We put the IT in city®

CitySmart Blog

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.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Arketi Group
ATLANTA -- Arketi Group, a high-tech business-to-business public relations and marketing firm, announced it has been chosen by Sophicity, an IT services provider formerly known as Mimsware, as its agency of record to help launch the company’s new corporate brand.

Arketi’s initial assignment with the company was a comprehensive positioning and messaging engagement. This included a brand launch and renaming the company to Sophicity, which highlights the firm’s focus on providing IT services to cities and municipal leagues.

"Sophicity needed a sharply focused message and brand that would resonate with our prospects and clients - cities and municipal leagues," said Dave Mims, president Sophicity. "Arketi’s successful history with corporate positioning was a determining factor in why we initiated the partnership. Arketi’s expertise reshaped our company positioning and messaging in a way that is already moving our brand forward."

Sophicity has more than 10 years of experience working with cities and municipal leagues to help optimize their existing technology, assess their IT needs and operate their IT departments more efficiently.

In this extremely competitive environment, Sophicity needed positioning and a marketing effort designed to engage prospects," said Sami Jajeh, principal of Arketi Group. "Rooted in a deep understanding of Sophicity and its key targets, we were able to develop both."

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. For more information, visit sophicity.com.

About Arketi Group
Arketi Group is a public relations and marketing firm that helps business-to-business technology organizations accelerate growth through intelligent strategy, public relations, messaging, branding and demand generation. Consistently recognized by BtoB magazine as one of the nation's “Top BtoB Agencies,” Arketi’s core belief is that marketing generates revenue. Clients benefiting from this approach to BtoB marketing include Convergys, Flo Healthcare, Inovis, Sage Software, The Network and Xerox Mortgage Services. For more information, call 404-929-0091 ext. 202 or visit www.arketi.com.

 

Friday, May 22, 2009
Jeramie Mercker, Director of Technology
I came across an interesting PCMag.com article today announcing the launch of Data.gov, a new online service from the Federal Government.  This service is interesting in that its goal is to make a wide variety of non-sensitive government data available to the general public in a variety of formats including CSV, XLS (Excel), XML, and ESRI (used by GIS applications).  In addition to the raw data, Data.gov also makes available a variety of tools for mining the various datasets available.  Data.gov is freely accessible requiring neither user registration nor a fee for access. 
 
While only a limited number of datasets are available at launch (around 40), the Obama Administration plans to offer a lot more from a variety of federal agencies.  Data.gov is one of many initiatives underway to improve the efficiency of the federal government. 
 
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Tim Verras, Director of Marketing
Not even the FBI is immune to being attacked by viruses. The Associated Press is reporting that a virus has infected the FBI and U.S. Marshall’s offices, forcing them to disconnect their networks from the internet. While I'm sure that the FBI gets attacked much more than most networks, it is still alarming that the department responsible for investigation hacking, viruses and other computer fraud is still alarmingly underequipped to deal with the problem internally. This is further evidence that a well-designed IT security plan is a necessary component to any network's stability. The FBI should be a model for this kind of thing, instead of a "How Not To" example. Hopefully the renewed interest in transforming government IT will lead to better fail safes in place to prevent this kind of thing.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Allen Koronkowski, Practice Manager: Projects
Government Technology magazine wrote an article highlighting a new service the city of New Lenox, Illinois is using called Zumbox. This technology ties e-mail to a physical geographic location, such as your office or home address. Because of that association, e-mail can be geographically focused, allowing targeted (or isolated) communication. The City cited the example of notifying residents of road work in the subdivision in which they live. They knew the street addresses, but didn’t have everyone’s e-mail address, so they used Zumbox to contact the appropriate residents.

The concept is a little hard to digest—it took me a while to understand the real value over current methods. The service virtually mimics the USPS, so think of it in those terms and it starts to make sense. In fact, it becomes clear that the service combines the best of e-mail and the Postal Service and eliminates their drawbacks. For example:

  • You don’t need to know someone’s e-mail address to electronically contact them. Users are identified by their mailing address, so it’s just like sending a letter through the Postal Service. However, like an email account, the recipient can access messages from anywhere they have Internet access.
  • You have the ability to stop all paper mailings from companies on the service, eliminating junk mail from your real mailbox. While it’s true that it becomes junk mail in electronic form, you can block the electronic version quickly and permanently from these same senders as well.
  • Spam is virtually eliminated, which is reason enough to use this service, since spam makes up a good deal of e-mail traffic today.

Zumbox does this two ways:
  1. Marketers and advertisers are charged similar to the way bulk mailing is charged today. Spammers count on the delivery of messages to occur free of charge.
  2. Once you block a sender, the only way they can send you anything again is by establishing a new physical address. This means getting a new PO Box, moving to a new office building or, in the case of spammers, crawling under a new rock—all of which cost money. With e-mail, spammers are back in business within minutes after opening a new e-mail account.
The service uses state of the art security technology and is free to businesses, residents and government entities. This is crucial for adoption since it still competes with e-mail—an essentially free service--for your attention. However, I see two obstacles for this technology to overcome, which interestingly, are the same obstacles the telephone (and e-mail, for that matter) had to overcome in those early days:

First, the benefit is only realized if most or all of your desired contacts are on the service. A telephone wasn’t worth the price when only one or two of your friends had them—everyone had to have them to make it worthwhile.

Second, it’s best if there’s only one service of this type. In the same way that no one would have purchased multiple telephones, it would be cumbersome if you had to sign up for multiple services to receive all your mail. I have to admit, though—I have several e-mail accounts and I’m used to that situation, so it might not be that big of a deal.

If this technology does take hold, it’ll finally give people what they’ve always wanted with electronic correspondence—complete control of incoming e-mail as well as the means to allow legitimate users private correspondence with one another.

Monday, May 18, 2009
Clint Nelms, Practice Manager: Network Infrastructure
At the end of April 2009, a computer hacker managed to steal over 8.2 million personal records from the State of Virginia’s Prescription Monitoring Program, containing information such as social security and driver’s license numbers. Along with the stolen data, the hacker reportedly erased all of the State’s database backups, leaving no way to get the records back. The hacker then put the only copy of the information up for a $10 million ransom and threatened to sell to it the highest bidder if the State refused to pay. This incident, along with many others, has shed light on a serious data security and recovery problem at government agencies of all levels, including cities.

With increased attention on government data security and new regulations like Red Flag, many cities are looking for new ways to protect and store data. While a city may have data backup and security measures in place, these technologies are often out of date and susceptible to attacks like the one suffered at the State of Virginia. Such data loss can have dire consequences for a city government as displayed by a recent University of Texas study showing that only 6 percent of companies that experience catastrophic data loss will survive for longer than a year. Granted, a city is not a private business but it can be equally impacted by data loss, affecting the delivery of services like police, fire and utilities to citizens.

Tape Backups and Data Loss

Many data security problems can be traced back to the way that data is saved and stored. According to ZDNet’s Robin Harris, 80% of all data loss can be tied to either hardware failure or human error. A primary reason for the high rate of data loss is due to the use of traditional tape-based methods to backup the information combined with poor procedures for storing the data.

Tape-based backups work by sending the city’s data to an onsite device which stores the information on tapes. Because the tapes can only hold so much information, many typically have to be used and they must be manually removed and stored in a safe place on a regular basis, introducing a number of points where data loss can occur. Let’s examine the challenges facing a tape-based backup system:
  • High Costs – Tape backups require the purchase of a tape drive, management software licenses renewed annually, and the on-going costs of the tapes themselves. Add this to the cost of the time spent daily by staff to manage the system and it becomes a heavy burden on already stretched IT budgets.

  • Unreliable Backups – Are the backup tapes regularly tested by your staff? Storage Magazine reports that 34% of organizations do not test their tapes. When combined with studies that show tape failure rates of anywhere from 40% all the way up to an astounding 70% for a full restore, the evidence suggests that relying solely on a tape-based solution does not seem so reliable.

  • Slow Speed – As data storage needs expand, the speed of tape backups is becoming a major hindrance to daily operations. IBM has recently quoted International Data Corporation (IDC) estimates that data storage needs could expand at approximately 50 to 80 percent each year for businesses, and cities are likely not far behind. As data storage increases, nightly backups may last well into the morning, bringing network performance to a crawl during city operating hours. Also, in the event of a full data restore from tape, bringing the city fully back online may take days.

  • Frequency - Because of the slow speed of tape, only daily backups may be plausible at most cities, meaning that if data loss or disaster does occur, the city could lose over a day’s worth of data. In the case of police departments or utilities, even a day without access to critical systems can cripple the department.

  • Questionable Security – Where are the tapes stored? Onsite? In a fire safe? Does someone take them home at night? Onsite tape storage can be susceptible to natural disaster or theft by criminals or disgruntled employees. Also, most tapes do not use encryption, a way of electronically locking data so that only someone with the proper key can open it. Without encryption, a thief can easily copy the data.

  • Labor Intensive – Tapes require a great deal of time and effort from staff, especially in the case of a full restore which can take a day to fully recover (or weeks if new hardware is needed). As cities cut budgets, IT staff members are being asked to do more with less and time spent managing tape backups can add an extra burden.

Disk-Based Backups – A Modern Approach

How can cities avoid these data backup and security pitfalls? One solution is disk-to-disk based systems. In this method, instead of sending data from the servers to a tape drive, the data is automatically sent directly to one or more storage servers, to be saved on hard disk drives that rarely need to be replaced and require little management.

While onsite disk-based backups have been around for a number of years, the need to purchase costly hardware and software has made it prohibitively expensive for all but the largest cities. However, a new method known as managed offsite disk backups has recently been gaining popularity by allowing cities to avoid purchasing expensive technology. In this solution, the city will only pay a monthly fee based on use, just like an electric or phone bill. Managed offsite disk backups also have a number of advantages, including:
  • Reduced Cost – Managed disk-based backups have absolutely no upfront hardware or software costs and do not require the purchase of any costly media. Instead, the service provider takes the responsibility of managing the hardware, software and data backups. Minimal labor is required from city staff.

  • Increased Backup Reliability – Disk-based backups are much more reliable than tape for two main reasons. First, the hard disk drives that store the data have a much lower failure rate than tape. Second, because the data is copied and stored at more than one location, even if a server fails, another can easily replace it. Furthermore, disk backups can be quickly assessed and tested for stability and consistency.

  • Increased Speed – The time needed to perform the backup is only hampered by the data speed of the city’s network. The faster the network, the faster the backups; with full restores happening in minutes or hours instead of days.

  • More Frequent Backups– Disk backups are automatically performed throughout the day rather than just once a night. Most disk solutions can backup every hour, and some high-end systems can even backup data instantly, leading to drastically less data loss if disaster or theft occurs.

  • Increased Security –Most disk backup solutions are encrypted, making the data nearly impossible to steal even if someone were to hack into the server or take the physical hard drive. Also, the most recent daily copy of the backup is sent to multiple offsite data centers, ensuring that the data is protected from even the worst onsite disaster or outright physical theft.

  • Labor-free For Staff –The city will no longer need to worry about storage, maintenance, software licensing, scheduling, or loading tapes because the service provider will handle everything related to the backups, freeing up staff to focus on more important projects.

Conclusion

As cities look for ways to reduce IT costs and meet ever-tightening restrictions on data security, managed disk systems with offsite data storage become an attractive method for drastically improving data recovery and security across every department. While tape will continue to be a backup strategy, managed disk-based systems have begun to take over as the primary source of disaster recovery. In fact, Gartner analyst Nikhil Pant estimates that by 2010, disk-based backup and disaster recovery will be the primary method of restoring lost data, due mostly to its low cost, high security, and effortless operation. With these systems in place, hackers such as the one who struck the State of Virginia will have a much more difficult time practicing their criminal art.
Monday, May 18, 2009
Dave Mims, President
The April/May 2009 issue of Public CIO has an article explaining why Georgia outsourced its IT services to private industry. Writing: "Georgia's decision to outsource IT infrastructure is part of a larger effort by the Perdue administration to bring private-sector practices to state government services."

Governor Perdue "stressed the principles of efficiency, transparency, accountability, and customer service."

Jim Lientz, Chief Operating Officer of Georgia, said "We realized that delivering certain types of services is not a core competency of government and that we were putting ourselves at risk by our inability to manage them well."

Patrick Moore, Chief Information Officer of Georgia, explained "Issues such as security and backup that once troubled the agency [GTA] become components built into the solutions they are buying."

While this isn't guaranteed to get the State's IT infrastructure in place, its definitely a bold step in the right direction. It's taken years to assess the true needs of our own state government after watching the experiences of other states and agencies as they struggle with IT. Technology evolves very fast and can be complex to adopt, maintain, and leverage for non-IT related folks. The government reaching out to the private sector to take advantage of the IT expertise found there is a smart step to make. Now, finding the right private sector IT company to help is the challenge...
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Allen Koronkowski, Practice Manager: Projects
Government Technology is reporting that Microsoft is offering government applications on a cloud platform. My guess is it’ll take anywhere from 3-5 years for the client base to become comfortable with it as a solution. We’ll see some early adopters and it’ll grow, but based on my past experience with Software as a Service, it takes that long to get permanent traction.
| 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | 31 | 32 | 33 | 34 | 35 | 36 | 37 | 38 | 39 | 40 | 41 | 42 | 43 | 44 | 45 | 46 | 47 | 48 | 49 | 50 | 51 | 52 | 53 | 54 | 55 | 56 | 57 | 58 | 59 | 60 | 61 | 62 | 63 | 64 | 65 | 66 | 67 | 68 |