Through our work with cities over the years, we’ve often encountered accounting systems and have had to help support them, interface with them, and grow accustomed to them. These experiences have also offered us opportunities to compare systems between different cities, understand which ones work better than others, and what successful ingredients are needed to make an accounting system work on a technical level.
While we do not sell accounting systems, this subject does get brought up enough times that it affects the way we approach our technology implementations and services. City accounting systems, like any technology, usually suffer from aging hardware and software, poor setup, or just being a wrong fit. Here are some things to watch for from a technical point of view when you’re evaluating your current accounting system or looking at new options.
While these concerns only scratch the surface of the technical depth behind accounting systems, hopefully these questions start you thinking about the state of your accounting system. Since accounting systems are such an important part of an overall IT environment, it’s always helpful for us to urge cities to consider upgrading their system if their current one seems to be inhibiting the way a city reports and collects financial data.
To talk about city accounting systems in more detail, please contact us.
The Tribune 4.1 release has been completed and tested, and Sophicity.com has been running on it now for weeks. Our release date is Friday, March 1.
This release includes:
The next release will have:
Our ETA to deliver this next release is April.
On the radar to come:
As always, as you have recommendations for product features you would like to see, please contact us.
Today, there are more data backup options than ever. Consumer-grade data backup software has boomed and gained widespread adoption, and enterprise-level data backup grows more complex and sophisticated—and confusing. With so many options, it’s easy to believe a cheap option might protect your city or that an expensive solution means it’s a fit for you.
To help you sift through your data backup options, we will discuss five key questions you must ask when evaluating your current data backup solution and looking at new options. We have spent many years helping cities with data backup, and cities unfortunately often settle for less—not realizing that their important data requires backup that ensures quick recovery and true disaster recovery.
You can use these questions to help evaluate your current data backup software and any options you’re considering. We encourage you to not settle for consumer-grade data backup solutions. These solutions do not meet the requirements listed above, and a city’s data is too important to trust without proper configuration and management. At the same time, expensive data backup solutions are often not tested or audited. If your data backup vendor cannot provide regular testing and auditing for you, then look for another solution as soon as possible.
If you want to talk more about data backup and disaster recovery, please contact us.
One of the sneakiest time wasters in any city is the amount of time it takes to retrieve documents. In some cities we’ve worked with in the past, it’s often taken days or even weeks to collect documents needed for a project or information request. Not only is this inefficient for your city staff, but it also increases risk—especially if you can’t find a document or you take way too long locating it.
A switch to a document management system gives you some excellent time-saving benefits when searching for and retrieving documents. Here are some of the best search and retrieval benefits we’ve seen cities enjoy when they upgrade to an enterprise class document management system.
As you can see, document management systems—while internal to your organization—are really starting to imitate the ease of use of how people search for documents on the Internet. If you’re still rifling through paper or doing email searches to find documents, then you’re wasting time and missing out on the power of a modern document management system. After all, if you can’t find a document, what good is it?
If you want to talk more about document management systems, please contact us.
IT in a Box creates a secure, holistic IT solution designed just for your city.
Sophicity Ray Ashley at (770) 670-6940, ext. 133 or firstname.lastname@example.orgDave Mims at (770) 670-6940, ext. 110 or email@example.com
Cities are understandably wary about the idea of website templates versus a custom designed website. A custom designed website sounds more serious and sophisticated, and templates sound like they would restrict how your website would look. As a result, cities often decide to go with custom design.
The unfortunate thing about custom design is that it’s often overkill and it increases the cost of your website. In addition, template websites have improved a great deal over the past few years. There are more choices in design, layout, basic customization, and modules than ever before, and many inexpensive templates have been created by top-notch professional designers.
If you’re considering a website redesign and have not considered a template website, here are some aspects that may convince you that saving money can also lead to a great city website.
While templates can be limiting for extremely large cities, they are absolutely sufficient for most small and medium cities. From our experience, templates tend to improve the professional look and feel of a website, increase user-friendliness, and enhance the ability to scale up and down when needed. We recommend considering a website template that has been successfully used by cities for many years, since you’ll know they work.
To talk templates in more detail, feel free to contact us.
When it comes to buying computer hardware, many small businesses can sometimes still go to Best Buy or a similar store and pick up the computers they need. For cities, such a move is expensive, risky, and a waste of time. Even if you are a small city, your hardware needs are specific and particular, and you need to make sure you have an assessment and purchasing process in place to get the best, most cost-efficient hardware.
Vendors are often biased toward certain hardware manufacturers, so you also don’t want to blindly trust one vendor or hardware manufacturer. Any automatic or blind purchasing may mean spending too much money and failing to meet your city’s specific IT needs. Here are some recommendations from our hardware assessment and purchasing processes that you should implement at your city.
When purchasing hardware, conducting a vendor-agnostic assessment is a great upfront investment of time. You’ll make sure you’re buying exactly the hardware you need, customized for your city. Plus, sourcing hardware from a variety of vendors allows you to get the lowest price once you’ve decided what you need. A needs assessment gives you a great negotiating position and allows vendors to effectively compete for your business, but if you don’t know what hardware you need then vendors can take advantage of you.
If you’d like to talk more about your hardware needs, please contact us.
One trend we’ve been seeing at cities is a gradual improvement in how various city departments handle work orders. As cities move their servers and data backup into the cloud, as their websites improve, and as they start using more sophisticated document management and online payment systems, they find that improving the way they track work orders follows suit.
That’s because the same tracking and accountability for payments and documents becomes expected of work orders. Yet, many cities still use email, ill-fitting project management systems, and (yes) even post-it notes to keep track of customer service tickets and requests.
When cities talk to us about improving their work order systems, we often bring up the following five points in our discussions.
While a work order system may not seem revolutionary on the surface, it can have a huge impact at cities that traditionally just wing it with email and paper, or try to use Microsoft Outlook or a project management system in awkward ways. Your work order system does not have to be overly complex. It just has to be customized, streamlined, and built around your basic business processes to ensure that work is assigned, completed, tracked, and made transparent.
If you’d like to discuss work order systems in more detail, please contact us.
Speaking as a vendor, we’d like to say that vendors mostly serve cities in the right ways and make sure that a city’s expensive investment in their services is put to good use. Sadly, we spend much of our time during the early part of a city engagement straightening out vendors who have been slacking off or taking advantage of cities.
What happens is that vendors get comfortable and complacent. They realize that cities (often long ago) made a long-term or large upfront investment. Trapped, they feel cities are committed to the arrangement. Vendors then often function on autopilot, focus more on upselling, and care mostly about renewing that contract every year. (That’s why you might only see your vendor face-to-face about once a year—around renewal time!)
From our experience, here are some ways we help cities with vendor management to help them save money, maximize their investment, and get vendors working more effectively and productively.
Overall, vendor management helps maximize your investments. You’re paying all that money to utilize a vendor. Shouldn’t you be getting the most out of that investment? Since handling these investments is so important, the IT vendor management role should be a dedicated one—either with a member of your IT staff or by utilizing an IT vendor experienced in dealing with cities.
If you want to discuss vendor management in more detail, please contact us.
In a recent blog post, we told cities that they should try to get online payments set up for all city services where payment is required. However, some cities might have difficulty if they have never used online payments before. Where to start? What services will really be useful to citizens? How do you make the business case?
If you are wondering where to start with online payments, there are a few common services that are a must. Based on our common experiences with cities, we’ve prioritized the list down to five and explained why it is important to get these online payment services up and running as soon as possible.
Traffic and Parking Tickets—Not only are these types of fines common, but they also affect people who do not live in your city. We hear from public safety that out-of-towners are notorious for not paying traffic and parking fines, but cities that make it a hassle through paper-based payments place unnecessary obstacles in the way of those people to pay their fines. By making it easy to pay traffic and parking fines online, that means more revenue for the city—quicker.
Utilities—If your city offers utility services, you make it easier on citizens and businesses to pay online and set up recurring payments. Utility competition exists and there are plenty of companies who would love to make money off your citizens and businesses. If city utilities lag behind in providing online payments, it’s all the more reason for a commercial company to swoop in and provide better service. You want that revenue, right? Then make it easy for citizens to pay their utility bills.
Property Taxes—Setting up online property tax payments might even be better for cities than the convenience provided to citizens. The main reason is that it takes the burden off city staff when property tax deadlines hit. Without online property tax payments, city hall foot traffic drastically increases when citizens come in to make payments and ask questions. Your mailroom gets hit with a flood of envelopes, increasing the risk of losing and misplacing paper payments. Providing a way to pay property taxes online reduces foot traffic, decreases error, and allows city staff to focus on helping citizens who have unusual, particular problems.
Business Licenses—Cities are competing for business every day. By making a city business-friendly, you open it up to downtown development, investment, and jobs. One small but important element is to make paying for a business license as simple as possible. Business owners should have the option to pay online for both general and specialized licenses (e.g. alcohol, taxi cab, pawnbroker, etc.). It’s hard enough to start or grow a business, so you want to make paying for licenses the least of a business’s worries in your city.
Permits—Paying for permits is potentially an annoying prospect for citizens who want to generate some kind of business or community activity in your city. Perhaps they want to put up a banner, put on a garage sale, or construct a building. Paying for permits online is an easy way for citizens to comply with the law in an effortless fashion. Otherwise, you’ll be hearing complaints at city council meetings or over the phone about difficulties in paying for and acquiring permits. An online option to pay for permits signals that you’re a citizen-friendly city that encourages community activity and participation.
By providing online payments for these basic services, you make it easy to collect revenue with as little city staff overhead as possible. Some people will still like to pay by mail, phone, or in person, but since more and more people are becoming used to paying online you will do your citizens a great service by providing this option. When it comes to collecting revenue, why not make it as quick and easy as possible?
If you’d like to talk about online payments in more detail, contact us.
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