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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
“IT in a Box” helped Oxford:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
As always, as you have recommendations for product features you would like to see, please contact us.
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.
To prevent these hardware problems in the future, you need to:
If you would like to discuss hardware in more detail, please contact us.
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:
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.
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.
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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