Information technology is already hard enough to manage, and its cost and complexity make it one of the most important investments for a city to manage. Unfortunately, managing multiple IT vendors turns this already difficult situation into a nightmare.
City managers and clerks often tell us about the difficulty of calling in for software support. When calling the vendor, they often encounter customer support representatives who talk over their heads, rush them too fast through an issue, or just plain fail to understand the problem because of language barriers. Too many vendors unfortunately do not seem able to communicate effectively with non-technical customers, and they often make the non-technical customer feel at fault.
This situation is even more frustrating because cities are strapped for time and often lack the technical expertise to know exactly how they should interact with their IT vendors. In addition, vendors are often trying to sell unnecessary products and add-ons to cities as part of their "service," so that makes city staff wary about how best to filter a vendor's recommendations.
Here are three tips that may help you and your city manage IT vendors.
Recently, I was talking with a city manager who wanted to learn more about our services. We chatted about how they would have email handled through Microsoft's cloud platform. During the conversation, he mentioned some other cities where the elected officials received email to their personal accounts and used those personal email accounts to conduct city business.
I mentioned that those accounts could be subject to open records requests, and he just nodded forebodingly. He had just gone through an open records request and noted how time consuming and expensive it was. He could not imagine what the process would be like if personal email accounts were involved.
Through our experience and conversations with cities, seeing email addresses such as email@example.com is not uncommon. Georgia includes emails in its open records laws, and those emails need to be as retrievable and accessible as possible. This issue is real, and this year alone showcases many stark examples.
Thankfully, while handling an open records request is never easy, it's a great deal easier with some simple email software and organization. Here is a quick assessment you can take:
If yes, then your personal email is at risk for an open records request. Going forward, you need to eliminate this issue and keep all city business emails stored and archived in a city email account. If you do not have your own city domain name (e.g. firstname.lastname@example.org), then you need to acquire one. All city business email should then be conducted through city email addresses.
Even if you already have a city business email account, your email might not be stored, archived, and accessed in ways that reflect best practices. For example, email cloud solutions exist that can be managed by IT staff or a vendor. That means if you get an open records request, your IT staff can easily enable you to access and collect the exact emails you need, quickly. Some vendors can even handle that for you for no additional fees.
For more about email solutions that may help this situation, read more about our solution and contact us if you have additional questions.
A recent CIO Magazine article discussed how businesses are empowering the mobile worker by allowing them to use their personal devices for work. If cities want to follow this trend, they must be more cautious than a typical business. Local government faces regulations and audits, handles sensitive information, submits to open records requests, and operates with high transparency expectations.
That means the blurring of personal and government information is especially frowned upon in local government. We've all heard the horror stories about government business conducted with personal email addresses and the consequences that result—both financially and from a public relations standpoint.
Yet, you don't want to halt progress and you want to accommodate people who use their own mobile devices and tablets. Personal devices are not going away, and yet you don't often have the money to buy all city employees business-only tablets and smartphones. What do you do?
Many employees want access to city email, documents, and content from their smartphones, tablets, laptops, and home personal computers. We caution city management about making this access too easy for two reasons:
It's tempting to have employees bring their own device to cut costs. After all, isn't it great that you don't have to purchase an extra computer, tablet, or smartphone? But while device costs go down (reducing the city's upfront capital expenses), hidden costs associated with loss of control and potential for e-discovery skyrocket. You don't want a lawsuit or fine to result from the misuse of a personal device or an unintentional breach of city data security or privacy.
Here are some tips and recommendations that will help you decide how to handle personal devices in your local government environment:
If you would like to discuss these issues further, please contact us.
A recent IDC Government Insights report revealed an alarming glimpse into the mindset of local government about cloud computing. GovTech's summary of the IDC report said, "Local government participants were the least optimistic about the cloud with 14.7 percent saying the cloud wasn't important." Overall, the report showed a need for more education about the benefits of cloud computing in terms of not only technology infrastructure but also budgeting.
This report is consistent with what we have traditionally seen with how fast local government moves versus the pace of technology and businesses.
We have written a good deal about the essence of cloud computing, so we will focus on traditional local government obstacles of adopting change due to funding and IT architecture concerns.
A common myth about the cloud is that it's an additional technology to purchase. Partly, that's the fault of the abstract, technological term "cloud computing." The term does not effectively reflect the financial and productive sides of its benefits.
Instead, cloud computing is an alternative, modern version of many existing technologies. That means you can audit and assess your current hardware and software investments and seek out areas to cut costs through cloud alternatives. If you've invested heavily in hardware and software, cloud computing solutions often significantly cut costs.
If you haven't invested in much hardware and software, then cloud computing offers you low-cost options to acquire enterprise-level tools and technologies (website, data backup, document management, etc.) that may have seemed out of reach just a few years ago. Typically, we find that local government underspends on important areas such as data backup, security, and business productivity because of the cost of traditional technologies. Cloud computing options give local government an unprecedented chance to address any chronic lack of investment in these essential areas.
To get a better handle on your potential cloud investments, first know what you're already spending for hardware, software, licenses, labor, and annual maintenance fees. We've written about this at length in the past, but it's good to currently analyze how much you're paying for:
If cloud computing options help bring these costs down, then you can not only approximate funding but also return on investment. If you're not currently investing much in these areas and need to justify funding, then you need to make your case from a different point of view.
It's not uncommon for local government to feel the pains of aging technology through hardware failures, data loss, and slowed productivity. Cloud options give you the chance to seriously look at modernizing your technology environment with enterprise grade solutions while keeping capital investments and overall costs at a minimum.
While most cities do not have large IT infrastructure environments, we sometimes hear concerns about how a switch to cloud computing will affect the management and maintenance of servers, workstations, and software. Three main concerns usually come up:
These infrastructure issues are really just aspects of technology change. Cloud solutions are where technology is headed, like it or not. These technologies are a significant improvement over managing and maintaining your own IT infrastructure. Any new change can create anxiety, especially if your staff is used to doing something a certain way for many years. For those cities without IT staff or a close relationship with a technology vendor, this anxiety is lessened but the justification for funding becomes more important.
This is why the local government concerns of the IDC report are legitimate and relevant. But do not fear. The switch to cloud computing is a significant revolution in technology, and it only benefits you - both from a cost perspective and an infrastructure management perspective.
For more about the cost and infrastructure sides of cloud computing, read more about our solutions or contact us to have a discussion.
A recent article in "The Tennessean" (and shared in the Public Technology Institute's July 25, 2012 email newsletter) reveals how inundated cities feel by technology pressures. It just doesn't end—new technologies related to websites, servers, desktops, tablets, mobile phones, broadband, and GIS barrage cities every year. All of these investments require money that cities unfortunately lack in this rough economy.
The article highlights a few common themes that we've also seen while talking to cities.
Mayors, council members, city managers, and city finance officers feel caught between a rock and a hard place. If cities tried to do everything at once, they might have money for anything else. So where to start?
Cities do not have to attack every problem immediately. We usually see information technology investments as needing to occur in two phases.
Here are a few key areas to solidify first.
Once you have planned to address the basic fundamentals, you can start to look at more complicated aspects of information technology. Many of these areas can only succeed if you have taken care of broken or failing IT infrastructure, data backup, website, and support.
Cities often jump to advanced information technology needs before they have dealt with the fundamentals. Mastering the fundamentals first will ensure that your long-term budgeting and advanced technology projects will be more likely to succeed.
If you're interested in learning more, contact us.
As we meet with cities, we find that so much city activity centers on city clerks. They are the heartbeat of any city, and one of their key roles is document management. If you need a document for any reason, all roads lead to the city clerk.
However, despite their role, the city clerk does not have superhuman powers. They are limited by time and technology. With increasing demands and pressures, from customer service to government regulations, any significant document management limitations (or lack of any document management in the case of a paper filing system) cripple their ability to work effectively.
We mostly hear three main concerns from city clerks about their document management:
Thankfully, many cost-effective document management solutions now exist that not only eliminate these problems but also increase operational efficiency.
For a relatively low cost, city clerks can be enabled to handle these challenges through a robust document management system. Just applying state record retention processes automatically to save a city clerk days each year will allow the document management solution to pay for itself—many times over. If you're interested in learning more, contact us about IT in a Box.
Like many municipalities, the City of Oakwood, Ga. struggled with managing its technology and keeping costs associated with it affordable.
Oakwood faced challenges with both its data backup solution and its email system. The city needed data backup to ensure information is never lost. And, the availability of the email system was critical for both City Hall and the police department to ensure during an emergency, hardware failure, or disaster, that city officials would be able to communicate with each other and residents via email.
Likewise, residents would not be able to reach city leaders electronically. Email provides a vital critical communication tool for cities.
Resolving and modernizing these technological challenges was likely going to be an expensive undertaking for Oakwood because of the required hardware, software, and labor costs. Once the initial investment was made, Oakwood would then have to pay ongoing maintenance and support fees because it did not have IT assistance in house.
To address its technology challenges, Oakwood engaged the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) for "IT in a Box," which is powered by Sophicity.
"IT in a Box" delivers a complete IT solution for municipal governments. It 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.
Using "IT in a Box," Oakwood saw tremendous results in just three months. Sophicity helped Oakwood:
"Sophicity's reliable data backup service gives me piece of mind." - City Manager Stan Brown
"I have been extremely impressed with Sophicity's responsiveness to our needs 24/7." - Chief Randall Moon
Oakwood saved $46,977 (or 54%) of the costs that would typically be seen in modernizing a city network. This helped Oakwood stabilize its technology and create a predictable IT budget.
If you're interested in learning more, contact us about IT in a Box.
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.
A slew of recent articles have pointed out that organizations still using Windows XP or Windows Vista will not be able to use Office 2013. The outcry stems from the fact that XP and Vista are still popular operating systems, and the argument goes that Microsoft is wrong to prevent those people and organizations from using Office 2013.
Of course, these are legitimate concerns. But we look at this issue very differently.
Sometimes we wish hardware and software could be like land, a vehicle, or office furniture. We want our servers and computers to last more than ten years. We want to completely maximize our original investment.
But information technology is different. Think back to your servers and computers in 2001, just ten years ago. Or even in 2006, just five years ago. Think about what did not yet exist, remember your slow computers and cell phones, and recall the limited functionality of websites and online business. It was not that long ago, was it?
Technology moves at light speed. Let's return to XP and Vista, especially in context of running an organization. How would you face the following facts when your organization completely depends on your IT?
Just like a bridge, a road, or a truck that falls into absolute disrepair after decades, IT falls into the same disrepair - but after only three to five years. It may be annoying, but unfortunately it is reality. But there are ways you can stay up to date without having to spend inordinate amounts of money on hardware and software upgrades.
With Office 2013, Microsoft is delivering a productivity suite that is designed to run on new equipment. That is because Office 2013 can take advantage of performance increases built into newer operating systems such as Windows 7 and Windows 8. We see two options depending on your operating system.
Keep in mind that if you are set upon running your servers and computers into the ground, you risk downtime and data loss - especially if those systems are no longer are supported by Microsoft. We recommend a strategy that at least does the following:
Read more about hardware and software lifecycle best practices and contact us if you have additional questions.
The Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) has recently partnered with Sophicity to deliver IT in a Box to cities in Georgia. This new service was officially launched by the Georgia Municipal Association on Thursday, July 26, 2012.
IT in a Box is consistent with GMA's mission to not only provide leadership and guidance for cities but also to help local government stay innovative and efficient in serving their citizens.
Lamar Norton, Executive Director of GMA, said:
IT in a Box is aimed at providing cities with state-of-the-art information technology tools supported by experienced, highly skilled IT professionals. This service is being offered through a contract with Sophicity, GMA’s longtime IT consulting partner. The cities of Oakwood, Oxford, and Flowery Branch have piloted the service, and each city has already provided very positive feedback.
For one monthly all-inclusive fee, a city will receive:
Watch an interview with Mike Miller, Mayor of Flowery Branch, and Stan Brown, City Manager of Oakwood sharing their feedback and experience with IT in a Box.
Learn more about this service from the Georgia Municipal Association.
For additional information, please contact:
In 2012 alone, severe weather has challenged the fortitude of many cities around the United States. Massive thunderstorms hit the East Coast in late June and early July, the Southeast was hit by unusual storms back in January, and massive tornadoes slammed the Midwest in February. Recent wildfires and drought conditions have also strained the limited resources of municipalities that serve the West and Midwest.
To combat severe weather-related data loss, many have heard about cloud backup as a kind of modern cure-all. However, recent complaints (such as those quoted in a July 16, 2012 Computerworld article) show that cloud services (including Amazon's Cloud Services) were also affected by the same severe weather that hit various regions of the country. This kind of cloud services failure unfortunately encourages people and organizations to revert back to dangerous practices (such as only keeping one's data onsite).
During severe weather, data backup is especially important for cities since citizens often rely on municipalities for emergency information and services. If the cloud is not a cure-all solution, what is the ultimate answer to a city's data backup needs?
To combat the effects of fire, severe weather, and other disasters, you need to strategically think through your data backup just as you would think through any other municipal disaster recovery policy.
Compare the two figures and you will quickly know if you are in trouble. For example, if you need to be back up in two hours, it's not a good thing if your servers will come back up in three days!
Now that you have a gut level understanding about where you stand with your data backup, you can then explore services and options to better align these numbers. We often deal with cities that need their systems available at all times, so our solution typically recovers files in minutes. In order to assist a city in recovering from a disaster, these files are stored in multiple data centers across the country.
Finally, data backups should be tested frequently to maintain your confidence that you can recover when disaster occurs. Simulate the ultimate disaster such as a massive storm hitting your entire region, a hurricane, or a tornado. Will your data be recovered even in the worst possible case? (The answer should be YES!)
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