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CitySmart Blog

Monday, January 25, 2010
Tim Verras, Director of Marketing and Customer Experience
Over at GovFresh they’re running a piece on Code for America, which is an organization that is looking to crowdsource the development of Gov 2.0 apps for five lucky cities in 2010. Developers will work with the cities to implement some brand new applications to help cities communicate with their citizens in whole new ways. It’s really great to see so many of these sorts of contests going on, especially in the local government sector where modern web apps can really make a difference. There’s an application process for your city if you wish to join the contest and get a few new apps to spruce up your website.
Friday, January 22, 2010
Jeramie Mercker, Director of Technology
One trend that we’re starting to see is a number of States experimenting with providing data center and cloud-computing services to the local governments within their borders. The thought is that the State will be able to provide more updated technologies that cities can typically afford, at a price that will be hard to argue with. Instead of each city having its own massive IT infrastructure, they could simply purchase services from their State, sort of like a utility. It will be interesting to see how these types of programs pan out, especially when it comes to getting the buy-in of the various decision makers and department heads at each city. But it has the potential of truly changing the way that local governments do their IT. As a vendor, you might think we’d be worried about this sort of thing, but we think it could have great benefit. Even with State outsourced services cities will still need IT professionals for planning, implementation, and maintenance. As the various cloud technologies come to fruition, we’ll be watching this trend to see how it develops.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Allen Koronkowski, Practice Manager: Projects
Over the last year, I’ve been closely following how city governments are using Twitter. It’s a powerful tool but many of the rules of how to use it are still being written. One area that some cities are struggling with is transparency and open records. Sure you might think “But Twitter is open to everyone anyway” but the problem is a bit more complex than that. GovTech points us to an interview they did with a few local government reps who have been looking into ways to catalog and archive twitter and social media posts so that cities can readily provide the communications if requested. If your city is actively using twitter (which I’m sure many are), this article might give you a few good tips on how to manage your twitter feed storage.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Allen Koronkowski, Practice Manager: Projects
Is technology a part of your city’s long term vision? If not, it should be. While most cities have long term plans for economic development or infrastructure improvement, the prevailing thinking is that IT planning only covers short-term immediate needs that don’t go beyond the next budget cycle. However, such planning is reactionary and misses the opportunity of using IT to strengthen the city’s overall vision and act as a catalyst for quickly bringing important city projects to completion. By discussing your future IT needs within the context of the larger vision of the city, projects involving a technology-related investment become much more compelling to city council and other decision makers who might otherwise get bogged down by only technical aspects. Here are a few tips for making IT planning an integral part of your overall vision for the city.


Create a Long Term Technology Vision

Before you can understand how IT fits into the city’s overall plan, you’ll need to explore how technology may help enable the city’s vision. Stay away from specifics like “buy a new accounting system” and focus on more general themes that enable the city’s larger goals. For instance, if the city’s economic development plan is to bring new business to the downtown area, the technology component might be “To implement technologies and tools that help attract new business to the city.” If the city’s vision is to reduce operating costs, the technology vision might be “To use IT to improve efficiency across each department.” The goal is to strengthen and enable the city’s overall vision by harnessing IT across the entire city instead of budgeting for IT in isolation or to benefit single departments.


Build a Project List

Once you’ve solidified how IT will enable your city’s vision, start tackling exactly how it’s going to come to fruition. Most city visions are accomplished by completing a number of small, highly specific projects. To use our examples from above, technology projects to attract new businesses might include a new website that makes the city look more attractive to outsiders, improving broadband internet connectivity in the downtown area, and providing access to web-based advertising, eCommerce, and online permitting services. Projects to help reduce operating costs might include using new products and services that reduce paper-based, manual, or redundant processes, updating IT hardware to more energy efficient and modern standards, or replacing expensive software licenses with more cost-effective alternatives. Work closely with your IT staff or vendor to perform an assessment for each affected department to determine the scope and priority of the project list, always with the overall vision in mind.


Perform Yearly Evaluations

Experience dictates that over the course of carrying out the city’s vision, many things can and will change. Perhaps implementation takes longer than expected or there is an economic downturn and the city has less money with which to budget. Whatever the case may be, sit down with city decision makers on a yearly basis (or more often if warranted) and provide an evaluation of the plan. Are projects on schedule? Does the city have appropriate budget dollars allocated? Have priorities shifted or changed? When initially designing project plans, try to add flexibility so that changing course is quick and painless. Provide clear course correction points at which the city could modify or stop the plan without much impact to earlier projects. The IT plan for attracting new businesses might include provisions for decreasing the scope of online services if demand is low, or the cost reduction plan might indicate provisions for implementing the cheapest projects first because of budget limitations. With that said, try not to make the plan so flexible that it constantly changes and creates chaos for your implementation staff. Like all things, you’ll need to create a balance between a concrete plan and a flexible one.


Conclusion

As your city looks forward to the future, make it a high priority to include technology planning as a key component of the city’s future goals. Sticking to a consistent vision for technology not only makes planning individual projects easier but it also provides a way to discuss these changes with a citizenry that is becoming more increasingly aware and interested in how their government is using technology to make it more available and transparent. Such plans are also a great way to help city council truly grasp how technology goes beyond short-term reactive budgets and instead enables long-term growth and stability at the city. That’s a vision everyone can get behind.

Monday, January 18, 2010
Clint Nelms, Network Infrastrucutre Practice Manager
Many cities have tried municipal wireless programs to varying degrees of success. Unfortunately, many of those degrees tend to be on the lower half of the scale. However all hope is not lost… there are a few successful models and the one constant seems to be “don’t try to make it free.” The internet may quickly be approaching a utility, but even then, people don’t expect to get utilities free. If your city is thinking about a municipal wireless program, check out this write up for some war stories.
Friday, January 08, 2010
Allen Koronkowski, Practice Manager: Projects
To anyone who’s been involved in an ERP implementation, however, this is old news. Tying together every single aspect of a city government into one coherent system is a daunting task. That’s why we recommend that any city undergoing the task doesn’t going alone. Bringing in outside help is almost a requirement for picking up all the rocks and dusting off all the corners necessary to bring the process to completion. But even so, success isn’t guaranteed: you’ve got to choose the right vendor. GovTech has an incredibly in-depth article about Portland, Or.’s trials, tribulations and eventual successes in implementing its ERP system. If your city is thinking of embarking down this path, this is a must read. My advice to you is to study up and really research any vendor that you’re bringing in to help. These projects are just too big to be taken lightly.
Wednesday, January 06, 2010
Dave Mims, President
Consolidating GIS data from cities, counties and other agencies can be a touchy subject, as this information is usually closely guarded. The result is a bunch of data silos with information that has varying degrees of accuracy. However, new IT initiatives are changing the minds of GIS keepers all over the country. For example, take Houston, which has recently integrated its GIS data into one central system that is over 95% accurate (Many individual systems are as low as 40% accurate.) How did they accomplish this feat? Interestingly, not by focusing on the technology. Instead, the program manager focused on the value that such a system would bring: decreased network loads, increased accuracy, lower costs. This is exactly the kind of thing I like to see, because it’s what we are always striving to do for our city clients: focus on value. And I’d say that this is pretty good evidence of why that works better than strong arming folks with technical reasons.
Monday, January 04, 2010
Tim Verras, Director of Marketing and Customer Experience
The New York Times is reporting on a new locally-focused free web service called SeeClickFix.com that might perk up the ears of your 311 staff. Using Google Maps, the service allows users to click on a specific area and report a problem like a pot hole, graffiti, or an abandoned house. The system then uses the GPS coordinates of that location to automatically communicate the problem to local governments, businesses, and other entities. This is a further example of how the web can tie together a lot of different pieces of information to help cities improve their services (and hopefully their infrastructure.) If your city is looking into automating some of its 311 functions, you might want to check out SeeClickFix before you purchase any software!
Thursday, December 31, 2009

The folks here at Sophicity wish everyone a happy and safe New Years! Take a moment to celebrate the present, ponder the past, and wonder about the future. We’re looking forward to a great 2010!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Tim Verras, Director of Marketing and Customer Experience
GovTech has an interesting look at social media use in the government sector. Quoting the PTI (Public Technology Institute), the article states that over 72% of cities are now using Facebook as a way of reaching out to citizens. That’s a huge number! With over 19 thousand cities in the US, that means close to 13500 cities are using the popular social network. There are likely many reasons for this rapid growth but I think one of them is that social networks fulfill a need that cities have had for a long time: how do we cheaply, effectively communicate with our citizens? The new crop of social network sites require no maintenance by the city, are free to use, and have an enormous population from which the city can attract its audience. One the surface level, such networks might only seem like another communication channel but I think they are evolving into something a lot more robust as cities figure out interesting ways to use them for crowdsourcing, disaster planning, and emergency management. Is your city doing something interesting with social media? Write us and let us know (Or find us on Facebook!)
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