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CitySmart Blog

Friday, April 02, 2010
Jeramie Mercker, Director of Technology
We’ve discussed a number of times how Facebook and other social media sites are changing the way governments interact with their citizens. Many activities that once had to be performed in face to face meetings with officials can now be quickly handled through online social networks. Still, we can philosophize about this all day. It is real examples that will help bring the idea home to those that may still be on the fence when deciding to start a social media campaign at their city. This article from a the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette provides some real examples of how Facebook is helping cities in Pa. offer better services by leveraging social media.
Thursday, April 01, 2010
Tim Verras, Director of Marketing
In its continuing interest to get more on the mind of towns, Google has launched a new content to make 3D models of your home town using Google’s SketchUp , Building Maker and popular Maps applications. Cities all over the world have some amazing architecture and by using these tools you can take those flat buildings in Google Maps and turn them into 3D versions in all of their glory. Google opened the contest to the entire world and the entries are starting to pour in. Check out the contest homepage to get instructions on how to build your own town and even vote on which town should win the contest. (Our vote is on the entry from Braunschweig, Germany for the beautiful cathedral the artists created.)
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Jeramie Mercker, Director of Technology
SmartGrid Technologies have been a hot topic recently as several cities make preparations to roll out their version of the technology. What is a SmartGrid? The easiest way to think of it is as a modern update to the way utilities are managed. It’s essentially hooking up electric, water, gas and other utilities into a giant network that has access to the internet and has the potential to change utilities in much the same way computers changed the office environment.

Remember when the meter man around to read your meter? SmartGrids make it a thing of the past. Hate paying for three separate utility bills? SmartGrids can solve that too by grouping all your utilities into one bill. SmartGrids can also do things you could only dream of 5 years ago, like showing you online charts of your energy usage, letting you know when electricity is cheapest, and even controlling your thermostat from anywhere in the world via the internet.

Tallahassee, Fl. Is the one of the first cities in the nation to roll out a SmartGrid system and GovTech has a great piece on how its going to help the city and it citizens save money, time, and resources. It’s worth the read!

Monday, March 29, 2010
Dave Mims, President
At the Spring 2010 Southern Municipal Conference (SMC) in Richmond, Virginia, I presented to a number of state municipal leagues on Driving Member Services Using the Web.  Without a doubt, this is an exciting topic for me to present on.  The web channel for delivery of services is aggressively growing in the number of possibilities for reaching and engaging cities and the people who are stewards of the cities. Just as there has been wide user adoption for full service portals, social media interaction, and rich anywhere anytime applications in the consumer market, the same is now expected for local governments. It’s my feeling that the state municipal leagues should be leading the way and setting an example for their member cities on how to provide modern, innovative web services.
 
To find out how, check out the presentation slides. And as always, ping me if you have any feedback.
Friday, March 26, 2010
Dave Mims, President
City governments, and governments in general, have been struggling with the new legal hurdles that the internet and widespread access to connected mobile devices bring. What happens when jurors tweet? Are text messages subject to Open Records Act requests? Are apps that help you find legal parking an obstruction of justice? Each one of these questions and many more are in play at cities across the nation. In some cases, cities choose to fight the technological onslaught and in others they seek to work with it as a way to improve their operations. Personally, I tend to embrace the later ideal, because I honestly feel that cities can revolutionize the way they do business by embracing technology instead of shunning it.

Such is the case at Elgin, Illinois where a man developed an iPhone app to help people park smarter and avoid parking tickets. In some cities, similar aps have appeared and been shut down for reducing parking ticket income. But in Elgin, the city has actually embraced the application has a way to reduce congestion and help people get to where they are going faster, which in theory, should help increase sales, accessibility, and reduce costs related to dealing with that congestion. In the end it’s a win-win for the city and its citizens. Sure, the city might see less parking ticket income but it should more than make up for it in increased revenue from businesses and reduced administration costs.

Thursday, March 25, 2010
Jeramie Mercker, Director of Technology
We’ve discussed a number of App contests that cities are running, most notably in New York, but the newest version comes from Portland, Or. where they have given their developers access to a wider data set from cities, counties, and various other agencies like transportation (Portland has some of the best mass transit in the country) and traffic. In the end, what you get is more data for the application developers to build off of. It’s a bit like giving an artist more paint – the results are likely to be much more robust and fruitful when the contest comes to a close. And like the other contests, anything developed for it must remain open source so that anyone can further modify it to their liking. As a data geek, it’s a good time to be alive. Where’s your app contest, Atlanta?
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Dave Mims, President
Here at Sophicity, I’ve been pushing the team to do everything it can to eliminate paper. Everything we do is scanned and stored electronically in SharePoint, we work off monitors and laptops whenever possible, and many other ways to reduce our paper output. It’s not just about cost reduction, it’s about efficiency too. Most of the time it’s just faster for us to use electronic formats. Anyone who knows me personally, also knows that I love ebooks on my Kindle or my iPhone. Instead of lugging a library of business books around, I can get them all into one little device.

That’s why this story caught my why: Sacramento has given all of their city council members Kindles and will be using them to distribute documents for council meetings. Not only is it convenient but its saving them tons of money on paper costs. On average, each city council member consumed one ream of paper per day. With paper at $50 a box, that can ad up to a tremendous monthly savings for cash strapped cities and it won't take long for those Kindles to pay for themselves. I’ll be keeping an eye out for other ways that cities can use technology to reduce their expensive paper footprint and if you have any ideas, let me know!

Friday, March 19, 2010
Tim Verras, Director of Marketing and Customer Experience
Next Tuesday and Wednesday (March 23rd and 24th), Sophicity will be exhibiting at the Georgia Governmental Purchasing Conference and Products Exposition at the Georgia International Convention Center in Atlanta. We’ll be at booth #314 so if you’d like to chat, please stop on by and say hello. We’re always excited to meet the folks that make the RFP magic happen.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Jeramie Mercker, Director of Technology
From increased citizen services to better G2C (government-to-citizen) communications, smartphones and their mobile aps are transforming city government. We’ve detailed a number of these innovative applications over the past year but anyone looking for a good primer should check out this piece in Governing by former Indianapolis mayor Stephen Goldsmith. He gives bit of insight into how apps are transforming everything from 311 services to traffic advisories and beyond by creating instant and trackable two-way communication between cities and their citizens. We’ve been watching the mobile ap space very closely and we’ll continue to do so over the next year as they really begin to take off. In fact, right now I'm learning how to develop mobile apps for Andriod. Stay tuned over the next few months and I'll tell you how it goes.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Clint Nelms, Practice Manager: Network Infrastructure
For the past twenty years, cities that desired business-class email and communications needed the expensive infrastructure to support the technology, leaving smaller cities with sub-par email solutions to conduct business. This dynamic has begun to rapidly change as advanced hosted email solutions gain traction in the market. While this may not be a perfect fit for every city at this time, these hosted solutions can strongly compete with the features offered from onsite email and do so at a cost point that makes it easier for some cities to afford.

But why should a city think about switching over? Below are three key advantages to implementing a hosted email solution at your city.

 

Eliminates Hardware / Software Expenses

On-premise email systems require hardware and software to handle the processing and storing of email. Depending on the size of your city the cost can be anywhere from prohibitively expensive to negligible. However, the real cost lies in the ongoing support of the email system: maintenance, upgrades, virus protection, anti-spam, backups, licenses, power consumption and physical security all add significant repeating costs to the city’s operating budget. Hosted solutions move these costs and responsibilities to the service provider who maintains an offsite datacenter providing all of the necessary equipment, software, and support to run the email system. This provider will handle all upgrades, updates, replacements and anything else associated with the hardware or software of the email server as part of its service offering, eliminating many of the city’s hardware, software, licensing, and utility costs.

 

Reduces Maintenance and Support Costs

Along with the technical infrastructure email servers also require on-going maintenance and support which can significantly add to costs. From administering daily data backups to upgrading software, installing new hardware and running a help desk, city IT support staff will need to spend a significant amount of time managing an on-premise email solution. A hosted service provider will include all of these costs in their offering, fully supporting the email system so that it requires no time from city staff when issues arise. They’ll also be able to leverage their economy of scale to provide a more robust backup and disaster recovery option than some cities could alone maintain. When you add it all up, it means that a hosted email solution can cost significantly less than traditional options year after year while offering equal or better service.

 

Increases Availability / Reliability

One weakness of on-premise email servers is that not all cities can afford to meet the business-class availability standards that people expect. With email being a crucial part of the city’s daily communications even a few hours, let alone a few days, of downtime is simply not acceptable. Problems affecting availability can range anywhere from hardware failure to disaster, theft, or viruses. Even with great support staff, not every city has the infrastructure to run a high-availability environment with redundant systems, high security, and backup power generators. However, due to their singular focus and economies of scale, most hosted email service providers do have the infrastructure to insure that the email server is properly protected and secured by utilizing state-of-the-art data centers that feature redundant systems, high physical security, backup power generators, and teams of highly skilled engineers. Thus, these services allow cities of any size, whether its 5 mailboxes or 5000, to tap into the high reliability and availability of an advanced datacenter without the associated operating costs.

 

Conclusion

As email continues to be a dominant form of communication for governments, as with other industries, a robust email system is no longer a nice-to-have, it’s a requirement. While the technology may not be a fit for every city at this time, hosted email systems should be a serious consideration for those looking to modernize and increase services without budgeting for a huge capital outlay. The real advantage lies in what these systems allow some smaller cities to have, that is a business-class email solution that is secure and highly available at a price that’s easy on the yearly budget. By eliminating hardware and software capital outlay, reducing support costs and increasing reliability, hosted email allows cities to better serve citizens and more easily meet the stringent demands that email retention policies and Open Records Act requirements place on municipal governments. When considering an email upgrade carefully weigh the pros and cons of an on-premise or hosted email solution to discover the best fit for your city’s needs. You might be surprised what you find.

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