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CitySmart Blog

Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Clint Nelms, Practice Manager: Network Infrastructure
The great jazz bassist and composer Charles Mingus once said, “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that's creativity.” When it comes to IT administration, there are plenty of opportunities to make things unnecessarily complex, especially with the sheer number of different services, products, and vendors out there. Luckily, for city decision makers looking to get creative with their budget, there are also a growing number of ways to combat complexity through consolidation, presenting an attractive opportunity to reduce costs and do more with less.

Like any well-planned solution, consolidating starts by understanding the problems that the city faces. Here, the problem arises out of the basic nature of municipal government: providing a wide array of services to citizens - from public works to judiciary functions – necessitates multiple departments, each with its own specialized set of needs. In many cases, the departments are not all located in the same building, so the city evolves to separate and unique networks for City Hall, Public Safety, the Court, and other departments. While this design philosophy might have made sense fifteen years ago in an era before widespread adoption of the internet, today it can make administration difficult as different technologies, software versions, and skill sets pile up over the years. City decision makers and IT managers are increasingly looking at consolidation as a way to solve budget shortfalls, heighten security and add efficiency.

An expectation from a centralization plan is consolidating the network administration; it simply doesn’t make sense to have separate servers, network equipment, and support staff at each location. Instead, most network administration functions, including servers, backups, and maintenance can be moved to a Network Operations Center (NOC) where they are administered by a single team. Furthermore, technologies like virtualization allow many of the servers from the remote locations to be combined into fewer servers at the NOC, reducing hardware, software, maintenance, and power costs. Centralizing and standardizing the network also helps IT staff keep consistent and uniform practices in place for each department, instead of a headache-inducing patchwork of different processes and technologies at each site. The city might also want to look at all of its voice and data lines to ensure that they are also centralized where possible and that they provide the proper level of speed and service for a given department. Add everything up and you’ll get reduced maintenance costs and a simpler environment. The removal of server equipment from the remote locations will free up valuable office space, reduce a potential point of compromise or attack, and drastically reduce energy costs.

One fear that some department heads may have about using a NOC is a perceived loss of control and security over their particular domain of operations. While it’s true that the physical servers may not be located in the same building, modern network administration technologies allow the NOC to delegate security measures to individuals at the remote sites. A site administrator can still have most of the same administration access they had before; they’ll just be doing it remotely. To overcome these fears, it may help to have your IT staff or vendor give a demonstration of how this would work. Also, having all of the hardware in one location makes it much easier to secure from theft and track who has access to the server room. It may take a little education to overcome this hurdle, but once addressed, it’s easy to see how the advantages outweigh the risks.

Consolidation and centralization is a great way to add simplicity to every level of the administration by dealing with fewer vendors, heightening security via controlled access and reducing support and maintenance and energy costs. And as tougher regulations, higher visibility to the public, and tighter budgets add further levels of complexity to municipal IT management, network consolidation is an elegantly simple solution for an increasingly complex landscape - there’s no “II B.S.” [1] about it.

[1] I just couldn’t resist a jazz joke here. “II B.S.” is one of Charles Mingus’ more famous compositions. While this name first appeared on the 1963 album Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus, the song was actually a re-recorded and renamed version of the earlier “Haitian Fight Song” which first appeared in 1955 on The Charles Mingus Quartet + Max Roach.

Monday, September 14, 2009
Kevin Howarth, Director of Business Development
I'm pleased to announce that Sophicity has been one of only four vendors selected by the Georgia chapter of the Government Management Information Sciences (GA-GMIS) organization to do a presentation for the "Racing Into The Future: Driving IT Home" event during October's Fall Tech Expo Conference in Savannah. If you’re planning to attend, I'll be showing a really cool presentation about how Rich Internet Applications built in Microsoft Silverlight will change the face of government-to-citizen communication.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Tim Verras, Director of Marketing and Customer Experience
Another bit of news from San Jose - I guess there’s a reason they call it Silicon Valley. This time around, the City is being an innovator in changing its public records laws to better handle things like email, text messaging, and social networking. The problem is that the laws for public records don’t seem to mesh too well with the modern era. Text messages can’t be downloaded and stored in a fashion to meet the requirements and, as Florida is finding out – no one is really even sure if the laws cover these devices anyway. It’s kind of odd to think of texting as a disruptive technology, but as these sorts of things become more prevalent, it will be interesting to see how city governments work to change the laws to operate along side technology, instead of against it. The other solution is simply to not let government employees use these sorts of technologies, but that’s a reality no one wants. And this battle is nothing compared to the one that will be fought, very soon now, over truly disruptive technologies like Facebook and twitter. If your city is grappling with this issue, I suggest checking out what San Jose is up to.
Wednesday, September 09, 2009
Jeramie Mercker, Director of Technology
GovTech is reporting that that San Jose, CA has recently launched a wiki planning site that will allow citizens to have a say in the city’s future planning needs. Using the wiki software, citizens can fill out a survey and add notes and photos to pages about places in and around the city. This information will be used to create the city’s Envision 2040 city planning initiative. This is a really interesting example of how cities are using wiki’s to bring citizen interaction into the next age. The more I hear about cities using this kind of innovative thinking, the more excited I get about the opportunities for real change at the local government level.
Friday, September 04, 2009
Dave Mims, President
Digital Communities editor Todd Sander has an interesting OpEd piece on the struggles that City Governments are having when it comes to cutting the IT budget. He details one case of a city that is considering passing a law which mandates that all purchases under $25k will have to be made through local vendors. While this might seem like a great idea for stimulating the local economy, it is not feasible in most places because critical services and products might not even be available locally, especially in rural communities. Instead, he advocates an outward looking approach by engaging citizens and vendors from all over to find creative solutions to problems. I think this is sage advice and we’ve even seen a few local cities, like Duluth, Ga. open up their budget process to the outside world, often to great benefit. If you’re struggling with cutting the IT budget, this is must-read.
Wednesday, September 02, 2009
Tim Verras, Director of Marketing and Customer Experience
The Center for Digital Government has just announced the winners of the 2009 Best of Web Awards. The city government winner’s this year have more than just a nice website, they are using innovative eGov services like integrated 311 and online video to make their web presence more powerful. It nice to see these cities being rewarded for bringing government to the next level. Congrats to all who won!
Monday, August 31, 2009
Tim Verras, Director of Marketing and Customer Experience
IT Publisher O'Reilly is putting on Gov 2.0 Expo Showcase, a one-day event happening September 8, 2009 that previews the larger Gov 2.0 Expo scheduled for May 2010. The website describes it as "the practical, cutting-edge efforts it highlights, married with a profound shift in thinking across the government, are helping to build what Tim O'Reilly has called "government as a platform." On September 8 in Washington DC, 24 innovators will show how this is really happening, concretely, right now, inside (and outside) government." Check out the event if you're in the DC Area, as it's sure to be a great education and networking event.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Dave Mims, President
Daphne Levenson, Director of the Gulf States Regional Center for Public Safety Innovations, has an interesting write-up about the barriers that municipal public safety departments face when thinking about how to implement Web 2.0 technologies into their infrastructure. While it’s understandable that police may not want sensitive data to be floating out in the cloud, Levenson claims that they must find ways to embrace the new technologies or they may risk putting themselves at a disadvantage when trying to keep the public safe. This is an excellent read if your public safety department is grappling with how to implement new technologies.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Jeramie Mercker, Director of Technology
After the Federal government released Data.gov last year, and recently updated it again, it seems that many state and local government are jumping onboard the Open Government Initiative. Take San Francisco for example. Chris Vein, the City’s CIO, recently announced DataSF.org, a repository of data from the cities vaults, including crime statistics, a building permit database, and other information useful to the public. Again, it’s not the availability of the data that’s new, it’s the accessibility. Now anyone can quickly go online, download the data, and add it to a mash up or an application. It will be interesting to see if more local government entities will pick up on this trend. I’ll be sure to report here as I see new ones pop up.
Monday, August 24, 2009
Allen Koronkowski, Practice Manager: Projects
As Public Safety, Courts, and Lawyers move more information online and in electronic formats, municipal IT staff members are being increasingly involved in the legal process. GovTech has an excellent write-up covering what every IT professional should know about the legal process and how they might be involved from a technical standpoint, especially in terms of expert witnesses and information retrieval. An excellent read if you are in a municipal IT department that works closely with public safety and the courts.
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