It’s easy for non-technical people to zone out those who work in information technology. IT changes all of the time, involves decades of in-depth knowledge, and uses an “in the know” speak that is hard for non-technical people to crack. In the business of local government, that knowledge and language divide can be harmful if each side does not understand each other.
Without great communication with your IT staff or vendor, all of your technology investments do not mean a thing. That may sound like an extreme statement, but plenty of articles show that communication-related breakdowns lead to failed technology progress.
Communication, of course, is a two-way street. Based on our many years of experience working with cities, we offer up some communications tips that you can use to test your current IT vendors and staff. Then, assuming you have a top-notch staff or vendor, we’ll share some advice about what kind of communication makes them happy.
Information technology staff or vendors can often seem intimidating and unapproachable because of their level of knowledge. They throw around complicated terms and are technical masters of some of your core business systems. But that doesn’t mean there should be a communication barrier between you and them.
Ultimately, your IT staff or vendor should be able to tell you why they’re doing something, help you when problems arise, and report to you in understandable language.
On the flip side, you might wonder if there are things you can do to improve your communication with IT staff and vendors. Based on our experiences working with some great customers (including many superb cities), here are some tips you can apply when communicating with your IT gurus.
Like any relationship, communications are not perfect all of the time. But when we notice both parties apply the above advice, most communications issues are averted. That’s why it’s important to find a vendor or IT staff with business acumen, mid- to senior-level helpdesk experience, and full transparency about results. If you have that foundation, then all you need to do is engage your trusted staff or vendor fully by listening to recommendations and being part of their ongoing service.
To put our communications to the test, feel free to contact us.
Back in August 2012, Government Technology and the Center for Digital Government held the 2012 Best of the Web Awards. The first place city website winner was Louisville, Kentucky. For a city of about 750,000 people (and a metro area of about 1.4 million people), it may seem like Louisville’s magnitude has little in common with the website needs of smaller cities.
However, a recent interview with Beth Niblock, CIO of the City of Louisville, suggests that there are some ideas that can transfer over to smaller city websites—and still fit your budget.
In her GovTech video interview, Niblock discusses three important city website features:
All of these features are important no matter what your city’s size. We work with even the smallest cities to make sure they have search and social media capabilities on their websites. The City of Oakwood, Georgia is an excellent example of a smaller city providing both a convenient website search option along with an easy way to connect on Facebook.
To add to Niblock’s excellent city website takeaways, we want to note some other great features of Louisville’s website that even the smallest cities need to have.
If you want to learn more about how these essential website features are within reach of your budget, please contact us.
Last month, we wrote about the benefits of document management for city clerks. But one benefit that often gets lost in the discussion is security.
People often think of more pressing pain points when it comes to considering a document management solution—finding and accessing files, getting rid of paper-based systems, and better preparing for audits and open records requests. But security matters especially when you have documents that people want to steal. City documents fall squarely into this camp.
A recent article on Business Insider noted security as one of the five reasons for considering a document management system. We agree, and this Business Insider article inspired us to elaborate on the security component of document management.
If you are thinking about switching to a document management system, these additional areas related to security will help you make the case.
However, while these are security benefits of a document management system, all vendors are not created equal. Ask the following questions as you assess the security component of your document management vendor.
Finally, also consider your own security policies. No vendor or IT staff can account for every security breach—especially breaches related to how you create and share information from a business process standpoint. Employees must be careful about where and how they access documents, giving out or sharing passwords, and understanding the nature of scams and phishing attacks.
For more about securing your document management system, contact us.
When you see highly publicized attacks by hacking groups such as Anonymous on some of the biggest targets in the world, it can be easy to think there isn’t much one can do about website hacking. But while some of the world’s best hackers may seem hard to defeat if they decide to come after you, the reality is much more mundane—and preventable.
Groups like Anonymous are rare and few, but website hacking is common and prolific. Mediocre and below average hackers all over the world take advantage of poorly secured websites. The mistakes that organizations make in protecting their websites open them up to cyber liability.
Local government must especially be vigilant. Here is a scary but all too real story about the City of Haines City, Florida.
In 2012, citizens trying to reach the City’s website were redirected to a Turkish gaming site. This was the second time in a year that had happened. The results?
Unfortunately, we have seen similar hacking situations happen quite a number of times with cities. They usually fall into two common scenarios.
Cities outsource the hosting and management of their website to a cheap vendor. With technology constantly changing, it is often difficult to know what criteria should be used to evaluate a website hosting company. As a result, many decisions about website hosting vendors are based solely on price. Low-cost website vendors often host websites on servers located in other countries. The cheap vendors are cheap because they cut corners. Thus, the city’s website is not properly managed or secured.
Cities host their websites in-house with insufficient management and maintenance. Sometimes, city IT staff wear so many hats that it is difficult for them to keep up with the website server with regularity and efficiency. It’s easy with an overloaded schedule (or if IT staff are junior-level and inexperienced) to not secure a website properly, update security patches, and keep up with server maintenance.
Whether a city is cutting corners by hiring a cheap vendor or if they are overburdening their IT staff, the end results are expensive. When citizens cannot reliably access a city’s website:
There are some simple tips you can use to prevent most of the world’s website hackers from turning your city website into a fraudulent Turkish gaming site (or any other type of fraudulent site).
Remember, city websites are an important link to the citizens in your community and the businesses that generate a majority of your tax base. Plus, city websites often process financial transactions which allow citizens to make payments online using sensitive information. City websites have to be secure. The hackers might be good, but you need to be a step ahead.
Contact us if you’d like to discuss these issues. And stayed tuned for Part III of this series, which will cover virus liability and antivirus precautions.
The National League of Cities recently reported that cities continue to lose revenue, forcing them to cut staff, delay or cancel projects, and slash services. In these times, every dollar saved counts—which is why many cities continue to shift toward online payments.
Cities as diverse as Farmington, Michigan; Blaine, Washington; and Portage, Indiana have joined hundreds of cities around the country that have switched to online payments. (Blaine’s switch to online payments saved them $20,000 a year in credit card fees.) In case your city wants to make the switch or upgrade from an aging online payments system, here are some reasons why online payments will positively affect your city’s bottom line.
Not only do you gain these immediate benefits, but you also increase your reputation as a modern, business-friendly city. Online payments are part of the minimum requirements that businesses and residents expect when dealing with modern municipalities. Providing something as simple as online payments signifies that you make services easy for people who may form part of your future tax base.
If you’d like to discuss online payments in more detail, please contact us.
Recently, I gave a cyber liability presentation for the Kentucky League of Cities. I addressed a group of city clerks who increasingly have to worry about this technical and legal issue. As online business and online transactions become an ingrained part of our day-to-day lives, expectations for protecting data and securing online transactions increase significantly.
But the area covered by “cyber liability” is broad and sometimes confusing. What is “cyber liability”?
InsureNewMedia, which provides specialized insurance to technology and Internet companies, defines cyber liability as: “…the first- and third-party risks associated with e-business, the Internet, networks and informational assets. Cyber Liability Insurance coverage offers cutting edge protection for exposures arising out of Internet communications.”
Huh? This definition was not much help for my audience that day. Let’s talk about cyber liability in plain English.
Cyber liability encompasses a number of potential Internet and information technology-related liabilities that can negatively impact a city. That can include:
These liability issues not only cause disruptions to finance, operations, and productivity, but they can also create a liability for the city—which means lawsuits, fines, and negative public relations. While cities often delay taking preventative measures, possibly because the solution seems to involve overly complicated (and expensive) technology solutions, ignoring these issues unfortunately leads to severe real-world non-technical consequences.
In this three part series, we’ll cover data loss, website hacking, and viruses, which we see as the three most common areas of cyber liability. For each cyber liability issue, we’ll provide easy-to-follow steps that will help you prevent similar issues. Today, we’ll focus on the cyber liability of data loss.
In 2010, the City of New Orleans lost 20 months of real estate records due to serious data backup failure. On the surface, it appeared the city was doing the right things. The city’s IT staff utilized a system from a nationwide data backup vendor. However, while implementing the backup system, the city’s IT staff failed to test and monitor the backups. The city did not confirm that the data was actually backing up.
When the city’s computer systems failed, the city’s backup system failed to recover the data. Once word leaked out that the real estate data was permanently lost, the general public was outraged that the city had not taken proper measures to protect this data. The media’s coverage put pressure on the city to explain how this situation happened, leading to negative public relations.
Media attention began to focus on the city’s leaders. City council was pressured to research the issue and find out what happened. The IT director was questioned, and his responses were not deemed satisfactory. He explained that a more comprehensive disaster recovery project was a “to do” item on his list. Concerned citizens and affected business owners publicly voiced their frustration with the city’s lack of disaster preparedness.
The result? Not only did the City of New Orleans lose 20 months of real estate records, but the data loss negatively affected the buying and selling of homes. Several local real estate brokers closed their businesses because they could not buy and sell homes as a result of the lost data. In short, the city’s lack of disaster recovery readiness led to...a disaster.
A city’s data loss affects many citizens and businesses in the community. In times of crisis, citizens look to cities for help and assistance. If cities are not prepared for a disaster, then who do citizens rely upon when disaster strikes?
Data loss is also an extremely common scenario. There are so many ways to lose data—server failures, computer failures, theft, fire, flooding, power loss, hurricanes, tornadoes, and the list goes on. There is no excuse not to have a full disaster recovery plan in place that includes contingencies for data loss. And not having a plan in place makes the city liable.
Here’s what any city needs to do—immediately—to protect themselves:
In Part II, we’ll discuss website hacking and ways to prevent it. If you’d like to talk more about data backup and disaster recovery issues, contact us.
A recent study from Citrix shows that most Americans are confused by the cloud. The ongoing problem with the term "cloud computing" is that it often complicates an explanation rather than clarifies. Most people use cloud computing every day, but they don't know that they are using it.
To help clarify matters, we wanted to give you a layperson's definition of cloud computing. If you ever need to explain it to someone else, use this as a guideline. We'll use Gmail as an example throughout, since it is a well-known cloud service.
If you answered "yes" to all of these questions, you're probably using cloud services. If you did not answer "yes," you might want to reconsider your existing hardware and software investments. They are depreciating and rapidly becoming dated. Instead of your earlier confusion about "should we get into cloud computing?" you can instead evaluate your current hardware and software with the following questions. If you find yourself answering "no" to many of these questions, you may want to consider cloud options to reduce cost and increase efficiency.
If you'd like to discuss cloud options in more detail, feel free to contact us.
A recent study by the 2012 National Study of Employers from the Families and Work Institute and the Society for Human Resource Management (reported in Business Management Daily) noted some recent trends in teleworking. The most important insight: teleworking is the new normal.
As Business Management Daily says:
If your organization's execs still insist on eight consecutive hours of face time each day from every employee, you're probably already losing young hires, new moms and mature employees. They're going to competitors offering more flexibility. Make flex central to your recruiting and retaining effort.
In addition, evolving and widespread technologies make teleworking easier and easier:
If your city provides limited or no teleworking options, consider these benefits when making your case for teleworking:
To meet the new normal, you need flexibility. Teleworking not only benefits and accommodates your staff, it also benefits the city on many levels. For more information about what technology you need to enable teleworking at your city, contact us for more information.
While password policies seem like just a small part of IT management, a perfect storm is brewing that places password vulnerability at an all-time high. Fox Business recently reported (from a Janrain study) that people are experiencing password fatigue. By contrast, Ars Technica recently reported "the dangerous practice of password reuse has surged. The result: security provided by the average password in 2012 has never been weaker."
If people are weary of coming up with new passwords, that means they will use (and reuse) weak passwords. That makes it a feasting ground for hackers, and a source of anxiety for IT.
Thankfully, a strong IT department or vendor exists to enforce some basic password best practices that don't agonize users while also securing this often user-generated Achilles heel.
To assess if you've mastered your Password 101 basics, use the following as a quick checklist.
If a business fails at customer experience, it soon loses business (or goes out of business). But cities operate differently. While cities cannot go out of business, they serve as a backbone to an entire community. Customer service failures may not bankrupt the city, but they end up affecting the lives of every citizen. And because their taxpayer dollars help fund the city, citizens grow frustrated when cities fail to measure up to basic customer experience standards.
Thankfully, cities have continually improved their customer experience over time, but even the most well-meaning cities often struggle with their website. And online customer experience expectations increase each year. Several trends are pressuring cities to increase their website customer experience, despite size or location.
Increasing broadband access. While speeds often vary from area to area, broadband penetration is currently at 80% of the United States. That percentage will only get higher.
Mobile access. Over half of people with mobile phones have smartphones. That means an increasing segment of the United States population expects to access online information with their smartphones like a computer.
Higher customer experience expectations for websites. Amazon, Google, major online retail stores, and other businesses make online experiences easy. As online payments and billing become mainstream and the preferred way of conducting transactions, then the expectations for something as important as city services rise higher and higher. For example, people lose patience if they cannot easily pay a simple bill or fee online.
Of course, we understand that local government budgets remain tight. As long as your website gets you by, it might seem unreasonable to splurge for a new website. You might also believe that building or redesigning your website will cost thousands of dollars.
However, cost-effective options exist for modernizing your website. Below, we share some tips about improving your city's online customer experience without breaking your bank.
By focusing on these basic issues, you will solve many of your customer experience woes. Contact us if you want to discuss some options that will help you alleviate these pain points.
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