CitySmart Blog

Thursday, July 02, 2009
Tim Verras, Director of Marketing and Customer Experience
Government Technology has piece on creating an effective government blog. If your city is thinking of starting a blog, it offers some great tips. First and foremost, the article cautions against simply making the blog a place to post press releases. The best blogs, it says, are ones that have a personal point of view.
 
I think this is a great tip that I want to focus on. Blogs are most effective when they are somewhat personal. Take our blog for instance: I tend to post on communications related material, Dave focuses on high level topics on cities or news about the company, Kevin writes about building relationships, Jeramie focuses on innovative technologies, and Allen talks about topics surrounding improving efficiency and process. We each have our own area of expertise and it shows in our posts.
 
When it comes time to launch your cities blog, pick a particular point of view. Perhaps the mayor would like to write about what’s going on at the city, or the Parks and Recreation director might discuss how the sports season is going. This will make it much more personal and the readers will be much more likely to follow.
Wednesday, July 01, 2009
Jeramie Mercker, Director of Technology
Within the collective team at Sophicity, we have a rule that everyone has to be able to "answer why".  The rationale for each decision is expected, so I think that it improves the overall process.  Nobody gets to say something like "because I have 15 years of experience."  Right or wrong, you have to be able to explain your thought process.
 
This same requirement to "answer why" flows into our interaction with clients.  When putting together a proposal, a significant amount of thought goes into what we deliver to our customers.  There's a rationale and associated detail that goes into the proposal and we're pretty transparent when it comes to discussing exactly how we plan to solve their problem.  We share the ingredients of the solution with the customer. 

From time to time, I come across companies that don't seem to share this openness.  Rather than participate in an open discussion with their customer, they seem to want to hide behind phrases like "proprietary business information" or "confidential information".  Now, if they were using these phrases in connection with some intellectual property I might understand.  Kentucky Fried Chicken hides the ingredients of their secret recipe of 11 herbs and spices.  Likewise, Coca-Cola protects their formula.  These two examples might be viewed as competitive advantages for each of the companies.  In the vendor scenarios I most recently came across, the "proprietary business information" was how they came up with a given price for a fixed scope of technology services.

The two technology vendors approached their protection of their price in two very different ways.  In one situation, they flatly denied a customer's request to know how the price was determined.  The project had a significant price tag associated with it and the customer just wanted to know what they were getting for such a large sum of money.  In the second situation, the vendor requested the customer to sign an NDA prior to presenting the price for a project.  I can't imagine the business need to legally prevent a customer from discussing your price.

When reviewing a vendor proposal, expect to know the ingredients that went into it.  Feel free to "ask why" and expect the vendor to explain their thinking to you.  You should be able to feel comfortable in their responses and truly understand what you are getting for your money.  This is the first step in building long term trust and a fruitful client/vendor relationship.
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Tim Verras, Director of Marketing and Customer Experience
We’re continuing to see a push for a more open government on every level from local to federal. Innovative cities like Duluth, Ga. are asking citizens to help with the budget, and the Federal government has launched a website that details all of its IT expenditures. Both of these moves provide unprecedented access to information that was often difficult or even impossible to obtain. This can only mean good things for cities. By allowing open access to information, it will lay the groundwork for new and innovative approaches to problem solving and increased citizen interest in the day-to-day operations of the City. It’s great to see cities adapting to the modern business and governmental climate, where customers and citizens alike want a more active role in these organizations.
Monday, June 29, 2009
Kevin Howarth, Director of Business Development
Although this incident occurred in England, the repercussions of a serious security breach applies to American cities – many of whom have the same weaknesses. ZDnet's Zero Day blog reports:

"The [Conficker] infection obviously caught [the city of Manchester] off guard, since no antivirus, IPs, patch management solutions or general security awareness were in place. The results came shortly - hundreds of unprocessed bus lane fines due to service disruption, post-infection network-wide USB device ban, installation of antivirus software and patch management solutions, and a thousand Conficker infected laptops accumulating such a hefty clean up bill."

The clean-up bill? $1.5 million pounds (or about $2.4 million). Many cities have weaknesses in their antivirus, patch management, and security. Yet, tight budgets are often used as an excuse not to properly maintain and secure their IT infrastructure. The big question: Can your city afford the cost and embarrassment that Manchester experienced?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Kevin Howarth, Director of Business Development
Thanks to all those who stopped by our booth and left a card with us at the Georgia Municipal Association’s 2009 annual convention. We saw a good turnout this past weekend in the exhibit hall and enjoyed chatting with everyone about ways to reduce their city’s information technology costs.

Dave Mims (yes, our fearless leader) forgot to post the winner of our drawing on the bulletin board, so he has told me to announce the winner ASAP! Drum roll please… … …

The city of Covington, Georgia won the drawing for a free CitySmart Network Health and Security Assessment (valued at $3,975). Our certified network engineers will do an in-depth investigation and analysis of the city’s network, and then draft a detailed findings and recommendations report. Find more information about our assessments here.

For those of you who didn’t win (or even if you didn't enter!), we can still provide a CitySmart IT Cost Analysis at no charge for your city that:

  • Examines your technology budget for gaps and inefficiencies.Inventories your servers, workstations, printers, and network to compare against best practices.
  • Recommends ways for your city to reduce costs and address risks.
I encourage you (or a recommended person at your city) to contact me if you are interested in setting up a time for the cost analysis, which may identify ways to cut your city’s budget. For over 10 years, we have assisted the Georgia Municipal Association and many Georgia cities with their technology needs.

Again, thanks for stopping by, and we look forward to hearing from you if the cost analysis is of interest.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Allen Koronkowski, Practice Manager: Projects
Two weeks ago, I was having a discussion about Twitter with several business executives and the general consensus was that it was a “cute technology” but lacking in practical applications. It was notable that we all actually had accounts, but really couldn’t think of a reason to “tweet.” I pointed out to the others how some cities were beginning to use the technology for informing residents about important information, such as crime alerts, accidents and other such events, but this fact was anything but revolutionary in their minds. After all, there were many ways to push that information to those interested.

Some Background…

For those of you unfamiliar with Twitter, it’s a social networking technology that allows users to develop a group of followers. If you’re familiar with Facebook (and anyone with a teenager at their house should be), it’s very similar to your “friends” on that web site. An interested person can go to the Twitter web site and ‘tag’ you as a follower. You as the account holder post messages about anything you’d like—where you are, what you’re doing, what you think – the catch is that you only get 140 characters to do it in. Your followers then receive those updates from you. You, in turn, receive updates from the people you follow. These messages posted back and forth are called “tweets.” In addition to sending and receiving these tweets from the twitter web site, they can also be sent and received on your mobile phone as text messages.

Back to the discussion, no one in the room could think of a reason why anyone would be interested in this information. Who cares what I’m doing at the moment?

Then the riots in Tehran erupted. In an attempt to suppress the news, the Iranian government shut down foreign news organizations. These same news agencies—and the people on the street—then turned to technologies such as Twitter and Facebook to get the news out. One blogger reports that Twitter was so important during this time, that the US government asked them to postpone scheduled maintenance that would have taken the site down during the crisis.

Needless to say, the discussion of Twitter’s importance has changed in my little group. I think this could be a useful technology for any City looking to quickly disseminate information to citizens, especially in terms of crime watches, missing persons, and disaster preparedness. If your City is using Twitter in an innovative way, drop me a line and let me know how. And by the way, you can follow us on Twitter at twitter.com/Sophicity.

Friday, June 12, 2009
Allen Koronkowski, Practice Manager: Projects
The ZDnet Emerging Tech blog has an interesting post on a talk about Government 2.0 given by Google’s Andrew McLaughlin during the Web 2.0 Expo in San Diego this week. He discusses a number of government-related web 2.0 applications and how they allow governments to do work that once cost millions of dollars for an estimated 1/10 of the cost. There are some great examples here, but my personal favorite is “Virtual Alabama” which is:

A 3D, geo-tagged application that leverages existing state asset imagery and infrastructure data into a visualization tool. It is open to the public and supports 550 agencies.

A great read for anyone interested in the cutting edge of government technology.

Thursday, June 11, 2009
Kevin Howarth, Director of Business Development
David Eaves posted this short piece on the Creative Class blog about the use of open data to help citizens decide on best places to live within a city. While cutting edge, this application might give cities some ideas on how data might be creatively harnessed to market cities in more user-friendly ways for citizens, utilizing both existing city data along with user-generated data (photos, reviews, etc.).

“This is the potential open data can unleash. Because MySociety can access transit and train schedules as well as real estate prices, they are able to mash up this data and create this map. Still more interesting is how they crowd-sourced the collection of a new data set. Those who watched the video may have noticed how the “scenicness” of an area came from people voting on how nice photos of different neighborhoods looked.”
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Dave Mims, President
Georgia Municipal Association’s 2009 annual convention is upon us. As cities gather in Savannah, Georgia Saturday June 20th through Tuesday June 23rd, it will be during a year that has brought significant challenges. Many cities have reacted to this serious economic recession by cutting budgets, laying off staff, freezing pay, and delaying projects, making your job more difficult and forcing you to do even more with less.

We’ve heard your concerns. Our company may be able to help you cut your budgets by decreasing your technology costs in a difficult economy. By taking the unique approach of beginning with the budget, we utilize our experience in working with cities to address ways of cutting your IT budget – and thus, your overall city budget.

At the Georgia Municipal Association’s annual convention, here are some ways we’d like to help you:

  • Stop by booth #100 to say hi and chat with Kevin Howarth, Director of Business Development here at Sophicity, and myself.
  • Pick up a copy of our IT Budget Planning Guide. It is a free self-assessment to help you understand if you are over spending, under spending, or hitting the mark with your IT spending.
  • Drop off a business card to enter a drawing for a free CitySmart Network Health and Security Assessment for up to a 7-server environment valued at $3,975. This assessment will:
              - Compile your city's existing technology concerns, initiatives, and goals.
              - Provide a detailed inventory of your city’s existing network infrastructure.
              - Identify risks spanning security, data, software and hardware.
              - Outline recommendations to address all identified risks.

Kevin and I look forward to meeting you at the GMA Annual Convention.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009
Tim Verras, Director of Marketing and Communications
We're seeing a number of innovative cities and leagues start thier own twitter feeds to better stay in touch with thier citizens and membership. And now we've got one too! Keep in touch and follow us at twitter.com/Sophicity!
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