From October 24 to October 26, the great city of Valdosta hosted this year’s Georgia City-County Management Association (GCCMA) conference. From my experience, this organization hosts some of the best municipal conferences to attend in Georgia. Valdosta provided a great backdrop for this event, hosting dinner in its newly renovated downtown as well as providing tours to the nearby Moody Air Force Base. GCCMA also presented a great segment on Valdosta’s downtown redevelopment project.
The event was attended by more than 60 city and county managers. After sitting in on many sessions, talking to a variety of city and county managers, and taking a lot of notes, I collected some of the key takeaways and themes from the conference.
Overall, attending the GCCMA conference was a great experience. I feel lucky to have talked to and learned from so many admirable city and county managers working hard and doing the best for their cities throughout Georgia. Despite their stresses, they are stepping up to the task of managing their cities. By networking with their peers at conferences like these, they end up sharing best practices and hard-won experience with each other. I can’t think of a better investment of time.
Just like many small businesses, we see a lot of cities that still have old websites with too much outdated content. Usually, these are signs that the city does not have an easy-to-use content management system (CMS) to update website content.
Technology has moved forward so quickly that it’s easy to think that websites still need a technical webmaster to handle everything related to the website. However, most websites today are managed and updated at very low cost by marketing and communications departments with almost no technical expertise.
Here are five things that your website content management system must allow you to do in 2012. If you cannot do these things, you are severely limited in your communications efforts with citizens and wasting too much time on what should be simple tasks.
If your city cannot easily do any of these things right now with its website, then you might be delighted to find many compelling, low-cost content management system options on the market that will literally transform the way you create and publish website content. A website that remains updated and fresh shows vitality for your city, and as trends move more toward better and better content on websites, you need to be able to demonstrate that your city is always communicating with its citizens.
To discuss content management systems in more detail, please contact us.
One of the most common scenarios we see when cities are struggling with document management is when employees rely too much on email for sending, storing, and revising documents. You’ve all felt that pain, right? Which version is the most recent version? When did I send that file? Uh oh, I need that document from two years ago—let me check my archive email folder…
An excellent infographic from KnowledgeTree has been making the rounds, and it quantifies some of the impact of email on document management. We selected some of the stats that particularly struck us as significant – and alarming.
Clearly, this reflects a lot of time wasted, frustration, and slowed productivity. No wonder city clerks often tell us they appreciate a document management solution that saves them time and money, while making everyone’s jobs easier. Email alone just does not work for document management.
Switching to a document management tool helps alleviate many of these email inefficiencies.
If you’d like to talk more about the benefits of document management versus email, contact us.
As cyberattacks continue to affect cities, cities are finding not only their defenses weak but also their knowledge about cybersecurity to be minimal. It’s difficult to keep up, but the consequences of not keeping up are costly. Hackers recently stole $400,000 from the city of Burlington, Washington, and phishing attacks continue to increase in complexity—with often lethal results.
GovTech recently featured a great resource for local government called the Center for Internet Security based in Albany, New York. It’s not only a good website for cybersecurity resources but also for communication between different cities to help share information.
In examining the Center for Internet Security’s website, we were impressed to see various guides targeted toward non-technical decision makers such as elected officials, administrative officials, and business managers (such as finance officers). We wanted to highlight a few of the guides we found most beneficial for cities.
The Getting Started guide is an excellent overview of cybersecurity for those who have not dealt with the topic head on before. Some key insights include:
An often overlooked but important area of cybersecurity, this guide has some excellent non-technical information about how to erase and dispose of sensitive data. Some key insights include:
Because so many cities have shifted to online payments, it’s clear that this is an extremely sensitive area that hackers often try to exploit. This guide gives a great non-technical overview of this complex area.
We recommend visiting the Center for Internet Security’s website, taking a look at the information, and getting more involved with them. Also, if you want to discuss any of these areas in more detail, please contact us.
A recent article in the Guardian featured an interview with Dominic Campbell, the idealist who started FutureGov. As someone who worked in local government early in his career, he grew jaded by many things—one of which was IT budget bloat.
The article explains some of Campbell’s key frustrations:
Campbell, 32, is scathing about the public sector IT establishment. He first came across the corporate purveyors of costly, grandiose systems as a local government trainee in Barnet in 2002. [...] [Campbell says,] “...I became aware of these huge, expensive IT systems which were not value for money, which were not doing the job they claimed they would do, were slow, and involved ridiculous amounts of time telling people they were stupid, because they couldn't use a stupid system." Local government's fatal attraction to these IT systems (he describes them as "one big rip-off") was symptomatic of the reasons why he left the municipal world.”
While he’s talking about local government in the United Kingdom, the same problems exist for local government in the United States. Largely, it’s a lingering aftereffect from the IT explosion of the late 1990s and 2000s when organizations were conditioned to think of their problems as only solvable by “IT systems.” These “IT systems” were billed as “solutions” by vendors looking to make LOTS of money—but often without precisely solving an organization’s needs.
Today, many of these systems are expensive overkill, and they’ve been disruptively challenged by current technology trends (such as cloud computing). However, if it is not your job to keep up with the speed of technology, you (and many vendors that want to persuade you) may still think a giant “IT system” is the answer to your needs.
To help you better prevent system bloat in your IT budget, here are some key places to assess what you currently have and see if some cost savings are in order:
This is probably one of the easiest areas to cut costs, especially if you haven’t reexamined your website in the last three to five years.
Even if you are using a very good tape, disk, or other manual backup system, you’re wasting money. Automating data backup and getting rid of physical storage devices helps you decrease liability and save money. We also find that these cumbersome and costly manual systems often fail basic data backup testing and auditing requirements, usually because the manual aspect introduces too many possible points of failure. People forget to back up the data, fail to test the backups, or handle storage media improperly.
With so many powerful and low cost email cloud options offered by major companies (Google, Microsoft), it’s often overkill to have your own email servers and licenses. While we like Microsoft, we recommend even getting rid of your Microsoft Exchange servers and using their cloud solutions instead. The cost savings, scalability, and security is much better than the hassle of managing your own servers.
Be careful about bloat here. There are many document management systems that are simply overkill. We recently wrote an article discussing some ways to evaluate a document management system vendor. Basically, you need a cost-effective and agile solution to:
If you sense that you are paying too much or that there are zillions of document management features you’ve never used, you want to shop around.
If you are paying a large chunk of money for conference call software, it’s likely a waste. There are many free or low-cost systems with the high quality software and communications technology you need to conduct conference calls. Often, cities are sold expensive conference call systems with excessive features that they never use. A trusted IT vendor can help recommend some free or low-cost software that meets the needs of cities.
Of course, there are many other line-of-business systems you should challenge (such as accounting, public safety, court, etc.) that may be wasting your money. But the areas discussed above are some of the foundational, key areas of technology spending where we often find most sources of IT bloat. By cutting this bloat, you save taxpayer money while also increasing the return on your technology investments.
Contact us if you’d like to discuss any of these areas in more detail.
Recently, Fairfax County, Virginia experienced a notable failure in its online payment system when the website went down on the day of an important tax deadline. According to the article, the county handled the situation poorly—telling citizens they would still be charged late fees despite the online payment option being unavailable. Obviously, citizens were angry. The county later relented and provided an extension.
With revenue and money on the line, the failure of an online payment system can be one of a city’s most embarrassing and noticeable failures. Many online payment vendors exist, and the breadth of choices and costs can be overwhelming. On the most basic level, though, a city cannot simply choose the cheapest vendor or be wowed by features. At its core, you have to know it’s going to work and truly serve citizens in a high quality fashion.
We have provided ten questions to ask your online payments vendor—whether you’re already using one or you’re looking for options. There are plenty of questions to ask beyond these—especially considering your business processes, desired future payment capabilities, and specific features—but these questions cover the basic fundamentals that are too often glossed over when looking for an online payments solution.
While we can only speculate about the source of Fairfax County’s online payment issues, from our experience we’ve seen similar problems occur when there is poor website hosting, lack of planning for peak use times, and a lack of strong technical maintenance and support. These kinds of problems are preventable if you have the right IT infrastructure in place to handle your customer demand.
Contact us if you’d like to discuss online payment systems in further detail.
A few months ago, we wrote a blog post about severe weather threats. Those continual threats highlight the need for every city to consider and implement a serious data backup solution. Since that post, Hurricane Isaac came hurdling through the Gulf of Mexico and threatened many of the same areas that Hurricane Katrina compromised back in 2005. Right now, Hurricane Sandy is projected to hit New England and threaten many of its cities.
Too many cities still have ineffective data backup and disaster recovery solutions. They may still use tape backup, manually back up data with disks or tape, or keep all of their servers onsite. They may consider an offsite backup solution as storing data in a different building or in a bank vault a few miles away. Considering the nature of disasters, these solutions are not good enough to meet the high standards of modern data backup and disaster recovery best practices.
Instead of simply finger wagging about best practices, let’s imagine a nightmare scenario and how it would play out. Then, let’s examine that same scenario through an “ideal” lens—that you can easily make a reality.
Let’s say a disaster affected your city. It doesn’t matter what—a hurricane, severe thunderstorms, wildfire, a tornado, fire, or theft can all have the same impact. These are also relatively common scenarios, and not hard to imagine. We’ll assume you’re doing at least some data backup. (If you aren’t backing up any of your data, it’s clear what would happen in case of a disaster).
Let’s say that all of your servers are located onsite. Your city clerk takes tape backups to a bank vault every week. In the disaster, your servers are lost or destroyed. They are no more. Based upon our experiences from assessing many cities over the years, here is a sample scenario detailing what you can expect to happen:
Finally, eight weeks after the disaster occurred, 70% of the city’s data is now running and functional. But eight weeks is a long time. The city wound up losing 30% of its data, was out of commission for 3-4 weeks while the hardware arrived, and then spent 5 more weeks until the 70% of the saved data could be used with full functionality.
You never need to find yourself in this situation. Let’s look at the ideal—which is actually reality for many cities following disaster recovery best practices.
Your situation: You have onsite and offsite data backup. It runs automatically and is handled by an IT vendor. You test often and simulate a disaster on a quarterly basis. Your disaster recovery plan covers all possible disaster scenarios, from a simple server failure to a full catastrophe.
In the disaster, your servers are lost or destroyed. They are no more. Based upon our experiences assessing cities over the years (especially from the cities we work with), here is a sample scenario detailing what you can expect to happen:
One week after the disaster occurred, the city lost only a miniscule portion of its data (any data that was not saved after the last hourly snapshot at 11 a.m., Thursday). The city only had to worry about electricity. Once electricity was restored, the city just needed Internet access for most services (those based in the cloud) and only waited 24 hours for its onsite non-cloud servers to arrive. Within a week, it was almost as if a disaster had not occurred.
Some simple investments in data backup and disaster recovery ensure that a city is a leader—up, functional, and helping citizens from the minute the disaster occurs. When a city loses all or most of its data, it cannot help citizens when they need the most help. Make sure you have a workable, comprehensive disaster recovery program in place. Contact us if you feel your disaster recovery is lacking.
The City of Flowery Branch, Ga. is a cozy community nestled on the banks of Lake Lanier with its history dating back to the late 1800s. Despite the town’s historical charm, Flowery Branch needed its network infrastructure to catch up to modern technology.
Antiquated and unreliable, Flowery Branch’s IT services concerned city officials. The stability and security of the city’s email, server hosting and data backup affected city operations and jeopardized the ability to recover from a disaster.
However, costs to implement and maintain technology upgrades also alarmed Flowery Branch’s city leaders. In their technology assessment, hardware, software and labor expenses to upgrade technology were higher than what the city had budgeted. It seemed like a lose-lose situation.
Flowery Branch engaged with the Georgia Municipal Association and utilized its “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.
By leveraging vendor management, which is included with IT in a Box, Flowery Branch’s telecom contract was renegotiated creating a potential savings of $203,886.90 over a 10-year period. In the first year alone, the city saved $39,035 (or 48 percent) of the costs typically spent modernizing a network of its environment and size. These savings helped Flowery Branch stabilize its technology and create a predictable IT budget.
Additionally, “IT in a Box” helped Flowery Branch:
“The City of Flowery Branch certainly feels as though we gained a partner in working through our IT issues. Sophicity has been responsive in showing us options that made operational and fiscal sense.” — City Manager Bill Andrew
If you're interested in learning more, contact us about IT in a Box.
Print-friendly version of the Flowery Branch, 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.
While a federal law does not necessarily signify any local government requirements any time soon, cloud computing may soon become a requirement at the federal level. A new law (the 2012 Cloud Computing Act) presented to the United States Senate in September mostly outlines the definition of the cloud as it pertains to criminal and civil protections against unauthorized access. But NextGov highlighted some important verbiage at the end of the law.
Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this act and not less frequently than once each year thereafter for four years, the head of each federal agency described in section 901(b) of title 31, United States Code, shall, consistent with Cloud First policy outlined in the document of the Office of Management and Budget titled "Federal Cloud Computing Strategy" and dated Feb. 8, 2011, submit to the administrator of the Office of Electronic Government and Information Technology of the Office of Management and Budget a three-year forecast of the plans of the agency relating to the procurement of cloud computing services and support relating to such services.
While some in the media have noted problems with the law (scope, wording, potential overregulation), we tend to view such legislative attempts—whether they succeed or fail—as signs of things to come. And the law does highlight some of the key reasons to invest in the cloud.
In addition, we’ve also seen cloud computing alleviate some of the worries that the law talks about related to data privacy, retention, and security:
Despite some lingering issues about the law (such as its vague definition of cloud computing), know that you’re heading on the right track if you place more of your services in the cloud. The cloud saves you money, increases efficiency, and helps you avoid many future liability issues. And eventually, it may even be the law.
If you'd like to discuss these issues in more detail, feel free to contact us.
Lately, a lot of articles are discussing the pros and cons of teleworking and employees bringing their own device to use at work. Since these activities are such a cultural change for organizations, these same debates are probably taking place at your city. In this post, we review some of the most recent discussion points and guide you toward what you need to be thinking about concerning telework.
A variety of government technology publications recently wrote about a telework calculator created by Govloop and HP. By individual or team, the telework calculator shows (roughly) how much you might save by taking into account:
Not only does the calculator point out an annual cost savings per employee but it also shows productivity gained in terms of hours and money. While the calculator can only provide rough estimates, these calculations do accurately represent the kinds of indirect benefits that a technology upgrade and shift to teleworking can have on cities.
We have written about the benefits of telework before, so it’s interesting to note some reinforcement of our ideas by this fact (shared on Govloop after you calculate your savings): “The average employer will pay nearly $10,000 per employee towards energy, real estate and production costs each year.” If you can even shave a fraction of these employee costs through teleworking, you’re saving real dollars in your city budget.
Unless you purchase computers for all employees upon which they can only perform city business, then your employees are probably using their own desktop computers, laptops, and smartphones to do their telework. While this may save money and ease the act of teleworking, the dark side of this trend is poor security.
Government Technology’s recent article is representative of these concerns, pointing out that securing and supporting these devices is creating a headache for IT staff. In addition, the bring your own device trend can also create a headache for city administration. How much is a city obligated to offset the costs of teleworking? That means:
In the past, we’ve discussed our recommendations about employees bringing their own device. We believe in enabling teleworking, but you need to be strict about employees’ personal devices.
Read more about these topics from some of our past articles:
Why Teleworking Works for Local Government
How City Employees Can Bring Their Own Devices Without Risk
Dear Local Government: Be Enthused About Cloud Computing
If you have questions about teleworking and employees bringing their own devices to work, please contact us.
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