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CitySmart Blog

Friday, July 17, 2009
Tim Verras, Director of Marketing and Customer Experience
If your municipality received funds from the Recovery Act, then it should be no surprise that reporting how those funds are spent is a big part of the acceptance. The Federal Government's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Recovery, Accountability and Transparency Board, recognizing some confusion about how the reporting should take place, are offering a series of free webinars to help cities better understand the rules and regulations behind the Act.

The webinars take place on the week of July 20 and registration is at recovery.gov.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Kevin Howarth, Director of Business Development
Helping municipalities cut costs through data collection and better management of the budget is something that Sophicity has been focused on for some years now. In the present economy, this kind of thinking is getting a lot more important than it used to be. No longer can we afford to let IT be a magic black box (or some might say black hole) in the basement.

That’s why it’s great to see other’s championing IT financial management, which is a nice way of saying that IT should be managed like any piece of an organization: with data, research, and total cost of ownership in mind. It’s not always easy, but opening up the IT department to the kind of scrutiny necessary to perform these tasks can lead to a much more efficient, secure, and stable environment throughout. As more cities move to online services for citizens, having a reliable network with rock-solid storage is a must have but IT financial management allows it to also be cost-effective and efficient too.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Allen Koronkowski, Practice Manager: Projects
I recently compared Twitter to the Dremel tool my fathergave me a while back - at the time, I couldn’t figure out what it was good for. But every couple of months, a problem comes up where it’s the perfect solution. Its value is still ambiguous--if you ask me what it’s good for, I’ll answer “all sorts of things.” There’s no single answer to the question but I always keep it handy “just in case.” So it is with Twitter.

The latest application is an enhancement to city 311 services. San Francisco is the first city in the nation to enhance their non-emergency services this way. From the City’s 311 web site, users with Twitter accounts can sign up to send direct messages to the City. This service is monitored 24/7/365 to ensure a prompt response. (You’ll recall that I recently posted about a similar service in New York City. In researching this, it does not yet appear to be available there, so for now, San Francisco stands alone).

To set this up, the City created a link on the 311 services web site to sign up for the service. The user must be on Twitter to make this work, and the actual correspondence takes the form of private, direct messages between the City and the resident.

Twitter has a set of tools that allow integration into existing web sites as well as the creation of entirely new applications, so if you think of new ways to use it, chances are there is a way to do it. As far as a city is concerned, the best application is an enhancement to existing 311 services, not as a stand-alone offering.

Monday, July 13, 2009
Dave Mims, President
Just wanted to drop a quick note that I’ll be manning the Sophicity booth at the Florida Local Government Information Systems Association's (FLGISA) Annual conference, which is running all this week down in St. Augustine, Florida. If you are planning on coming, drop by and chat with me about your City or County and the challenges that the IT Department is currently facing. Looking forward to a great show!
Friday, July 10, 2009
Jeramie Mercker, Director of Technology
Many cities are starting to look at virtualization as a way to save money and its a common question topic that our customers ask us. While the implementation can be complex depending on the environment, the benefits almost always outweigh the costs. Still, there is a lot of confusion about why anyone should virtualize in the first place. This quick guide is a good place to start if you're looking for high-level info on virtualization to take to city council. It discusses the five main benefits from the technology: Increasing cost efficiency, mitigating vulnerabilities through better security, improving agility, using IT hours more efficiently, and simplifying IT initiatives. This is right in line with what we're telling our customers and its great to see governments embracing virtualization.
Thursday, July 09, 2009
Tim Verras, Director of Marketing and Customer Experience
If you're interested in how Web 2.0 is changing government and citizen interaction, I suggest you check out this webinar being put on my Governing Mazgazine and Adobe. Between Obama's Open Government Initiative, increasing security demands, and higher citizen expectations, government is facing some large challenges ahead, yet Web 2.0 thinking has the ability to overcome many of these. The webinar is scheduled for next Thursday at 2p.m. Eastern and pre-registration is required.
Monday, July 06, 2009
Allen Koronkowski, Practice Manager: Projects
New York city is using Twitter to collect requests and complaints through a new 311 system. Rather than calling on the phone, citizens go online to submit requests, track their progress, and file complaints. This is expected to reduce call volumes to the cash-strapped 311 system and help to avoid future cuts.

In conjunction with this effort, the city has created a new competition called "Big Apps" to see who can come up with the best software solutions to common problems facing the city by using publicly available data. It is a different approach to hiring a consultant and its one more example of how city governments are making moves to use transparency and crowdsourcing to find intelligent solutions to difficult problems. We'll be keeping an eye on this one.

Thursday, July 02, 2009
IT consulting firm Sophicity announced today that it has become a Cornerstone Partner with the Kentucky League of Cities (KLC). Sophicity specializes in reducing IT costs for municipal government and state municipal leagues. Its partnership with KLC will expose the company’s unique focus to municipal officials throughout Kentucky. The Cornerstone Partnership means that KLC will recommend Sophicity to municipal officials that approach the league about technology services. Dave Mims, President of Sophicity, said:

While Sophicity is based in Georgia, we are moving outward to support cities and municipal leagues in other states. Our partnership with the Kentucky League of Cities is a sign of our commitment to support the organizations that help American cities. There are many great cities in Kentucky and we are excited about the opportunity to meet with them, hear their stories, and potentially help them reduce costs and improve their technology infrastructure. Working closely with the municipal leagues brings value for them and for Sophicity, and we will continue to look for similar partnerships in other states.

Sophicity also has a long-standing relationship with the Georgia Municipal Association through its Friends of Georgia Cities program. The KLC partnership marks the second state municipal league that Sophicity supports through sponsorship.

About Sophicity

For more than 10 years, Sophicity’s expertise has unleashed the potential of government IT for municipal leagues and their member cities, meeting the needs of everyone from city hall to public safety. Our senior consultants help improve budget efficiency and increase employee productivity beginning with detailed assessments that identify risks, opportunities, and guidelines for planning. Sophicity makes any IT project worry-free by defining the requirements, managing the project and implementing the right solution. At Sophicity, we put the IT in city.

About The Kentucky League Of Cities

The Kentucky League of Cities is an association of 380 Kentucky cities that was formed in 1927. KLC provides resources, advocacy and assistance to help make cities more livable. KLC offers cities, leaders and employees a number of services including insurance, loss control and employee benefits; policy development, research, finance, legal and information technology services, training and education and legislative advocacy. Their corporate office is based in Lexington and they have an office in Frankfort.

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.
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