We put the IT in city®

CitySmart Blog

Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Nathan Eisner, Network Manager

You may have had the experience at some point of using up too much memory on your computer or smartphone. With such useful technology, it’s always a pain when you find its powers are finite. A short battery life, a full hard drive, or a slow Internet connection can frustrate you and prevent you from fully maximizing the use of your hardware.

Now take those problems and amplify them up to the level of your city IT network. Such resources are a vital part of a city’s operations, but we unfortunately find that cities are often not managing these resources well. Higher costs, work stoppages, and slowed software responsiveness result.

In this post, we discuss a few places where you may be unknowingly losing money and time.

  1. Real estate and building space. Many cities have too many servers either in city buildings or in data centers. The more machines you have, the more real estate it takes up—either yours or a vendor’s. To lessen the amount of space, first take an inventory of all hardware to see if you need every machine. An inventory usually reveals unused or redundant servers and workstations that can be decommissioned. Then, even with the remaining essential servers, see if you can transition some of this software to the cloud. This action can eliminate even more of your hardware and free up valuable real estate.
  2. Information storage space. Inside your servers and workstations, you need to make sure that you have plenty of data storage space. We find that cities often do not plan for the amount of storage they need. Depending on heavy use of video, audio, multimedia, or complex documents, your storage space can run out rather quickly. Work with your IT staff or vendor to share your business needs – both now and in the future – and help estimate the amount of storage you will need for files from city council meeting videos to PDFs of scanned documents.
  3. Power and cooling. While reducing your hardware inventory can help with saving valuable energy, you also need to look at your power requirements for existing servers and workstations. For example, significant energy savings can happen by virtualizing servers to reduce power and cooling needs. Replacing older hardware with newer energy-efficient hardware can also help, along with reassessing how you are cooling the rooms where you store your hardware.
  4. Low system resources. Your entire network can come to a crawl if your CPUs, hard drives, network capability, and physical memory are maxed out or worked too hard for too long. If you’re not monitoring data related to your system resources, overcapacity can sneak up on you and interfere with employee productivity. Your IT staff or vendor should be able to help you address your overall projected workload based on current hardware and software coupled with your business needs. Then you can plan for how many system resources you will need to accommodate your operational demands.
  5. Misuse of resources. Ideally, employees and IT staff respect the policies and technological limitations of a city, but occasionally there will be abuses. These can range from watching high definition movies on a desktop computer to storing thousands of music files on a server. Personal activities conducted on business property can lead to resource hogging, causing Internet bandwidth problems or lessened storage space. When monitoring your network, watch for unusual spikes in usage and then address the problem as soon as possible.

Above, the key themes throughout the five areas are planning and monitoring. If you reactively invest and manage your technology, you are not planning for additional resources that you’ll need in the future. And if you don’t monitor regularly, problems will sneak up on you and cause much more disruption to your city than if you had anticipated a need for more physical memory or storage space.

With planning, you will save money and maximize the use of your technology resources. To talk about resource planning and monitoring in more detail, please contact us.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Dave Mims, CEO

Since the launch of IT in a Box, its adoption has grown quickly! Thank you!

We have diligently collected feedback, monitored and analyzed existing product components, and assessed technologies. Now, I am very excited about IT in a Box’s new enhancements we are releasing!

IT in a Box enhancements include

No trip charges for onsite support visits scheduled Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Standard expenses including mileage will be expensed back. We announced this one a little early, but it’s so good that I just had to mention it again!

Unlimited storage for offsite data backups! Yes, you read that right. Unlimited storage for offsite data backups! This means all versions of all your data can be securely and redundantly maintained offsite for disaster recovery for all of the servers in your IT in a Box plan.

Website Online Payments is no longer an add-on to IT in a Box. Instead, website online payments will now be covered under existing IT in a Box fees. That means IT in a Box will no longer have a fee for website online payments (e-commerce), nor a per transaction fee, nor a product listing fee to provide website online payments for city services such as utility billing, banner applications, etc. This includes an unlimited number of products listed on your website for which you can take online payments.

Note: You will still have to consider your online payment merchant fees, but those are typically negated with a surcharge (or convenience fee) that the city will set and receive. Also note that custom integrations (for example, with your accounting system) are not included. We can do that work, but that custom integration will be charged as a separate one-time fee.

Mobile device management and support spanning iPhone, iPad, DROID phones and tablets, Windows phones and tablets, and even Blackberry. Yes – that means not just your servers and workstations will be supported, but even your mobile devices (including your smartphones and tablets).

Microsoft Office 2013 upgrades to your desktop computers. Yes, new software for your desktop but no new licenses to purchase! We have been running Office 2013 internally for some time now and I personally really like the new experience it provides on the Microsoft Surface devices for email, editing documents, and working on spreadsheets.

Email (Exchange) server upgrades enhancing Outlook Web App (OWA) and anti-malware. No new server hardware for the city to purchase as in the past.

Document Management (SharePoint) server upgrades enhancing support to allow external document sharing. Again, no new server hardware for the city to purchase as in the past with other document management systems.

Next steps

Again, I am very excited about these enhancements to IT in a Box and the benefits they bring to you. Thank you for being a valued customer. We will be scheduling and rolling out these updates in the near future. At no charge to you.

If you have any feedback, please don’t hesitate to call or email me.

Friday, June 7, 2013
Dave Mims, CEO

While we continue to encourage cities to embrace the cloud in order to reduce costs and create a much easier-to-use IT environment, we sometimes see cities taking shortcuts with the cloud. With cloud services becoming more and more omnipresent, a plethora of free services have emerged that can tempt cities looking for low-budget technology.

Just as we warn with many other technologies, you pay for what you get. But the problem with the cloud is that the services seem pretty darn good. After all, as long as your email program, software, or storage seems to work over the Internet, why not use it?

Cities, as government entities, need to be particularly sensitive to free technology solutions. For the cloud particularly, here are some reasons why you need to consider an enterprise cloud solution instead of a free cloud solution.

  1. Better control over your use of resources. When cities use free cloud services, they tend to be unmanaged and set up by non-IT people. That means different people might be using different cloud services, storing documents in different places, or using the cloud services in ways that conflict with each other. While “free,” this kind of undisciplined use of the cloud actually costs you money. With an enterprise cloud solution, you have professionals overseeing the setup, making sure you have standardized software and applications across your city, and ensuring that you are utilizing resources (such as storage space) wisely.
  2. Better monitoring and maintenance. Just because it’s the cloud doesn’t mean it’s going to work without you taking care of it. That means having your IT staff or a trusted vendor monitoring all aspects of your cloud resources for problems, issues, and alerts. Patches and security updates may also need to be applied, either by your staff, an IT vendor, or the cloud vendor. With free cloud software and services, this kind of monitoring and maintenance may not be included—or it’s at a minimum threshold that doesn’t meet your level of quality.
  3. Better data backup and redundancy. While most cloud software is backed up by default, enterprise cloud service data backup is more customized to your city environment. With free cloud services, data backup may not even be guaranteed. If you lose a file or something happens to your data, you may not even get a person to help you with your individual problems. With enterprise cloud services, you have dedicated staff making sure your data is backed up and that you’re able to recover files from a small glitch to a major disaster.
  4. Better support. While we’ve already touched on this in the above examples, it’s worth dedicating a paragraph to the importance of support with enterprise cloud solutions. Free is great until there is a major problem. That’s why despite the massive use of free cloud services, there is no one to call if you have a problem. This is where the rubber meets the road in a business environment. Individuals tend to get by with this annoyance, but your city employees will have problems with email, documents, and software as part of their work. When you hit a wall, you are helpless. Enterprise cloud services ensure you have robust helpdesk support that takes care of more complicated technology problems.
  5. Better adherence to compliance and regulations. One of the reasons the state of Texas chose cloud services from Microsoft is that the company followed strict government compliance and regulatory demands. With free cloud services, you’re rolling the dice on compliance. Who has access your cloud data? Who is taking care of it? What happens if you get an open records request or a legal issue comes up? Enterprise cloud services should accommodate your compliance needs and have a team of people ready to answer your questions or take action on your behalf.

If you use free cloud services as part of your everyday life, it’s tempting to think they will also translate easily into your city. But as many government entities have learned the hard way, you lose much more than you gain. At best, you’re sacrificing discipline, process, and standardization, which confuses employees and disrupts productivity. At worst, you could suffer significant legal and financial woes by relying too much on a service that doesn’t offer personalized maintenance and support.

However, enterprise cloud services doesn’t mean huge expenses. The services can still be relatively inexpensive within the context of a professional IT team supporting your overall environment. At root, the problem is less the cloud and more the support behind it—which you absolutely need at a city.

To discuss enterprise cloud services in more detail, please contact us.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013
John Miller, Network Infrastructure Manager

In our last two online payments posts, we discussed firewalls, passwords, and data protection. Next, PCI DSS compliance requires “vulnerability management.” That means taking a deeper look at your antivirus and network security. Unfortunately, for many cities those areas are woefully inadequate—leaving cities open to attacks.

Cities that want to offer online payments cannot have security holes and gaps that risk malicious access to payment data. That means ensuring that a city’s antivirus and network security is enterprise level without breaking the bank. Luckily, there are some common sense, cost-effective basics to follow that ensure your security fundamentals are ready for online payments.

Two Antivirus Essentials

While we’ve written extensively about antivirus in the past, you really need to worry about two key aspects.

  1. Apply an enterprise antivirus solution on every computer. Don’t rely on free antivirus software, or for employees to individually maintain their own antivirus updates. By enterprise, that means your IT staff or vendor is monitoring your antivirus software at all times. They are receiving reports about threats and keeping your antivirus up-to-date. Every computer needs to have this enterprise solution applied, since all it takes is one infected computer to affect an entire IT environment.
  2. Proactively manage and audit your antivirus software. Once you install antivirus software, you cannot assume it works automatically. It helps to audit your software regularly, ensuring that the software is installed on any new machines, confirming that it’s installed on every machine at all times, and making sure all antivirus licenses are current so that you’re able to apply any updates.

Three Network Security Essentials

With antivirus taken care of, you also need to think about security for your entire network. Focus on three network security essentials.

  1. Set up proactive monitoring and alerting. Every city network needs to have 24/7 monitoring and alerting to flag any security issues. Your IT staff or vendor needs to always be analyzing your network data to detect any denial of service attacks, unauthorized access, or suspicious data patterns. Don’t rely only on automated monitoring. Make sure your IT staff or vendor is always reviewing and analyzing the data.
  2. Apply all necessary patching and updates. We always want to think this is obvious, but we’ve seen too many city environments where security patches and updates are just not happening. Server and workstation patches regularly address security problems, and software updates often include security fixes along with bug fixes and enhancements. If you are not applying patches regularly, you’re exposing your network to unnecessary security risks.
  3. Use content filtering. While content filtering can be controversial, it helps to provide additional network security. It’s especially useful in sensitive environments, such as cities, where a data breach can have massive financial and legal implications for the public. All it takes is one person clicking on the wrong website and submitting password information unwittingly to give a hacker access to a city’s systems. Content filtering allows people access to safe websites but restricts access to malicious or unknown websites.

If your city wants to offer online payments, it’s essential to make sure you have a solution addressed for each point above. The scary thing about security is that it’s usually weakest on the front lines. You might have powerful servers or a data center that’s locked down, but a person’s workstation or laptop might be completely open to attacks. You need to make sure your network security extends to each and every person’s computer, and that means making sure all computers are protected with antivirus, monitoring tools, patches, and content filters.

In our next PCI DSS compliance online payments post, we’ll look closer at access – and how to assign authorized access to the right users while keeping out any unauthorized users.

If you want to talk about security for online payments in more detail, please contact us.

Thursday, May 30, 2013
Clint Nelms, COO

Cities often ask us where they should be storing their files, especially when they tend to save them to their computer. “Is that bad?” a person will ask.

The simple answer: yes.

First, a few reasons why you don’t want to store files only on your computer.

  1. Viruses – As one of the most common cyber liability events that can cripple a city, a virus usually originates on a person’s computer due to accidentally clicking on a malicious website or file. Once a virus spreads, the computer can sometimes be so infected that it needs to be wiped clean.
  2. Hardware Failure – Especially if your computer is old, you never know when it will crash for the last time. You might have experienced that moment where you always assumed your files would be okay…until they were gone forever. And recovering files from a failed piece of hardware is not always guaranteed.
  3. Accidental Deletion – Do not underestimate the power of human error during your everyday work. Sometimes you might accidentally delete a file, or it disappears mysteriously. Sometimes you thought you saved it, but something weird happened. If the file is only on your computer, these accidents mean your files are gone.

So, where should your files be stored? If not on your computer, what is the safest place to make sure that viruses, hardware failure, or accidental deletion does not mean the end of your documents?

A good place to begin is with your business processes. Depending on your city’s size, number of employees, and the kind of work you do every day, you will have different file storage needs. To start thinking about file storage, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Will users share files? If users are sharing files, then they need a central location where multiple people can access the same document. Depending on the level of sophistication needed, users could share files on a file server, within a document management system, or even through a cloud-based project management system.
  2. Do people need to access files from outside the office? While accessing files from outside the office has become more common in today’s work environments, cities may still have sensitive documents that need to be locked down from outside access. When evaluating your file storage needs, identify which documents would be ideal to access remotely and which need to remain more secure.
  3. Are there retention rules? Depending on how long you need to retain documents and how many documents you are retaining, your file storage needs will vary. If you do not have many documents, a simple file server may work. But if you have a large volume of documents that needs to be retained for a long time, then you want to explore a more sophisticated document management system.
  4. Do users need document versioning? Especially if you collaborate a lot on documents, you may want to factor in document versioning capabilities when exploring a file storage solution. If it’s important to revert to earlier versions, keep track of changes, and make sure you are editing the most recent version of the document, then document versioning is a must.

As you can see, your file storage solution will really depend on your business needs. But most importantly, we advise all cities to stop storing files on individual computers and transition to a solution that at the very least saves documents to a place that is backed up (with proper redundancy). That way, not only will your users create and edit files in a more disciplined manner, but they will also not scream disaster if they lose a file.

If you’d like to discuss file storage and document management in more detail, please contact us.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Nathan Eisner, Network Manager

In our conversations with cities, we often find that their data backup efforts fall short. Striking the right balance can be difficult to judge. When cities don’t invest enough in data backup, it’s usually from a feeling of security that does not correlate to the reality of their situation. The resistance to spending more on data backup is usually from thinking “nothing bad has happened yet” or “at least we’re doing something” or “we can go without our data for a while.”

In situations where there is a lack of investment in data backup, we see two common scenarios.

  • No offsite backup. This element is key to any effective data backup solution. If a disaster happens at the city – fire, theft, flooding, tornado – then anything onsite is at risk. Even data backed up in a building nearby is at risk if a disaster strikes locally. Cities without geographically remote offsite data backup might as well not have data backup.
  • No testing. We cannot tell you how many times we’ve seen cities simply not test their data backup. No matter what it is – tape, hard drives, servers – when a city finally meets a disaster, they find that their backups have not been working. Not testing data backup is one of the riskiest things cities do, and it severely jeopardizes their operations.

While we’ve written many times about data backup best practices, we’ll focus on three key aspects that make data backup “just right.”

  • Have onsite and offsite data backup. You should be backing up your data both onsite (in case of something like a server failure where you need to be up and running quickly) and offsite (in case of a disaster like a fire or tornado). You don’t need an expensive data center. There are many cost-effective solutions that back up your data in increments – meaning frequently backing up data that changes and still ensuring that all data can be restored after a disaster.
  • Test and audit your data backup. Test at least quarterly and provide documentation that proves you can recover in case of disaster. By testing, you expose problems that would cripple you if you really had to recover your data. This aspect is especially important when considering that city data often contains information that is critical to the operation of government, and that you will have your data soon after a disaster occurs.
  • Plan your backup frequency around the importance of your data. Correlate the frequency of your data backups to the impact that data loss would have on your city. For example, if you change certain kinds of documents about once a day, then hourly backups may be sufficient so that you can access a previous version. However, if you’re backing up a transaction system (e.g. payment processing), those databases may have to-the-minute financial transactions that need real time data backup. Think about how often your data changes and then adjust your data backup to those requirements.

While this article just skims the surface of analyzing your data backup needs, it touches upon the most common problems we’ve seen in our experiences with cities. You need a customized solution that meets the particular data backup needs of your city. It needs to be cost-sensible without compromising on quality. To sculpt such a solution, you need to talk to an expert rather than buying something off-the-shelf or just buying cool technology.

To chat more about data backup that is just right for you, please contact us.

Thursday, May 23, 2013
John Miller, Network Infrastructure Manager

While you might not want to take your work home if you’re concerned with work/life balance, it is the case that modern technology allows you to access your work desktop from home. In today’s work environments, it’s become more expected to work on the fly from home, coffee shops, hotels, or other places you may travel.

We often get a lot of questions from cities about the extent of teleworking technologies. Innovation moves so fast that many city employees do work at the office that can possibly be done remotely. Teleworking is especially beneficial for people who might be sick, taking care of ill or elderly relatives, or watching the kids. You can still be productive at work while also taking care of your other life needs.

If you still think you need to come into the office to perform the following activities, you may need to explore some different technologies to help give city employees more flexibility.

  1. Updating Your City Website. If you’re unable to make (permission-based) edits to your city website from any computer, then you need to take a serious look at a new website solution. Most modern websites have browser-accessible content management systems that allow you to make website updates and edits from any location. The cost of these websites is so affordable that even the smallest businesses and cities use them. If you still have a webmaster or can only access your city website via a server onsite, then you are in definite need of modernizing and lowering your website costs.
  2. Checking Your Email. Despite legitimate concerns about work-life balance, it’s become the norm for businesses to have access to email 24/7. If you’re locked into checking your email onsite, you not only lose a lot of productivity and responsiveness but you also lose flexibility. Especially for cities with services that take place outside of normal business hours (such as public safety or online payments), email responsiveness is often necessary to take care of urgent business. Most common email solutions are offered in the cloud, which means you can check your email from home or on your mobile phone.
  3. Accessing a Document. If you’re working remotely, you might sometimes need access to a particular document. Similar to email but more complex, modern document management systems are now stored in the cloud. That means you just need to hop on the Internet to access documents. If your city does not have this document access ability due to security concerns, know that modern document management systems are also equipped with rigorous security permissions. That means you can still make sure that unauthorized document access does not occur while still giving city employees the ability to work remotely.
  4. Participating in a Meeting. Scheduling (and rescheduling) onsite meetings are often a source of lost time and progress. Online meeting software is no longer a nice-to-have but has become part of the way we move business along. Even if people are dispersed – at home, in a different building, etc. – you can use online meeting software to gather the troops, conduct your meeting, and move projects forward. Whether it’s simple conference call systems or more complex video online meeting software, you don’t have to worry about missing an important meeting if you’re offsite.
  5. Using Exactly What’s On Your Work Desktop. Even with the above teleworking perks, people still ask us, “But can I work using exactly what I have on my work desktop?” Yes! First, programs exist to literally replicate your desktop at work. You log in via a secure virtual private network (VPN) and access your desktop like accessing a website. Second, and sometimes more flexible and cost-effective, is to spread out your work “desktop” between email software, project management software, document management software, and any other important work resources. By making sure you can do all of your work with access to the right combination of resources, you essentially don’t even need a dedicated, unique onsite desktop at work.

So, the good news is that you can work from anywhere. Very few limitations exist today to keep people onsite. Usually, you will be limited to onsite work through lack of the technology we discussed above, habit, or work environment requirements. If the technology is the limitation, then talk to your IT staff or vendor about updating your technologies to improve your teleworking capabilities. These upgrades not only allow your staff to work remote, but they also tend to save you money.

To talk about teleworking technologies in more detail, please contact us.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Dave Mims, CEO

KLC helps city launch new website, stabilize data backup, disaster recovery, manage city documents, and provide email

Incorporated in 1965, Lyndon, Kentucky has grown from 500 to more than 11,000 residents in almost 50 years. The city actively promotes business, ranging from UPS’s International Air Headquarters to smaller businesses numbering more than 500 in this thriving community. With the city’s 17-acre Robsion Park providing playgrounds and trails for its citizens, Lyndon is one of Kentucky’s most progressive cities.

Challenge

Despite phenomenal growth, the city’s technology unfortunately lagged behind. Uncertainty existed related to the city’s data backup, ability to recover in the event of a disaster, email, website, and hardware support. With so many questions unanswered, the city was not well prepared for a system failure.

As with many cities that have underinvested in technology, the potential high cost of upgrading prevented Lyndon city leaders from moving forward.

Solution

Lyndon solved these challenges by using the Kentucky League of Cities “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 Lyndon:

  • Reduce service outages by switching to more reliable Internet access.
  • Mitigate the risk of data loss through onsite and offsite server backups.
  • Ensure a highly available and dependable email system.
  • Mitigate the risk of paper document loss and increase document retrieval ability through a document management system.
  • Launch a high quality, user-friendly website.
  • Replace an expensive, hard-to-maintain phone system with a VoIP system.

From Sophicity’s assessment of the city’s previous IT infrastructure, Lyndon saved $45,508 of the costs typically spent modernizing a city network of their environment and size, with no upfront capital expense. “IT in a Box” helped Lyndon stabilize its technology and create a predictable and affordable IT budget.

We are thrilled with the results Sophicity has been able to provide the City of Lyndon. Our records are now secure and the system is backed up daily to off-site storage. Sophicity assisted with analyzing our telephone/internet needs and they were able to provide a new system which is up, running and working well. And I can’t say enough about their availability, expertise and problem-solving skills. They are our “One Stop Shop!” – Mayor Susan Barto

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

Print-friendly version of the Lyndon, Kentucky 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, May 16, 2013
Dave Mims, CEO

In previous posts, we’ve discussed what citizens and businesses should find on your city website. But what about people who are not citizens? Many cities tend to neglect focusing on non-citizens and either focus on functionality for citizens and businesses or simply focus on business-level economic development initiatives.

But think about it. People are moving to cities every day, and they have choices. Any given metro area may have dozens of cities that people can choose from. Those residents add to your tax revenue and help build your communities. Losing those people means stagnation for your city.

Your website is a key place to woo potential citizens. As long as you have some of the following basics built in, you will be able to compete with other cities to interest people in moving to your city.

  1. Craft a genuine, friendly welcome message. If the first thing a person sees on your website is impersonal – like a road construction project or list of RFPs – that can turn them off. What makes your city special? Mention it. Thank a person for visiting. Invite them to explore your website. Every website needs to function like a host at a party. If you don’t welcome someone, they will be turned off and go elsewhere.
  2. Show social media activity. In this day and age, social media presence is a sign of vitality. You don’t have to have hundreds of followers or Tweets, but if you have a presence on Facebook, Tweet regularly, and showcase your social media savvy on your website, then that attracts people who are checking out your city. It also allows them to talk to citizens on Facebook and Twitter who have raved and said kind things about your city. This person-to-person exchange is invaluable for marketing your city, and you lose out if you don’t provide this channel.
  3. Post news and events. If a city calendar is empty or the last news item is from a year ago, your city does not look attractive. Future residents are looking for energy, economic activity, and a strong community. Make sure you’re posting news that features both business and community success. Update your events calendar and invite groups to post a variety of community-minded content. This kind of public relations pays off and attracts people with interests that may span from festivals to tourism.
  4. Showcase a strong, open community. Cities need to show that its elected officials, city management, and community are supportive across a variety of activities. People look for certain signs such as strong school systems, active community leaders, and positive initiatives such as fundraisers, festivals, and arts programs. If you don’t show off such a wide range of community activities, if you only report dry city council minutes, and if you simply provide functional information, future citizens will look at other city websites for signs of a more supportive community.
  5. Highlight easy-to-use services. One of the biggest hassles for people moving to a new city is transitioning to a host of new services such as waste disposal, utilities, and tax payments. If your city website fails to mention anything about these services or presents an overly complex services maze, then it suggests that your city will be hard to do business with. Make access to services easy. Key services should be listed right on your homepage. Once people click on these services, the descriptions should be clear, the process easy, and the contact information immediately accessible. This kind of quality makes a great first impression and sets the right tone for people moving to your city.

While these recommendations sound simple on the surface, practicing them is hard but reflective of a positive, vibrant city. Sometimes great cities are not reflecting their vitality on their websites. When people are researching anything today, including what city to move to, they will be using your website as an important source of information. By comparing your website with many other city websites, they will be judging you on a variety of factors. If you are able to solidify the above recommendations, then your city will have the foundation for marketing itself well amid a sea of competition.

If you want to discuss the power of your website in more detail, please contact us.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013
Clint Nelms, COO

You know the frustration when your cable or Internet has issues at home. You call support and talk to someone that takes you awkwardly through a script. You may even have trouble understanding them, and they clearly don’t have a clue about your cable or Internet issues. You just want to talk to someone who has experience and expertise, someone who can get right to the heart of your problem.

If this level of home service is frustrating, we wonder why so many cities put up with the same level of business service with their IT support. Part of this is cost. Cities get sold on cheap annual IT support that promises comprehensive 24/7 service, but the service really amounts to helpdesk frustration, wasted time, and an inability to quickly solve problems.

A simple litmus test to evaluate your quality of IT support is to analyze the people who are supposed to help you on a daily basis. Answer the following questions and see if you’re really getting the IT support you need.

  1. Can you meet your IT support team? If you’ve only met salespeople, executive management, or high-level lead engineers, ask to meet the people who you talk to when you call the helpdesk. You should be able to meet the people you talk to on the phone by visiting the IT support vendor’s office or their nearby call center. If you only hear excuses and cannot meet them, it’s probably because your helpdesk is staffed out of state or offshored.
  2. Who does your IT support vendor send onsite? The same people you talk to on the phone should also be the ones who arrive onsite when there are problems. That’s the best way for your IT support vendor to understand your environment and business. But if the people sent onsite are different from who you talk to on the phone, if they charge extra fees when they spend time with you, or if they send a subcontractor, these are warning signs that you are either getting inferior and/or overly expensive onsite service by people who don’t really know your environment.
  3. Have the IT support technicians all received criminal background checks? Especially for cities, criminal background checks are extremely important. If IT support technicians are going to have access to your most sensitive city systems and confidential information, you need to trust them. But so many cities give access to their data and systems to unknown people. If you have no idea who is handling your data out of state or offshore, then your city is at risk.
  4. How effectively do your IT support technicians communicate? For us, communication ties into experience. The better trained and the more years that IT support technicians have been working with cities, the easier it will be for them to communicate about your technology issues. If they lack city experience and they don’t know what questions to ask when a complex technology issue occurs, how can they help provide effective support? When considering communication, look for an IT team that “speaks city,” avoids technical jargon, and asks you questions that focus on getting your problems solved.
  5. Do the IT support technicians mostly resolve problems? Good IT support technicians tend to resolve problems quickly or escalate them with ease. That’s because experienced IT support vendors know how to resolve most problems. For thorny problems, they know how to leverage their team’s experience and work together to resolve it. But if you’re always calling a helpdesk that awkwardly takes you through a script, never seems to understand even slightly complex technical problems, or always hands you off to another person, then you may be paying for “low cost” support that really isn’t saving you money.

Your IT support technicians should ideally be a phone call or email away. These are people you should get to know, who learn about your IT environment over time, and who generally solve your problems. You need a strong relationship, not a long distance mystery. It’s tempting to purchase cheap IT support, but when your helpdesk is an unknown – where you don’t even know if the staff has received background checks – then you need to reconsider what kind of people are handling your most sensitive data and systems.

To talk about the people behind your IT support in more detail, please contact us.

| 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | 31 | 32 | 33 | 34 | 35 | 36 | 37 | 38 | 39 | 40 | 41 | 42 | 43 | 44 | 45 | 46 | 47 | 48 | 49 | 50 | 51 | 52 | 53 | 54 | 55 | 56 | 57 | 58 | 59 | 60 | 61 | 62 | 63 | 64 | 65 | 66 | 67 | 68 | 69 |