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Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Allen Koronkowski, Practice Manager: Projects
Cutting a city’s budget is never easy and it is even harder when it comes to IT spending. While cuts in other departments might mean living without a few things, cutting out the wrong technology risks a service interruption or security breach.

Budgeting is made even more difficult by the fact that IT investments are traditionally thought to be difficult to measure in terms of return on investment, putting them at odds with other areas of the budget and making departmental cooperation difficult. This article will help the City plan for, or restructure, an IT budget by suggesting ways to:

A. Clarify what results the city expects from IT investments.

B. Identify if the city is over- or underspending. You will get the most out of this document if you go through it with your IT manager or current vendor.

A: Clarify What Results a City Expects from IT Investments

A city can run into problems when there is no strategy behind its IT investments. This lack of planning creates a reactionary “break-fix” type of approach that may create painful IT vulnerabilities in the City’s environment. Therefore, a city’s IT budget should, at a minimum, address and outline costs for:

  • Data Backup Strategy: How is the city’s data backed up?
  • Disaster Recovery: How soon will a city bring its network, servers, and user access back online when a disaster occurs?
  • Hardware + Warranty Contingency: What are a city’s hardware investments (servers, workstations, etc.) and support agreements? Additionally, what is the decommission schedule for hardware as it reaches end of life?
  • Internet Service Provider (ISP): Is it reliable and fast enough based on current usage?
  • IT Support and Maintenance: Are the hardware, applications, and end user needs including replacing dated hardware, patching and monitoring servers and applications, and supporting the end users as they have issues being met?
  • IT Consulting Projects: Are there technology offerings that can increase efficiency or decrease cost that could be implemented this budget year?
  • Software License + Support Purchases and Upgrades: Are any of our existing software applications no longer supported by the vendor or need to be upgraded? Are there additional software applications that could be implemented that can increase efficiency or decrease costs?
  • Telecom: Have we explored alternative solutions like voice over IP (VoIP) systems? Is our current voice provider cost competitive against others in the market?
  • Training: Does our staff know how to best leverage the current technology the city has in place to help them perform most effectively?
  • Staff: Are they being utilized in the most efficient manner? Do they need help?
Simply thinking through these items is a good start toward examining the various areas of IT that are utilized to drive specific results for a city and will give you a good start for identifying strategic risks and weaknesses, if they exist. Instead of a reactionary budget, plan for a proactive budget that eliminates problems, and saves time and money. Take a moment to think these questions through before continuing on to the next part.

B: Identify If a City is Overspending or Underspending.

If you examined your city’s IT strategy and found the results to be lacking, the next step should be to have your internal IT team or a trusted vendor to perform an IT cost analysis. This report will give you an idea of how much you are spending compared to the expected results, hopefully exposing areas for improvement. Once you know both of these items, you can consult the steps below to see where you fit:

  1. Poor Results + Low IT Spending: Additional spending is probably needed.

    However, if you’ve been asked to cut the budget, you may not be able to spend more on IT until you’ve found other areas to cut. Look for hidden ways that the City is spending more money than it should, and factor that into the cost cuts. For example:

    • Are there manual processes that could be automated?
    • Is there equipment failure that results in lost productivity and/or costly emergency repair?
    • Is there loss of revenue due to inadequate data backups?
    • Are there delays in processing due to outdated equipment?

    As an example, the City Council at one of our customers asked the Public Safety Department a few simple operational questions that, due to the highly manual nature of the operations, took a great deal of manpower to research and answer. This resulted in fewer officers on the street and exposed a major area for improved efficiency. Because of this, our client was able to justify some automation purchases for the Police Department that greatly simplified future efforts. The paradox is that sometimes in order to spend less overall, you must initially spend more.

  2. Poor Results + Average IT Spending: Look for ways to replace existing processes with low-cost alternatives that perform better or equal to current solutions. For example:
    • A disaster recovery service may be cheaper than tape backups that require daily support
    • Eliminate capital hardware expenses by seeking a hardware-as-a-service vendor that will provide workstations and servers for a monthly fee
    • Eliminate capital software license expenses for purchases and upgrades by seeking a software-as-a-service vendor that will provide software for a monthly fee
    • An outside service might help the City’s IT team maintain the network in a more cost effective manner without having to hire additional staff.

    There are many products and services today that might be appropriate for your city and even manage your infrastructure for a fraction of your current costs. Transferring some functions to a vendor could provide the immediate results you need as well as ensure that the City’s environment stays current with the latest technology.
  3. Poor Results + High IT Spending: This indicates that there may be some serious and out-of-control problems in the city’s IT environment due either to poor management, poor technology choices, or both. This is a good indication that an audit by an objective third-party may be necessary.

    The auditor you select should be an expert consultant in process improvement and have experience with the technology in your environment. At the end of the audit, the city should be presented with a clear, detailed, and objective plan that can be taken to any vendor to perform the suggested work.

Even if the expected results are positive, complacency can be the single greatest threat to day-to-day IT operations. Here are some budget recommendations when your expected results are positive:
  1. Good Results + Low IT Spending: If things seem to be operating well on a minimal IT budget, improvements have most likely been introduced that have brought costs down. This is where all cities should strive to be (even though it might seem impossible!)
  2. Good Results + Average IT Spending: If everything seems to be satisfactory, the key to cutting the IT budget is innovation. Efforts should focus on looking for high-value, low-cost products and services to replace existing ones. You may have already established a routine of continual improvement and have ideas on what can be done to reduce costs. If not, begin such a program as part of a cost-cutting effort.
  3. Good Results + High IT Spending: In this situation, your organization might be in the middle of a major IT investment such as a software implementation. However, if no major IT investment is underway, then cost cutting will focus on “trimming fat.” Review the city’s IT budget line-by-line, department-by-department and expect your IT department to justify each expense. Explore lower-cost alternatives to any suspect line item. There are many technologies designed to both improve performance and reduce operating costs such as:

    • Cloud Computing allows access to systems and applications from anywhere at anytime in a pay-as-you-go model and can be managed internally or externally.
    • Tapelessbackup services eliminate the need for expensive backup hardware and tapesthat require daily maintenance.
    • DisasterRecovery Services allow complete restoration of critical services after acatastrophic failure in as little as 24 - 48 hours.
    • RemoteManaged Network Services allow monitoring, alerting, patching, maintenance,and antivirus services on all hardware so that problems can be rapidly identified and addressed.
    • Softwareas a Service replaces costly software license fees and maintenance with alow monthly fee.
    • Hardwareas a Service replaces very costly and quickly obsolete computer hardwarepurchases with a rental-based hardware model. Similar to how a utility bill works, the city pays only for what it uses in a given month, throttled up and down as staff changes over time.
    • Virtualdesktops and servers replace PCs and servers by providing similar computingfor a low monthly fee and saving on energy costs.

Creating an IT budget should be much more than a handful of line items in the overall city budget. Research, critical thinking, and detailed planning are necessary in order to create a budget that allows the city to offer critical services to its citizens, keep costs in check, and innovate well into the future.
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!
Tuesday, June 02, 2009
Kevin howarth, Director of Business Development
Two seemingly unrelated articles: 

  1. Martin Kinney decries the potential loss of creative talent from the private to the public sector through Obama’s planned initiative of beefing up the U.S. government’s cybersecurity defenses.
  2. Jeff Carr warns of the risks of more open government through social media and social software, and ways those tools can be exploited.

Cities currently are wondering how to embrace blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media tools for enhancing their communication, collaboration, public relations, and general tech savviness. Any government entity needs to fully consider the implications of these tools, especially in terms of data security and privacy.

Friday, May 29, 2009
Dave Mims, President
Government Technology published a must-read article about managing the people side of data security. For anyone attempting to put systems and procedures around data security practices, this article outlines a few hard lessons experienced by some.

Modern best practices for network and data management are just one component of protecting and securing critical data. Having policies for data access, reviewing and approval of data before its published is a crucial “people” component that cannot be taken lightly. While it is difficult to completely eliminate human error in any process, it can be mitigated with proper planning, procedures, and review.

In short, the article is a great wakeup call for any city or league.

Thursday, May 28, 2009
Tim Verras, Director of Marketing and Customer Experience
Public CIO is running a wonderful analysis of the software solutions that are popping up as a result of the intense reporting demands created by accepting the stimulus money. I know a number of our city customers have stated they are wary to accept the money for this very reason – reporting may take up so much time that it might not be worth it for the organization to embark on a stimulus project. These programs might help take the load off some cities, allowing them to take advantage of the stimulus money and improve their infrastructure. Whatever folks can do to eliminate the number of strings attached to the money is a good thing, and this is an example of smart thinking and quick reaction to an actual need.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Allen Koronkowski, Practice Manager: Projects
The Federal Trade Commission will delay enforcement of the new “Red Flags Rule” until August 1, 2009, to give creditors and financial institutions more time to develop and implement written identity theft prevention programs. For entities that have a low risk of identity theft, such as businesses that know their customers personally, the Commission will soon release a template to help them comply with the law. Today’s announcement does not affect other federal agencies’ enforcement of the original November 1, 2008 compliance deadline for institutions subject to their oversight.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Kevin Howarth, Director of Business Development

Last week, I attended the Georgia GMIS conference on St. Simon’s Island. The weather remained unusually stormy and windy during all four days of the conference, perhaps reflecting the economic storm currently overhanging cities and counties in Georgia.

During a session entitled “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” city and county IT directors shared insights about their current challenges and projects. Here were some of the overall trends:

1.   Budget cuts, budget cuts, budget cuts – Most cities and counties are continuing to cut budgets across the board as property taxes, sales taxes, and other revenue sources continue to shrink.

2.       Minimal, overburdened IT staff – It is not unusual to find one or two IT people supporting the needs of a city over 10,000 in population

3.       Pay freezes, but less staff cutting – Whereas last year there were many anticipated staff cuts, staff cutting seems to have bottomed out. Pay freezes are more common right now until the economy improves.

4.       IT needs to show demonstrable ROI – Decision makers gave many examples of saving hard dollars, which helped to justify many IT projects during the past year.

5.       Fiber projects connecting multiple locations – Many city and county fiber connectivity projects have been completed or are in progress in order to improve communication infrastructure, increase efficiency, and save money.

6.       Need for upgrading IT infrastructure – Despite budget cuts, cities and counties cannot deny the need to upgrade their servers, workstations, printers, and network infrastructure. Financial limitations are encouraging creative solutions utilizing virtualization, hardware-as-a-service, and software-as-a-service.

7.       Website woes – Cities and counties struggle to create, manage, and implement websites that are easy to use for both staff uploading content and citizens accessing information and services. A website’s investment must also be justified.

8.       Switching to new accounting software – Many cities and counties are transitioning from obsolete accounting systems to newer solutions that better serve their internal staff.

Overall, city and county IT decision makers are still moving ahead with projects despite budget cuts, and they feel at least that the recession has bottomed out and cannot get any worse.

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