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CitySmart Blog

Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Kevin Howarth, Director of Business Development
Another interesting trend we saw last year is municipal crowdsourcing. What’s that? Well, it’s pretty much a fancy word for “asking a bunch of people to help you make a decision” and its one of the best things to happen to local government in a long time. For instance, Duluth, Ga. Opened up its budgeting session to citizens and asked them to provide feedback on how the budget could be better spent. Or when Oakland County, Mi. faced budget cuts, it put up a website and solicited suggestions from its employees on how it could cut costs or make money, which resulted new ideas that cut the budget by tens of thousands of dollars. What we’re seeing here is technologies that enable cities to put more decision making power into the hands of citizens – a win-win for everyone. Check out this great GovTech rundown on crowdsourcing and let us know if your city is thinking of trying something new!
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Allen Koronkowski, Practice Manager: Projects
Every new budget cycle brings a bevy of projects and ideas before city council for approval. While projects like sidewalk improvement or traffic decongestion are easy to explain in terms of benefits and return on investment, IT projects can be a thorny subject, especially if the council is largely made up of non-technical folks. Add to this the fact that it usually falls upon a non-technical city manager or administrator to present the project to city council. As a non-technical person myself, I’ve spent years presenting technical projects to other non-techie decision makers, and I’ve come up with a few key tips to increase your chances of a successful presentation by presenting the problem as a business solution instead of a technical one.

Assessing the Problem 

The first and best way to drum up support in council for an IT project is to start with a detailed assessment of the problem. Typically this is done in two main parts: discovery and impact. The discovery phase pins down the exact nature of the problem by taking a cold, hard look at the present state of operations. What’s wrong with the current process or IT solution? What is the cost in employee work hours, support time, and maintenance? Asking tough questions early on will help root out any issues that may come up when the proposal is brought before council. The impact phase will look at how the new solution will effect the city’s operations. What’s the new IT solution adding to the municipality’s operations? Is it increasing efficiency, mitigating risk, or reducing costs? If so, by how much? The goal in this phase is to be as concrete as possible, showing in real numbers how the city would benefit from implementing the solution. Each of these phases will benefit greatly from in-depth interviews with key stakeholders in the project. While managers can offer great insight, try to focus the bulk of the interviews on experienced “in-the-trenches” employees who likely know the intricacies of the current technology or process.

Say for instance you want to upgrade your phone system to a voice-over-IP (VOIP) solution. The discovery phase might focus on how much the current voice line contract costs, the level of service from the vendor, and the inefficiency and lack of features of the current system. Once that is nailed down, the impact phase would determine the cost of the new phones and service agreements, and detail what new features make VOIP more efficient than the old system. You might also try to pin down how many work hours per week would be saved by switching to the new system. In another example, if you want to reduce the number of servers in the IT department, the discovery phase might set out to determine the current cost to purchase and maintain the hardware and software, the energy cost to run the servers and cool the server room, and the amount of space taken up by the equipment. The impact might focus on how much lower the hardware, energy, and support costs would be after consolidation and what could be done with the leftover space and decommissioned hardware.

Presenting the Problem 

Human nature dictates that we have an easier time making a decision when we have a keen understanding of the situation at hand. The problem is that at cities, non-technical people are often asked to make decisions about highly-technical problems. The result is that sometimes a project is shot down due to misinformation or a lack of understanding of the true benefits. This can create an atmosphere where presenting the project to council can be a difficult task. However, instead of a barrier this can present an opportunity to make a great impact on the decision making process by focusing on two key concepts: education and consensus.

When presenting a technical concept to a non-technical audience, try to stay away from the nuts and bolts of how it works. Instead, try to keep it high-level and focus on the key benefits of the new solution over what is currently in place. Make use of simple charts, graphics and other visual tools to bring the solution out of the conceptual and into the real world. For the VOIP project, you might discuss how the current system works: “Presently, when someone gets a voicemail, they need to log into the phone at their desk and get the message.” From there, discuss how a VOIP system would improve that: “The VOIP system allows voicemail to be sent directly to email so an employee can easily check voicemail from anywhere with an internet connection, saving us over 1 hour per day per employee and enabling work from home environment.” Education about the server consolidation project might use simple graphics to explain how the project combines many physical servers into just a few, leading to maintenance and energy cost savings. Educating the decision makers on the basics of the new solution will go a long way towards easing any fears of the unknown and is a lot more effective than “Trust me, we need this.”

Secondly, building consensus is a key value for any government but sometimes the notion is lost in the push to get an IT project approved. However, when presenting a technical project to a non-technical audience, coming into the discussion with a prebuilt consensus can easily turn a tough discussion into an easy decision. Remember the key stakeholder and employee interviews you did during the assessment phase? Once you have chosen a solution, go back to those same folks and get their buy-in before you go in front of council. Not only will they appreciate the gesture, they will have an actual investment in the project and act as an ardent supporter of the cause. While the council may not understand the technical details of the solution, it will understand the power of consensus from the workforce. After all, being able to say “I have buy-in from every major department head on the implementation of a VOIP system” holds a lot more power than “we just need it.”


Pushing an IT initiative through city council is more than just issuing an RFP and letting the vendor make the case. By taking the time to properly assess the problem and describe the impact, you’ll be much better equipped to explain the solution to the stakeholders and gain their critical buy-in. With the consensus in hand, a thoughtful and educating presentation to city council will give you the best possible chance of success in getting your initiative approved and driving true innovation at your city.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Jeramie Mercker, Director of Technology
Another story of data loss woe: Detroit has recently lost data that contained the social security numbers and other information of some 10,000 people. It didn’t come from a hacker, or a meltdown, or a virus, it came from classic, old school physical theft. This illustrates a great point: You can have the best network security in the world, but if you store the information locally on laptops or desktop computers which can be easily stolen, it does little to prevent data loss. In this case, now the city has to provide credit monitoring services for each of these people for a year, the cost of which might have put a serious dent in the cost of coming up with a good remote worker policy that prevented sensitive information from remaining on local devices.
Friday, December 11, 2009
Tim Verras, Director of Marketing and Customer Experience
Sophicity recently had our holiday party at the Sage Woodfire Tavern in Alpharetta. After working hard in our offices all year, it’s nice to get out once in a while and enjoy the finer things in life. We all had a great time and look forward to a prosperous 2010. Check out our Facebook page for photos of the event!
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Jeramie Mercker, Director of Technology
As we look over the last year, there’s no doubt that the biggest news for local government was the emergence of cloud computing initiatives – from LA embracing Google’s Gmail to New York’s open data app contests, local governments everywhere have been looking to the cloud as a way to put more power into the hands of its citizens. GovTech is running a great “Year in Review” piece about how local governments have been embracing cloud computing. If your city is thinking about some of these initiatives, this is a good place to start.
Monday, December 7, 2009
Dave Mims, President
This is the first of a few posts we’ll be doing on some of the local government trends for 2009. Perhaps the biggest change over the last year from the vantage point of the citizenry is the open data initiatives that many cities are starting to implement. From NYC to LA, cities large and small are making municipal data available in ever-more accessible formats. When combined with pre-existing technologies like Google Maps, these data sets – everything from crime to traffic data – create what are known as “mashups”. Want to see when, where and what crimes were committed in your neighborhood? Pop open a map that uses the police department’s data and get the information you need. While much of this data has been available in the past, it’s always been very difficult to actually get a hold of. Now that cities are making it available online in standardized formats, all manner of exciting applications are starting to pop out. Check out this article from the New York Times for a great primer and what’s happened over the last year in the field of open government data.
Friday, December 4, 2009
Jeramie Mercker, Director of Technology
With recent fears of a flu epidemic and the lingering danger of terrorist attacks, many cities have been taking a serious look at their emergency broadcast capabilities. In many cases, they’re finding that these systems are woefully inadequate for the modern age. Systems that rely on land line phone calls or TV broadcasts have been hampered by changing customer tastes. Land line systems, for instance, are not nearly as effective because many people are dropping their land lines in favor of cell phones. And while a sizeable portion of the nation still watches TV, many have shifted to computers and video game consoles as a primary form of entertainment. Add these two up and you have the potential for a lot of missed people when a emergency notification goes out. After an E coli. scare over Thanksgiving weekend, Portland, Ore. is looking at a new emergency broadcast system that will use mobile phones, Twitter, Facebook, and other technologies to effectively and quickly get the message out. Meanwhile, New York is looking into using video game consoles like the Xbox to stream emergency broadcasts. Its really great to see government embracing emerging technologies in order to update operations, many of which have remain unchanged for 50 years.
Friday, December 4, 2009
Stan Brown, City Manager, Oakwood, Ga

Oakwood recently went through a city-wide rebranding effort and we wanted our website to be consistent. We decided on Sophicity and Tribune because it was the best mix of service and features for the right price. Sophicity worked directly with our marketing staff to give us the exact website we wanted and delivered it on time and budget. Now we can update our own website without having to hire expensive programmers. We couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Dave Mims, President
GovTech is reporting that electronic theft of government records has skyrocketed this year. In 2008, only(!) 3 million records were compromised but 2009 saw more than 79 million records in the hands of the bad guys. That’s a huge jump and it makes me wonder why. I’ll leave the statistics to the number crunchers but I’ve got to think that many of these records are do to poor data management policies for remote workers. In fact, the article points out that a sizeable portion of the records were lost because of stolen laptops, hard drives and other external storage devices. This highlights the need for a policy regarding the mobile workforce, one that can be easily enforced. As more offices move to a more remote set up, this problem is only going to increase. If you haven’t already grab your IT team or your favorite IT vendor and begin developing remote worker policies to protect sensitive information. No one wants to have to explain a huge data theft on their watch…
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
The team at Sophicity wishes everyone a happy and safe Thanksgiving holiday, filled with food, drink and merriment all around!! (We sure could use a few days off as we've been real busy helping cities and municipal league prepare for 2010!)
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