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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When you think of content filtering, you might think of annoying controls that stop you from checking Facebook and Twitter during the day. Content filtering has often had a bad reputation—so bad that many businesses and government entities have all but given up trying to filter content.
However, by giving up you are exposing your employees to security risks. Even the best of us can be fooled by a phishing scam or misleading website. And even the best of us can have our productivity sucked away by tempting timewasters such as Facebook and YouTube.
Here are some areas of content filtering that cities should especially look at given security, productivity, and technical risks that result from failing to filter.
So, content filtering is not all bad. Sure, there will be some grumbling and protests. But overall—as long as you use common sense, do not ban all social media sites for everyone, and implement content filtering with transparency and pragmatism—you’ll have taken a necessary step toward reducing a whole host of security risks.
A few months ago, a report by OPSWAT made the rounds that pointed out a few interesting insights about how antivirus software is currently being used. More and more people are using free antivirus software, and the report suggests that people believe they are getting the same protection with free antivirus software as they would with an enterprise antivirus solution.
The protection afforded by free software such as Microsoft Security Essentials is actually pretty good, so the problem is really not in the quality of software offered by a lot of these free antivirus providers. The problem—especially for a city— lie in three key areas that relate to liability:
The following story is inspired by a real incident that we encountered a few years ago. To protect the city, we had to significantly change many of the details, but the essence of the story is the same.
Imagine you’re the city manager at a mid-sized city. You have access to some of the city’s most sensitive information, including some of the city’s bank accounts.
You’re sitting at your desk and the phone rings. It’s the local bank that handles most of the city’s funds. He informs you that someone has accessed the city’s bank account and attempted to withdraw money.
When the city investigated, it discovered that a virus on the city clerk’s computer opened it up to remote access by a criminal somewhere in the world. The city clerk’s computer did not have antivirus software. Unsecured, the virus infected her computer and the criminal attempted to withdraw money.
A lack of antivirus software at the city led to a virus that compromised the city clerk’s computer, which could have led to stolen funds. Embarrassing, to say the least. Frightening, at most—especially when state and local law enforcement had to expend resources to track down the attackers.
A city is high stakes business, with employees handling sensitive information that cannot be risked with free, unmanaged antivirus software. Because of the city’s relationship to its community, issues related to compromised data from a virus can have a negative impact on many citizens and businesses. Here’s how to avoid the fate of the city manager.
Install antivirus on every computer. Such a basic practice, but so often neglected. There’s more to the picture than just installing antivirus software, but at the very least make sure you have something in place. It’s better than nothing.
Get an enterprise solution. An enterprise antivirus software solution means that:
That means your liability is greatly reduced when an enterprise antivirus solution is in place. Equipped to handle any and all servers and workstations, enterprise antivirus software can oversee complex technology environments and protect your most sensitive information. Plus, an enterprise solution is more proactive. Even the best free antivirus software more often takes a reactive approach.
Make sure experienced technology staff or a vendor is managing the antivirus software. Experienced professionals ensure your antivirus software is installed on every server and workstation, updated regularly, and monitored for any red flags. You should always know:
Train staff about viruses. Basic user education—such as avoiding going to certain websites, clicking on suspicious emails, or opening unknown files—can help prevent what is usually the most common way viruses get into an organization.
Audit your antivirus software. That means confirming that antivirus software is installed on every machine (servers and workstations) and that all licenses are up-to-date.
We hope you enjoyed our three part series on cyber liability. We encourage you to read Part I and Part II. If you want to discuss in more detail any city liability issues and how to prevent them, feel free to contact us.
Often, we’ve seen cities get excited about the prospects of a new document management system—only to find out their printers and scanners cannot keep up with their document demand. We tend to see two common situations at cities:
How do you know if your printer and scanner matches your document management needs? Here are 5 key questions to ask:
Having the proper printing and scanning equipment is an essential part of ensuring that your document management system investment works optimally. To discuss this aspect in more detail, feel free to contact us.
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