CitySmart Blog

Monday, October 26, 2009
Jeramie Mercker, Director of Technology
Alemeda County, California is set to save a projected $15 million in a single year due to an application integration project for its social services programs. Now that’s ROI. Essentially its linking a whole bunch of formerly separate systems to give its case workers a wide view of each enrollee across multiple programs. Where are the savings coming from? Mostly by detecting errors and fraud within the system. If the databases aren’t talking, someone could spend years getting benefits that they aren’t qualified for, costing tax payers millions of dollars. Naturally, not every city has the 1.5 million dollars that this project cost to implement, but this does demonstrate the value of having an integrated, intelligent system across the board.
Friday, October 23, 2009
Jeramie Mercker, Director of Technology
More evidence that major cities are looking into a hybrid model of outsourcing. GovTech is reporting that Houston, Texas has hired a firm to look into consolidating the city’s IT and potentially outsourcing services. Apparently the company is going to show them three models: in-house, completely outsourced, and a hybrid model. In a city this large, it makes total sense to look into a hybrid outsourced model, as Houston will surely need folks with long time experience in the environment to make it happen. We’ll be tracking this one, but we’re going to place our money on the hybrid model as the clear choice.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Municipal Association of South Carolina
*This is taken from a recent flyer given out by the Municipal Association of South Carolina at the SMC convention. All credit goes to them for this, but we simply had to repost it as it's great advice.
  1. Decide why you want to launch a Twitter or Facebook account – understand the power value of these tools before you start using them.
  2. Identify the people you can reach with these tools - Twitter and Facebook often reach residents who usually don’t pay attention to local government issues.
  3. Choose someone to manage the site and its message – it’s not about just reposting information from your city website.
  4. Start small and figure out what works – understand how these tools fit into your city’s overall strategy to communicate you message.
  5. Pay attention to what your residents are posting to better understand how the city can meet their needs.
  6. Calculate the risks of having negative comments posted by the public – have a plan to deal with negative posts.
  7. Be transparent in your posting – avoid having a staff person ghost-tweeting for an elected official.
  8. Post time-sensitive community announcements like traffic tie-ups disaster notifications, or parks and rec schedule updates.
  9. Post links to good news stories or re-Tweet good things people are saying – shorten your links at or
  10. Use a casual tone and short words – posts don’t have to be full sentences, but still make sure words are spelled correctly.

(Note all these tips fit the 140 character count for a Twitter post)

Monday, October 19, 2009
Dave Mims, President
At the Fall 2009 Southern Municipal Conference (SMC) in Charleston, South Carolina, I presented on SharePoint governance, an often overlooked topic until the current SharePoint implementation has devolved into a mess. SharePoint is a powerful platform that can solve many issues quickly with out of the box functionality, but without governance your independent departmental solutions will grow into ugly chaos when viewed at the organization level.

In the presentation, I clarify the mystical SharePoint Governance buzzwords that have been adding confusion for many. I also outline the best practices model and approach for implementing SharePoint throughout an organization. In fact, it’s the model we use here at Sophicity. As they say, we eat our own dog food.

Check out the presentation slides and ping me if you have any feedback.

Also, if you want to learn more about our lessons learned for using SharePoint to increase productivity while decreasing cost please checkout our Spring 2009 SMC presentation Putting the Share in SharePoint.

Friday, October 16, 2009
Jeramie Mercker, Director of Technology
More troubling news out of the State of Virginia. Yesterday the State sent out notification letters that it had misplaced files containing the personal information of over 100,000 former adult education students. The culprit? An employee stored the data on an unencrypted thumb drive and then promptly misplaced the drive. The State says there’s no indication that the data has been accessed, but if its on a thumb drive, how are they sure? This is once again an illustration that simple having back-up tapes and a good firewall does not a data security policy make. A good policy will account for as much “human error” as possible (it can never be fully eliminated, humans being human and all) by implementing polices around mandatory encryption, disallowing the use of thumb drives, and any other number of things. If you’re building a data security policy, make sure that it is robust, and most importantly, enforceable.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Dave Mims, President
We spend of lot of time on this blog discussing how governments are going digital to help add efficiency to their operations. With shrinking budgets and labor shortages, many cities have no other choice but to take a serious look at updating their IT infrastructure. Sure, it might cost more upfront, but the savings can be drastic and the "if it ain't broke don't fix it" mentality is no longer enough to justify sticking with the status quo. Take this example from the NY Times about how cities and counties around the country are going digital.

One quote, from Alameda County, Ca's Assistant Director Donald Edwards particularly caught my eye: "...government services will be increasingly automated. This is about the modernization and mechanization of services." That pretty much sums up the future pretty well. We're going to see more local government entities moving in this direction as soon as they can get over the initial shock of having to pay money for things that aren't necessarily "on fire."

Check it out and it's a great article if you're thinking of reinventing the way your city uses IT.

Monday, October 12, 2009
Kevin Howarth, Director of Business Development
While talking with all of the GMIS-GA IT folks at their 2009 Fall Conference, I heard ten topics that seemed to be on their mind:
  1. Budget cuts and retirees are reducing available staff while hiring freezes and recruiting difficulties are creating a potential labor shortage 
  2. Need for help with RFPs and finding software applications
  3. Harnessing social media
  4. Virtualization
  5. Trouble with vendors and systems integration
  6. Need for a IT business plan
  7. SharePoint implementations
  8. IP-cameras downtown
  9. Online forms, applications, payments
  10. New websites
I also wanted to thank everyone for a great conference and the opportunity to present on Silverlight. Here's the slideshow for the presentation.
Friday, October 09, 2009
Tim Verras, Director of Marketing and Customer Experience
I've been in and around the web design business since the 90's and when it comes to creating a new site, there's one mistake I see over and over again: Not listening to the audience. Remember that when you design a website, its intent is to be read by users outside the organization, and so usability becomes a key factor. Your marketing department might want a super-sexy website with Flash and animation, but never forget that citizens are coming to the site to get information quickly and consistently. This is a lesson that Fairfax County, Va. just learned as they went about redesigning their web presence. Initial sites were high design, but the user's panned them on usability. They soon discovered that the simpler they made the website, the higher the approval rating went. In the end, their website was so simple it actually won an award. All by taking the time to do focus testing and listening to their audience. As any comedian will tell you, the audience makes or brakes you.  
Wednesday, October 07, 2009
Jeramie Mercker, Director of Technology
A cautionary tale from The Big Apple. We've mentioned NYC's efforts for an open government platform in the past. But today came news that when the city released its data, it inadvertently released a slew of personal and private information into the data set. In this case it was something fairly benign - answers to secret questions for a password reset feature - but it illustrates a point: If the government is going to provide open data sets, which by all means they should, it is their responsibility to ensure that the data is properly scrubbed before it hits the public. If this would have been credit card or social security numbers, it would have been a colossal blunder, but instead NYC got a free lesson in basic data security. If your city is thinking of opening the data vaults, make extra sure that the data is fit for public consumption because once it makes it onto the net, it's there forever.
Monday, October 05, 2009
Tim Verras, Director of Marketing and Customer Experience
During my daily read through Governing's website, I came across this great post by blogger Ken Miller. He's typically focuses on change in the government sector and how difficult it sometimes is. At the end of his post, he relayed what he calls the 10 Paradoxical Commandments Of Government. Instead of commenting on them, they're so brilliant I'm just going to repost them here and them sink in:

The Paradoxical Commandments of Government

1. The reward for doing good work is more work. Do good work anyway.

2. All the money you save being more efficient will get cut from your budget now and forever. Find efficiencies anyway.

3. All the bold reforms you make will be undone by the next administration. Make bold reforms anyway.

4. There is no time to think about improving what we do. Make time anyway.

5. Employees may fight the change every step of the way. Involve them anyway.

6. The future is unpredictable and largely out of your hands. Plan anyway.

7. The press only cares when something goes wrong. Share your success stories anyway.

8. Legal will never let you do it. Simplify it anyway.

9. If you develop your people they will move on to better jobs. Train them anyway.

10. Your ideas will at best make someone else look good and at worst get you ostracized by your co-workers. Share your ideas anyway.

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