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Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Clint Nelms, Network Infrastrucutre Practice Manager
As a follow up to my last post about Nashville's IT woes, I want to point you to another GovTech article that walks government folks through creating an IT security plan. This is exactly the kind of thing that we work on with our customers – creating a citywide, comprehensive IT security plan that covers all areas of the IT infrastructure from laptop policies to theft prevention. City’s store a lot of sensitive data and do a tremendous amount of business with money, yet often they lack the kind of policies needed to adequately protect these areas. GovTech gives you a great place to start if you’re looking to implement such policies at your city.
Monday, August 23, 2010
Clint Nelms, Network Infrastrucutre Practice Manager
GovTech is running an interview with Nashville’s Technology Chief Keith Durbin about how the city has learned from the mistakes of its numerous security breaches. Durbin primarily focuses his thoughts around how the lack of robust IT security policies led to most of the breaches. Whether it’s a misplaced thumb drive or a stolen laptop, without encryption and security policies in place, vast amounts of citizen data can be leaked. Unfortunately for Nashville, they had to learn the hard way and suffer the negative media attention. But you don’t have to. Read over the article, learn from it, and begin putting IT security policies in place right now to prevent this sort of thing from happening at your city.
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Tim Verras, Director of Marketing and Communications
Government adoption of social media is a frequent topic of discussion at nearly every education session, conference, or convention of government professionals. Mayors, City Council members, city administrators, and IT professionals are all grappling with how government is going to use social media. Why the pressure? According to a Pew Internet study, 47% of adults and 74% of people under 18 use social media on a regular basis. As a result, the wide adoption of social media by the citizenry has created an expectation that the government will embrace it as well. Cities can no longer afford to ignore social media.

While cities are starting social media initiatives, strategy can sometimes get lost in the shuffle. A good social media strategy should define three key areas: audience, ownership, and content creation. Let’s take an in-depth look at each:


Defining the Audience

Knowing your audience is the first and most important element of your social media strategy, as it will determine which social media services will best fit, dictate what kind of content will best resonate, and define the level of effort needed by city staff. For example, a social media plan built around general citizen communication is going to be very different from one built around attracting businesses to move into the city. While audiences will vary from city to city, here are a few common audiences that cities target:

  • General Citizen Communication – This strategy focuses on disseminating as much information as possible to citizens. Much of this information is similar to what the city puts on its website – news, project updates, events, or anything else of general interest to a wider audience. The difference is making use of a mix of social media channels to disseminate this information. If your citizens already spend time on Facebook and Twitter, you become part of their news feeds and provide another avenue for people to access your city’s website.
  • Business Development – Attracting business is an essential part of helping cities grow. Prospective business owners want to see signs of vitality from a city, and social media increasingly serves as a way to reach out and communicate the positive economic benefits that businesses will experience by moving to the city. However, business owners are concerned with different things than the average citizen. A business development social media strategy might focus on communicating incentives, infrastructure improvements, updates to rules and regulations, and perhaps easy access to the various forms that a business would need in order to become part of the city.
  • Emergency Communications – A growing use for social media in many cities is emergency and disaster communications. According to a Red Cross study, 1 in 6 citizens will look to social media channels first for news about a disaster – and this number is expected to grow. Information can spread incredibly fast through a social network and this is important when a government is trying to warn its citizens about emergencies like storms, disasters, or police and fire activity. This strategy would be driven by public safety, 911, emergency management or similar departments within the city.
These are just three common examples of different audiences for social media. Other audiences might include commuters (traffic updates), those interested in parks and recreation activities, those affected by construction, or any topic with a specific audience. It is important to not use social media as a one-size-fits-all communication tool. Using the same Twitter feed to cover multiple audiences is going to water down messages and, at worse, confuse readers. As such, a city might have multiple Twitter feeds, numerous Facebook pages, and so on. The critical rule for social media is to stay on target with a specific audience.


Defining Ownership

Once the audience is defined, the next step is to determine who will be in charge of each section of the social media strategy. Each audience is going to be driven by a different team or department within the city. However, having one department or person (call them a “social media guru”) that is tasked with governance of your social media strategy and communications is a good idea. If the city is large enough to have a marketing or communications department, they are likely candidates for this role. It would be up to the social media guru to help each team keep a consistent look and feel for social media communications and drive those responsible to create the necessary content.

In talking with city government IT professionals, we hear that one mistake many cities make is tasking their IT team with the role of overseeing social media strategy. While IT is the perfect place to help users set up accounts and maintain security, social media is not simply an IT tool. The strategy and execution behind social media requires the same oversight that city marketing and communications requires. IT teams are not marketers, and they lack the time and experience necessary to create effective social media content on a regular basis. Just because social media requires the use of a computer doesn’t mean that IT should oversee social media strategy. If possible, a social media strategy should be a city-wide initiative.


Creating Content

After an owner for each piece of the social media strategy is defined, it is time to think about content. One frequent mistake many newcomers to social media make is immediately jumping into the content creation phase without any real plan. Content might be published on a regular basis for a while, but as other duties press or content becomes scarce, the social media feed can stagnate, which will quickly drive the audience away. Users expect social media to be updated regularly so it is a good idea to have a long-term plan in place before the first word of content is ever written.

For example, if your city is starting a general Twitter feed, plan out a month ahead when the content will be released and what it will be about. If possible, create all of the content ahead of time and keep it in a “waiting to be published” folder. This will help keep the channel freshly stocked with content. If you can’t create the content ahead of time, at the very least have an idea what kind of content will be posted on a particular day. You might do a parks and recreation update every Monday, a city council update every Tuesday, and so forth. This doesn’t mean that you can’t ever do ad hoc updates, but sticking to a plan will make sure there is at least a bare minimum of content to keep your audience interested.

Another key factor in content creation is understanding how long it takes to create a piece of content. For instance, keeping a 140 character Twitter feed updated is much easier than maintaining a YouTube feed that requires filming, producing and editing video. Having an idea of what it will take to actually produce the content will help you determine the staffing needs to keep the content going. Many a blog or Facebook page has gone dead because the individual tasked with keeping it updated simply ran out of time to do it. Before starting any social media strategy, ensure that you have the staff to properly maintain it.


Conclusion
Government use of social media is a new field and many of the rules are still being written. However, by creating a simple strategy, defining the audience, and ensuring that the staff has the proper resources to create content, you will have laid the foundations for a successful social media communication channel. There may be a great deal of anxiety about social media but having a strategy in place can go a long way toward mitigating any concerns.

What isn’t an option is ignoring social media. In an age where many citizens are using it on a regular basis, there is an expectation for governments to provide their own strategic, targeted social media channels.

Friday, August 13, 2010
Kevin Howarth, Director of Business Development
The conventions keep on coming. Join Tim and I at the Florida League of Cities Annual Conference in Hollywood, FL next week! If you are planning to attend, drop by Booth 24 and let us know what’s on your mind. Conventions are fun but staying at an awesome hotel on the beach makes them even better!
Thursday, August 12, 2010
Tim Verras, Director of Marketing and Customer Experience
Social media, especially Twitter, is often a frequent topic of discussion amongst government professionals. We’ve heard it come up a number of times at conventions and there are always a few folks who seem to dismiss it as a fad for children. The problem is, that’s just not true. Many government organizations are finding ways to use Twitter that are dramatically changing the landscape of G2C communication. In fact, as this recent study shows, citizens are using Twitter and expect their government too as well. 18% of those polled said they would turn to social media for any emergency updates. Problem is, if the government’s not listening, they may lose an opportunity to communicate with almost 20% of their citizenship. That’s a significant number during a disaster communication scenario. Cities are no longer in a position to dismiss social media as a fad. If you don’t already have plans in the works, now is a great time to start.
Friday, August 06, 2010
Tim Verras, Director of Marketing and Customer Experience
GovTech is running a great article on Michigan’s CTO and how he’s followed the TV show to go “Undercover CTO”. The article lays out what he discovered by spending time in the trenches with the folks in his organization. He found that most folks were hard workers, with serious gripes but no way to air them. He found it refreshing that he could hear business issues from real people and how that affected his future police decisions. If you are managing a large organization think about taking some time to hang out with the folks that are doing the hard work out in the field. You’re likely to learn a lot about how to add efficiency and increase morale.
Wednesday, August 04, 2010
Tim Verras, Director of Marketing and Customer Experience
Kevin and I just got back from the GMIS International convention held right here in Atlanta. It’s a collection of IT professionals from the City and County governments that meat to discuss how IT is shaping city governance. This year the two hot topics seemed to be city websites and social media. Twitter and Facebook are seeping into the government sector and often the task of administering these initiatives falls to IT. This is a difficult situation because this is not a traditional IT function. In the best case, this is a function hat should be handled by the internal communications and marketing department. Yet at the end of the day, cities with tight budgets are asking the IT team to watch over these sites. If your city is going down his route, you might want to seriously consider hiring in in-house social media expert. While IT has the technical chops to handle social media, they often lack the time to create the kind of compelling content that is necessary to derive value out of social media.
Friday, July 30, 2010
Kevin Howarth, Director of Business Development
If you are planning on going to GMIS International this year, we are pleased to announce that we will be displaying at the event. The conference moves from city to city each year but this year it’s in our hometown of Atlanta. GMIS is one of the most targeted conferences for us in the IT field and is a great way to hear what’s on the minds of government technology professionals from all over the country. Hope to see you there!
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Tim Verras, Director of Marketing and Customer Experience
We’ve discussed Google’s efforts to get into the Government sector in the past but the latest news is Google’s strongest commitment yet to the sector. This week the company announced that its now offering Google Apps for Government. This is the same Google apps that many people already use but the key difference is that it is on its own, secure cloud meant only for governments. Google has even had the system federally tested so that it now meets standards to store all non-classified information, which should meet the need of most governmental organizations. This should help to alleviate the fears that many leveled at Google during its roll out of Los Angeles’s Apps implementation, namely that the information would be easily compromised. It will be interesting to see if this actually spurs adoption or proves that cloud-based computing is still too new for government to be truly interested.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Clint Nelms, Practice Manager: Network Infrastructure

Over the last few years, internet-based data backup services geared toward the home user have grown in popularity. These services provide an adequate level of protection for home users at an affordable cost. When looking to back up your city’s data, these consumer-grade backup offerings are so cost effective that you may consider them over the more expensive services aimed at the business sector. However, these services might not meet the stringent data protection needs of municipal government.

A home user of a consumer-grade backup system typically installs a small application onto their computer which the user can configure to suit their needs. The data backup options are usually limited to keep the program easy for non-technical home users. While this is a boon for that market, the lack of customization options can lead to serious problems for government use. When problems do occur, the user is left with minimal expert help on how to address it. By contrast, business-class internet-based data backup solutions provide many customized options and give the user access to expert engineers. Before you make the decision to go with a particular internet backup solution, there are three areas of potential risk to consider:


Who is Doing the Backups?

Most consumer-grade backup solutions are cheaper because they require the user to perform all of the labor. This is fine for home users but governments store much larger amounts of data critical to day-to-day operations. A consumer-grade backup solution will require the city to administer its own backups. For governments without onsite technical staff, this can introduce a great deal of risk into the backup process. If a non-technical city staff member is assigned the job of performing the backups, what happens if they run into an issue? What if they get sick? What if they never tested that the backups worked? Critical backups are all about consistency. If the city has to rely on employees who aren’t properly trained, it could introduce a number of risks such as missed, improperly performed, and unaudited backups. The critical nature of most government data means that these are risks a city cannot take.

Business-class internet backups cost more because they are more than just an application. They include expert engineering staff that will administer, maintain and test the backups for the city. The solution provider’s team can provide a much more stable and comprehensive backup process by leveraging a number of engineers to tackle any problems (instead of relying on one non-technical city staff member). With a solution provider, you don’t need to worry about missed backups due to technical problems, sickness or any of the numerous events that could pull someone away from their backup duties. These solutions provide an element of reliable consistency that is the cornerstone of a good backup strategy.


Are the Proper Files Being Backed Up?

Consumer-grade backup solutions can be much cheaper than business-class backup solutions because there is less variety in home environments. Most households use PCs or Macs with common files (documents, music, photos, etc). Backing up only these common file formats makes it easy for the consumer-grade backup vendor to ensure that service costs remain low and the backup software works for most home users. However, take one look at an average city environment and you’ll see a hodgepodge of different systems, architectures, applications and databases: City Hall might have different vendors for finance and email and document storage, the courts will have separate systems for ticketing and legal cases, and the police department might have numerous different systems to cover areas like dispatch, asset management and squad car camera footage.

Each vendor the city uses might have its own server with proprietary software written in a multitude of languages that use custom file types. With so many variables there is no guarantee that a consumer-grade data backup solution will be able to recognize and properly back up all the city’s data. If that data isn’t properly backed up the city will likely lose far more than a few music MP3s. Financial data loss could grind the city to a halt, courts could lose valuable ticketing information, and the police department could lose important data that may lead to complications in criminal investigations or court cases. In short, the city cannot afford to leave its backups to chance.

Business-class services remove the guesswork during the backup process. By handling a wider variety of applications, operation systems, and languages, these services have much more coverage and flexibility over consumer-grade solutions. The provider’s engineers can specify exactly which servers, applications and files will be backed up as well as allowing for regular testing. Whether it’s squad car footage or court case data, a good provider will guarantee that all of the files that need to be backed up actually are backed up.


Are The Backups Tested?

One area where many businesses and governments run into trouble with their backups is a lack of testing and auditing. Data backups need to be regularly tested and audited to ensure that all of the necessary files are backed up and that the data has integrity. Unfortunately, most consumer-grade solutions do not automatically test or audit the backups and instead rely on the user to make sure that the files are in proper condition. Remember that if the backups aren’t tested, you likely won’t know they are bad until a file is lost, a machine crashes, or a disaster like a tornado or a flood strikes. There is nothing more painful than trying to recover from a disaster only to discover that the backups are useless or corrupt. If this happens, it may put your affected systems on hold for weeks or even months. Imagine losing years worth of police evidence or tax records. Untested backups present a serious problem for governments because they are organizations that cannot afford to be out of commission for even a few hours.

To prevent such data loss, business-class internet based-backups are bundled with testing and auditing services. The provider’s engineers will regularly test and audit the data to ensure that in the event of a disaster the backups may be used to rebuild the city’s systems. If corruption or failure does occur, it will be detected much earlier and allow the city to address the problem before it’s too late. This proactive approach means that the city will have backups that it can rely on.


Conclusion

While a consumer-grade internet-based backup solution might at first seem like an attractive option due to its simplicity and price, a number of serious risks emerge when applied to government. The added cost of a business-class solution is far outweighed by the added benefits of comprehensiveness, expertise, and testing. Critical data loss can shut a city’s operations down for months. The added cost of a business-class solution is money well spent versus the high cost incurred from a corrupt or failed backup as city departments sit idle, court cases get thrown out and police cannot protect citizens. Cities must always weigh risk against cost but critical data is one area where even one risk is far too many when it comes to providing reliable service to citizens.

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