other forms of technology, the modern website continues to evolve at a rapid
pace. We know that cities don’t need websites that are as complex as Amazon’s
or Facebook’s, but we do see a lot of cities with either no website or what’s
now termed a “brochure website” or static website. Those websites tend to be
obsolete and outdated, presenting limited, unchanging information to your
audience that is difficult to update and might require special coding to
websites offer a lot of complex features, there are some basic features that a
city website should have that create the greatest efficiency for both technical
and non-technical users alike. To demystify the basic elements of a modern
website, we’ll outline how it’s hosted, how content is created and updated, and
how online payments are handled.
websites are not just simple pages to display. They involve a lot of memory,
storage, and databases in order to do things like edit and update content
yourself, offer dynamic content (i.e. information that automatically changes on
your website), present decent graphics and visual presentation elements, host files
such as video or audio, offer the ability to integrate with other software and
applications, provide search capabilities, and give you the ability to scale up
by adding pages, information, and data.
your website needs some form of server to host all of these various parts and
pieces. Depending on the complexity of your website, you may host your website
on a server onsite at your city, in a data center, or through the cloud. Part
of website hosting ensures purchasing a specific website domain (e.g.
sophicity.com). When people type in that domain name, it translates on the back
end to a specific numeric website address—like a unique physical address.
That’s how people then get to your website, connecting with your website server
and accessing pages.
important to understand the strengths and limitations of each website hosting
option. For example, it may be difficult and expensive to maintain your own
onsite web server, and a cloud hosting option may be more robust,
cost-effective, and provide anytime/anywhere administrative access if you need
to make changes.
websites have evolved to help non-technical people manage the information that
is displayed on a website. Many years ago, technical webmasters controlled all
of the content and display through coding. That meant anyone without technical
know-how could not add or update website content.
websites usually include a “content management system,” which is a back-end
part of the website software that allows you to create, upload, edit, and
update content by yourself. Ideally, the interface is easy enough for you to
use so that if you know how to use Microsoft Word then you can use the content
management system. It’s meant to be user-friendly because it’s often essential today
for non-technical people to update websites with timely, up-to-date content.
management systems also allow you to set permissions for different users so
that unauthorized people can’t alter important parts of your website. And while
there are more complicated website content features including tagging,
metadata, archiving automation, search engine optimization, and security
management, the bottom line is that a content management system takes the power
from technical people and puts it in the hands of non-technical people.
As more and
more people become used to paying online (and even using tablets and
smartphones to make payments), they expect that modern websites will
accommodate online payments. Many city services are such a routine part of
people’s bills and payments (utilities, property tax, parking tickets, etc.)
that the ability to pay online is a sensible thing to expect on a website.
capability for a website to provide online payments basically ensures that a
person can transact business over that website. To do this, the website needs
to contain an online payment interface (usually webpages that include forms
that people can fill out and submit) that allows people to sign up for
services, set up billing preferences, send payments, and receive various
communications. When credit card or checking account information is exchanged,
a special software known as a “gateway” ensures that payment information is
approved and coordinated between the city, the credit card company, and the
Both your website and the gateway software vendor need to provide high standards of security, especially when dealing with sensitive information such as credit card or social security numbers. Part of setting up online payments includes following the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) which ensures that all sensitive information is secured, encrypted, and protected.
evaluating if you need to upgrade your city’s website, it’s good to first see
if you are behind in providing a website that serves your citizens in a
convenient way. You might be challenged by an expensive, difficult-to-maintain
web server. Your city staff may not be able to upload and update website
content. Or you might not be offering online payments at all. If so, it helps
to get up to speed about modern web hosting, content management systems, and
online payment options in order to see if you can improve your website
experience for citizens and city staff alike.
about website modernization in more detail, please contact us.
budget-conscious cities often have a temptation to stay up on new technology by
purchasing what other cities use or what the media says is essential to have.
When we sit down with a city for the first time, we sometimes find hardware,
software, and other technology tools that may be exceptional and robust but
that sit mostly unused, not serving the needs of the city for the money they’re
technology has a history of being sold on features and benefits that were often
crammed into organizations to fit the product, instead of the product adapted
to meet the needs of the organization. Today, with so many technology advances
continually occurring, it helps to review the timeless principles of looking at
your current technologies through the lens of your users. Then, if you do make
a decision to change your technology, you’re doing it based on user research
rather than peer pressure or gut instinct.
the following user-focused questions as you’re evaluating either current or new
on users of technology, you will answer many questions that help you shop for
just the right solution or tool. Again, notice how the questions above are
technology-agnostic. They ignore cool benefits and features, focusing only on
what users need and how any business objectives may impact those user needs.
With this information in hand, you will have better conversations with
technology vendors as you evaluate solutions. Overall, you’ll reduce costs as
you use this information to eliminate wasteful technology.
To talk more
about technology user needs, please contact us.
planning and development website content must cover a wide range of information
from visionary multi-year plans to specific questions about building permits.
Managing city growth is complicated, but the content on your city website
should simplify that complexity by making it easy to find information about
land use, zoning, building permits, development projects, and much more.
city websites tend to provide too little information or an information dump of
PDFs for citizens to laboriously sift through, you’ll be ahead of the curve if
you apply the following tips to your planning and development content.
tips follow the basic principles of website content like many other city pages,
your challenge for the planning and development page is complexity. Take some
time to sit down with both your planning and development department and your communications
person to sift through all of the information and what to prioritize that best
helps citizens. Remember, your citizens will not know your policies, rules, and
regulations as well as you. It’s up to your planning and development content to
do a lot of heavy lifting in providing answers when citizens need them.
about your city’s planning and development website content in more detail, please contact us.
It can be
frustrating to use a document management system but then never seem to find
what you want. It’s like trying to find a reference in a lengthy book using an index
that lacks the words and phrases you’re looking for. At that point, a book full
of useful information becomes useless if you can’t find specific information
management system indexing works by the same principles. Uploading documents is
the easy part. But work and planning needs to be done to make sure you index
documents enough to make them findable. This becomes especially crucial for
open records requests, timely information needed for a city council meeting, or
specific information that may be stored within hundreds or thousands of similar
While an IT
vendor can help you with some of the technical aspects, keep the following tips
in mind to help you index your documents and save hours of wasted time having city
staff futilely search for information.
that you can index and find files easily in your document management system
gives you a taste of how massive a challenge search engines like Google have on
a daily basis. We produce so much digital information today that what starts as
a seemingly modest list of documents can soon become unmanageable. But with the
right indexing planning and ongoing filling in of the right fields for each
document or file, you are on the road to making your information as findable
and searchable as possible within your document management system.
To talk more
about document management indexing, please contact us.
When most people want to avoid computer viruses, the
common wisdom says to focus on your antivirus software. Of course, that’s a
sensible strategy since the purpose of antivirus software is to stop viruses
from ever infecting your computer. This report from KUTV in Salt Lake City, Utah is typical of the
kind of advice that’s usually dispensed in lieu of a particularly nasty virus
Only at the tail end of this report, buried underneath
advice about antivirus software and even paying a ransom to criminals in order
to get a businessperson’s data back, do we hear about data backup. Even more
than antivirus software, data backup is actually your best antivirus
Even Microsoft said in a recent post that “the most important tool for dealing
with ransomware is to make sure computers are backed up.” Why? Let’s look at
Data backup is a more fundamental and important way to
prevent the effects of a virus outbreak than even antivirus software. We
recommend making sure you have a data backup and disaster recovery solution in
place, combined with an enterprise antivirus solution that is managed by IT
And even though the businessperson in the TV clip paid
the criminals that held his data hostage, we recommend to never pay a ransom!
These are criminals. It is not guaranteed that you will get your data back, and
they may also use your credit card information to commit identity theft. With
data backup in place, you won’t even be tempted to pay a criminal for your
To talk about data backup and antivirus software in more
detail, please contact us.
We get a lot of
questions about the possibility of switching to free or low-cost productivity
software. The argument usually goes like this: We don’t use all of the features
in our current productivity software and the licenses are expensive. Therefore,
can we use the free software that most of us use at home?
On the surface, free or
low-cost productivity software seems to do the same things that your more
expensive software does. Plus, compatibility usually isn’t too much of an issue
since it’s easier than ever to convert document types.
But like any business
decision, there are a lot of factors to weigh about considering what
productivity software you use. It may seem like all tools do the same thing,
but you’ll hit walls or levels of frustration that affect your employees if you
take a cost-cutting shortcut without proper analysis. Here are some questions
to ask if you’re considering reevaluating your current productivity software
By asking the questions
above, you’ll be well on your way to understanding your productivity software
needs. If you’re lucky and do your due diligence, you might find some
substantial cost savings in going from expensive capital expenses and software
licenses to an operational expense cloud subscription model with cheaper
storage space. But before you simply switch, tempted by cost reductions, make
sure you have the right productivity software suite for you.
To talk about
productivity software in more detail, please contact us.
In no way do we dismiss
the fact that cloud software has security risks, despite the significant
advances made in this area. It’s well known that vendors have been able to
reassure major local and state government entities that security is robust
enough to take care of high-level needs. The state of Texas is a popular example, but a recent article by BWWGeeksWorld shows plenty of examples of state and local
government entities using the cloud for sensitive departments such as public
But when research,
surveys, and our own industry experience and observations look deeper into
concerns about cloud security, the root problems are often much deeper than
questions about cloud software encryption or how a vendor stores data in the
cloud. As competition and IT maturity improve the security behind most cloud
software, we find that alleviating those worries doesn’t even compare with the
threat of existing security problems at cities.
Let’s take a closer look
at what we should really worry about.
observations aren’t meant to ignore or obfuscate any concerns about cloud
software security. Our point is that cloud software security has matured so that many older concerns are lessened by how vendors build in essential
aspects such as encryption, run the software at rigorously maintained data
centers, and comply with many stringent requirements that accommodate
everything from the federal government to healthcare. Stacking that progress up
against some of the security gaps often found at cities, we argue that any cloud
security conversations need to be reframed. How does cloud software security
compare with your current security investments, policies, and procedures?
Answer that question, and you’re on your way to understanding how cloud
software can improve upon your current security.
To talk more about cloud
security, please contact us.
If it seems like we’ve been writing about the benefits of
cloud software and technology a lot, it’s because this technology has a
far-reaching effect into so many important areas that impact cities. And no
area could be more important than keeping city operations running in case of a
In a recent article from InformationWeek Government,
the author talks about how the General Services Administration (GSA)
experienced disaster in the form of Hurricane Sandy. A few years ago, lost
power and flooding would have meant destroyed email servers. But with its email
in the cloud, GSA employees worked remotely from home and coffee shops until
they could return to their offices.
More importantly, services kept running despite near
total disaster at GSA offices. While it’s fun to talk about how the cloud
reduces costs and gives your workforce more remote access to city information,
its true power shines in a disaster. Here are a few ways that happens.
When you think about your disaster recovery and business
continuity plans, be sure to consider cloud software if you haven’t invested in
it already. As you can see, the benefits in a disaster are invaluable—from
making sure your data isn’t lost to being able to serve citizens despite
significant damage to buildings and resources.
To talk about disaster recovery in more detail, please contact us.
In our many blog posts about the cloud, we usually cover
core essential software such as operating systems, data backup, and email. But
the cloud applies to many other often unexpected areas of operations and business
A great article on the American Express Open Forum blog
explains nine unique ways to use the cloud, including even areas such as
language translation. However, we’d like to elaborate upon two of the items
that this article mentions: phone systems and remote support. Since these two
areas impact cities heavily, we want to share our thoughts on why you should
consider the cloud even for these services.
If you dislike the complicated phrase “Voice over
Internet protocol” (or “VoIP”), you can now think of it as “cloud phone.” With
voice data transmitted over the Internet, cloud software can now manage the
software that takes care of your phone needs. The combination of high-speed
Internet and the ability to host telephony software in the cloud creates an
opportunity for Internet phone service to match (and sometimes even exceed) the
quality of landline phone systems.
While landline phone systems are still a sturdy service, a recent blog post from National Public Radio points out that less
and less people are using them. (It’s currently 71% for a service that used to
be almost 100%). Plus, the infrastructure is aging and decaying, with less and
less people available with the knowledge to repair it. You may still need
landline phone systems for particular departments or as redundancy for
important services like 911, but considering cloud phone is a good bet
considering the bleak future of landline phone infrastructure.
The good news that we’ve seen when helping cities shift
to VoIP is that:
While there are still a few disadvantages to cloud phone
software, those disadvantages are mostly related to lack of high-speed Internet
access, the quality of a city’s network infrastructure, and the level of IT
support you have on hand. As long as you have high-speed Internet access and
quality IT support, then you should seriously consider hosting your phone
system in the cloud.
One of the great things about core cloud software such as
operating systems, email, and document management is that these systems can be
supported remotely, no matter where your employees are or what device they use.
With older software, the back end was not built for easy-to-use remote support,
if at all. You may use some older software that can only be supported onsite or
through a difficult VPN connection where your employee has to allow access to
New software is built for the cloud and unshackles itself
from adhering to a specific device. For example, let’s say your employee logs
in through the cloud to their desktop at work. That means their entire work
platform is just a piece of software accessed through the Internet. If there is
a problem, your IT support would have access to that particular piece of cloud
software without having to touch or enter that employee’s desktop, laptop, or
mobile device. The same logic applies to IT support problems with email,
document management systems, or other cloud-based software.
So, if your employee is at work, at home, on the road, or
simply accessing their software through a tablet or smartphone, IT support will
be able to solve most issues remotely. By making support management easier for
your IT staff or vendor, cloud software allows your employees to benefit from
getting problems resolved without having to go into the office or giving an IT
person access to their entire personal device.
These are just two ideas that the American Express post
offered up. After reading the rest of the article, we would think that cities
could also ask questions such as:
The cloud introduces new opportunities and possibilities for all kinds of operational and productivity improvements. To talk more about these possibilities, please contact us.
It’s tempting to think that the cost of hardware is
simply the purchase of a machine. Maybe you also include the cost of the
software on the server or workstation. But the full cost of hardware includes
many aspects that cities and other organizations often fail to track—leading to
inaccurate perceptions about how much the hardware actually costs.
Since cloud software often eliminates a lot of hardware,
it’s helpful to reveal in more detail how much onsite hardware actually costs.
Let’s look at how we break down hardware costs when looking at what’s called
Total Cost of Ownership. We’ll assume we’ve already accounted for the actual
purchase price of the hardware and software.
It’s usually by neglecting one or more of these areas
that unexpectedly leads to a surge in high IT costs when cities experience
hardware issues or failure. The total cost of ownership for hardware covers a
lot of areas. Some of those areas can be lessened in cost from eliminating as
much hardware as you can and moving to cloud software. But if you still need
hardware onsite, then looking at the costs as more than just purchasing the
hardware will be helpful for your budgeting and purchasing processes.
If you want to talk about hardware in more detail, please contact us.
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