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.
With so many email accounts getting hacked from the highest levels of government to the smallest cities, it might seem easier to throw up your hands and just assume that all email is vulnerable. Looking at the worst-case email hacking scenarios, often conducted by the world’s best cybercriminals, you might think, “How will I prevent something like that from happening to my small city?”
However, those worst-case scenarios are rare. More commonly, mediocre to below-average hackers from all over the world are always trying to hack your email. That is why you cannot give up.
Your email contains some of your most sensitive city information. Private correspondence about personnel, money, and legal matters needs to be kept private (or accessible only through open records laws). But email also seems like the loosest, least secure information in a city. (Usually) everyone has email, whether it’s on laptops, mobile devices, or desktops at home. That opens up many opportunities for risk.
With a set of simple best practices, you can secure your email and even increase the security depending on message sensitivity. Primarily, it helps to focus on three basic areas to make sure your email is secure.
Unfortunately, many cities use Post Office Protocol (POP) versions of email, which is not encrypted. While that kind of email might be sufficient for personal use, it’s not a high enough standard for cities. If you are currently using POP mail, then you need to consider upgrading in order to ensure appropriate email encryption for your city.
We advocate the goal (following in the steps of Google and Microsoft) of traditional spam (such as Viagra emails or Nigerian money scams) never even reaching your spam folder. Ultimately, your spam folder should only contain things like unwanted newsletters, mass emails from businesses, and other unnecessary messages – with maybe only occasionally some traditional spam getting through. If your spam folder still looks dangerous and unmanageable, or if you still get spam in your inbox, your email security is failing you.
Cities need an enterprise antivirus solution because the risks are too large if a virus hits. That means scanning faster and more thoroughly using different antivirus engines. For example, Microsoft Forefront uses a proprietary engine along with Authentium, Kaspersky, Norman, and VirusBuster. Along with the constant monitoring, proactive prevention, and better virus alerts, your email security system will not even let email messages through that have viruses.
Too many email programs are still so loosely secured that viruses get through and people click on them. With city government, you cannot take that risk. A good enterprise antivirus program easily integrates with your email, and it stops virus-ridden emails at the server level so that they never even get to the user.
Correctly set up, your email security can be powerful and ward off most hacking attempts. If you’d like to discuss email security in more detail, please contact us.
One of the best parts of our job is to help cities save money. One element of technology that always seems to be a great place to start is the city’s phone system. Cities are usually paying too much for their phones, clinging onto long-term contracts where telecom vendors are squeezing every last drop out of a city’s budget.
Since phone systems are quite complicated, especially with the advent of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), it might be helpful to look at VoIP more closely in terms of financial savings. It’s easy to misunderstand what VoIP is. Traditionally, cities often think of everything phone-related as “the phone system,” but there are many parts and pieces where you need to examine where you might be losing money to traditional telecom vendors.
Considering VoIP is an excellent way to challenge your existing phone system contracts and see if you can find some long-term cost savings.
As you can see, switching to VoIP not only replicates the phone system you’re already used to, but you have the potential to add new features, scale up and down easily, and—most importantly—save thousands of dollars per year. Phone systems have advanced greatly over the past 10 years. At this point, those advances mean savings to your city.
If you’d like to talk about switching to VoIP or assessing your telecom budget, please contact us.
We’ve talked about disaster recovery in the past, but one interesting aspect to note is that many cities often think about disaster in a mundane way—losing a document, a server crashing, or getting a virus. But true disaster recovery means Hurricane Sandy-level disaster. It means asking, “Who is still alive?” And depending on your answer, asking “How will I run the city at a time when citizens need us most?”
There are some important questions you must answer to build a true disaster recovery plan that go beyond merely wondering what happens if you lose a Microsoft Word file. These are questions that transcend but also include technology, since the strength of your technology will help strengthen your overall disaster recovery plan.
Overall, you want to plan. Even if the plan is imperfect, it at least gets the process started. The questions that are raised are very important, since the answers may one day save lives and help citizens in case the worst happens. By building your plan, assessing your technology and data backup, and prioritizing your recovery plan, you are on the right track toward creating a useful contingency plan that can immediately go into action when needed.
If you’d like to discuss disaster recovery in more detail, please contact us.
When you collaborate with multiple people on a document, do you feel like you waste too much time? You work hard creating the document and then share it with people via email. Then...the fun begins.
That pile of confusion increases the more people are involved. That is why document management through email is often disastrous. You always start out trying to collaborate with good intentions, but chaos eventually prevails. True, you’ll get the document completed, but there is so much wasted time (and money) and too much frustration.
It’s not your fault. Any complex situation is hard to manage once you start to involve multiple people and multiple documents. A good document management solution helps you turn that natural chaos into order.
And by saving time, you are saving money—those unproductive hours that go down the drain when you’re wasting time chasing down documents. Here’s how document management can help your collaboration efforts.
As you can see, a document management system introduces several features that make collaboration a great deal easier versus manually collaborating through email. You will save time, save money, and reduce frustration. Plus, you’ll be able to work much better with teams both internally and externally. It’s a win-win-win for all!
If you’d like to discuss document management collaboration in more detail, please contact us.
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