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Friday, August 07, 2009
Allen Koronkowski, Practice Manager: Projects
I’ve been writing a lot about Twitter lately, especially when it comes to how its being used in the government sector. As many of you may know, Twitter (along with Facebook and Myspace) was attacked last night by a Denial of Service attack originating in the country of Georgia. When I heard this, I began to think about how that could impact the efforts of New York and LA, which are starting to use Twitter for important roles within the operations. As a response to this GovTech has a great article about why governments might want to put some serious thought before using Twitter. What if it goes down? What if it gets hacked? All of these questions need to be firmly grasped before any Twitter project starts. If you’re thinking of using Twitter, I suggest you give the article a read.
Thursday, August 06, 2009
Tim Verras, Director of Marketing and Customer Experience
The FCC today hosted a talk about the future of E-Gov and Civic Engagement. Among the things discussed in the fruitful talk were:
  • Key new technologies for government operations?
  • How government operations could change if there were universal broadband?
  • How can access to broadband amplify the goals of open and accessible government (increasing public awareness and participation in government)?
  • What are new uses of broadband that would further open government and civic participation?
  • How do new media, including social networking tools, advance civic participation, and are there limitations or concerns associated with such use?
  • How can broadband infrastructure and services improve citizen access to local and national news, information, dialogue with government and other citizens, transactional efficiency, and participation in governance?
  • Does access to broadband increase the ability of the average citizen to make her voice heard by the government and other citizens, and if so, how can this be advanced?
  • What are the benefits of video streaming or video conferencing of government meetings to enable participation by those who cannot attend a meeting in person (because of distance, cost, disability, illness, and the like)?
  • Are there other applications of broadband technology that can improve civic participation and how can they be encouraged?
While the meeting has already passed, you can grab a recorded version.
Tuesday, August 04, 2009
Tim Verras, Director of Marketing and Customer Experience
As you know, at Sophicity we’re all about helping municipal governments manage their IT infrastructure in a way that’s cost effective, responsible, and transparent. We’re always trying to cook up new ways to ensure our customers get the most from their technology and it’s something we try to take to our personal lives as well. One great example is our very own Allen Koronkowski (Practice Manager: Projects). You may know him as a frequent writer on this blog, but to many in the Atlanta-area, he’s simply known as Mr. K, The Cookieman.

It all started when Allen wanted to teach his kids fiscal responsibly and the rules of business. Instead of giving them a lecture, he created a cookie company and let them learn firsthand how to run a business in a responsible manner. They set up shop at the Marietta Square Farmer’s Market on the weekends and sold delicious cookies based on their secret family recipe. His sons each had shares in the company and were allowed some measure of decision making power in its operation. The end result? Not only did his kids learn the ropes but his cookies are quickly becoming all the rage. So much so, in fact, that the Marietta Daily Journal just wrote an article about him! He’s a great project manager, a great dad and we’re happy to have him heading up our consulting practice. Now if we could only get him to start giving us free cookies…

Friday, July 31, 2009
Tim Verras, Director of Marketing and Customer Experience
This one hits close to home for me – quite literally. GovTech is reporting that Oakland County, Mi. has cut $600k from its IT budget this year simply by soliciting cost cutting suggestions from its employees via an internal blog administered by the county’s CIO. Oakland County, just north of Detroit’s West side, is perhaps the most active county in Michigan and, more importantly, is where I lived for a number of years. When the economy gets tough, this is exactly the kind of innovative thinking I like to see. Employees are the ones in the trenches doing the work and so it’s no surprise that they often have incredibly simple yet effective ideas on gaining efficiency. If your municipality is facing looming budget cuts, this might be a great way to tap into the brain power of your employees.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Jeramie Mercker, Director of Technology
The Federal Government IT sector was sent scrambling this week when the Washington Post broke the news of a report given to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that peer-to-peer file sharing software installed on sensitive government computers by employees, was responsible for inadvertently releasing vast amounts of data into the public. It was identified as a major problem at all levels of the government including the FBI. This is another red flag for cities, which deal with sensitive data like police records and evidence files. Have a discussion with IT staff or vendors about locking down such file sharing applications on the network to prevent this data from going public. One more reason to have strong IT policies in place throughout the organization.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Allen Koronkowski, Practice Manager: Projects
I found this template from a government department in the UK, which includes guidelines for setting up Twitter, by defining purpose, metrics and other important considerations.  If you’re interested in finding out who in government is already on Twitter, you can go to www.govtwit.com for a complete list.  In Georgia, there are many cities using it of varying size, such as Atlanta, Marietta and Tyrone.  Many state representatives are on the list as well.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Allen Koronkowski, Practice Manager: Projects
Lately, we’ve been seeing an uptick in interest from cities reviewing their voice and data contracts, looking for ways to save money. If it’s been a while since you’ve even thought about it or if your contract is coming up for renewal soon, our experience is that money savings here is “low hanging fruit.”

At first, you might be inclined to create an RFP, since that’s how contracts are bid and you may be required to do this. The danger, however, is that if you don’t know what your needs are and you are unfamiliar with the technical terminology, you won’t understand the responding proposals and won’t have the information your City Council needs to make an informed decision. This is when an unscrupulous vendor might move in to take advantage.

You have several options to avoid this:

  • Ask Your Current Vendor: You can ask your current vendor for help, but they may only be able to price what you tell them you need.
  • Find a Broker: Brokers can help you find the best deal, but they may have pre-existing relationships with certain providers, limiting your choice and not necessarily acting in your best interest.
  • Independent Consultants: Their interest is finding you the best deal possible and in order to do that, many of them will perform a comprehensive needs analysis before doing anything else. Some of these consultants work for an hourly rate, but many of them are paid by the vendor you select, which doesn’t cost you a dime!

If you’ve been paying attention to Sophicity, you know we’re big on objective analysis, so we recommend the third option—especially those that are paid by the service provider you select. Voice and Data plans are not our specialty, but they are a critical component of your network infrastructure, which IS our specialty. If you have any questions about navigating these waters, let us know—we’re glad to help.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Tim Verras, Director of Marketing and Customer Experience
Governing has a great article about energy conservation at the desktop level that fits in nicely with our recent piece on reducing municipal energy costs. As municipal governments are being asked to make cuts, even small reductions in the power consumption of the municipality’s buildings can save money which in turn can prevent the loss of jobs or critical citizen services. While the environmental benefits discussed in the article are a good side benefit, the real treat for cities is the ability to reduce that ever growing monthly electric bill.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Clint Nelms, Practice Manager: Network Infrastructure
When a municipality is tasked with reducing operating costs, one often overlooked area is energy use in the IT infrastructure. With energy prices on the rise, an increasingly taxed power grid and growing public concern over efficiency, new technologies and approaches to the way IT operates can lead to a dramatic reduction in monthly utility bills. While energy efficiency can be realized through high-tech means like solar panels or super-efficient air conditioning, such efforts are out of reach for many cities. However, there are three changes to network infrastructure that a municipality of almost any size can implement now to save money.
 

 
Increase Workstation Energy Efficiency
 
Workstations are the first place a municipality should look for energy savings. Think of a workstation as the computer, monitor, and printer that employees use to do their day-to-day work. Here are a few ways you can make sure that newly purchased workstations are energy efficient as possible:

Buy ENERGY STAR Compliant-hardware – Per energystar.gov, ENERGY STAR is “a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy helping us all save money and protect the environment through energy efficient products and practices.” Many electronics – including desktop computers, monitors, and printers – will be labeled with an ENERGY STAR logo, meaning that they meet high standards for energy efficiency. Purchasing ENERGY STAR equipment can noticeably reduce the power consumption of the average desktop and in many cases is no more expensive than standard hardware.

Replace Tube CRT monitors with LCD Flat Screens – Monitors may last longer than the computers that they are attached to, but tube-based CRT monitors (the ones that look like old televisions) can consume a lot more energy and produce more heat than newer LCD flat screen monitors. On average, a CRT monitor uses about 80 watts (~$56/year) whereas an LCD uses around 35 watts (~$24/year). Replacing 100 monitors with LCDs will save almost $3200/year in energy costs alone. [1] And since LCD’s generate less heat, you’ll save even more money due to reduced cooling costs.

Upgrade Desktops to Thin Clients – While desktop computers have historically been the mainstay for workstations, alternative devices called “thin clients” are changing the landscape. These tiny computers dramatically reduce the size and energy consumption of each workstation by offloading most of the work to a central server. While an average desktop uses between 65-90 watts (up to $63/year) depending on workload, a thin client can uses around 15 watts (~$10/year). Think of thin clients like using central air conditioning instead of putting a separate air conditioner in every office. Because the central server does most of the work, thin clients don’t need hard drives, cooling fans, or CD drives and therefore use much less power. In fact, replacing 100 desktops (at an average of 75 watts) with thin clients could save $4300 a year in energy costs. Also, because of their small form factor and lack of moving parts, thin clients introduce far less heat into the office environment, leading to drastically reduced cooling costs in offices that have numerous workstations.
 

Reduce the Number of Physical Servers through Virtualization

 
Virtualization is a technology that has been rapidly gaining popularity throughout the government sector. At its core, virtualization allows multiple physical servers to be combined into one physical server. In some cases, 10 or more servers can be placed onto one physical machine. IT staff is supportive of the technology because it greatly reduces the number of physical servers they have to purchase, maintain and secure. However, another major advantage of virtualization is that by reducing the number of physical servers, the network takes less energy to run and, because there are less servers, the heat output of the server room is greatly reduced, leading to lower cooling costs. In fact, most virtualization vendors say that each server eliminated will save an average of $700/year in energy costs and the figure is even higher when factoring in reduced cooling needs. This technology won’t conserve much energy for municipalities with only a couple of servers, but for larger offices with ten or more servers, the savings can be significant.
 

Implement Efficient Energy Management Policies

 
One of the easiest ways to see immediate energy efficiency gains throughout the municipality might not require any capital investment at all: energy management policies. In many offices, workstations and monitors are left running at full power all night after employees go home, leading to a lot of wasted energy and unnecessary cooling costs.

However, processes can be put in place to help curb this unneeded power consumption. Most modern operating systems allow the IT Department to set rules for how workstations behave when they are not being used. After a designated idle period, workstations can enter a low power which turns off most of the functions of the computer without erasing any unsaved data or forcing the user to quit out of programs. It’s like a pause button for a computer and it reduces energy consumption from 65-90 watts in running mode to as low as 6 watts in low power mode. For a network with 100 workstations that are active only 8 hours a day, savings could be $2600/year or more.

In addition, most modern monitors (LCD and CRT) have similar standby modes that turn off the device until it is needed. Note that it is far better to have monitors enter a standby mode than it is to have them on and running a screen saver, even if the screen is blank. If a LCD monitor uses an average of 35 watts when it is on, in standby mode it uses about 3 watts. So 100 monitors that are active 8 hours a day and then put in standby mode could save $1500/year. During working hours, most IT departments set computers to sleep after one hour and monitors after twenty minutes.

Why not just turn the workstations completely off? Turning off computers while not in use is a good idea in theory, but in practice things can be a bit more complex. Many computers automatically download patches and virus updates at night during off hours to minimize the load on the network. If the computer is fully powered off, these important updates will not get installed and could put the environment at risk. This is why low power mode is an overall better choice, as it will still allow software to be automatically updated. However, if the environment is manually patched by IT staff on a set schedule, then a nightly power down procedure could be a possibility and might save even more money. Talk with your IT staff or vendor to find the right mix of processes to meet the needs of your network.

The best part about energy management policies is that they require no additional purchases and are usually quick to implement even in large organizations, representing a great “low-hanging fruit” project that can quickly realize results.
 

Conclusion – Adding It Up

 
While reducing energy costs may not seem significant when compared to multimillion dollar road projects or expensive software purchases, it is important to remember that the savings it produces continue to add up hour over hour, year after year. Take our earlier examples and add them up: Replacing 100 workstations with thin clients and LCD’s, used 8 hours a day, and implementing smart energy management practices would save roughly $11,600/year in energy costs alone, not including reduced cooling costs. That’s 5155 gallons of gas (at $2.25 a gallon) for the Police Department, two movie nights at the park for your citizens, or 290 boxes (at $40 a box) of printer paper!

In many cases an energy conservation project can pay for itself after only a few years of operation, especially where a virtualization project eliminates a number of servers from the environment. When factoring how much energy is being saved by such projects, remember to include reduced cooling, maintenance, and time savings costs along with the direct energy consumption savings into the overall equation. With increased public awareness of energy consumption, implementing such projects will also give your municipality a great story to tell citizens about how their tax dollars are being better used to provide needed services instead of paying wasteful energy bills.

[1] All figures based on US average price of $.08 per kilowatt hour. To adjust for local energy prices, use this equation taken from MAXIMUMpcguides.com: A watts / 1000 = B kilowatts * 24 (hours per day) = D kWh * $.XX (your electricity cost rate per kWh) = E (cost per day) * 365 = F (cost per year).

Monday, July 20, 2009
Dave Mims, President
I’ve just returned from the Florida Local Government Information Systems Association's (FLGISA) Annual Conference in beautiful St. Augustine. FLGISA is an organization of IT decision makers from municipal and county governments in Florida that gather for knowledge sharing and education.

There was a great turnout of cities from across the State (Miami, Tallahassee, Jacksonville, Jupiter, North Lauderdale, Oakland Park, Ocoee to name a few) and some interesting discussions came out from the group. What’s on the mind of Florida’s cities? They are right in line with what we are hearing from folks here in Georgia: RFP management, addressing the “graying” of the IT department staff, handling open records requests via indexing, transparency, social media initiatives, and, of course, budgets.

St. Augustine had great weather for enjoying the oldest city in the country. I’m a high triple digit golfer, far from par, so I stayed clear of the course and enjoyed the very good food and local scenes of St. George street.

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