CitySmart Blog

Tuesday, January 08, 2013
Dave Mims, CEO

As I’ve met with hundreds of cities over the past few years, I’ve been stunned that so many have paid on average about $15,000 to $20,000 for a website (sometimes way more, and sometimes a little less). True, every city situation is different and some larger cities may need enhanced capabilities that require complex website design and development, but for most small to medium-sized cities it’s safe to say that $15,000 is just too much.

Advances in technology and Internet functionality have lowered the costs of what used to make websites so expensive. Let’s go through each part and piece of a website and see if you’re paying too much. By examining each piece of your website, you might find some opportunities to save significant money.

  • Design and Development For very large cities with complicated services and a need to present a high-end public face in front of millions of people, a significant investment in design might be appropriate. But for most small cities, you do not need a high-end custom designed website. Doing that opens up two risks. First, you might be paying way too much, even if the website looks great. Second, if you’re having someone custom design your website because they are the lowest price, you often get what you pay for. We’ve seen many cases where someone with limited skills cobbles together something that ends up embarrassing the city. Instead, there are many customizable and elegant design templates that look great, fit city needs, and—best of all—cost very little.
  • Hosting Unless your website has very high demands (like thousands of people per day accessing services) or uses data intensively, your hosting options should run in the hundreds of dollars per month. Hosting fees have come down significantly, and there are many options such as shared hosting (where you share a server with other websites) or the cloud (where world-class vendors will host your website at a low cost) that will bring your costs down. If you’re still maintaining a dedicated website server (or servers) in-house or paying thousands of dollars for data center website hosting, you may want to look at other hosting options.
  • Putting Content Onto the Website We cannot emphasize this enough—you should be able to put content onto your own website. For no extra fees. The days of having a webmaster or vendor putting content onto your website are long over. Most modern websites have easy-to-use ways to add, delete, and edit content. If you still have someone doing this for you, or it’s extremely difficult to put content onto your website, then you need to look at some different options.
  • Licenses and Upgrades Many vendors want you to believe their website and related services are very special—so special that you need to pay a lot of money for licenses and upgrades. That’s where most website vendors will really eat into your budget. Newer websites are based on a subscription model. After the setup, you should be able to turn on the website and pay a low monthly fee. If you’re paying a large upfront fee and steep annual licensing costs, there are more affordable options you need to look at.
  • Bells and Whistles So your website has the capability to share news out to hundreds of social media platforms, magnificent forum features that can handle dozens of discussion groups, and a multimedia section where you can upload videos, podcasts, and photo albums. But...do you really need all of these features? Usually, cities have been sold expensive websites where a lot of features sounded good at the time but later did not meet business needs. If you don’t need it, why pay for it? There are many website options that stick to basics and can be customized or scaled up to meet exactly the needs of your city.

A small- to medium-sized city just doesn’t need excessive website design and development, hosting, or features. You just need a website for a low cost that does what you need. You should only be paying hundreds or low thousands per month. Anything significantly more, and you’re most likely losing money.

If you want to talk about your website needs, please contact us.

Friday, January 04, 2013
Clint Nelms, COO

Recently, the state of South Carolina suffered a data breach in which 3.6 million records were leaked. They weren’t just any records—they were records from the Department of Revenue. Even worse, this highly sensitive information (including social security numbers) was not encrypted.

The article states:

There has been no explanation as to why the state did not encrypt its data, although Gov. Haley did state that encrypting data is complicated and cumbersome. The state has now begun a two to three month project to encrypt revenue department data.

For government data of this magnitude, there is no excuse for not encrypting it. The “complicated and cumbersome” element strikes us as an excuse. So that you don’t get caught with a similar problem, and to demystify the complexity surrounding encryption, here is what you need to know—and do—to encrypt your information.

Encryption 101

While the technology of encryption might be complex, the goal is simple. No matter who takes your data, they will not be able to read or access it. Only authorized users can access your data. A combination of passwords and mathematics ensure that the encryption is so complex that it is all but impossible to crack.

Here are the scenarios where you need to worry most about encryption:

  • Data Backup The most overlooked area for encryption is data backup. You may do a good job securing your hardware and devices. But if you use manual backup such as tape, hard drives, thumb drives, or disks, these storage devices are often unencrypted. This makes it easy for someone to steal the data. With data backup, encryption can be easily set up and the standards are so high that it becomes nearly impossible to steal that backed up data. That means if somehow someone steals your backed up data, it’s worthless if that person does not have the encryption key.
  • Workstations One of the easiest ways for people to steal information is simply by accessing someone’s workstation. This can be their desktop at the office or a stolen laptop. With encryption, the authorized user has to enter a password in order to access anything on the computer. This is different from the usual password you might use to log into your computer. For example, if a hacker cracks your Windows login password or gains access to your hard drive, they can steal your data. With an encryption barrier, data theft becomes a lot less likely.
  • Wireless Unfortunately, we have seen many cities and businesses that might as well have no locks on their doors and just advertise, “Hey! Come steal my data!” What are they doing wrong? They have unencrypted, unsecured wireless connections. Use an encrypted wireless configuration to ensure that your wireless network traffic is encrypted on your network.
  • Mobile (Smartphones and Tablets) People often secure their workstations and wireless connections but forget about the most obvious and frequent stolen hardware—your smartphone. Smartphones have evolved so quickly that they now contain your most sensitive private and business information—financial information, email, passwords, contacts, etc. While mobile encryption is not yet as good as we’d like, there are ways to encrypt data based on certain settings inside your smartphone and from various apps on the market such as using a pin code or password, remotely and securely wiping your phone of all data if it is stolen, and encrypting your content if your smartphone or tablet supports encryption.

If you are a business that does not deal in sensitive information, it’s one thing to take a risk with your data. But if you are a city, there is no excuse. Taxpayers trust you with their financial information, credit card information, social security numbers, and other sensitive information. A disgruntled employee, wireless snooper, or hacker should not be able to easily access that data. Your IT staff or vendor should be able to set up encryption in a reasonable amount of time and for a relatively low cost. As you can see with South Carolina, the upfront investment is worth it.

If you want to talk more about encryption, please contact us.

Monday, December 31, 2012
Dave Mims, CEO

GMA helps city stabilize data backup, disaster recovery and email

Oxford, Georgia is a tight-knit community located in the heart of the state. City officials, staff, and police work hard to serve the town’s 2,134 residents, including a large student population attending Oxford College of Emory University.

Challenge

While Oxford College offers the full technological amenities of a world-class university and Oxford residents enjoy high-speed broadband, the city found its IT services out of date and unstable. Concerned with the stability and security of their email, server hosting and data backup, city officials needed to upgrade and modernize their technology.

However, the potential high cost of upgrading the city’s technology prevented Oxford city leaders from moving forward. In their technology assessment, expenses associated with hardware and software upgrades exceeded the city’s IT budget.

Solution

Oxford solved these challenges by using the Georgia Municipal Association’s “IT in a Box” service. Powered by Sophicity, “IT in a Box” is a complete IT solution for cities and local governments. The service includes a website, data backup, offsite storage, email, document management, Microsoft Office for desktops, server and desktop management, vendor management and a seven-day a week helpdesk.

Results

“IT in a Box” helped Oxford:

  • Mitigate the risk of data loss through onsite and offsite server backups
  • Ensure a highly available and dependable email system
  • Eliminate the need to purchase more servers
  • Reduce support fees by several thousand dollars annually

Oxford saved $46,812 (or 72 percent) of the costs typically spent modernizing a city network of their environment and size. “IT in a Box” helped Oxford stabilize its technology and create a predictable IT budget.

“IT in a Box has helped Oxford streamline our IT issues into one source, one call for multiple needs. They provide elite and dependable customer service staff with 7 days a week coverage.” – City Clerk Lauran Willis

If you're interested in learning more, contact us about IT in a Box.

Print-friendly version of the Oxford, Georgia IT in a Box case study.

About Sophicity

Sophicity is an IT services and consulting company providing technology solutions to city governments and municipal leagues. Among the services Sophicity delivers in "IT in a Box" are a website, data backup, offsite storage, email, document management, Microsoft Office for desktops, server and desktop management, vendor management, and a seven-day a week helpdesk. Read more about IT in a Box.

Thursday, December 20, 2012
Dave Mims, CEO

From my experience, when cities (or any organization) deal with their technology they tend to jump right into technical specifications or complex analyses. But as fascinating as technology can be, you won’t solve your technology problems by focusing on…technology.

Am I contradicting myself? Strangely no. Over the years, I’ve learned that to make technology succeed, people-focused principles are probably more important than technical details. And as I network with experienced technology leaders who have been in the business for 20+ years, I find they also emphasize these people-focused principles in their work.

I was inspired to write this post after talking to a senior IT leader who has decades of experience in both the private sector and local government. At the heart of most technology issues are people issues. But if you avoid the following mistakes, you will create the foundation you need to really benefit from technology.

Mistake #1: Fail to listen. Most people move ahead gung-ho with technology initiatives. Out of frustration, people sometimes feel they must act boldly to resolve productivity issues (such as slow servers or a hard-to-use website). But when you don’t talk to the people who will be using the software, the website, the user interface to a system, etc. or to stakeholders whose departments are impacted by the technology, then you are sowing the seeds of failure. An essential part of planning for any technology initiative is thoroughly interviewing and questioning all relevant stakeholders and users. You need their input—first.

Mistake #2: Focus on the product, not the problem. It’s very common for people to get excited about a specific piece of software, a new mobile application, or a redesigned website. Sometimes you see other cities doing something, and you feel you have to do it too. But there are a lot of shiny objects in the world of technology that don’t necessarily solve your problem. Define your problem first. Where are you losing productivity? Where could you save money? What area, if improved, will have a great impact on your city’s services? Use technology to solve a problem, instead of just using technology because others are using it.

Mistake #3: Don’t prepare a business case. While you would think that most cash-strapped cities would keep an eye on the money, we’ve seen that technology is often the hardest budget area to understand. In order to make a decision, many city councils and administrators often sign off on IT budgets, projects, and software without really understanding the return on investment. It may take some time and outside help, but get someone to objectively compare different options, show how you’re currently losing or wasting money, and show how a technology investment positively impacts the business of the city. Technology should never be a leap of faith.

Mistake #4: Throw more money and resources at a technology problem. One of the things that frustrates taxpayers the most when they hear about failed government initiatives is when government makes a bad problem worse by hoping it goes away with more money. Money alone will not solve a problem. You need to understand the root cause of any technology problem, understand options that may solve it, and then ask some hard questions. Do I need to change my infrastructure (versus buying more servers)? Do I need to hire different staff or vendors, or let some go (versus hiring more people)? Often, you’ll find that understanding the root cause of a technology problem also allows you to save money and become more efficient.

Mistake #5: Fail to plan. We’ve walked into many cities where there is no real plan for technology investments. Hardware is kept around until it dies, software is used even if it’s not solving a problem, and citizen services are often behind the times. Technology planning requires budgeting, outlining short-term and long-term needs, and identifying priorities. With planning and regular evaluation, a city can often achieve more productivity and service enhancements than they could if they were just aimlessly plodding along.

While these sound like easy mistakes to avoid, these kinds of flaws often appear as organizations grow larger. It’s easy for teams of people to become disconnected and siloed. Some of the hardest work in a city has to do with communication and getting multiple stakeholders to agree on how to solve problems. Technology is no different. While the technology is fun (and I really enjoy geeking out to technology!), it’s best to make sure you’ve got a people-focused mindset in place to really make technology improve your city.

If you’d like to talk more about your technology communication and planning, please contact us.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Nathan Eisner, Network Manager

Cities are continuing to offer online payments to citizens in record numbers. Pascagoula, Mississippi; Patterson, California; Yakima, Washington; and many other cities are realizing that citizens have come to expect this kind of service. Online payments are no longer a “nice-to-have.” But throwing up an online payment system—any online payment system—isn’t enough to make citizens happy.

Citizens will have expectations once you set up your online payment system. Not meeting these expectations may lead to customer complaint calls which tie up your city staff and cause public frustration expressed toward elected officials. Upfront, it helps to anticipate and address some basic issues to make sure that your online payment system is optimally set up.

In the past, we’ve discussed 10 questions to ask your online payment vendor. In this article, we’re providing more service-oriented technology tips. Not following these tips won’t break your technology, but failing to consider these service features will potentially make your citizens unhappy. Luckily, these are simple service features that you can check off your list when setting up or reevaluating your online payment system.

  1. Try to set up online payments for all city services requiring payment. It’s okay to start off with a pilot test (e.g. property taxes or parking ticket payments). But eventually you will want to place all (or nearly all) payment-related services online. You don’t want people who have paid property taxes online wondering why they can’t pay their parking ticket. If you’re investing in online payments, you might as well provide online payments for all city services.
  2. Provide a variety of payment options. People have many different needs. Your citizens represent a range of income levels and financial sophistication. Can they pay by check, money order, and credit card? Are there plenty of credit card options? Is it easy to route the money from their checking account? Citizens should not be prevented from paying online because a common payment feature isn’t available. Provide options.
  3. Provide a clear record of the transaction. There should be multiple ways to confirm a payment and create a record for a citizen. Again, provide options. Some people like to print out the record, some like an email notification, and some even like for the city to mail them a paper record. The worst nightmare, especially for non-technologically savvy citizens, is thinking their payment did not go through because they hit the back button or a screen exited them without any clear confirmation.
  4. Provide customer support and prompt service. No matter how good your online payment system, there will be problems. We’ve all had that experience where something goes wrong online and we immediately jump on the phone. Your citizens are no different. Make sure there is an easy way for them to troubleshoot basic problems, a visible phone number to call or an email address to send a support request, and people staffed to properly handle problems. As long as citizens know that a friendly, knowledgeable person is there to help when something goes wrong, you’ll alleviate most customer dissatisfaction.

By taking care of these basic service-oriented issues ahead of time, you’ll eliminate most of the common problems that people experience when paying online. If you’d like to talk about online payments in more detail, please contact us.

Friday, December 14, 2012
Clint Nelms, COO

While big data will not apply to the daily concerns of most small- and medium-sized cities, it’s probably one of the biggest buzzwords you’re hearing right now in IT—right after “cloud” and “smart cities.” Is big data something you need to worry about? What does it even mean?

In this blog post, we’ll break big data down for you, cut through the noise, and let you know the basic essentials. While the concept of big data may not apply to your city, it’s good to know what it’s all about and some of the ideas might make you think about your existing data—big or not.

  1. Big data really does mean BIG. For most small and medium cities, it may seem like you have a lot of data. But compare your data with Walmart’s data or the federal government’s data. Nevertheless, you still may have large amounts of data depending on the size of your city. If your current methods of managing data seem to be consistently inadequate (long data processing times, slow servers, the inability to generate reports, etc.) and if you feel you have so much data that it’s staggering, then you might want to at least consider examining some big data solutions.
  2. The volume of data produced every day grows more and more. In recent years, the ways we produce, collect, store, and share data has exploded. One of the reasons “big data” has even emerged is because we are more technologically capable of producing massive amounts of data on a scale that was impossible even a few years ago. Just think about how much data has been produced by Facebook or YouTube over the past five years. Just think about how many “IP-enabled” devices exist: GIS, cameras, audio files, videos, tablets, smartphones, handheld devices, sensors, RFID, printers, scanners, copiers, etc. These items all produce data that needs to be stored and often used.
  3. Most data is unstructured. Unstructured data means that the data is not categorized, labeled, or tagged in a way that helps you find it when you need it. Most emails, Word and Excel documents, social media posts, and videos are unstructured. They are simply produced without categorization. It’s when you need to find that data later that problems emerge. Now just imagine unstructured data on a massive scale—such as thousands and thousands of documents. You have the information you need, but you can’t find it or use it.
  4. When you can understand your data, you can make better decisions. Big data has turned into a lucrative market because organizations with massive amounts of data want to use it to make decisions that help their productivity and services. For example, New York City used big data to increase the safety of building inspectors especially concerned with buildings so unsafe (such as 60 people living in an apartment built only for 6) that they need to be vacated. This CIO Magazine article states, “With the correct data identified, [Michael] Flowers' team created a tool that was directly usable by the inspectors closest to the [unsafe building] problem. Before inspectors had the tool, they found buildings so unsafe that they had to vacate them 13% of the time. Eighteen months after Flowers' project, inspectors now vacate 70% of the buildings. ’We won because we had the right data,’ Flowers says. ‘The city's data is good and we used it in the right way.’”
  5. Some organizations often need to make real-time decisions based on a high volume of data. In many cases, government collects large amounts of data that become incredibly useful during extreme situations. Just imagine how FEMA must use its data when a disaster like Hurricane Sandy occurs. Or at the city-level, imagine how large public safety departments must use data during a murder investigation, 911 emergencies, or local safety issues in which making the right decision must happen in minutes, not days. If cities have massive amounts of data that can be used in emergency or extreme situations, big data solutions will become essential—especially when lives are on the line.

This summary gives you an idea about the basics of why big data exists and why it may be important to local government. If you are dealing with massive amounts of information at a large city, you may have big data needs—but for most small- and medium-sized cities, your levels of data are small enough that they can be managed with more modest solutions.

If you’d like to talk about whether or not “big data” fits your situation, please contact us.

Thursday, December 13, 2012
Dave Mims, CEO

We are excited that Tribune 4.0 is going to be released on Friday! Many new features are included in this release, and you can expect much more to come in future versions. We’ve completed, tested, and ran Tribune 4.0 on Sophicity.com for weeks, and we’re excited to talk about what the new version includes:

  • Basic and Advanced Views. Managing content (e.g. editing a story item) now has a Basic View and Advanced View. The Basic View displays a configurable subset of Tribune fields, which can greatly simplify the content editing user interface. And, the configurable subset of Tribune fields can be customized per Tribune page that you’re creating content for. For example, the Basic View fields for a home page can be different than the Basic View fields for a blog page. The user can toggle back and forth between the Basic View and the Advanced View. (The Advanced View includes all fields).
  • Tribune Field Defaults. Tribune field defaults for content items (e.g. stories, etc.) can now be assigned. The default values can be overridden by the user when they’re editing a content item. Defaults are customized per Tribune page. For example, the field default values for a home page can be different than the field default values for a blog page.
  • Alias URL Support. Alias URL support is now provided for content items (e.g. stories, calendar items, etc.). An alias URL is an alternate friendly page name that can be associated with a content item’s normally verbose URL. This provides a friendlier URL for linking to content items.
  • New Filtering Options. Content management list filtering options are now provided by category, subcategory, and keyword.
  • Payment Processing Enhancements. We implemented payment processing enhancements across the user interface, custom data field encryption, and reporting.

For enterprise customers, Tribune 4.0 includes a centralized error handling service for administering exception handling reporting across multiple Tribune sites. This feature only affects users who are hosting their own Tribune sites.

What’s Next?

  • Growing the core team responsible for Tribune development. This is to both address enhancing the core product with new features and to keep pace with launching the growing number of new websites running on Tribune because of our IT in a Box product release.
  • Mini-releases. Instead of big releases, we will begin to target feature releases. We will implement a feature, test and certify it, live on it ourselves, and then release the feature to customers. Our goal is to greatly increase the frequency of our release cycles.
  • Virtual pages. This feature will allow you or your support staff (non-programmers) to add pages to your website quickly through the administrative screens in Tribune. Yes, no development required! We plan to deliver this feature in February.
  • Menu and navigation management. This feature will allow you or your support staff (non-programmers) to change your website’s navigation through the administrative screens in Tribune. Again, no development required! We plan to deliver this feature in February.

On the Radar

  • Virtual Forms. This feature will allow you or your support staff from the administrative screens in Tribune to add new forms. No development required! For example, a city could add a new form like “Reporting a pothole.”
  • Virtual Products. This feature will allow you or your support staff from the administrative screens in Tribune to add new products for payment processing. Again, no development required! For example, a city could add a Product such as purchasing tickets online to a holiday event.
  • Mobile friendly pages. This feature will allow your website pages to automatically render content in a format friendly to mobile devices.
  • Mobile friendly administration. This feature will allow you to administer and manage content for your website from your mobile devices such as an iPad or a Droid device.

As always, as you have recommendations for product features you would like to see, please contact us.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012
John Miller, Network Infrastructure Manager

You might be able to drive a car or truck for many years until you run it into the ground, but you cannot do the same thing with your servers, workstations, and mobile devices. However, many cities run their IT hardware into the ground because they think they are maximizing their investment. After paying so much for your hardware, you want to feel like you’re getting your money’s worth.

However, IT hardware is much different than a building, a vehicle, or other equipment. Because information technology advances so fast, hardware becomes obsolete after only 3-5 years. After that point, you are risking the operations and services of your city with each passing month or year of relying on old hardware.

In addition, many cities treat their hardware like it’s simply a machine that just needs to work at the end of the day. But computer hardware requires much more sensitive and ongoing maintenance than other simpler, one-dimensional equipment.

If any of the following hardware scenarios apply to you, your city operations and services are at significant risk.

  1. My hardware is more than five years old. When your hardware gets old, you’ll see it breaking down, freezing up, or taking way too much time to do simple tasks. You’ll also find that your servers and workstations cannot utilize new software, web browsing, or cloud applications. And when your hardware gets too old, there’s a chance that the warranty has expired or support is unavailable.
  2. My hardware is not regularly monitored, patched, and upgraded. Many cities unfortunately fail to appropriately monitor the life and health of their hardware. Whether it’s hiring IT staff or a vendor to perform these tasks, hardware must be monitored for red flags that indicate future breakdowns (such as server failure), productivity issues, viruses, and hacking attempts. Regular patches also need to be applied to eliminate major security risks.
  3. My hardware is not backed up. A server or workstation does not need to be old to fail. Malfunction happens. Workstations, laptops, and mobile devices are also easily lost or stolen. If you are not backing up data on all of your hardware, you are placing your city operations at risk. Many automatic data backup systems exist for a reasonable investment that ensure a hardware failure is not the end of your data.
  4. Your staff is constantly complaining about their slow computers. If your staff is continually unhappy from dealing with slow machines, and if these machines have become the source of low morale and cynical jokes, then you’ve got a problem. Old hardware should not prevent simple work from getting done. Usually, this situation signifies aging hardware, insufficient machine memory, not enough servers, insufficient servers that are not up to the task of handling peak city demand, and incorrectly configured hardware.
  5. Your hardware prevents you from using mission critical software or important data. If you have to pass up using a modern ERP system, a new accounting system, or powerful GIS data because your hardware can’t handle it, then you’ve got a serious problem. New municipal systems, software, and data are created to run on newer, faster machines. Since utility, finance, public safety, water/sewer, and other city department services are always improving as a result of new software or data solutions, you must have the infrastructure in place to make sure you can use those solutions.

To prevent these hardware problems in the future, you need to:

  • Establish and budget for a 3-5 year hardware replacement lifecycle.
  • Hire IT staff or an IT vendor to regularly monitor, patch, and upgrade your hardware.
  • Use an automated data backup system in case of hardware failure.
  • Ensure your hardware is configured to accommodate your needs (including any mission critical activities).
  • Understand your hardware limitations and how to overcome them when faced with new software, systems, or data needs that you must have to stay current with the evolution of municipal service.

If you would like to discuss hardware in more detail, please contact us.

Friday, December 07, 2012
Dave Mims, CEO

Often, a city will decide it needs a new or redesigned website. Maybe the current website is obsolete and outdated. Maybe it’s difficult for city staff to update content, and so they are looking for an easy-to-use content management system. From our experience, one of two things tends to happen:

  • The project dies from lack of interest and support. A new website never seems to become a priority, or it’s dismissed without discussion because the city “doesn’t have any budget.”
  • The project moves forward, but it’s headed by one powerful decision maker or department. They make a decision about the city’s website without other people’s input, or they make a decision based purely on cost. Disaster ensues when the website is not used or adopted correctly by city staff and there are numerous technical problems that sabotage the investment.

These website decisions are usually the result of failing to get the right internal stakeholders on board. In order to increase the success of modernizing your website, switching to a more usable content management system, and keeping website investment costs low, you need to make sure the following people or departments are on board.

  1. Marketing and Communications Every city has someone in charge of communicating with the public. Remember: A website is a public communication tool to help market, communicate, and provide essential information about your city to a wide audience. Bad websites can cripple your marketing and communications team, which affects how your city appears to citizens, businesses, and people considering locating to your city. Make sure your marketing and communications team outlines what they need in a website to do their job.
  2. Content Creators Any city staff who have to create and update content usually can tell you what works, what is broken, and what they need to update content effectively. Common bottlenecks include working through a webmaster or using a difficult content management system that makes it hard to update. Your content creators—those who upload city council minutes or let the public know about important notices and community events—are in the website trenches every day. Their input is invaluable.
  3. City Administration The city administrator and the finance officer need to look at the website from a financial and operations perspective. So much about a city’s operations ties to a website: maintaining an online payment system, sharing government information (e.g. city council agendas and minutes), and upholding the city’s public reputation. Also, in emergencies, citizens rely on the city’s website for information. City administration can help with the website decision making process by listening to staff and department concerns, building a business case, and convincing elected officials to take action.
  4. City Clerk The city clerk is at the center of all municipal activity. They understand how different department needs and operations intersect. With their institutional knowledge, they have the ability to justify the reasons why a new website or content management system will help overall city operations. They can provide rich, specific, and convincing examples of higher-level reasons why a bad website is hindering city business. When they weigh in, people listen.
  5. Information Technology Websites and content management systems still involve technical aspects that need input from IT—especially about what you can and can’t do. IT staff can also give advice about website features that are more affordable than you think, and caution you against features that may be overkill or too expensive. Most importantly, they can make sure your website is hosted and backed up properly, works easily for non-technical users who need to update content, and integrates complicated features such as online payments, forms, and multimedia (audio, video, images, etc.).

While other department heads can also come to the table and discuss their website needs, especially if the website redesign is a major initiative, having at least these 5 key stakeholders involved will ensure that you have comprehensive feedback guiding your decision.

If you'd like to discuss websites in more detail, please contact us.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012
Nathan Eisner, Network Manager

When talking with cities, we often hear a variety of negative perspectives and observations about online data backup. Like any technology that has rapidly advanced in recent years, combined with many high profile cases of hacking and data theft, it can seem like modern online data backup is less safe than traditional onsite backup methods.

However, many of these perceptions are inaccurate and gloss over the major benefits of online data backup to your city. In fact, your data may be less safe and secure (and more costly) if you are using more obsolete backup methods and basing your investment upon the following online data backup myths.

Myth: The only way I know if my data is safe is if I can see and touch it. We’ve sometimes talked to city officials who feel that unless they can see a server or physical devices where their data is being backed up, then they feel it’s unsafe.

Fact: A server or physical device (such as an external hard drive, tape, or other storage device) is not necessarily any less safe than data backed up outside of city property. Servers can be hacked, or poorly monitored and maintained. Tape and hard drives can be lost, stolen, or corrupted. Unfortunately, just because you own the hardware and can see it in front of you does not mean it’s any less safe.

Myth: Once my data leaves the building, it's unsafe and at risk for getting stolen. There is still a perception that any information “out on the Internet” is automatically unsafe. Stories of hackers and data theft fuel this fear.

Fact: Encryption standards keep getting better and better, making your online data safer and safer. Otherwise, banks, financial institutions, retailers, and government agencies would never be able to do business online. In fact, sometimes your information is better encrypted and secure online than anything your city staff can accomplish. Vendors and companies cannot toy around with sensitive data, so they have learned to protect it with the highest standards.

Myth: With physical data backup and storage, I can personally audit and check to see if it's getting done. Again, the idea is that if you can see it and touch it, it’s more secure. It’s reassuring to look at all of your tapes, or to know that a bunch of external hard drives contain your backup data.

Fact: Physical, manual data backup tends to fail too often from a lack of proper testing and auditing. City employees often assume that tape, disk, or hard drive backups are working. However, these backups usually fail a good portion of the time. Modern online backup systems more rigorously provide you with an audit trail, the ability to test backups, and more proof than you’ll ever need to show that your data backup is getting done.

Myth: Online data backup is too expensive. There is still a perception that any sufficiently rigorous online data backup must be incredibly expensive and only for larger businesses or cities.

Fact: Online data backup costs have become incredibly affordable. Five years ago, online data backup may have been cost prohibitive, but the Internet evolves at a quick pace. Cloud services have drastically improved online data backup services while lowering costs. You might have heard of robust consumer services like Carbonite or Mozy that back up files for a few dollars a month. Cities need a higher standard of services for sensitive data, but the costs are still very low and affordable. You’ll also find that modern online data backup services are actually less expensive than tape, external hard drives, or using your own servers.

Myth: It’s bad that my data will be in the hands of another vendor. There is a fear that when your data is in another vendor’s control, that puts your data at risk.

Fact: Your sensitive data is already in the hands of many vendors. While it’s good to be cautious, think about who you entrust information to on a daily basis. Your bank. Your insurance company. Your contractors. Your accountants. And any company where you use a credit card. If people were afraid of giving control of their data to another company, business in the United States would ground to a halt. Like any trusted relationship, you of course need to make sure your data backup vendor adheres to the highest standards. Make sure any online data backup vendor can explain their process, standards, best practices, security measures, and willingness to be audited in a way that makes sense to your IT staff or trusted IT vendor.

As you can see, there might be opportunity for you to explore a less expensive, more effective data backup solution if you haven’t revisited these myths in some time. Contact us if you’d like to chat about data backup in more detail.

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