CitySmart Blog

Friday, November 01, 2013
Alicia Klemola, Account Manager

As cities continue to rely more and more on technology, they also worry more and more about what’s called “cyber liability.” By not protecting electronic data in the right ways, cities can find themselves exposed to lawsuits, fines, and severe operational issues. For good reason, cities are increasingly worried about cyber liability.

But often, cities don’t know what they don’t know. What needs to be done to protect cities? While we’ve written about cyber liability in detail in the past, we’ll use this post to share three key insights that we heard discussed at a recent panel discussion at the 2013 Kentucky League of Cities Conference & Expo.

To start thinking about cyber liability, consider the following points.

  1. First, look at your data backups, since data loss is the most common cyber liability. Simply having the right data backup will save you the most worry about cyber liability. Yet, so many cities still have critical gaps in their onsite or offsite data backup. Cities need to address the following points:
    • Onsite data backup for quick recovery in case of something like server failure.
    • Offsite data backup in case of disaster like fire, flooding, tornadoes, or theft.
    • Testing data backup to ensure that it’s working. We still see so many cities that don’t test their data backup, and that lack of testing often leads to a greater risk of data loss.
    • Auditing data backup by providing documentation and evidence that your data backup is working.
  2. Assess the current state of your technology assets and ongoing maintenance. While tight budgets might be an excuse for not overspending on technology, that doesn’t mean you should neglect investing in the right technology. We see liability result from the following scenarios:
    • Minimal, reactive technology support. Fixing something only when it breaks is a form of neglect and increases liability.
    • Using cheap IT vendors that don’t document their processes, skip industry standard best practices, and host your servers in poorly maintained environments.
    • Poor security, such as lack of enterprise-level antivirus software, weak passwords and administrative credentials (which increases the risk of hacking), and poor configuration of your hardware and software.

    Poor, cheap technology maintenance increases your risk of viruses, hacking, malware, and other activities that lead to liabilities such as data theft, fraud, and other cybercrimes.

  3. If you’re a smaller city, you’re more susceptible to cyber liability. Big cities might receive more publicity when cybercrimes occur, but small cities are the most susceptible to cyber liability because they often don’t spend money to protect themselves. And many think they’re too small to be a target. However, hackers are quite sophisticated and they look for easy targets. Small cities don’t need a lot of technology investment to protect themselves, but at a minimum they need to make sure that:
    • The city’s website is hosted and secured professionally.
    • The city’s data is backed up both onsite and offsite, with regular testing and auditing.
    • The city’s technology infrastructure is proactively maintained and monitored for any issues.
    • The city has enterprise-level antivirus, antispam, and patch management software helping keep technology secure and up-to-date.
    Cyber liability is really only messy when you don’t prepare for it and suffer the end result of an issue like data loss or fraud. But when you simply invest in data backup and modern technology, most of your cyber liability problems go away.

If you’re still worried about the cost of such technology investments, we’ll leave you with two thoughts.

  • Even for small cities, the cost of important technologies has come down while the quality has gone up. If you’re worried about areas like data backup that used to be cost-prohibitive, you’ll be surprised at how affordable a basic solution costs today.
  • If you’re still wary of even adding these low costs to your city budget, think of this investment like insurance. While car insurance can be a bit expensive sometimes, the cost of an accident can be catastrophic. The same rationale goes for cyber liability. Invest in the right technology like insurance. Otherwise, it’s more probable you will experience a cyber liability incident, and the cost of dealing with that incident will far exceed the low monthly costs of investing in the right technology to protect yourself.

To talk about cyber liability in more detail, please contact us.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Dave Mims, CEO

Many cities and other government entities have rapidly made the shift from their old email servers and software to cloud email. Many of the reasons have to do with back-end technology aspects such as easier management, security, and data backup.

But cloud email is unique in that it’s a technology where you can actually touch and feel many of its benefits. Compared to older email services, there are some night and day differences you can actually see and experience that will have a tangible impact on your day-to-day work and operations.

Here are five features that we’ve noticed particularly appeal to city staff and administrators.

  1. No hardware. While this will matter more to city administrators or anyone who manages email servers, it’s still a revelation when email servers go away. One of the biggest hassles with traditional email has been its management. That includes servers to purchase, maintain, upgrade, patch, and restart when they crash. Hardware means IT staff, vendors, or even non-technical staff worrying about these machines on a 24/7 basis. Cloud email just requires an Internet connection. This aspect alone removes a lot of headaches.
  2. Anti-malware built in. Most cloud email vendors build anti-malware tools right into their software. This helps prevent most spam email from ever entering a user’s inbox and protects users from clicking on malicious attachments. In the past, cities would often need to install anti-malware software separately. This led to potential email / anti-malware software integration issues, and it involved separate software to purchase, manage, and maintain. With anti-malware built into cloud email, you don’t even have to think about it anymore.
  3. Instant messaging built in. Instant messaging used to be seen as frivolous and distracting by most businesses and government entities, and that perception may still carry into a few cities today. In addition, using instant messaging meant yet another software program to install and manage. Today, the novelty of instant messaging has worn off in a world of social media and mobile communications. Instant messaging is now really just a handy way to quickly communicate with colleagues and it’s built right into cloud email.
  4. Large files easily handled. One of the most annoying things about traditional email servers is the inability to handle large files such as images, zip files, or multiple documents. That’s because email servers could only handle so much load and it restricted the size of each email, along with restricting the total number of emails you can store. With cloud email, file sizes are rarely an issue because of significantly increased storage space. Cloud servers also easily handle emails with large attachments because of vastly superior server capacity.
  5. Integrates easily with mobile phones. While email on mobile phones isn’t new, the power of cloud email on mobile phones is revolutionary. In the past, you may have been restricted to a specific service (like Blackberry) which required its own server, or you may have struggled to connect your own email servers to mobile phones. If you dealt with your own email servers, that meant managing many mobile phones which all constantly accessed your email servers. Service could be sporadic, especially as so many different mobile phones presented unique access problems. With cloud email, mobile phones simply use an app, some log-in information, and you’re accessing email as easily as any Internet service.

While we’ve discussed the back-end benefits of cloud email in past blog posts, the user benefits are just as important in many ways. What strikes us as especially noteworthy is how many different kinds of software are now consolidated and leave very little for people to worry about anymore. Cloud email—like many kinds of cloud software—combines different pieces of important software and creates an easy-to-use experience while eliminating some of the annoying aspects of email that used to be so hard to manage. Overall, cloud email is that rare technology where your city staff can immediately experience the benefits.

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

Thursday, October 24, 2013
Nathan Eisner, CMO

When we walk into cities for the first time and see unused servers or watch people using outdated software, it’s easy to blame these issues on vendors. We might hear “Our servers don’t work right” or “We were sold the wrong software.” To a certain point, vendors may shoulder some of the blame. Cities understandably want to make sure they are fully using their technology investments and that all technology is up-to-date and supported.

But such a situation signifies a deeper problem that also affects how vendors are managed—and that’s matching your technology to user needs. It sounds almost too simple on the surface. “Well, of course our technology meets user needs. People use it, don’t they?”

However, we find that a lot of technology was purchased without the buy-in of the city employees that actually use it. Sometimes, a vendor can do an excellent sales job talking about features, but failing to talk about the user experience. It’s only too late when you realize that the technology did not live up to its original promise.

Here are some user-focused questions we tend to ask when evaluating new and existing technology vendors for cities. These questions help make sure you’re only investing in needed technologies and that the cost of those technologies will be as low as possible.

  1. What are people’s biggest pain points? Just by interviewing users of technology, you can learn a lot about their biggest pain points and frustrations. Usually, many problems will come to light such as slow software, tedious workarounds from technology limitations, or computers that crash too often. Start with the fires that users are battling day by day and you will begin to uncover a good list of the weakest points about your current technology.
  2. What do users need to do? This is a different question and involves the goals or objectives of the work that technology should help people do. Ask the users about their roles and what they need to accomplish on a day-to-day basis. Also talk to department heads and even city leadership about overall business objectives. Technology is an investment that needs to help cities achieve a goal. If you lack clear goals or a connection between stated goals and technology, then your technology may not be helping you and might actually be wasting you money.
  3. What technology options exist to solve user needs? Without asking the first two questions, you risk purchasing or keeping technology that you don’t need. Once you’ve taken a deep look at user needs, you find yourself with a clear list of specifications that makes it much easier to shop for solutions and reevaluate your current solutions. This is where the help of an IT professional comes in handy. They have the experience to ignore flashy features and focus only technology solutions that solve your users’ problems.
  4. How will your technology investment really help users? Once you select a possible technology solution, review it with users, try it out if possible, and discuss user needs with the vendor. Sometimes the vendor can easily show time saved, costs reduced, or productivity enhanced. In other cases, the connection to user value or bottom-line costs can be murkier. Have the conversation and avoid getting caught in a sales pitch or features conversation. A vendor should be able to answer your questions about how a technology handles user needs and reassure you that the investment will pay off.
  5. Will your users need training or help transitioning to the new technology? Despite handling all four questions above, a final way that technology investments sometimes fail is when users don’t (or won’t) adapt. If people are used to doing something the same way for many years, it’s sometimes difficult to make a shift to a new technology. In other cases, even if people aren’t resisting it, they may be unfamiliar with the new technology and need training on how to use it. To make sure that your technology investment gels with users, offer training and a review of why this technology is important for their job.

Once you thoroughly understand your users’ needs, it becomes much easier to clearly specify what technology you need, talk to vendors about only necessary updates and features, and ensure that your investments are tied to a positive end result. Vendors usually are mismanaged when you’re not clear on what the technology investment is supposed to do or who is supposed to gain the most benefit from it. Since vendors will not necessarily look out for your best interest, you need to do your own upfront homework to make sure the technology is a fit.

To talk more about vendor management and user needs, please contact us.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Brian Ocfemia, Technical Account Manager

Mobile devices that work like computers. Software accessed from clouds. Servers disappearing because they’re no longer needed. Technology seems to have gone through another revolution in the past few years, and it’s understandable if the speed of technology has passed you by to some degree.

For many cities that are focused on budgets, operations, and citizen services, it’s easy to still think of technology as it was 5 or even 10 years ago. But while you might feel behind, you actually have a great opportunity to reevaulate your technology, save money, and improve the quality of your services without too much disruption to your city.

As we help cities modernize their technology, we often address the following areas where the old way of doing things is bloated and wasteful today.

  1. Labor. While we don’t encourage laying off IT labor arbitrarily, we do recommend taking a look at what kinds of work any IT employees, contractors, or vendors are doing for you. We find a lot of wasted time and money when IT labor is essentially in reactive or tactical maintenance mode, basically working as glorified IT repair people. Cities need to use technology to help a city achieve its vision, and that takes strategy and planning. Plus, many IT functions have become much more automated and easier to maintain with less people. If you’re not thinking “strategy” when you think technology, then you probably need to take a look at your IT labor.
  2. Contracts. In the old days, technology vendors often locked you into long-term contracts. That made sense because the hardware and software investments were significant. If cities were going to use a particular technology, then it made sense to use it for the long haul. (Vendors, of course, liked this arrangement too!) But now that hardware is needed less and less onsite, and software increasingly is accessed through the cloud (which reduces the cost of implementation), contracts have become shorter—and more like turning on a utility. Any long-term contract is fair game as a place to cut costs.
  3. Hardware. Because so many services can be accessed over the cloud through the Internet, it’s less and less sensible to purchase expensive hardware that you keep onsite. And the modern hardware that you may still need is much more robust and efficient in terms of memory, speed, and storage capability. Any city that still owns and maintains a lot of hardware may be able to reduce the number of machines and simplify their IT environment.
  4. Data centers. Data centers haven’t gone away. It’s just that data centers have gotten so good at the cloud level that it’s only for special reasons that you would need your own data center (or the use of a smaller IT vendor’s data center). An onsite or smaller IT vendor’s data center used to make sense in situations when you still operated on the model of owning and maintaining your own servers for a variety of software and services. Cloud data centers not only work on a scale that blows away the old concept of a data center, but they remove the technology from your care so that you no longer even worry about maintaining your own machines. That means no more expensive monthly hosting costs or onsite maintenance costs.
  5. Software licenses. Software used to be a giant hassle—expensive upfront costs, paying for servers to host the software, the logistics of installation, and ongoing upgrades and maintenance. That meant expensive software licenses to cover all of these costs. Now, so much software is now accessible through the cloud like a subscription. You turn it on and pay a monthly per user fee. That’s it. If you’re still paying expensive annual licenses for most of your software, then you need to reevaluate your current software as soon as possible.

Many cities that we’ve helped tend to have this kind of unintentional bloat from not realizing that technology has evolved rather quickly in just a few short years. But those same cities are happy because we find opportunity to cut the bloat, reduce costs, and increase the quality of a city’s information technology. If you haven’t taken a deep dive into your technology in a while, we encourage you to start with these five areas.

To talk more about simplifying your technology, please contact us.

Thursday, October 17, 2013
John Miller, Senior Consultant

Sometimes, organizations using consumer cloud software that stores files will think that same software is sufficient for data backup. But a recent article from Business Insider suggests otherwise. The article explains how a professor used Dropbox not only to collaborate with other people but also as a “backup solution.” One day, 200 files and 3,000 pictures were missing, along with a project where the files were only stored on Dropbox.

But what makes the story interesting to the layperson is that these files also disappeared from computers and an external hard drive where the professor thought she was backing up these files. The blame game then ensued. Were the files deleted? Hacked? Is it Dropbox’s fault?

Dropbox’s quote for the article is important for understanding how something like this can happen:

"We can say with confidence that this situation did not stem from any Dropbox issues. Dropbox users can choose to have files synced across their machines. In that case, all changes made on local machines, including deletions, are synced."
So what’s going on here? It’s actually quite simple.

Storing Files in the Cloud Does Not Mean Backing Up Files in the Cloud

The mistake that this professor—and many other users—make is equating file storage with file backup. On the surface, this situation looks like a backup issue. But when you sync files across computers, external hard drives, or mobile devices, you’re not really backing up those files. It’s just another storage and access point. If the files are synced, then deleting a file from one place will delete them in all places.

Ironically, the software worked exactly like it was supposed to work. While the professor synced files across multiple computers and devices, her crucial mistake was confusing storage and access with true data backup. To be fair, consumer cloud solution providers usually don’t go out of their way to tell people this. Such a message doesn’t help with their marketing, yet that absence of consumer information can mislead people as to the extent of how secure their files really are.

Bottom line: The sync feature becomes a gaping security hole in using consumer cloud solutions for data backup.

Now, How to Make Sure You’re Actually Backing Up Your Cloud Files

So, we’ve identified a common IT amateur flaw: using the same storage service for both data backup and collaboration. In the professor’s case, think about what can happen. You’re giving file access to your colleagues and students. One of them accidentally deletes a file. That deletion syncs to all computers and devices. And the more people who collaborate, the more the risk of accidental deletion increases.

The key is to clearly separate your collaboration space and the place where you store your backups. With collaboration, you often can handle that yourself—sharing a username and password, giving people access to documents, and providing the ability to make edits and upload files. But your data backups should be secured in an entirely different way. Only an authorized person should have the username and password to any backups. That way, if someone accidentally or maliciously deletes files, they can’t touch your backup location.

Now let’s look at how to separate data backup from collaboration.

Five Quick Tips to Avoid The Professor’s Fate

Although the professor did restore her files by a stroke of luck, you may not be so lucky. We have four important tips that will help you avoid such a situation.

  1. Use professional enterprise backup. Consumer-grade data backup or storage has severe setup and configuration limitations for businesses. With such important information that needs protecting, you don’t want to settle for the limitations of a free or low-cost consumer solution. Enterprise solutions have better management tools and options for customized backup.
  2. Have an IT professional set up your data backup. Mistakes happen, as the professor found out, if you do it yourself. There are usually technical data backup best practices that you will overlook, so let a IT professional guide you through the process of setting up your data backup.
  3. Work and collaborate in one cloud location. Use one cloud storage location to access, share, upload, download, and collaborate on files and documents. Here, users can have access and make changes without worrying about hurting anything.
  4. Back up to a different cloud location. Use another cloud storage location for data backup only. Set a backup schedule that makes sense (you can usually set it up to back up every few minutes or even a few seconds), but make sure you keep backups separate from the place where users access files. That way, if someone deletes a file, the backed up file will be untouched. Have an IT professional confirm you are truly backing up (and not simply syncing) files to this separate location.
  5. Test your backup. To know if your data backup is working, make sure it’s professionally tested at least once a quarter. This will ensure that there are no syncing issues and that your data backup will actually work in case of a disaster.

To talk more about data backup, please contact us.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Clint Nelms, COO

When you’re cleaning up your office or your house, you must make decisions related to the stuff you own. What do I throw out? What do I keep? How long do I keep it? Where do I store it? You might think about the rooms where you’ll store your stuff, or decide if you need the capacity of an additional storage location.

A new document management system forces you to make the same kinds of decisions. Often, cities are faced with process decisions that they’ve never made before about what they define as critically important documents, what they are required by law to keep, and when they can get rid of documents.

In this post, we discuss some of the main issues you will need to deal with concerning the storing and archiving of your documents when implementing a new document management system.

  1. Information prioritization. First, it’s good to examine your documents on a high level and ask yourself, “What is my most important information?” You’ll find that there is some information that you’re required to store and archive for compliance, open records requests, and other legal reasons. Other information will simply be critically important to the strategic operations of your city. By identifying what’s most important, you’ll also discover less important information that you can eliminate or only keep temporarily.
  2. Information format. Your documents will be in a variety of file formats, some of which will take up a lot of storage space. That’s why it’s good to know what’s important and not important. For example, a large amount of storage space is critical for police videos related to investigations, but would not be as important for hundreds of photos of a picnic event from 10 years ago. Files such as videos, audio files, and photos will require more storage space than Microsoft Word documents or PDFs. You also need to account for any paper documents that need to be scanned and placed in your new document management system.
  3. Information organization. Basically, you’ll find that your documents fall into three categories:
    • Non-electronic: These would include paper documents, photographs, VHS tapes, or other non-electronic documents that you need to have in your document management system. That means you need tools to help you convert these into electronic files such as scanners or VHS-to-DVD converters.
    • Unorganized electronic information: This would include emails, documents scattered across various people’s desktop computers, or files stored across different servers that are not organized or labeled with any information to help people find them in a centralized place.
    • Organized electronic information: This includes documents that are already organized and labeled in a centralized place where people can search for them and easily identify what they are. For example, a document might be found in a clearly labeled folder and tagged with searchable information that identifies the author, title of the document, and date published.
    By assessing how your documents are currently organized, you will get a sense of how much work is needed when you upload them into your new document management system. The more organized your documents, the easier it will be for people to find that information. (Read our post about adding metadata for a more in-depth look about adding structure to your documents.)
  4. Information location. At this point, you’re looking at the best options for storing your data. The most cost-effective and scalable solution tends to be cloud storage. We’ve constructed solutions where cities pay a low monthly fee for unlimited data storage, which can help take away the worries of running out of space. That doesn’t mean you should use that unlimited storage space as a dumping ground for all of your information. The best practices listed above are still applicable, or you won’t be able to find and use your information effectively. Another option (especially for extremely sensitive information) is to store your information on onsite servers that you or a vendor help manage and maintain. If this is the case, then you need to worry about storage space—especially when the amount of your information grows over time.
  5. Information disposal. You should not intend to keep all of your information forever. By deciding what’s trash, what’s only kept temporarily, and what information can be retired after a certain period (e.g. seven years), you can keep your storage space down to a minimum and your information as uncluttered as possible. While sometimes cities may need to be warned about deleting information too early, we usually find the opposite problem—cities keeping too much information. They are often surprised to find that even the law doesn’t require them to keep information for decades. Work to set up an archiving and disposal schedule that makes sense for each type of document.

While tackling the problem of document storage and archiving can be a difficult task at first, the efforts you take—even if they are minimal and high level at first—will be well worth it. Ultimately, you want to make sure your documents are stored in a centralized place, archived as needed, and disposed of when they are no longer needed. That way, your employees will be able to find relevant information easily and you’ll be prepared for open records requests, compliance requirements, and other situations where ready access to your documents is important.

To discuss document storage and archiving in more detail, please contact us.

Thursday, October 10, 2013
Alicia Klemola, Account Manager

In a recent article from CIO Magazine entitled “7 IT Mistakes That Will Get You Fired,” two of those mistakes (#1 “Slacking on backup” and #6 “Unmitigated disaster) have their roots in failing to test an organization’s data backup. It still saddens us to hear so many stories of data loss—even at the highest levels of government—where the IT team simply did not test their data backup.

Why do so many cities and other organizations not test their data backup? Usually, there is an assumption that “it’s technology, so it must be working.” But even the most reliable technologies can fail to work, experience data corruption, or even fail from human negligence. Not testing data backup means opening yourself up to huge amounts of risk—and usually when you realize that your data backup actually doesn’t work, it’s already too late.

We mention data backup testing throughout many of our blog posts and bring it up at many meetings with cities. Since it’s so important, we’re delving a bit deeper into the topic and outlining the most important aspects of testing your data backup.

  1. Test your data backup as soon as possible. If you haven’t ever tested your data backup, or haven’t tested it in a long time, test it as soon as you can. You want to find out immediately if you have any existing problems. Are there certain kinds of data failing to get backed up? Are there parts of a manual data backup process that haven’t been getting done? At this point, you want to uncover all issues and take a good honest look at your data backup strengths and weaknesses.
  2. Simulate a full disaster. Don’t do a limited or weak test, such as checking to see if files seem to be replicated on your data backup server or only checking your accounting files and thinking everything else must be fine. Pretend the worst disaster has happened and city hall is wiped out. Can you recover everything? Does your recovery process actually work? Remember, you’re performing data backup to recover from disaster—so you must replicate a disaster when you test.
  3. Ensure that your most important data can be recovered. Some files are more important than others. If you are concerned about payroll, accounting, financial databases, public safety data, court data, and other mission critical information, double check to make sure all departments feel confident that their most important data can be recovered in case of disaster. Sometimes, it’s easy for one IT person or vendor to look at the data and assume it’s all backed up, but it helps to check with actual city stakeholders to make sure all of their data is accounted for.
  4. Dig deep during a test. Your IT staff or vendor needs to really dig deep during a data backup test. Data backup isn’t just about files and folders. Testing should include important databases, software code, event logs, and other technical yet important data that needs to be up and running after a disaster. Often, we’ve seen limited data backup at cities fail to account for the complexities of databases, leading to significant problems when trying to restore them.
  5. Set a testing schedule. Once you perform a full disaster simulation and know you can recover your data, then you need to set up a regular testing schedule. We usually recommend testing at least once per quarter, although you may want to do it more if you have particularly sensitive data. A testing schedule should be accompanied by auditing documentation so that you can demonstrate even to non-technical decision makers that your data backups are working.

Like the CIO article suggests, you don’t want to get caught in a situation where a disaster actually strikes and you find your most important data gone forever. It happens, and the consequences are often ugly—firings, public embarrassment, critical hits to business operations, and wasted money. Testing ensures that your data backup processes (and financial investments) are actually working.

How would you feel if you drove a car for the first time if the manufacturer never tested the engine, braking system, or steering wheel before you bought it? That’s how you should feel if you don’t test your data backup.

To talk more about data backup testing, please contact us.

Monday, October 07, 2013
Dave Mims, CEO

GMA helps city launch new website, stabilize data backup & disaster recovery, and reduce annual IT costs by almost 70%.

Recently incorporated, Chattahoochee Hills has officially existed as a city since December 1, 2007. While new as a city, a cluster of tight-knit rural communities has existed and grown for over two centuries in the land that is now Chattahoochee Hills. That community spirit helped lead to the drive in the past few decades to carve off its own independent city within Fulton County, Georgia.

Challenge

As the city began establishing itself, it was hard enough to rely upon only one overburdened IT employee on staff to support the city’s operations. But recently, the city even had to eliminate this position after needing to cut costs. Since then, non-technical city staff have fended for themselves and handled any IT needs. But that’s difficult, and almost impossible, when the city had uncertainty related to the reliability of its data backup, a compromised ability to respond to e-discovery requests from using an obscure email service that was difficult to support, and aging servers and desktop computers that weren’t managed or used properly.

However, the potential high cost of upgrading the city’s technology prevented Chattahoochee Hills’s city leaders from moving forward.

Solution

Chattahoochee Hills solved these challenges by using the Georgia Municipal Association “IT in a Box” service. Powered by Sophicity, “IT in a Box” is a complete IT solution for cities and local governments. The service includes a website, data backup, offsite storage, email, document management, Microsoft Office for desktops, server and desktop management, vendor management and a seven-day a week helpdesk.

Results

“IT in a Box” helped Chattahoochee Hills:

  • Mitigate the risk of data loss through onsite and offsite backups.
  • Ensure a highly available and dependable email system.
  • Support its city staff with 7 days a week helpdesk support.
  • Reduce IT costs by eliminating Internet and telecommunications services that the city did not use or no longer needed.
  • Launch a high quality, user-friendly website.

Chattahoochee Hills also saved $54,200 (or 51%) of its annual IT costs between FY 2012 and FY 2013, with no upfront capital expense when switching over to “IT in a Box.” And from FY 2013 to FY 2014, the city saved an additional $18,505, for a total annual IT cost reduction over two years of 69%. Even with such significant cost reductions, “IT in a Box” helped Chattahoochee Hills stabilize its technology and create a predictable and affordable IT budget.

Sophicity has been a life saver for the City of Chattahoochee Hills not only financially but professionally. Sophicity’s staff has helped us analyze each of our bills related to IT and identified areas where we were spending money that wasn’t necessary for a city of our size. I would recommend their services to any City thinking of reducing costs and, at the same time, maintaining elite services. - HR/Finance Director Kyle Jones
If you're interested in learning more, contact us about IT in a Box.

Print-friendly version of the Chattahoochee Hills, Georgia IT in a Box case study.

About Sophicity

Sophicity is an IT products and services company providing technology solutions to city governments and municipal leagues. Among the services Sophicity delivers in “IT in a Box” are a website, data backup, offsite data storage, email, document management, Microsoft Office for desktops, server, desktop, and mobile management, vendor management and a seven-day a week helpdesk. Read more about IT in a Box.

Friday, October 04, 2013
Nathan Eisner, CMO

The question now is not if, but when, government will start using cloud software. A recent article in CIO magazine showcases how Microsoft and Google are competing to sell their cloud productivity software to government organizations of all types. While this article is aimed at larger government agencies and entities, some of the problems it outlines are ones you may relate to.

  1. The cost and time spent running your own email servers.
  2. Hardware you bought but don’t use, or that you underutilize.
  3. The inability for city employees to remotely access documents and email.

Why is government embracing the cloud so furiously right now? If you haven’t considered cloud software for your email and productivity software (such as word processing, spreadsheets, etc.), then consider some of the following reasons why governments are investing in the cloud.

  1. Saving money. Cloud software is often cheaper than the upfront capital expenses involved in buying hardware and software licenses. You also avoid the costs (both in money and time) of maintaining your hardware since you access cloud software through the Internet on a per user basis. Because it’s sold like a subscription, you turn it on and only pay for the specific people who are using it. Many cities that switch to the cloud often get rid of a lot of hardware that they don’t need anymore and reduce their costs compared to previous software licenses.
  2. At least 99.9% uptime. Service level agreements for cloud software usually guarantee at least 99.9% uptime, and sometimes higher. From our experience, cities are rarely able to match this level of uptime when managing their own servers and software. Cloud software vendors use data centers with extremely high levels of availability and reliability, and so the levels of uptime are higher than anything you can usually do yourself.
  3. Encrypted and secure data and communications. By using cloud-based data centers, software vendors ensure that your data and communications are protected by high standards of encryption and information security. Similar to the 99.9% uptime, cloud software vendors can often guarantee higher encryption and security standards than cities can provide themselves. And the more these cloud software vendors become entrenched in serving government, they are incentivized to maintain extremely high security standards. Let those vendors worry about those standards, not you.
  4. Data backup. Cloud software makes data backup and disaster recovery much easier. Since cloud software is accessible through any Internet connection and often saved just about every second, it’s easy to recover your data even after the worst disaster. From any location, as long as you can access the Internet, you can access your data.
  5. Easier e-discovery. For open records requests, easy e-discovery is critical. When cities manage their own servers, we’ve found that a variety of non-standardized approaches to maintenance make it hard to find documents, emails, and data when it’s requested. With cloud software, vendors make it much easier for you to store, archive, search for, and retrieve documents, files, and email when needed. This has been a major selling point for government organizations, and cloud software vendors have stepped up to make sure this need is addressed.
  6. Many email benefits. If you’ve struggled with managing your own email servers, you’ve probably hit the limits of your storage space or failed at times to keep the software up-to-date. Cloud software vendors, for a low cost, offer lots of storage space with generous mailbox sizes. In addition, tools like email, calendar items, and tasks are usually all integrated together. That means you can see and update these items all in one place instead of using separate email software, calendar tools, and project management software.
  7. Easy to use software. Since cloud software works much the same way (often identically) to software that your employees already use, it’s usually easy for employees to adjust to cloud software with little training or bumps in the road. And as software continues to evolve over the Internet, it’s in the vendors’ best interests to make the software as easy to use as possible. You benefit from that evolution.

These benefits illustrate why cloud software is becoming the gold standard for any word processing, spreadsheet, email, and other productivity tools that you’ve used in the past. If you’ve been putting off your exploration of cloud software, the time is right for you to look into it now. Not only does your city have the potential to save money, but the quality of your productivity software—from security to ease of use—will likely increase by leaps and bounds.

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

Tuesday, October 01, 2013
Brian Ocfemia, Technical Account Manager

We’ve already tackled the home and news pages, and now we look at another critical aspect of your city’s website: the events page. Typically, most cities have a calendar of events that detail and highlight everything from city council meetings to fun community events.

While a city’s events page seems like the most basic of content, there are a few content tips that can help you make sure that what you’re providing is both useful to citizens and easy to navigate. Many city calendars are unfortunately unpopulated or hard to scroll through, and that makes it difficult for citizens to access events content.

Take the following suggestions to heart and you will make your events content easy for citizens to use and consume.

  1. Provide an easy-to-use calendar. While “easy-to-use” can be part of the design of your calendar, you should also think of your calendar as a module in which people will upload and also consume event content (usually in the form of event listings). The calendar should look nice, but also be easy to scroll through month to month (or even year by year) and get to relevant event listings. You should also be able to upload a new event or edit an existing event without much trouble.
  2. Populate the calendar with items. While you want to prioritize how you list events so that you don’t overpopulate the calendar, you definitely want to make sure you populate your calendar with a variety of event listings. Otherwise, your city looks lifeless and that you have nothing going on. More importantly, if you forget to even upload basic events such as city council meetings, citizens can get angry and think that you’re not being transparent. A populated events calendar looks like you’re a vital, active city.
  3. Link events on the calendar to a more detailed event page. On the calendar, keep it brief. The title of the event, time, and location should suffice. Don’t stuff the calendar with hard-to-read details about the event. Instead, link those event listings to a page where all of the event details reside. There, you can give a summary of the event, speakers or entertainers who will be present, and any other additional details you want to share. That way, if people are browsing through your calendar and want more information about an event, they can click on the event headline in the calendar and read about more details if they’re interested.
  4. Regularly list any city business meetings. We hinted at this tip in #2 above, but we repeat: you must regularly post any business meetings related to city council, elected officials, and public meetings. Even if you decide not to use your calendar for anything else, you need to post information about these meetings. Government at all levels, especially in the Internet age, becomes more and more transparent. Information is easy to share, and citizens grow more accustomed to expecting certain information on city websites. You need to fulfill at least the bare minimum of these calendar expectations by posting all events concerning city business.
  5. Use the calendar to promote your city’s vitality. Your calendar will be one of the most visited pages on your website. Use it not only functionally but also as a way to market your city. Post any community events that you feel best highlight your city. For example, the City of Oakwood, Georgia posted their 4th Annual Secret Santa Car Show event that will happen on October 5, 2013. The City of Tybee Island, Georgia posts American Legion meetings. Each city is different, and there are events of particular importance to citizens in your city. Use your calendar to spread the word about the positive community events happening in your city.

Ultimately, the news and events pages are your main way to both serve information to and market your city. The upkeep can be difficult, and you’ll need people staying up on keeping the calendar up-to-date. But once you get into the habit, you will find yourself thinking of new events to post that you didn’t think about before. You can also open up the calendar to citizens, where they can post events that may be of interest to citizens. You’ll definitely want an approval process before an event is posted, but that service gives citizens an opportunity to engage more with your city.

To discuss event content in more detail, please contact us.

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