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CitySmart Blog

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.

Friday, March 12, 2010
Tim Verras, Director of Marketing and Customer Experience
Sophicity was a finalist in the American Marketing Association Atlanta Chapter’s 2010 AMY Awards in the B2B Visual Branding/Identity category. While we didn’t win the award, just being a finalist in this prestigious event was an honor in itself. Special thanks to our marketing partner Arketi Group for giving us an identity that we’re all proud of. The award event itself was a great time and full of beautiful marketing folks (myself included) in the equally beautiful FOX Theatre in Midtown Atlanta. Here's to another year of great marketing!
Friday, March 12, 2010
Clint Nelms, Network Infrastrucutre Practice Manager
No matter how secure your environment is to outside threats, if you don’t properly protect the internal PC’s that access your network all of the firewalls in the world are rendered useless. Case in point, a city in Ohio had its website hacked and harmful files were flooded onto the web server. The city thought it couldn't possibly be blamed because it had “an extremely strong firewall” but after an investigation it was discovered that one of the PC’s used to update the website was not protected by any sort of antivirus software, giving the hackers a back door into the web server. In a sense, they didn't have to do any fancy hacking, the PC probably had a key logger installed which grabbed the password to the website, giving the hackers full access. In a case like this, your firewall won’t protect you. For a truly secure environment, if you’re going to spend money a great firewall, spend the comparatively minute sum to add virus protection to every PC in your environment. Otherwise, it’s a bit like building a vault with the unlock code etched on the door.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
Jeramie Mercker, Director of Technology
As smartphones become more prevalent in the municipal government space the rules and regulations around how they are used are just now being written. One of the interesting sticking points is what to do with the information that comes through these phones. Is it all publically available data? Only some of it? Are personal calls/txt’s subject to FOIA requests? Once such case comes to us from Boulder, Co. where city officials have been given iPhones, causing some to question the reason behind the move. While handing over email logs is easy for cities, handing over phone records, conversations, and even texts is hard because the city does not operate the mobile network. These questions will likely need to be hammered out through a combination of laws and court cases, but since smartphones are not going away, I think it would be premature to simply say that they have no place in city government. How does your city handle smartphone use?
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