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CitySmart Blog

Thursday, May 06, 2010
Tim Verras, Director of Marketing and Customer Experience
In the unfortunate event that a disaster strikes your city, who are the citizens going to turn to? Their government. Alvin, Tx. Understood this when they implemented a emergency management system that allows them to instantly inform citizens via email and phone during the event of a disaster. This is the kind of technology that saves lives and helps people put more faith in their government. It’s great to see cities using technology effectively for the betterment of the community.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Jeramie Mercker, Director of Technology
I’ve written a number of times about the various open data initiatives that have been going on in the Government space and it looks all the excitement around this topic is actually having a measurable affect. The Pew Internet and American Life Project recently did a study and discovered that 40% of the adult internet going population has looked up government data online. Folks are looking up information on bills, stimulus spending, Data.gov and other data initiatives. Bottom line: like everything else in our modern age, the power of the web is now rapidly transforming governments. I’m glad I get to be a part of making this happen.
Friday, April 23, 2010
Tim Verras, Director of Marketing and Customer Experience
We talk to a lot of cities about their websites. One thing that we see a lot of is the age-old war between design and usability. Many times cities want very pretty and elaborate looking websites that end up actually detracting from the usefulness to the average citizen. If your city is thinking about desiging a website soon, check out this link from GoverningPeople called Citizens ‘wish list’ and frustrations with local government websites. It details some of the common pitfalls of city websites and provides some insight on how to improve them - a must read.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Dave Mims, President
Looking for a great resource on everything Gov 2.0? Check out this portal site from Deloitte. It’s got a ton of research, resources, articles, and data on how governments large and small are embracing the growing Gov2.0 trend. This goes beyond operational advantages and delves into how these technologies are actually transforming democracy and making it…well…more democratic. More than ever before the people have a voice and a window into the interworkings of government. It’s an exciting time to be in this business!
Thursday, April 15, 2010
Kevin Howarth, Director of Business Development
One of the hardest things about selling IT services and products to local governments is justifying costs. When we are selling something that helps reduce the amount of money a city is spending, it’s a no-brainer. But when we are trying to sell something that costs more but adds other benefits (like decreasing risk or increasing productivity) the case becomes much harder to make. We typically try to help folks see the value in these types of decisions by comparing the increase in cost to the value of the benefit our product or service offers. For example, if we’re increasing productivity, we’ll have the city look at how much staff time or resources this increase will save instead of just a direct comparison to current versus new cost.

If you are at a city and currently find yourself in a position to make this sort of decision, GovTech has a must-read article about an economic theory called comparative advantage. It’s a great way of thinking about how the cost of something is only one part of an equation. Depending on what you’re buying, there may be a whole host of other factors that come into play to help you determine if the decision is a wise one. The trick is sifting through all of the data to find out what really matters.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Tim Verras, Director of Marketing and Customer Experience
We’ve been spending a lot of time talking and thinking about social media and local government. The mobile app explosion combined with the expectations of the Facebook Generation have created what is arguably one of the biggest disruptions in the status quo of government-to-citizen communication since the radio. From open budget initiatives to map mash-ups, every facet of G2C communications is being co-opted into this new way of thinking. Some call it Gov2.0, we call it progress. Still, not all cities are jumping on the bandwagon and in many cases this is due to some lingering fears about how to properly use it.

Our friends over at the Georgia Municipal Association point us to a study from the Fels Institute of Government, University of Pennsylvania that details seven social media lessons for cities. If your city is grappling with how to use social media, this may be exactly what you’re looking for to break through that barrier.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Jeramie Mercker, Director of Technology
Cloud Computing is a term you have probably heard quite a few times in connection with local government. Like any good buzzword, it begins to lose meaning after a while and it might not be clear exactly what it is. Is cloud computing a technology? A software product? A philosophy? Or is it just marketing speak? How can cities actually benefit from it? In this article we’ll take a brief, non-technical look at cloud computing and how it could transform the way local governments operate and provide services to their citizens.


What is Cloud Computing?

In its simplest form, cloud computing means accessing a service (such as email) by way of an internet connection without having to worry about the technical details that go into providing that service. Chances are you probably already use a number of cloud computing resources without realizing it. Online email services like Gmail or Hotmail - that’s cloud computing. Social networks like Facebook or Twitter - that’s cloud computing too.

Think of it like the difference between cooking your own food and going to a restaurant. When cooking, you need a kitchen with the right tools. You need to purchase and store ingredients. You need a recipe and the skills to properly make it. You also need to keep your kitchen clean and well maintained so you can continue to use it in the future. However, at a restaurant you walk in, sit down, and pay a fixed price for a professionally cooked meal (hopefully!) without having to worry about how it got onto your plate. You don’t even need to clean up when you’re done!

Cloud computing works just like the restaurant. For example, in a traditional “home-baked” IT environment business-class email requires that you have the hardware, software licenses, server room space, and staff expertise needed to run it properly. This is a tried-and-true method but it can be cost prohibitive for some cities, leaving them without a viable solution to meet their needs. In a cloud computing scenario, you pay a fixed price for access to an email solution that is hosted by a provider. You don’t have to worry about hardware, software licenses or email support. You just pay a fee and a vendor takes care of the rest. And because the vendor is highly specialized and has multiple clients (like a restaurant), they can usually offer this service at a higher-quality for a more cost-effective rate than an in-house solution.

Beyond cost savings, predictability is another important factor when looking into cloud computing. In-house systems may require maintenance, upgrades, repairing, and staff overtime which all add an element of cost and management unpredictability from month to month. With cloud computing, the vendor has complete responsibility for supporting the technology and will charge the city on a flat per-unit rate. For example, email might be invoiced per inbox or storage might be invoiced per gigabyte, which adds a high level of predictability that helps make budgeting easier.


For city governments, cloud computing typically comes in two formats:

Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)

Cloud computing software applications, known as software-as-a-service or SaaS, come in a variety of flavors including content management, accounting systems, email, document management, GIS, or nearly any function that modern local governments use to provide services. These applications don’t need to be purchased, installed, or upgraded, and they don’t require confusing licenses. Users are provided access via a web browser (or a mobile application) which allows them to work from anywhere, at any time. The city is only charged a simple per-user rate.


Hardware-as-a-Service (HaaS)

Vendors and some agencies are beginning to open data centers and are providing access to local governments that might not have the ability to house their own IT department. These services are known as Hardware-as-a-service or HaaS. They allow cities of any size to access modern data center services like mass storage, data disaster recovery, fast internet connections, and top grade hardware managed by teams of highly skilled engineers without the associated cost. Each customer pays a fixed rate for access to this hardware without the hassle of purchasing and maintaining it.


Conclusion

Through SaaS and HaaS offerings, cloud computing brings cutting-edge technology and services into reach for municipalities that might not otherwise be able to implement them due to a lack of resources or expertise. It allows cities to easily budget for their IT needs by removing much of the unpredictability of maintaining an in-house solution. Cloud computing finally moves IT from the realm of confusing technical problems to something as simple and basic as a utility bill. It allows a city to be more efficient, more agile, and better able to provide the kind of modern services that citizens have come to expect in the information age.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Tim Verras, Director of Marketing and Customer Experience
Continuing on our Gov2.0 theme for this week, is another study from Grant Thornton and FreeBalance that looks into the actual measurable effects of social media on the government space. We can talk about this all day but what about some metrics? Check out this post from SmartPlanet that highlights some of the advantages that government organizations are seeing from social media. In fact Atlanta’s own Beltline project gets a shout out for its mass mobilization of supporters using Facebook. And if you want the details check out the study itself It's an interesting look at how governments are thinking different and winning big.
Friday, April 09, 2010
Jeramie Mercker, Director of Technology
Continuing with our Cloud Computing theme, GovTech has an article about how a county in Minnesota is using virtualization and cloud-based services to increase its operational efficiency. The county was able to afford much more computing horsepower for a lower cost, leading to huge decreases in data retrieval times. In one case, an operation that took 48 hours is now taking just 8. Check out the article to find more ways that the county is benefiting from its move to the cloud. We’ll continue to report on cloud computing in the government space as we firmly believe this is where a lot of the services of the future are heading.
Wednesday, April 07, 2010
Jeramie Mercker, Director of Technology
Lately we’ve been discussing cloud computing and how it is revolutionizing the government space. (In fact, stay tuned next week when we release a full article about it). For anyone interested in just how powerful this technology can be, look no further than our Federal CIO Vivek Kundra. This week he gave a talk on how the Feds are using cloud computing to dramatically reduce the over $76 billion a year they currently spend on IT infrastructure. Naturally most cities aren't going to be dealing with those kind of massive numbers, but there are still lessons to be learned and money to be saved, even at smaller towns. Check out the full version of his speech and look for the attached slide presentation. Good stuff.
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