the old way of purchasing technology introduces risk. That’s because when you finally purchase hardware or software, it’s likely out of date by the time you pull the trigger. Yes, that’s right. Technology is now moving so fast that the solution you decide to purchase now will be obsolete by the time you jump through all of your hoops, select the vendor, and pay for it.

To expand upon some important points in McKendrick’s article, we offer some analysis as to why you need to be looking at cloud solutions to help you procure technology much more quickly while still ensuring that you’re purchasing a quality solution. 

1. Cloud deploys quickly.

Because there is no hardware, cloud software is deployed virtually at high-end data centers. Servers are literally carved out and created with a click, and they are easy for your IT staff or vendor to set up and maintain. With traditional technology, deployment is a large cost of the solution because the vendor’s technical staff or your IT staff must spend time setting up, installing, and testing your new hardware and software onsite. The cloud centralizes all of this activity in a data center, and specialized virtualization technology allows for quick deployment and immediate access through an Internet connection.

2. Cloud eliminates capital expenses.

A big budget hurdle of traditional technology procurement is the upfront capital expenses. You often pay for hardware, software licenses, and other equipment as a capital expense. As you know, capital expenses need to be justified in your budget and those kinds of decisions take a long time when set against other priorities. The cloud works from a leaner operational expense model, making it easier for you to approve budget. When there is less money at risk, it’s easier and quicker to approve a technology line item.

3. Cloud scales up and down depending on your needs.

Traditional technology procurement is sometimes a gamble, especially when you’re betting on continued growth or assuming that your number of employees will stay the same. But you’re stuck if you buy 40 software licenses and then have to reduce your staff to 30. You’re still paying for those 10 extra licenses until the contract runs out. With the cloud, most software is instantly scalable. You only pay for what you use, and you can add or subtract your number of users as needed. This reduces the risk of underinvesting or overinvesting in a technology solution when you cannot anticipate future growth or hardships.

4. Cloud software updates continually.

Because you’re accessing your software from cloud data centers managed by vendors from a centralized location, they can continually update software at the data center level and push out those updates to you. Compare that to traditional software models where you buy a version of the software that remains static unless you buy a newer version. A famous example is Microsoft. You might have bought Windows XP and watched newer versions appear such as Windows 7 or 8 while you’re stuck with your original investment. With the cloud, new software versions and updates are pushed out automatically, reducing the need for you to go through an entirely new technology procurement cycle to update software.

5. Cloud eliminates hardware.

Although we mentioned this fact in the deployment discussion above, it’s worth mentioning separately. Hardware tends to be one of the biggest technology capital expenses that you face. The purchasing, installation, maintenance, support, and decommissioning of hardware involves a lot of costs including the labor of your IT staff or vendor. By eliminating hardware through the cloud, you eliminate not only one of the biggest capital expenses but also the need for recurring hardware procurement every few years (or watching your hardware become obsolete if you cling to it in its old age).

Through our many years of experience, we’ve watched budget-strapped businesses and cities struggle with multi-year technology procurement processes for essential purchases of hardware and software. They waste so much staff time and delay the actual use of the technology when they need it most. We find that the cloud doesn’t make the technology procurement process instantaneous, but it does remove several major hurdles that drag out technology purchasing. If you struggle with similar long technology purchasing processes, you might be surprised how the cloud helps eliminate most of those hurdles.

If you want to talk more about how the cloud reduces the time to procure technology, please contact us.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014
Alicia Klemola, Account Manager

Attracting new, relocated, and expanding businesses is obviously a key goal for any city. More businesses mean more jobs, more tax revenue, and greater economic vitality for your city. Once a slew of businesses emerge in your city, it often has a snowball effect and can lead to significant growth. But to attract those businesses, you need to market your city and provide the right information to business owners when they consider your city as a prime location to operate.

A major part of that marketing and communications activity takes place on your website. Businesses large and small will research cities to find out which ones will be best to set up shop. If you’re not providing the right welcome and the necessary information businesses need, they’ll pass you by and go somewhere else.

So what do you need on your website to attract those businesses? Here are some content tips that should help.

  1. Show off the best aspects of your city. First, it helps to brag and show off a bit to let businesses know why you’re a great place to do business. Maybe your city is in the midst of a growth spurt. Or perhaps you have a new business or technology center where you’re developing a cluster of startups within a specific industry. You might even have a booming downtown that’s perfect for a small business. Let businesspeople know why your city is special and the perfect place for them.
  2. Collect all of the information they need in one place. A business owner shouldn’t have to navigate through several sections of your website digging for scattered information. Collect all necessary information for them on a business page that provides links to more specific areas of your website. Be helpful. Not only include business information about licenses and fees but also link to other sections of your website such as utilities or city council information. Make your business page a one-stop shop for anything a business owner might need when researching your city.
  3. Provide a clear checklist of business requirements. While many cities have similar requirements such as business licenses, each city can be slightly different in what a business owner needs to do when starting, relocating, or expanding a business. Provide a checklist of requirements such as business licenses, inspections, fees, signage, renovations, etc. to help a business owner easily see what he or she needs to do. Otherwise, they’ll be annoyed if they have to hunt through your website for the information or call you because an important piece of information is missing.
  4. Highlight special business resources available in your community. Don’t just provide the bare minimum of utilitarian information for businesses. Highlight any incentives, grants, support groups, incubators, or any other special resources that may help businesses thrive. Your city, like many cities, may compete for businesses by providing amenities and perks. Let business owners know about these amenities on your website and describe the positive impact they are having on business growth. Plus, business owners like to know they are stepping into a like-minded community of other business owners with whom they can network and share information.
  5. Talk about your city’s overall economic development progress. Get specific about the economic development initiatives going on in your city. Provide high-level highlights but also dig into current plans, projects, and groups that are spurring growth. Remember, economic development can include everything from college and university expansions to downtown development projects. Even things like a new music venue or park impact economic development, and it’s good for business owners to know about this activity.

The bottom line: Be helpful and highlight the best business-friendly information. Business owners generally want to know two things: That it’s easy to do business with you, and that your city is economically vital. If it’s tough to figure out what they need to do and if your website lacks information about exciting economic development projects, they’ll turn to another city. Luckily, it doesn’t take much on your part to please businesses. In fact, it should be fun to talk about what makes your city great for businesses and to take the time to better highlight your awesomeness on your website.

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

Thursday, June 26, 2014
John Miller, Senior Consultant

When cities tackle information security and cyber liability, they usually make sure their servers, desktops, laptops, and networks are locked down and secure. It’s easy to overlook mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones. After all, these are the kinds of devices we use every day and they seem detached from a lot of common technology security issues such as viruses, hacking, and unauthorized access.

Yet, cities need to treat mobile devices just as strictly as their other hardware. But how can you go about doing that when a plethora of personal and city-issued mobile devices are in the hands of employees in various locations every day? Here are some tips to help you assess if you’re tackling your mobile security as well as your traditional technology security.

  1. Track mobile hardware assets. Just like you inventory your servers, workstations, and network equipment, you need to track the total number of your city-issued laptops, tablets, and smartphones. There should never be a mobile device that has mysteriously disappeared or in an unknown place. Last year, some highly publicized incidents at the highest levels of government showed some embarrassing consequences when mobile hardware went missing. And if people bring in their own devices, make sure you know who’s accessing your city network, and what they can access through their device.
  2. Protect mobile devices in case they are lost or stolen. If employees use mobile devices to store and access city data, that means a user can have access to sensitive information. Some basic precautions need to be taken on all mobile devices to ensure that data is not accessible to a person who steals or acquires your mobile device by unsavory means. Your IT staff or vendor needs to make sure that all city-issued or personal mobile devices accessing your data are encrypted and password protected. In addition, it doesn’t hurt to use a tracking app to find out where your device is if it gets lost or stolen.
  3. Restrict access to data at the cloud level. For added security, consider moving your data to the cloud. Then, mobile devices will not have to store or upload sensitive data. If a mobile device is stolen or even if an angry employee tries to access data after getting fired, it’s easy for your IT staff or vendor to simply remove, at the cloud level, that user’s permission to access data. The device then becomes just an access point and not a storage device containing data that could get into the wrong hands.
  4. Beware of spam and phishing attacks. In the early days of the iPhone and the iPad, there was a myth and misperception that Apple devices were unhackable. Despite that being untrue, it gave many people a false sense of security as if they could access anything they wanted on their mobile device without any bad consequences. But just like a desktop computer, spammers are trying to get people using mobile devices to click on malicious links. A virus can compromise your mobile device...and your data. While antispam helps, you want to train your employees to avoid clicking on malicious links, downloading apps from untrusted sources, and giving away sensitive username and password information.
  5. Keep mobile device software up to date. For your IT management efforts, mobile devices are just like servers and desktops. They need software updates and patches to ensure that they are secure and free of common bugs and vulnerabilities. If you’re using city-issued devices, you need to push out updates on a regular basis. For personal devices, you need a policy that ensures that people’s devices maintain a basic security standard so that city data is not compromised through an unmanaged device.

As you can see, many of the tips for mobile device security are similar to traditional IT management and monitoring. It’s easy to just allow employees to hop on your network with their own devices, with little oversight. But you open up security holes if you don’t enforce a stronger set of security standards. If employees protest, remind them of the severe consequences of cyber liability, which is sobering. Maybe it isn’t fun for them, but your city will be best served by a strong mobile security policy ensuring that devices - both city-issued and personal devices - are as free of security vulnerabilities as possible.

To talk about mobile security in more detail, please contact us.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014
Brian Ocfemia, Technical Account Manager

While we don’t often get too cutting-edge in our blog posts because we want to discuss the current, practical needs of cities and businesses, there were some important Apple announcements at the recent Apple Worldwide Developers Conference that will impact you in the not too distant future. They all relate to the cloud and how it’s changed the way we interact with technology.

We’ve gathered together some observations about some key Apple announcements from the conference of what we feel will be significant to your city as the cloud continues to grow in importance and become the technology standard for nearly all software. As you’ll see, the implications aren’t just technical things on the backend. They affect the way you actually behave and use technology interfaces. 

1. The distinction between files stored in the cloud and files stored on your device will disappear.

Right now, even if you use the cloud you might still store files on your desktop or laptop that are only located there. That option is going away. Devices are quickly becoming access points to the cloud. Any need for using your devices to store files is going away. Imagine a day when you can drop, destroy, or lose a device and not worry about ever losing any files or data that were on it.

2. The distinction between desktops/laptops and tablets/smartphones will disappear.

We don’t mean that the hardware will change. There will still be a variety of different devices that allow for different user experiences and capabilities. Currently, you might use your desktop with a specific set of desktop software, and your tablet or smartphone with a different set of software. Some software syncs across devices, but they are different user experiences. In the future, it will be like you have one and only one software suite and your devices are simply different access points into the same suite. For example, you might open a Word document on your tablet, hop on your desktop to continue editing it, and finalize it on your smartphone before sending it.

3. The distinction between the phone and your computer will disappear.

Yes, even the phone is blending into your total cloud experience. Think about it. With your smartphone, you’re already using a computer to select contacts, call people, and store voicemail messages. Just take that idea further so that voice calls just become streaming Internet data like any other data. Instead of thinking about the idea of a “phone,” you’re simply using a device – your PC, your Mac, your tablet, or your smartphone – and some software that allows you to talk to people.

4. The distinction between your devices and third party software will disappear.

We’re not saying that software won’t have individual companies that create, sell, and support it. But there are implications with some Apple announcements about iCloud Drive at the conference that third party cloud applications will become easier to sync and create seamless experiences between different devices (e.g. PCs and Macs, or iPhones and Androids). Today, there are still issues when certain cloud software only works on iPhones and iPads, but not on Androids. The cloud is whittling down some of those vendor barriers because people don’t necessarily care about brand loyalty. For example, they just want their Google Docs to work on their iPhone.

5. All of these technological advances can be managed easily to ensure security, privacy, and ease of access.

It makes sense that if the cloud is centralizing data in one place, the management of that data also becomes easier. Many companies are worried about the “bring your own device” (BYOD) trend where it’s unclear how much or how little you should restrict access to data on an employee’s personal device. Instead of worrying about if an employee-owned Android should access data on your accounting server, your IT staff or vendor will simply restrict access to anyone from any device through a cloud dashboard. No matter what device is trying to access the information, you can set permissions that restrict employee access.

While these technology advances might seem far off in the future or too good to be true, they’ve been slowly taking over your desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones for a few years. By storing everything in the cloud, worries about maintaining your own hardware, software, and storage needs largely go away. This is why investing in the cloud now not only saves you money but also keeps you ahead of the curve as these technology standards eventually become the norm.

To talk more about the cloud and its impact on your city, please contact us.

Thursday, June 19, 2014
Nathan Eisner, CMO

One common barrier we hear about moving to the cloud is aging, old legacy software. For example, if you have accounting software that you’ve been using for 10 years, you might think it’s impossible to move that outdated technology into the cloud. Because you’re dependent on that software for your day-to-day business, you figure you’ll still need to host those servers onsite or in a data center.

However, you can most likely move that legacy software into the cloud. But that might sound too good to be true, like a vendor overpromising what the cloud can actually deliver. In this post, we’ll talk about some of the mechanics and important points of what makes it possible to take third party applications and manage them in the cloud. 

1. A true shift to the cloud means “Infrastructure as a service”—not just putting your legacy software into a typical data center.

While Infrastructure as a service (IaaS) is very complex, basically it’s many technical levels above a typical data center. Instead of simply taking your onsite server and hosting it in a different place, the entire nature of how your data is stored in a cloud data center means it’s spread across different geographies, provides more redundancy, and becomes less vulnerable to a server outage. It’s good to first confirm that you’re really going into the cloud and not just a typical data center.

2. It’s best to ensure that a current cloud version of the legacy software doesn’t already exist.

Many companies are creating new versions of software that are written for the cloud. Before considering moving your legacy software into the cloud, check to see if a newer version exists. It will likely run better, provide up-to-date features and security, and lower your costs through a more streamlined service. While there might be some cost making the switch, moving to the newest cloud version of the software will likely be a great investment.

3. A cloud vendor essentially helps you migrate your exact same legacy system, intact, into a cloud.

While it might seem too good to be true to move an ancient legacy system into the cloud, essentially the technology has evolved to a point where cloud vendors migrate the entire server or servers intact. That includes all data, settings, and programs. The onsite hardware isn’t needed, and the data is stored just like any other cloud data. A few rare legacy applications cannot be moved into the cloud, but most can. Until recently, many software vendors didn’t support the kind of technical configuration required by a cloud environment (and some still don’t) usually because it can take a little more effort to make it work (and thereby increase your support costs). But now with such widespread cloud adoption and pressure from the market, most vendors have been forced to adapt. The transition is now more doable and it gets rid of your hardware and any responsibility for onsite maintenance.

4. You and your third party vendor will have control of the software, just like before.

Other than the fact that there is no physical software onsite, all access, maintenance, updates, and permissions are handled exactly the same way. Instead of logging into an onsite server, you’re instead logging into your application on the cloud. After the data is migrated and set up, your software is configured for use. That includes any user-specific access, permissions, and configuration that you had before. The cloud vendor just provides the infrastructure but you and your software vendor do everything else like before.

5. Your cloud vendor can ensure better data backup and disaster recovery than what you’re currently doing.

Cloud data backup is powerful. Not only does it provide near 100% uptime and plenty of redundancy (power lines, generators, Internet connections, etc.) to help avoid outages and data loss, but cloud vendors can also take regular snapshots of your data. If a disaster does occur, you can recover your data and even your entire software system. You and your vendor may currently have limitations for how often you take snapshots of your data or handle data recovery (e.g. tape backup). Taking advantage of automatic, seamless data backup helps keep your legacy software running no matter what happens to you.

While you might have known that basic software such as Microsoft Office, Exchange, or SQL could be used in the cloud, the technology has now matured to a point where third party legacy software applications are able to migrate over. This is a significant opportunity for you, since you’ll be able to eliminate hardware, reduce the cost of maintenance and space, and be able to access your legacy software anytime, anywhere.

To talk more about moving your legacy software into the cloud, please contact us.  

Tuesday, June 17, 2014
Dave Mims, CEO

In your city, you likely have various boards and commissions that cover everything from planning and public safety to the arts and the library. Through these groups, citizens become more engaged with government and help your city work on specific problems and opportunities. They are a great way for citizens to participate in government and partner with you.

That’s why it’s important to create content that makes information about boards and commissions easy to find. Here are some tips on what basics to include on your city’s boards and commissions page.

  1. Provide a brief summary for each board and commission. For quick reference, create a brief summary of the purpose of each board and commission on a main page. The names of boards and commissions can often be vague (e.g. “Planning Commission”) or complex (e.g. “Small Business Enterprise Procurement Program Advisory Committee”), so it’s good to provide explanations to help citizens figure out what these groups do. Keep the explanations brief and offer more details by linking to separate, more detailed pages.
  2. Post or link to meeting information. Provide details on when these boards and commissions meet. These are public meetings, so it’s important to be fully transparent with this information. Describe when they meet, where they meet, and who will be meeting. If the meeting location is hard to find or parking is difficult, provide additional information to help make it easier for people to attend.
  3. Post or link to agendas and minutes. Boards and commissions usually provide agendas for upcoming meetings and minutes from past meetings. If your city is responsible for particular boards and commissions, make sure to post meeting agendas 2-4 weeks out and post minutes at least a few days after each meeting. If you’re linking to another page, then note that you’re linking to agendas and minutes.
  4. Provide information about members and membership requirements. People will want to know who is serving on particular boards and commissions. List names and roles along with additional information about each person. You might provide full bios or just the company they represent. It’s also great for citizens to know what it takes to join a particular board or commission. Provide requirements or at least a point of contact for citizens to ask questions about joining the board or commission.
  5. Create a gateway page to relevant boards and commissions. A gateway page simply means a main page where people can see a full list of boards and commissions and access any links that are external to your city webpage. That might include county boards and commissions, or joint groups that are partnerships between the city and some other organization of government entity. You may not be responsible for the upkeep of those board and commission pages, but you can link to them and arrange the links in an orderly way to make the pages easy for citizens to find.

By providing this basic information on your city’s website, you’re performing an important service for citizens. Civic participation is enhanced when citizens are aware of groups that work to make your city a better place. Even if your city is small, it still helps to place information about your one or two boards and commissions in a prominent place on your website. Similar to your city council meetings, citizens like to know they can keep tabs on what any city board or commission is doing.

To talk about your boards and commissions content in more detail, please contact us.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014
Nathan Eisner, CMO

As a small business, are you taking advantage of cloud technology to help you reduce costs and increase productivity? You might have heard about the cloud and have some concerns about its security and reliability. Or, you might think of the cloud as buzz and hype, and that it’s just a fad that will go away like a lot of other technology trends.

Reported in WinBeta, a recent survey from Microsoft said that:

  • “86 percent of small businesses understand the importance of technology in general to help promote success.”
  • “...only 30 percent of those surveyed are using the cloud, and 10 percent are completely unfamiliar with it.”
This is quite a disconnect between an awareness of the benefits of technology and the knowledge of how the cloud can actually provide those benefits. In this post, we address the points of doubt in the article by answering some commonly asked questions that we hear from small businesses.

Won’t the cloud cost a lot?

Just because the cloud is a new technology does not automatically mean it will raise your costs. We actually find that costs are lowered from:
  • Eliminating the need for onsite servers. This reduces capital expenses and the need to purchase new servers every 3-5 years.
  • Switching to cloud software based on a per user subscription method of purchasing. Instead of buying an onsite server and software licenses in bulk, you subscribe to the software over the Internet for the exact number of users that you need.
The cloud model reduces total cost of ownership for your technology in the long-term by eliminating many costs related to hardware, software installation, labor, warranties, electricity, and building space.

If it’s in the “cloud,” how do I know it’s secure? If it’s onsite, at least I can see my data.

Many businesses think their own data is automatically more secure because they can see their servers and know the data resides inside their building. However, many businesses cannot comfortably answer the following questions:
  • How much are you investing in IT security?
  • What security policies do you enforce to make sure only people with the right permission have access to your business data?
  • Do you use a free email service provider? If so, how secure is it?
  • Who can physically access your servers and computers?
In most cases, these four questions expose many security risks that businesses open themselves up to on a daily basis despite hosting their servers onsite. Cloud vendors operate on a large scale at best-of-breed data centers. Just the basic cloud data center standards alone include data encryption, rigorous physical security, high information security standards to comply with laws and regulations, and the latest security management technology to ensure that only people with authorized access have permission to use your business application or look at your data.

How will I be able to access my information on my desktop, a laptop, a tablet, and a smartphone?

This is one of the biggest selling points of the cloud. With onsite servers, you can access information but it’s often a hassle. It involves virtual private network (VPN) connections set up by your IT staff or vendor that are complicated and often difficult to use. Plus, a lot of traditional hardware and software doesn’t play well with multiple devices. Cloud software is built to be more adaptable to multiple devices since it’s all accessed through the Internet. And cloud technology has evolved so that both standard and also non-standard third-party applications are able to be moved into the cloud. Once it’s in the cloud, then it can all be managed in one location while the information is accessible from anytime, anywhere, and any device.

But we still use paper, traditional filing cabinets, and electronic document storage on individual computers. How can we make the leap into the cloud?

True, if you’ve lagged behind technologically then there will be some work getting you transitioned into the cloud. But modern cloud document management helps ease the transition a great deal. It really comes down to business processes, and cloud document management simply makes that process easier. You’ll have to decide:
  • What are your most important documents?
  • Who has these documents, and where are they stored?
  • What documents will you scan or upload to your document management system?
  • Who has permission to access specific documents?
With paper, filing cabinets, or electronic documents stored on people’s computers, you’re unable to easily centralize, store, search, and secure them. You might have a paper-based process, it’s harder to enforce and it faces technological limitations. While you might need to spend a bit of upfront time scanning, uploading, and rooting out documents, the payoff later will be worth it.

Explore the Cloud Without Fear

As you can see, the cloud holds many potential benefits for your small business. If you have any similar concerns based on the questions above, the answers prove that the cloud not only addresses those concerns but also provides technological benefits that improve upon the technology you may have onsite. For your business, the opportunity to lower costs, improve security, access data from anywhere, and go paperless is amazing. Now, it’s just a matter of exploring what solutions are out there and assessing the costs.

To talk about the cloud in more detail, please contact us.  

Thursday, June 5, 2014
Clint Nelms, COO

The term “managed services” is so vague as to encompass a wide variety of IT vendor services and products. It seems like there are as many definitions of “managed services” as there are vendors. We’ve worked with many cities where they thought they were getting a specific set of “managed services,” but they were actually lacking certain essential services or having to pay extra hourly (expensive) rates for things they thought were included.

To demystify the concept of IT managed services, it’s best to look historically at how it’s evolved. By looking at it historically, you might find yourself slightly stuck in the past and not fully taking advantage of what you need your IT managed services vendor to provide.

From Repair Person to Ongoing Monitoring and Maintenance

In the 1980s and early 1990s, technology was largely a nice-to-have for cities. While certain essential business functions (especially specialized functions like accounting) might have relied on technology, it was still okay for most cities to rely on traditional paper-based ways of doing business. Since the city’s operations did not rely on technology completely for business, technology was purchased rather like how consumers would purchase them. You bought some computers, you set them up yourselves, and you took care of them yourselves. It was all rather simple.

When something went wrong and you couldn’t fix it, you called an IT person who functioned similarly to a repair person. It’s broke, so you call someone to fix it. Your repair person came over when a server or computer crashed, ran too slowly, or had a virus. They fixed the problem and only returned when there was another problem. But the more servers and computers you had, the more often they’d be visiting your city.

After a while, this kind of reactive repair becomes rather costly and unpredictable for your budget. It’s like putting out fires but never addressing the source of the fires. In order to tackle IT problems and issues in a more proactive way, modern IT managed services started to truly emerge.

Proactive IT Managed Services as a Part of Operations

An innovation in IT managed services occurred with the advent of monitoring software that’s installed on your servers and workstations to identify problems before they occur. Your IT staff or vendor could then monitor this data and address problems when they cropped up. Often, this software would address problems before you even knew about them, which is the definition of proactive IT maintenance.

In addition, this monitoring software was often supplemented with helpdesk support hours. Depending on the quality of the vendor, this helpdesk support could include everything from offshored phone support to hands-on site visits that regularly assess your technology as if the vendor were an extension of your staff. At this point, managed services went far beyond the repair model as it had the ability to proactively handle:

  • Your website.
  • Your data backup and disaster recovery.
  • Your email.
  • Your servers, desktops, and mobile devices.
  • Any vendor communications for technology purchasing, support, and enforcing contract provisions.
This is a lot of work, and cities understandably challenge every dollar of their budget. As a result, many IT managed services shortcuts appeared over the years. A few common ones were:
  • 24/7 monitoring software doing the heavy lifting with few (if any) helpdesk hours included. It was like the repair model with 24/7 monitoring software added to it.
  • Offshoring helpdesk support. This lowered costs but presented difficulties in communication and lack of onsite people who truly understood your needs.
  • Providing no strategy, just tactics. By just providing bare minimum tactical IT support, vendors didn’t have to rock the boat or introduce anything new or complex into your environment.

IT Managed Services as a Strategic Partnership

The word “strategic partnership” is probably even vaguer than “managed services.” To us, it means your IT managed services provider looks at your technology from a strategic business standpoint. They aren’t just tactical. They meet with you regularly to look at your needs, where you want to go, and how technology can help you get there.

Think of the proactive maintenance as your technology operations. It’s certainly important, but many IT vendors still just stop there. By staying tactical, you risk using outdated technology, failing to adapt to newer technologies like the cloud that can help you reduce costs, and not connecting city business goals with technology investments that can help you achieve those goals.

Today, the best managed services providers are like stewards of your technology investments. They acknowledge there is a cost to information technology, but look at maximizing technology investments so that they serve the particular needs of your city. If you’re still in the repair model or the tactical model, consider an IT managed services provider that can help strategize with you from quarter to quarter to ensure that your technology is necessary and doing exactly what you need it to do.

To talk about IT managed services in more detail, please contact us.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014
Alicia Klemola, Account Manager

Your Internet access is your key to the world. But it can also be an expensive pain for your budget. It can seem that you’re trapped with only one or two options in your city, and it’s true that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have a near-monopoly in many areas of the country. However, ISPs have generally improved their services enough so that you should reexamine what you have if you haven’t done a self-assessment in a while.

That’s because technology improvements often mean lower costs, but many ISPs can fail to innovate, to share innovative improvements with you, or to inform you voluntarily about ways you can reduce costs. Remember, Internet access becomes faster and covers more geographical areas every year. In conjunction with these technological improvements, there are ways to potentially lower your ISP costs with a few simple strategies.

  1. Review your ISP contract every two years. Re-evaluating your ISP contract and available options every other year is a worthwhile endeavor. Not only does technology keep changing but pricing also does as well. Think about how quickly your laptops or smartphones become obsolete. Internet service is a similar technology that improves in the same way, and you don’t want to be stuck paying for obsolete or aging Internet service.
  2. Find out if your ISP uses fiber or copper. Pay attention to this technology. Fiber is the not only the most current technology but it’s also the next generation of technology. You need fiber over copper because fiber is simply better. If your ISP is providing or offering you T1s or DSL, that’s copper—and you need to avoid it. If your ISP is providing or offering you metro Ethernet or a cable solution, that’s most likely fiber. That’s what you want.
  3. Require 99.9% or higher uptime—or find an ISP that does provide it. Ask your ISP about their uptime guarantee. Most business-class services should have a Service Level Agreement (SLA) at or above 99.9% uptime, and they have to credit your bill if they don’t meet that agreement. Consumer-class service usually does not have such a guarantee. If you’re using consumer-class service for your city, switch to business-class service as soon as possible.

    By the way, we cannot emphasize this point enough. A city (or any business) should always, always, ALWAYS go with a business-class ISP over a consumer-class ISP no matter how much difference there is in the price. If you’ve ever had an Internet outage at home (using a consumer-class ISP), you might have been told it will be a week from Tuesday before the ISP will get out there to fix it. That’s why business-class service is an essential ISP choice for your city.

  4. Always shop around and get at least 3 quotes. This may sound like common sense, but it is especially important when evaluating ISPs. You’ll find that different providers may offer the exact same service at a price difference of several hundred dollars a month. That savings (or extra cost) per year can be in the thousands of dollars. Prices are usually affected by how close your city is to the ISP’s facilities.
  5. Don’t get suckered into paying a “build-out charge.” If you go with a new ISP provider that includes a “build-out charge,” don’t just accept that charge without negotiation. Most ISPs will waive or drastically reduce this charge if you push back on them. If they don’t want to budge, use another quote as leverage to show that you could easily go with another ISP that doesn’t include this charge.

The exciting thing for cities is that ISP costs are probably one of the easiest costs to reduce, and with the biggest payback. All it takes is a little research, negotiation, and knowledge about how ISPs work and structure their costs. At the same time, make sure you don’t go overboard in reducing costs. Consumer-class ISPs are not suitable for your city, and neither is copper. Don’t take shortcuts. Define a certain standard of quality, and then negotiate price based on those quality standards.

To talk more about reducing ISP costs, please contact us.

Thursday, May 29, 2014
Brian Ocfemia, Technical Account Manager
While tablets may have started off as a novelty, they’re quickly setting new standards for business productivity. How many times have you been in a meeting where you and others pull out tablets for everything from scheduling a meeting to reviewing someone’s presentation? And if you don’t have a tablet, are you feeling more and more left out as more of your business peers use tablets? The investment in tablets for employees is worth it for many different reasons. Here are a few ways that we’ve watched businesses put their tablets to work and become more productive.

1. Taking notes.

Even though laptops have always been mobile, they’ve always been a bit cumbersome to carry around. As a result, many people still brought pen and paper to meetings because it was easier. But tablets are so small, light, and unobtrusive that they are easy to use at meetings to take notes. Light thin keyboards now attach easily to tablets, and there are options for handwriting directly to your tablet’s screen. Not only can you handwrite notes like you would on a paper notepad but you can also save any handwritten notes for later use.

2. Giving presentations.

Tablets make the logistics of giving a presentation much easier. It’s easy to carry a tablet around, see your slides, swipe from slide to slide, and use your tablet without it taking up much space on a desk or table. Plus, tablets give you the opportunity to both input data like a laptop but also swipe, point, and even draw on slides with your finger. Tablets also present less problems connecting to projector screens.

3. Serving customers and prospects on the go.

For salespeople, customer service representatives, and other mobile employees, tablets are invaluable for accessing information on the fly. It’s easy to show information to prospects, research information in a pinch, and handle customer problems on site. The mobility of tablets is upping the ante for business preparedness, and it’s becoming more expected that your employees will be able to present, research, and look up information in the presence of customers and prospects.

4. Conducting meetings.

You might have seen that many meetings are tablet-driven. Everyone takes them out and follows along with an agenda, presentation, or supporting documentation that’s all on a tablet. First, this saves an extraordinary amount of paper and time spent copying and distributing paper agendas. But second, it’s also convenient for attendees to access all meeting information at a touch. Meeting minutes and roundups are also easily distributed later via tablet.

5. Collaborating remotely.

For day-to-day collaboration and project team meetings, tablets are handy for easy video chats, conference calls, and exchanges of information. Especially if you have people working from home, on the road, or traveling across the country, tablets make it easy to connect due to friendly collaboration software, ease of use, and ubiquitous Internet connections. While laptops are still often used for this purpose, tablets are much easier to use and more convenient to set up in crowded places such as a plane, airport, or coffee shop.

Tablets are nearing the end of the nice-to-have stage and are quickly becoming essential for business. They’re even being adopted by many people traditionally considered “technology luddites,” and those people like using them. It helps their productivity in ways that even the laptop could not, and businesses now have to meet that need.

To talk about tablets in more detail, please contact us.

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