CitySmart Blog

Tuesday, May 06, 2014
Clint Nelms, COO

In the past, we’ve talked about many aspects of document management, sometimes hinting when certain aspects (like indexing) affect search. But let’s tackle the art of document management searching itself, since it’s something city staff will perform constantly as part of their daily work.

Often, city staff can grow disappointed when they expect document management searching to work like Google. That’s a bit unfair, since Google’s search engine is the best and most sophisticated in the business. Plus, Google is indexing and showing search results for the entire Internet in the best way they feel suits most people’s needs.

Since your documents are your own assets, that means you’re responsible for taking steps to make them searchable and findable. Some of those aspects are automated depending on the type of document management system you choose. But others need your business input along with the help of an IT expert, document management expert, and (in sophisticated cases) an information architect.

For most small and medium cities, the following tips will get you started on building a foundation for making your documents easier to search within your document management system.

  1. Explore robust full-text search capabilities. So that you don’t overlook the most basic of all search techniques, make sure that your document management system searches through all text within each document. Since the 1990s, this has been the best kind of standard search for desktop computers and remains the most familiar to users. Especially with very precise searches for words and phrases, this kind of search will do the trick. Make sure your document management system doesn’t have limited full-text search capabilities. For massive amounts of documents, you might limit the number of documents encompassed by full-text search because it might freeze up your servers, but you need to have a clear business and IT reason for doing so.
  2. Provide metadata and tagging. Metadata is data that describes a document. Basic metadata that you’re used to might be author, title, and date created. Additional metadata such as a document summary or meta description (e.g. the description you see in a Google search result) help provide concise search result summaries when city staff search for a specific term. You might also want to tag your document with keywords. For example, a document tagged “public safety” will come up in search results when people search for “public safety,” even if the document doesn’t actually contain the word “public safety.”
  3. Use keywords in document titles, descriptions, and within the document. Keywords are words and phrases that people use when they search. With a combination of basic marketing and IT expertise, you should be able to figure out common terms that city staff use to search for documents. Often, what you think people search for might not be what they actually type into the search box. Once you know what keywords people use to search, you can make sure they end up in document titles, your document meta descriptions, and within the document content itself.
  4. Allow advanced searching and querying. Many document management systems are equipped with advanced searching, but it’s often quite useless out of the box. That’s because you need to create the appropriate metadata and fields on the backend of your document management system to make it work. When you’re on a retail website, for example, an advanced search may allow you to search for a type (smartphone), brand (Apple), and price (less than $400). On the backend, products are tagged by type, brand, and price to make that happen. The same logic applies to documents. In one scenario, you might want city staff to search for documents by date created (after 2012), department type (public works), and project type (building construction). If you’re tagging documents by department type and project type, city staff will be able to perform those kinds of advanced searches.
  5. Explore the document management system’s relevant results capabilities. Let’s say you search for “police.” A limited document management system would only return results with the word “police” or documents you’ve tagged “police.” But if your document management system is smart enough to know that “public safety” results are relevant to a search for “police,” then those “public safety” results will also show up. On the technical side, your IT or document management vendor should explore the document management system’s search algorithm capabilities to see how sophisticated the relevant search results are. On your side, you can work on making search results more relevant by building in rules or using what’s known as a “taxonomy” to help hone the relevance. For example, you might have a rule that says any search for “public safety” will include documents tagged “police” or “fire.”

As you can see, search technology can become complicated rather quickly. However, your IT staff or document management vendor can help guide you through the search capabilities of your document management system. In many cases, providing better searching for city staff is easy but tedious as you decide the rules and implement tagging and metadata. However, the reward is the better search results. No longer will you be frustrated that you only receive a bunch of random results that only contain an exact search phrase. Instead, you’ll see relevant results based on your own tagging and empowered by smart use of technology.

For more information about document management searching, please contact us.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Alicia Klemola, Account Manager

Public works encompasses a lot—everything from new buildings that take years to build to fixing potholes. Because of that broad scope, it can be difficult to focus your public works content on your website. As a result, many city websites cover a broad range of topics that confuse people seeking out public works information.

While your public works pages may include utilities, parking enforcement, or some overlap with planning and development content, we’re going to use this post to address content that assumes you’re communicating about soon to start or in progress public works projects. However, our first tip will remind you of the importance of deciding what is and isn’t public works content, and how you will present that content to citizens.

  1. Organize and define public works content consistently. There are no rules as to what you define as public works content. For example, the City of Riverside, California includes everything from parking citations to trash and recycling, while the City of Austin, Texas focuses specifically on public improvement projects. We recommend defining what you believe public works includes, sticking to it, and not confusing it with other sections like public safety or planning and development. It’s okay to link back and forth between different sections of your website (such as providing links to your municipal court page for parking citations) but the organization of your public works information should be well-defined and consistent.
  2. Provide rationale and a plan for public works projects. Especially for long-term public works projects, providing some background, rationale, and a plan for the project helps your city with transparency and communicating that you are wisely using tax dollars. For example, the City of Austin does a great job outlining the project plan for the Elisabet Ney Museum. Their content includes notes about the museum’s historical landmark status, funding information, what’s going to happen, and when public meetings will be held. It’s clear that the city will keep citizens informed along the way as the project progresses, and the rationale for the renovations is clear.
  3. Elisabet Ney Museum Restoration Project Timeline

  4. Share updates about interruptions, detours, and inconveniences. Public works projects may affect roads, building access, or other public spaces for long periods of time. Providing news and updates about road closures, detours, alternate parking, directions to temporary building and office locations, and other inconveniences can be extraordinarily helpful to citizens and also serves as good public relations for public works. For example, the City of Cambridge, Massachusetts provides updated information about each project and lets citizens know how long a particular project might inconvenience them.
  5. Cambridge Public Works

  6. Emphasize the public benefits that await. Especially when a project has been going on for a long time, it’s easy to lose sight of why you began the project in the first place. As you provide updates, also keep the background, rationale, and benefits front and center. Help citizens visualize what awaits by providing pictures or illustrations of how a final building or roadway project will look. If it’s more intangible (like a stormwater or sewer project), reinforce what problems will be solved and how a citizen’s life will be better after the project.
  7. Be clear about funding details. How much did the project cost? How was it funded? These two questions are very important when detailing public works projects on your city website. Citizens will always have these questions in mind, no matter what else they have come to look at on your public works page. The City of Urbana, Illinois does an excellent job of providing a total list of projects that includes estimated costs along with background and updates. For sensitive projects or if you’re doing many projects at once, it helps if taxpayers know if certain projects are funded by alternative sources or if they are coming straight from the city budget.

For short-term projects or simple ongoing maintenance and repairs, many of the above tips apply on a smaller scale but you can also apply some of our customer service tips from previous blog posts about city website content. Overall, it really helps if you decide what content public works includes and stay consistent with that focus. If your citizens seem better helped by calling the information something different (since many people don’t tend to use the phrase “public works”), it’s perfectly valid to explore ways of organizing and presenting your public works content in language that your citizens use.

To talk about public works website content in more detail, please contact us.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014
Nathan Eisner, CMO

As we’ve grown accustomed to email over the years, one of the ongoing struggles has been the user’s desire to keep all of their emails versus the reality of hitting the limits of storage space. This has traditionally been a real problem for cities. With tight budgets, cities often needed to cap email storage space at a certain limit. That meant deleting emails to make sure cities had enough space for new and incoming emails.

Not today. As this infographic shows, the price of storage - including email storage - has dropped to ridiculously low levels. It’s not unusual for a modern cloud email system to provide about 50GB of storage for businesses. That’s enough storage for employees to pretty much save every email.

Cities need to take advantage of cloud email’s extremely cheap storage not only for the user benefits but also because there will no longer be any legal reason to delete important emails. For example, the City of San Diego had an email deletion policy when they were using their more obsolete email systems with limited storage space. The public is in an uproar now and wants the city to keep all important emails. The city has no choice but to agree with the public because the email storage technology now exists to do it.

To get a glimpse of the many email storage problems that go away with cloud email, here’s a sampling of some common problems that you probably struggle with if you have an outdated email system.

  1. No more deleting emails because you’ve run out of space. First, this is an annoying problem on an individual employee level. When employees keep hitting the limits of their storage space, that means they need to focus attention on deleting and archiving email on a regular basis instead of on their work. On a city-wide level, forcing people to delete and archive emails is a tough, brutal policy to enforce. With cloud email storage, that problem simply goes away. Everyone has enough space, they can keep everything, and they can search through emails for information they need.
  2. No more failing to send large documents because they are too big. While you’ll still run into limits (especially for impractical things like trying to send 10 videos or 100 photos in an email), reasonable attachment limits go away with cloud email. Employees often have simple needs like sending a large presentation, an audio file, or a zip file with some photos. Many outdated email programs can barely handle sending any file with a significant graphic or visual non-text component. Cloud email programs can generally handle about 25MB worth of data per email.
  3. No more purchasing increased server space for additional email. Storage space tended to be an upsell for traditional email vendors. Cities inevitably scale up through economic growth, increased staff, and more digital information received and stored through email as technology becomes more demanding. This situation leads to the storage cap seen at a place like the City of San Diego and many other cities. With cloud email, you not only get rid of the need to have onsite servers but you also receive so much space that it is rare that you would run out. That means you can scale up with no problem—and without spending any additional money.
  4. No more deleting archived emails. At cities (or any business), it’s fair to say that you never know when you might need certain information. Usually, laws dictate that information over 5, 7, or 10 years old can usually be deleted without much harm. But it’s not unusual - especially in government - for people to need access to a name, file, or information sent via email many years ago. With cloud email, all of your email history is always there. Having your email archive always available in a government setting protects you if certain information is requested.
  5. No more public furor over deleted emails. Government openness and transparency is a huge issue for citizens. In San Diego, when citizens caught wind that emails over one year old were being deleted because of (now arbitrary) storage costs, an advocacy group filed a lawsuit. With storage space so cheap and many cloud email solutions available, deleting emails is becoming not only unnecessary but legally dangerous. Switching to cloud email ensures that you are strengthening your ability to respond to open records requests and projecting the image of retaining - not deleting - public records that may be useful to review in the future.

Cities with aging on-premise email solutions or “discount” email software provided by their local Internet Service Provider are going to become less scalable and more untenable in the future. Since government is getting pressured by both citizens and the law to switch to the cloud for transparency, security, and budget purposes, now is a good time to explore cloud email. It will help eliminate many of the problems listed above and also possibly reduce your email budget by a significant amount.

To talk about cloud email in more detail, please contact us.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014
John Miller, Senior Consultant

With so many security threats taking place in cyberspace through the exchange of bits and bytes, it’s easy to overlook the physical side of information security. While viruses, phishing, and hacking into servers all take place in “virtual” reality, many serious threats to information also happen within good old normal reality.

A recent article in SC Magazine is representative of a need for IT professionals to align both information and physical security. Employees and other people with inside access to organizations are the source of many information security breaches, so your physical security needs to complement your information security to provide the best protection against cybercrime.

It’s easy to assess your current physical security state, and the list below may help you identify some gaps at your city.

  1. Are city employees required to always lock or log off their computers? An easy security breach is simply an unauthorized person sitting down at a person’s computer and hunting around for information. It’s easy for a person to sit down at an employee’s computer after hours or while there are lots of distractions during the day. Sensitive files, emails, and other communications can be captured in a few minutes with a thumb drive. Users should get in the habit of locking their computers when away. A good way to enforce this as a policy is with a screensaver that requires a password. When leaving for the day, users should either lock their computer or log off to avoid any unauthorized access.
  2. Are your servers and network equipment locked up? During various network assessments that we’ve performed over many years, we’re always surprised to see a city’s most valuable information sitting on servers in rooms that anyone can access. A disgruntled employee can cause damage to this equipment, and a tech-savvy person with malicious intent can easily hack into a server. If an outsider can wander into this room, you’re placing your most valuable information at high risk. Your servers and network equipment need to be in a locked room with access restricted to a few key people. And just like with people’s computers, the server should never be left logged in and unattended. Make sure only a few key people (preferably IT staff or a trusted vendor) have login access to a server.
  3. Is your storage media locked up? If you use storage media such as external hard drives or backup tapes, you need to make sure these items are locked up similar to servers or network equipment. This information can be easily overlooked because “it’s just a backup copy” and seems like it’s not as important as the primary copy of any information. However, if somebody has bad intentions, external hard drives and backup tapes are two of the most likely items to be stolen. These items are gold mines for thieves who want access to sensitive city information. They’re easy to steal by popping into a briefcase, bag, or pocket. These items should always be locked up when not in use, and never leave them unattended.
  4. Do city employees write down passwords and leave them in view on their desks? Who needs to break into a computer when the password is right there on an employee’s desk? A few years ago, a tech research company in California performed a study in which they sent out some interns to office buildings in the area. The interns tried to guess user passwords based on what they found at the user’s desk. The study found that 1 out of 3 people had written down their password somewhere on their desk. As if this wasn’t a huge enough security risk, the percentage of passwords they were able to figure out increased to almost 50% by looking around the user’s desk and trying simple things such as children’s names, pet names, college mascots, and sports team names. Your password policy needs to include not only strong passwords (with uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols) but also require that employees never write them down and leave them in a public place. (And yes, even a locked office is a public place. Janitorial staff enters the room to clean that office, right?)
  5. Does your city track hardware and network equipment assets? If the question, “How many laptops do you have?” mystifies you, then the discrepancy means that you probably don’t know where some laptops are. We find that many cities simply don’t know how many computers they have (and in some cases, servers) and where that equipment resides. Untrackable equipment means easily stolen equipment. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission was recently the subject of a scathing Senate report that stated, "The NRC has had trouble keeping track of its laptop computers, including those which access sensitive information about the nuclear sites the commission regulates." If employees bring their own devices (laptops, tablets, smartphones) and use your network, those assets need to be tracked too. Many of the worst security breaches in government over the past five years have stemmed from a stolen computer.

By reviewing the items above, you can turn them into a checklist to begin assessing the quality of your physical security.

  • All city employees lock their computers when away from their desk.
  • All city employees log off their computers at the end of each day.
  • Servers, network equipment, and storage media are locked up in rooms that only authorized personnel can access.
  • City employees use strong passwords and do not write them down in place where other people can see them.
  • IT staff or a trusted vendor tracks hardware and network equipment assets.

Remember, your physical security helps complement your information security. It’s like yin and yang. Make it hard, if not impossible, for a person to access or damage your equipment, and you’ll find that you’ve mitigated many of the risks that lead to most government security breaches.

To talk more about physical and information security, please contact us.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014
Brian Ocfemia, Technical Account Manager

When cities purchase hardware and software, they sometimes look at the maintenance and support fees as “additional” costs. “Additional” becomes “optional,” and cities sometimes pass up on these fees. It’s understandable, especially because we all sometimes feel that vendors are trying to upsell us by charging us extra fees for things we don’t need. In extreme cases, cities occasionally use unlicensed or pirated hardware and software to avoid such extra costs.

However, yearly maintenance and support fees are absolutely essential costs as part of purchasing hardware and software. By not having this support, you risk hardware and software failure that cannot be fixed—or that will only get fixed through an expensive hourly fee. Either way, you’re hurting operations and increasing your risk of unpredictable IT costs.

Here are a few important points to keep in mind about the importance of hardware and software maintenance and support fees.

  1. Hardware and software maintenance and support is different from general IT support. The two are often confused. General IT support provides you with ongoing server and workstation monitoring and maintenance, data backup, helpdesk, and some software oversight for website platforms, document management, and other common city applications. But even if a city has IT staff or a vendor providing this general IT support, hardware and software vendor support contracts are still critical. That’s because a lot of the software applications and hardware provided by these vendors is highly specialized, such as utility billing software. Expecting a general IT support resource to become an expert on a specialized kind of utility billing software is unrealistic. Your general IT support resource will often need to enlist the help of the hardware or software vendor’s tech support to resolve any issues.
  2. Software application support provides you with security patches, upgrades, and additional features. Vendors are always improving their software applications. They patch security holes as hackers become more complex, include upgrades that fix bugs and errors, and also add valuable features. If you don’t have an up-to-date support contract, most software vendors will make you buy the entire software application over again if you want an upgrade. Considering that these maintenance and support contracts are usually 10-25% of the original cost of the application, keeping up that contract is cheaper than buying the software application all over again. If you truly see your software as an ongoing investment, then investing in future patches, upgrades, and additional features helps you maximize that investment.
  3. Hardware maintenance and support helps cover the cost of expensive parts. Just like when your car breaks down, hardware failure is ugly if you’re not financially covered. Take advantage of hardware maintenance and support contracts that cover the cost of expensive replacement parts. Typically, these maintenance and support contracts will cover the cost of parts for at least a certain amount of time (such as 1 or 2 years). The time, energy, and costs needed to find a replacement part on your own is almost always enough to encourage people to sign a hardware support contract.
  4. Support agreements give you customer service priority. If something goes wrong with your hardware or software and you don’t have a support agreement, it’s harder to get someone on the phone to help you with your problem. Even your IT staff or vendor can’t speed up the process. You’ll waste both time and money. That’s more time to resolve your problem for a high billable rate—the worst of both worlds. That’s because hardware and software vendors give priority support to their customers who pay for maintenance and support agreements. Those agreements usually mention a response and resolution time. When a problem arises with mission-critical hardware or software, a support agreement ensures the fastest possible resolution.
  5. Benefits, perks, and personalized service. Often, a hardware or software vendor will be so protective and support-oriented toward their own product that they will go above and beyond to ensure it stays running the way they like it. That means they may send people to install the hardware or software, provide onsite support and training, and even back up your data. This kind of personalized support will usually be included in the agreement and it can be extraordinarily helpful for your general IT support staff or vendor to have people sent by the hardware or software vendor to personally help with particular maintenance, installation, or IT support issues.

In other words, you want to pay for the hardware and software maintenance and support agreements. True, it can seem hurtful to your budget—10-25% per year of the original purchase price. But if you accept that as part of the price of hardware and software, the investment makes sense in order to ensure that your hardware and software stays optimal and up-to-date.

Of course, cloud software can eliminate many of these problems by removing the need for hardware and reducing your overall software costs. But since some hardware and software is not yet in the cloud, we highly recommend that you continue to follow the advice above to make sure you are getting the most out of any hardware and software investments that you must purchase for onsite use.

To talk more about hardware and software maintenance and support costs, please contact us.

Thursday, April 03, 2014
Clint Nelms, COO

In many places across the United States this past winter, the so-called polar vortex led to freezing cold temperatures and dangerous ice storms. In Kentucky, a large part of the state shut down because of a snow and ice storm. Throughout the South, a place unaccustomed to the severity of many of these storms, citizens were left stranded on roads and unable to navigate the ice with their cars. Schools, government entities, and businesses shut down rather than play dangerous guessing games about having employees come into the office or not.

Atlanta especially received a lot of negative national attention when motorists were stranded on roads for more than 24 hours in some extreme cases. Learning a harsh lesson about government communication and coordination, citizens were awaiting important information not only through traditional media outlets but also through timelier government website and social media updates. Since so many states had city closures because of this severe weather, we’ve provided an overview of some ways that cities can learn from the harsh winter and use technology to better communicate with citizens during such stressful events.

Use Your City Website for Timely Updates

During Atlanta’s January ice storm, many citizens unfortunately found out they couldn’t rely on Georgia’s state government for timely, updated information. For example, Mayor Kasim Reed pointed out that his city could only take action within certain geographical boundaries inside Atlanta’s city limits because of the metro Atlanta area’s decentralized organization of cities, highways, state government organizations, and schools. Until that decentralization problem is solved (like in New York City), you’ve got to step in as a powerful communication channel for people in your city.

Some quick tips include using your website to:

  • Post current information about important weather-impacting events. For example, people end up stuck in traffic or even stranded when they don’t know about things like road closures. Whether road closures are caused by construction or weather, post these kinds of updates to your city homepage so citizens can easily stay informed.
  • List school closures. Schools impact not only children and school staff, but also hundreds or thousands of parents who have to drop kids off and pick them up. Whether you coordinate with school districts or simply pass on the information from a secondary source, a list of updated school closures collected in one place (especially filtered to only the schools in your city) is immensely helpful to citizens.
  • Provide utility contact information. During severe weather, power will go out, pipes will freeze and burst, and cable and Internet access may be affected. Provide the contact information for utilities, not only for city utilities but also for other utility providers that citizens may use.

Use Social Media to Stay Even More Connected with Citizens

While it’s useful to update your city’s website as a central repository of important information, you need to also make an effort to broadcast and push that information out through social media channels. People are always checking Twitter and Facebook to stay up-to-date during severe weather, and it helps when your city is part of their news and information feeds.

To augment your website communication efforts with social media:

  • Use Twitter, Facebook, and other popular social networks to broadcast information. Push out timely updates through popular social media channels. You’ll not only benefit people who already follow you, but you’ll also develop a good reputation for your city and likely acquire more of a loyal following. It’s okay to provide links back to your website for more information.
  • Allow people to comment and help each other. While you might need to moderate or respond to negative comments, allow people to correct you, provide additional information, and help each other with questions. Don’t just be a one-way communication channel. Cities are often strapped for time with limited staff, so leverage the power of your community so that they help each other. After all, isn’t that really what a city is?
  • Share useful information, not just your own information. Everyone isn’t awaiting the governor’s next press conference, listening to the same weather report, or watching the same news station. When you read or hear about important information from other sources, such as the state or a nearby city, share and pass it on. After all, that’s what social media is all about. Don’t just be a public relations outlet; serve your citizens.

Enable Teleworking for City Employees

For any employees who absolutely don’t need to be on site, teleworking provides them the ability to serve citizens and communicate important information without coming into the office. If you’re not equipped for teleworking, and if employees must come into the office to access and communicate city information, then you’re at a serious disadvantage in a disaster. After all, it’s during a disaster that citizens need cities the most. If your city operations are easily crippled by bad weather, then your city is not able to serve citizens when they need you the most.

While you can read our past articles about teleworking for more information on how to provide this benefit for your employees, some tips related to bad weather include:

  • Using cloud software to access your most important information. Having your website, documents, and important software hosted in the cloud allows employees to access information anytime, anywhere. In a disaster, this kind of information access without employees needing to come into the office is critical.
  • Using smartphones, web conferencing, and instant messaging to stay connected. In real time, low-cost technology such as web conferencing and instant messaging tools allow city employees to stay connected in a disaster or crisis. Since mostly everyone uses smartphones, take advantage of their features to have quick conference calls or to check email.
  • Accessing additional resources and talent. If your best experts or critical city employees are on vacation, unable to get to the city, or helping other people in the field, you can stay connected to people who know the most and can answer critical questions during bad weather. In addition, you can also easily loop in outside consultants, vendors, and authorities into your city team to augment any help that you’re providing citizens.

Covering the basics of your website, social media, and teleworking capabilities will help your city shine in severe weather. Citizens look to cities for help during snow and ice storms but grow quickly frustrated and disappointed if those cities appear to be out of touch. With the right website, you can push out updates on your homepage and through Twitter and Facebook. And your employees should be able to do all of this from home, essentially keeping your city staff connected and working despite not being able to come into the office. With modern technology, this kind of business continuity and real time response to severe weather is absolutely possible.

To talk more about how your technology is able to handle a snow and ice storm, please contact us.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014
Dave Mims, CEO

Once seen as a perk, teleworking appeared at first as a luxury but not as a normal way that people should work. Today, many organizations actually look at teleworking as a great way to increase morale, give employees more flexibility with family and personal time, and, yes, reduce costs with less office space and overhead.

While we’ve talked many times in the past about technologies that help enable teleworking, one of the key obstacles is making sure that employees are definitely “at work” while working remotely. That means the human interaction side of working needs to be supported by technology, just like the individual productivity side.

In this post, we cover some of the aspects of teleworking collaboration that technology has enabled and made easier when employees work remotely.

  1. Instant Messaging and Current Work Status. One of the best ways to stay connected during a workday is instant messaging. Once seen as a novelty and distraction, people are so used to it now that it’s become an essential communication tool to stay constantly connected with employees. Having a policy for teleworking employees to show when they are available and to respond when colleagues wish to ask quick questions or communicate about work is a great way to make sure that a remote employee doesn’t “disappear” when not in the office. Plus, instant messaging is a great way to communicate about small details that don’t require full meetings or water cooler conversation.
  2. Web Conferencing for Presentations. Many software tools exist for people to conduct meetings, give presentations, and manage the questions and discussion from numerous meeting attendees. Just like gathering in a meeting room, remote workers can give full presentations, share slides and screenshots, and use a pointer to illustrate key points on their slides. With a high-speed Internet connection, these meetings can be as productive as in-person meetings when communicating important information.
  3. Video Conferencing for Formal and Informal Meetings. Video conferencing used to be extremely low-quality and it still might not be the best way to hold remote meetings. However, many people use video conferencing tools for smaller, informal meetings between two or three people. For larger meetings, you might be able to use video conferencing features embedded into your web conferencing software in order to add another visual dimension to remote presentations. Both web and video conferencing allow you to reduce travel costs and lessen the use of meeting space.
  4. Sharing Files in the Cloud. Through a cloud document management system, teleworkers can easily upload, download, and edit files without having to send them through email (which can often limit the size of attachments) or come into the office to access them. Many document management systems also offer real-time collaboration where you can actually discuss a document, point to places within it, and make changes with other people as if you were sitting around a table making changes to a paper document. While you want to follow any higher-level document workflow policies and processes at your city, informal document collaboration and sharing is easy with modern document management systems.
  5. Private Social Networking. These tools are still on the ascendance, but Yammer (bought by Microsoft in 2012) is a great example of a social media tool that allows for Twitter- and Facebook-style communication and collaboration within the privacy and security of a city’s network. That means you can generate your own “news feed” related to the work activity of employees. You can quickly see any city-wide announcements, project questions, communications with people within your city, and even an archive of previous discussions that may help you solve problems in the present. While these tools are still new and not widely adopted, it makes sense that internal social networks will eventually grow more niche-specific and useful. Experimenting with such a social network is a good way to keep connected to teleworkers.

From tools that are old hat to emerging tools such as Yammer, there are now a variety of ways to keep employees connected when they work remotely. While it’s still good to have human interaction, we live in such a volatile schedule-heavy world where people have different demands, family needs, and personal challenges. Plus, in a still struggling economy, it’s hard for people to always live close to where the jobs are. For your city, if you can make it easier to hire excellent employees who happen to live farther away, you can actually hire better talent, keep those people happy, and also increase the productivity of your city by improving collaboration. No more waiting for people to come into the office—you’ve got technology to help you meet and communicate anytime, anywhere.

To talk more about collaboration technologies, please contact us.

Thursday, March 27, 2014
Alicia Klemola, Account Manager

In this new series, we will talk about the benefits of transitioning a common technology item to the cloud—starting with servers. As cities have started to consider the cloud as a way to reduce costs and increase efficiency, they’ve especially looked at one of the most expensive investments in their technology budget: servers.

When a city’s servers are hosted onsite, it’s always an expensive line item. Servers take up space, cost money to purchase, and require maintenance, upgrades, and eventual replacements. However, leaving all these problems behind by moving into the cloud might seem too good to be true.

Having transitioned many cities from onsite servers to the cloud, we’ve outlined some of the key benefits you may experience when making the transition.

  1. Eliminating hardware costs. The most obvious and the best benefit is simply eliminating hardware that you need to purchase. Hardware functions as a capital expense that often creeps into your budget. Most hardware needs to be replaced every 5-7 years, so eliminating the hardware purchasing lifecycle is a boon to your budget. Plus, it frees up space that you pay for at your city.
  2. Reducing server maintenance costs. While you pay for some maintenance costs through cloud vendors, the costs are incredibly low because of the scale and consolidation of how cloud servers work. Cloud vendors can quickly maintain, upgrade, and replace servers seamlessly since your data is not partitioned off in any one particular server. Data is more fluid in the cloud, so a server going down doesn’t necessarily affect the entirety of a city’s data. By contrast, cities must spend a lot of money maintaining and upgrading dedicated servers onsite.
  3. Deploying new servers with a click. If you need new servers onsite, you have to purchase and configure them. That may take days and weeks to select, order, ship, and install them. With the cloud, servers are completely virtual. If you need a new server set up for something, it can literally take place with a click. Since cloud vendors don’t assign you individual servers, you’re really just carving out space for the equivalent of a server—and cloud vendors have plenty of space to offer.
  4. Scaling up and down. When you purchase servers, you might be locked into a set amount of servers. You’ve bought the hardware, software licenses, and support contracts. Suddenly, you might not need as many servers, but you may be stuck with them until the contract is up or you can sell them. With the cloud, you can add or subtract servers with a click. Depending on whether you add or subtract servers, you simply pay more or less per month. This is cost-effective for cities, especially since you may not know when you’re growing rapidly and need the extra bandwidth, or if you face layoffs or cancelled projects and need to scale down quickly.
  5. Paying for operational instead of capital expenses. Cities tend to prefer operational expenses. They are more predictable, easily budgeted for, and convenient if a city needs to increase, lower, or eliminate them. While cities often know they need more hardware investments, tight budgets have prevented them from making those investments. The cloud allows cities to ease into necessary hardware investments with lower operational costs. In fact, if a city is facing a tight budget, they can ease into the cloud slowly by transitioning their hardware in phases if needed.

Moving from onsite servers to the cloud is one of the biggest technology culture shifts we’ve seen since getting involved in this industry. It’s a shock at first to see the servers that your IT staff or vendor has taken care of for years “disappear” into the cloud. However, with more and more federal, state, and local government entities not only embracing the cloud but also finding extraordinary value in this shift with reduced costs, increased security, and higher quality maintenance, the end game after making this transition leads to a more efficient, better-run government.

To talk more about transitioning from onsite servers to the cloud, please contact us.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014
Nathan Eisner, CMO

You’ve probably experienced the frustration of making edits to a document and submitting it to someone, only for them to say, “Oh, wait. Edit this one instead. Jim added his edits to the older version.” “What?” you scream. That means you need to go back to the older version, incorporate Jim’s changes, and then reincorporate your changes. What a waste of time!

Modern document management systems include versioning—a method of keeping track of various versions of documents as edits are made along the way. Versioning provides a host of benefits that get rid of a lot of document editing headaches. Since versioning is one of the key features of a document management system, we’re listing a few of the biggest benefits in this article.

  1. Locking documents when people edit them. One of the biggest problems with document editing is non-sequential, overlapping edits by people. It’s the situation described in the introduction of this post where Jim edits a previous version of a document while you were supposed to be editing it. With document versioning, when you are editing the document, Jim cannot edit it. Not only that, but he’ll know that someone is currently editing and making changes to the document, and he’ll have to wait until those changes are made before he can look at the document again.
  2. Returning to previous versions of the document. It’s human for someone to edit a document and make such major, unwanted changes that you want to return to a previous version. Instead of scrambling to find it in your email inbox or personal file folders, your document management system can store all previous versions. With this feature, you can check what was edited, who edited it, and restore a previous version if needed. Versioning not only works as a form of backup, but it also adds a measure of document security and quality assurance to your content creation process.
  3. Archiving all previous versions for reference. Not only do previous versions help when you need to backtrack during your editing process, but they are also there for reference when people need to look at the history of a document’s edits. If a document is challenged or called into question, archived versions show the edits, the rationale behind the edits, and who edited the document. This is also a better option than storing a chaotic mess of previous versions of documents manually labeled (e.g. file-v1, file-v2, file-v1_jim_edits, file-revised-updated, etc.).
  4. Pointing to the most recent version of a document. If everyone knows that there is one, and only one, most up-to-date version of the document, then you will eliminate the problem of people editing different versions. Also, you’ll no longer have duplicate documents flying around people’s email inboxes and which create long-term problems for document management. Without document versioning, different people with different documents upload slightly different versions of the same document, leading to confusion about what’s the most current version.
  5. Collaborating without interfering or competing. Without document versioning and clear document management processes, you might find yourself in a document editing “war” that is supposedly collaboration. When collaboration is really just fighting to edit a document first or uploading your document with separate edits, then you’re not collaborating. Document versioning allows you to make edits clearly seen by all, and you can either edit at the same time with each person’s changes clearly seen or just edit separately and pass along to the next person when it’s time.

Once cities get the hang of document versioning, it becomes an essential feature of document management that helps out the workflow process when editing. Nightmares go away. No more wondering who has the most recent document, or if you should be editing it or not. Plus, it’s nice to know where to find the most recent version, stored in a convenient, centralized location where everyone has access to it.

If you’d like to talk more about document versioning, please contact us.

Friday, March 21, 2014
John Miller, Senior Consultant

For cities, the public safety page is always an odd page to create. That’s because most of the important interfacing with a city’s public safety department takes place with 911 and in-person encounters as police officers and firefighters interact with citizens. It’s easy for the public safety page to become an afterthought. In fact, when looking at a variety of public safety pages for cities, the content ranged all over the place—even for award-winning city websites.

In making our recommendations for public safety content, we’re not focusing on some of the things you’ll see on many city websites such as mission statements, welcome messages, and historical information. The most important content needs to serve your audience. That means public safety content must be prioritized to connect with your citizens.

So, when considering what content best complements 911 and in-person public safety service, we’re providing some suggestions on how to maximize the impact of your public safety pages.

  1. Provide contact information, especially phone numbers, for roles and zones. Second to 911, people often need to contact the police department about administrative questions after a crime, accident, or ticket. It’s not uncommon for citizens to call a city and get transferred from person to person to person, sometimes ending up where they began. If your city divides up public safety responsibility into jurisdictions or zones, make those geographical areas clear on your website. Also, be clear about contact information for specific roles and functions such as police, fire. investigations, towing, and other important areas.
  2. Answer common “how to” questions. Public safety is busy enough without having to answer the same question over and over. Where do I retrieve my car if it’s towed? How do I pay a parking or speeding ticket? Who do I call after hours? Who is my neighborhood representative? How do I apply to be a police officer or volunteer as a firefighter? While you can still create additional pages that talk about different aspects of public safety in more detail, make sure to answer common questions in an upfront visible manner. This will lessen the amount of calls that come into City Hall or 911.
  3. Advertise any meetings related to public safety. Include both regular weekly or monthly meetings, and especially important meetings related to some significant event or trend. Partly, this is logistically useful to citizens by providing a public calendar of public safety meetings. But more importantly, it shows transparency and that the city is addressing important issues head on. By publishing this information on your website in a regular, timely fashion, you’re being upfront. Otherwise, it can seem like you’re hiding information or not on top of important public safety issues.
  4. Provide access to public safety statistics, reports, and updates. Citizens like to see data and updates about crime and public safety in their neighborhoods. Provide the cold reality such as reports about violent crime, robberies, burglaries, and larcenies. But also provide positive community information such as public safety initiatives, school programs, volunteer opportunities, and charity events. Many public safety experts often say an informed public helps fight crime and prevent disasters, so your reports serve as a vital information resource to help achieve this goal.
  5. Use photos and visuals to “humanize” public safety. People often distrust public safety, and it doesn’t help when your website just provides a name, phone number, and email without visuals. Take professional photos of key public safety leaders and staff that show them smiling, welcoming, and ready to help. Additional photos of the police department, fire department, vehicles, and action shots from community meetings and events also help with public image. Videos are even better. The point is to represent your public safety department with pride and warmth, and to let citizens know they are approachable and ready to help.

While other information can find its way onto your public safety pages, it’s important not to prioritize information that gets in the way of helping citizens. An impersonal mission statement, a giant stock photo of a fire truck, or a long list of links to webpages and documents might have seemed great in the website design meeting but they may hide your most important information. Just because 911 can be called in emergencies doesn’t mean to ignore the usefulness of your public safety page. There is a lot of potential to connect with your citizens, keep them informed and aware, and represent your police and fire departments in the best light.

To talk about public safety web content in more detail, please contact us.

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