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CitySmart Blog

Monday, October 26, 2020
Kevin Howarth, Marketing & Communications

We hope to see you at the following municipal event this week!

ALM Municipal Leadership Conference
October 27-29, 2020
Montgomery, AL

Friday, October 23, 2020
Kevin Howarth, Marketing & Communications
Wednesday, October 21, 2020
Eric Johansson, Network Infrastructure Consultant
Eric Johansson

There’s a big difference between IT partnering and IT reacting. Think about it this way. Suppose you notice a problem with your car’s brakes. You take it to a repair shop and tell the repairperson you think your brakes might need replacing. They nod, tell you it definitely sounds like your brakes are bad, and give you a vague estimate of the time and cost for repair.

Why does that response seem uncomfortable to you? Because the repairperson simply listened to you describe the problem, seemed to magically know what was wrong, and did not seem curious about investigating further or offering objective insights.

While you might not accept that kind of behavior with your car repairperson, many towns and cities accept this kind of behavior with their IT support vendor who may:

  • Rely heavily on your non-technical description of an IT problem.
  • Seem too confident about knowing the answer immediately.
  • “Fix” problems without any further explanation or analysis.

These are not partners. An IT partnership involves qualities that dig deep into your technology challenges, and these qualities are important for IT engineers to have when helping towns and cities. Those qualities include:

1. An ability to assess.

While explaining your technology problem is important, you need an IT partner who digs into your environment after listening to you. Many tools, processes, and best practices exist to objectively and independently assess technology problems. For example, an IT partner will:

  • Scan and analyze your systems for cybersecurity vulnerabilities.
  • Identify risks preventing successful data backup and disaster recovery.
  • Inventory hardware and software to examine usefulness, quality, and age.

Assessing is a form of discovery where IT partners make an independent analysis of your systems to confirm existing problems, correct false assumptions about the root cause of other problems, and even uncover new problems. Without such discovery, your IT support vendor is not doing their job.

2. An ability to plan around your priorities and align with your needs.

An independent assessment of your systems and technology challenges is useful. But a true IT partner doesn’t make a to-do list by themselves and start addressing problems without staying aligned with you. Assessments uncover many issues, but an IT partner will plan out work with you by aligning with your priorities.

For example, a reactive IT vendor may just want to start replacing servers and tackling big projects. But you may have printer issues that nag employees every day. An IT partner will meet with you, understand that the printer issues are a priority, and seek to address those issues as soon as possible.

3. Clear, objective recommendations.

IT partners base recommendations on your priorities and their independent assessment of your systems. Recommendations should be vendor-agnostic and aimed to help you improve productivity, save money, and/or achieve specific goals.

Some IT vendors act as biased resellers of hardware, software, and equipment, and their recommendations will “mysteriously” involve urging you to purchase those products—even if they don’t fit an immediate need. An IT partner should provide objective recommendations that seek out the best solution for the lowest cost—regardless of what company makes the product.

4. Experience with municipalities.

This experience may be harder to find among IT vendors, but it’s another sign of the right IT partner for your municipality. Let’s face it. Municipalities operate much differently than large companies, small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), and nonprofits. Normally, IT is used by businesses to increase revenue and productivity so that they can be more competitive—and many vendors think about IT with that mindset even when talking to towns and cities.

Instead, towns and cities focus on serving residents, keeping the public safe, protecting government records, and spearheading initiatives that improve and develop the economy. IT must serve those needs—from ensuring that police departments run smoothly to equipping city council meetings with technology—and align technology solutions with municipal budgets, operations, and workflows. A municipal-experienced IT partner will be versed in municipal software for various departments, the nuances of how each of your departments work, and processes such as responding to open records requests.

5. Ongoing, proactive project management and periodic checkups.

Reactive IT support will only fight fires. Inevitably, fires will recur because root causes are not addressed. Instead, IT partners provide ongoing, proactive project management that includes a variety of activities such as:

  • Monitoring and alerting of your technology systems for issues
  • Continually patching your software to keep you secure
  • Regular training to keep you and municipal staff on guard and alert
  • Real-time monitoring of your data backups and periodic data backup testing
  • Assistance processing Open Records Requests and enforcing records retention policies

IT is not a fire to put out. It’s an essential part of your operations that needs proactive, ongoing oversight by IT partners who are protecting you from cyberattacks, permanent data loss, and other disruptions to operations. IT partners will also periodically check up on you and meet to discuss how priorities and needs have changed.


Do you have an IT partner? Or an IT “reactor”? Because IT today is so crucial to municipal operations, towns and cities are shifting more and more toward hiring IT partners who ensure technology runs smoothly and protects them from threats.

If you’d like to explore how you can hire IT partners while keeping costs low and predictable, reach out to us today.

Monday, October 19, 2020
Kevin Howarth, Marketing & Communications

We hope to see you at the following municipal event this week!

IMFOA Fall Conference
October 21-23, 2020
Des Moines, IA

Wednesday, October 14, 2020
Nathan Eisner, COO
Nathan Eisner

Unlimited data storage. This is a phrase used (and abused) by many IT vendors. When the phrase gets tossed around without much context or nuance, towns and cities might think that low-cost options exist providing infinite storage for any data. But there are complex parameters around how the concept of unlimited storage works that towns and cities need to consider when evaluating solutions.

By evaluating these solutions in the right way, towns and cities can discover some powerful options that help with data storage, data backup, and disaster recovery. Let’s look more closely at the complexities of unlimited storage.

1. Unlimited storage requires moving data to the cloud.

If you own hardware, you will run into physical storage limitations—both in terms of physical space to store hardware and the amount of storage space each device can hold. Sure, you can have “unlimited storage” by buying more hardware, but that is a costly, square-foot consuming nightmare.

The cloud allows you to expand your data storage without hitting physical limits. Cloud storage providers offer seemingly endless amounts of storage for a low cost and eliminate the need to own and maintain your own hardware.

2. Unlimited storage removes the concept of storage caps.

Whether you experience physical storage caps (such as storage space within an onsite physical server) or arbitrary storage caps (from vendors that don’t allow you storage beyond a certain limit), an unlimited storage option removes the boundary of a storage cap. Why is this important? Many towns and cities use solutions that limit the total amount of storage space—forcing them to delete data or archive data in risky ways (such as using external hard drives or tape drives).

Because of modern data storage demands that include rich media, videos, and images, towns and cities need to alleviate and remove worries about whether they will be able to store large amounts of data. Unlimited storage takes that worry away.

3. Unlimited storage still involves costs.

Unlimited storage doesn’t mean free storage or ridiculously cheap storage. Depending on the solution and vendor, you might see different price points. Three of the most common include:

  • Cost per gigabyte (GB): Many vendors will provide unlimited storage but charge you a certain cost per gigabyte. This can grow expensive quickly. Just one hour of video is an average of 2-3 GBs.
  • Tiered storage model with a monthly fee: Some vendors may provide a tiered model for unlimited storage. As you need more storage, the higher the monthly cost. For example, you might have the option to pay a flat fee per month for a certain amount of storage such as 100 GB or 30 TB. As you need more storage, you pay more per month for a specific amount and you can easily go higher.
  • Per-user cost for unlimited storage: Instead of tiers, some vendors offer unlimited storage but charge you a specific amount per user per month.
  • Fixed fees: Other vendors may offer fixed fees for unlimited storage either as a standalone service or as part of a bundled service (such as IT in a Box). For many towns and cities, IT in a Box is an excellent fit because they get unlimited storage plus many other essential IT services for a fixed, predictable monthly cost.

4. Unlimited storage is different than unlimited backup.

While related, the concepts of unlimited storage and unlimited backup are very different from each other.

Unlimited storage simply focuses on the storage of municipal data such as documents, files, databases, applications, images, videos, and other data. Unlimited backup involves a separate data storage strategy for two scenarios:

  • Onsite backup, usually server images that exactly replicate your servers at any given moment in case you need to quickly restore your information after an incident (such as a server failure).
  • Offsite backup, usually server system state backups (including operating system files) that take longer to restore but, when these backups are stored offsite, maximize your storage space through shrinking the offsite backup file sizes down.

With unlimited data backup, the solution ensures that all critical data is backed up and ready to restore if needed. A municipality and IT vendor can work together to identify data that needs backing up, the right methodology for backing it up, and applying best practices (such as following state record retention schedules). Data backup serves a function different than simply existing as a place to store data.

5. Unlimited storage needs to account for technical issues.

Unlimited storage sounds great…unless it hinders your municipal operations and productivity. For example, some issues may include:

  • Slow file synching or upload (due to a poor internet connection or poor data storage vendors).
  • Slow access to files stored in the cloud.
  • An inability to access files anytime, anywhere.
  • Difficulty finding where files are stored.
  • A lack of locally stored personal files for access offline.
  • Poor technology infrastructure (such as servers, network systems, or workstations) that ruin the benefits of unlimited storage.

Unlimited storage needs an interface that works seamlessly with your municipality's current technology environment. Without ease of use, unlimited storage will not work well at your municipality.

6. Unlimited storage needs to follow best practices.

Unlimited storage should not become a dumping ground for any and all information without planning or intent. Even vendors that charge a fixed fee will usually have some parameters around the use of unlimited storage due to sheer practicality. Best practices include:

  • Following state records retention schedules. Towns and cities don’t need to store data indefinitely and can purge records according to state law. Based on the type of information stored, towns and cities can archive and delete data on a regular records retention schedule.
  • Rigorously applying state records retention laws to body camera video: Even though it’s the same point as the first bullet above, we’re calling this one out because body camera video is a particularly challenging problem for towns and cities. We encourage towns and cities to apply records retention schedules to body camera video instead of hoarding video indefinitely. Otherwise, even the most cost-effective IT vendors may be forced to adjust the overall fixed costs or charge extra for excessive storage costs while still providing unlimited storage to your municipality.
  • Streamlining file versioning: Practically, towns and cities don’t need to store every single version of every single file. A few recent versions of a file are usually enough to complete a successful data restoration. Usually the last version is enough for older files not accessed for many months.

Unlimited storage sounds like a simple, one-size-fits-all solution—but it’s more complex than it appears at first glance. To evaluate the right unlimited storage solution, it helps to assess your municipality's needs, budget, and restrictions. If you feel that your storage situation is not ideal, then it may be time to consider new options.

Need help assessing your data storage situation? Reach out to us today.

Friday, October 9, 2020
Kevin Howarth, Marketing & Communications
Friday, October 2, 2020
Kevin Howarth, Marketing & Communications
Wednesday, September 30, 2020
Dave Mims, CEO
Dave Mims

As we enter the fall season, IT remains crucial to towns and cities. Cyber threats are more prevalent than ever, threatening permanent data loss and crippled operations. The Cybersecurity Infrastructure and Security Agency (CISA) recently released a rare Emergency Directive warning for local governments to patch a serious Windows Server vulnerability ASAP. COVID-19 is still forcing employees to work from home, requiring IT support for remote employees and centralized electronic access to records. Towns and cities must also rely on websites to communicate and do business with citizens. Today, proactive IT support and maintenance is more critical than ever.

After a heavy virtual event schedule this summer, we’re hopeful more in-person events are on the horizon like the upcoming IMFOA Fall Conference and ALM Municipal Leadership Conference. Seeing a few friendly (masked) faces will be a nice break from all the video meetings!

For Georgia cities, members of the Georgia Municipal Association’s (GMA) property and liability fund (GIRMA) are eligible to receive a grant from GMA’s Safety and Liability Management Grant Program. This grant can reimburse your city for up to 25% of the annual IT in a Box subscription fee. While grant funds are available, don't miss out. The deadline is October 31, 2020.

Enjoy our newsletter. As always, don't hesitate to reach out to me if you have something to share with our local government community.

Blessings,

Dave Mims


New Websites Launched

Luthersville, Georgia
Vincent AL Water Board


Featured Guide

While you might not be able to change an existing records management system overnight, this guide will help you identify steps you can take to modernize your current system, align your city or town with records management best practices, and tackle projects such as scanning paper documents and moving to the cloud.


Save up to 25%

If you are a member of the Georgia Municipal Association’s (GMA) property and liability fund (GIRMA), then you are eligible to receive a grant from GMA’s Safety and Liability Management Grant Program to reimburse your city for up to 25% of the annual IT in a Box subscription fee. Don't miss out! Contact us today to get your grant application submitted by October 31, 2020.


Featured Cybersecurity Article

DHS Cybersecurity Agency Strongly Recommends Emergency Software Patch for Local Governments

CISA released a rare Emergency Directive about a serious vulnerability in Windows Server software commonly used by local governments. CISA “strongly recommends state and local governments, the private sector, and others patch this critical vulnerability as soon as possible.”

READ MORE


Featured Data Backup Article

Data Backup Problems Can Worsen a City’s Post-Hurricane Response

While your city might be removed from hurricane threats, you can still experience other types of natural disasters like flooding, tornadoes, fire, and even cyber disasters like ransomware. Before a disaster hits, use this checklist to see if you’ve anticipated the following data backup hurdles.

READ MORE


Featured Helpdesk Article

As Working from Home Becomes the New Normal, an IT Helpdesk Is Crucial for Municipal Employees

Working from home requires a strong IT helpdesk. What qualities will you need in an IT helpdesk to make sure that working from home is as seamless an experience for employees as possible—especially if it’s the “new normal”?

READ MORE


Featured Website Article

5 Ways That Your City Website Can Help You with Council Meetings

Is your website able to handle important tasks related to council meetings? Use this checklist to see if you need a website upgrade,

READ MORE


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We hope to see you at these upcoming events!

IMFOA Fall Conference
October 21-23, 2020
Des Moines, IA

ALM Municipal Leadership Conference
October 27-29, 2020
Montgomery, AL

Friday, September 25, 2020
Kevin Howarth, Marketing & Communications
Wednesday, September 23, 2020
Dave Mims, CEO
Dave Mims

Over the weekend, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), a federal agency overseen by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), released a rare Emergency Directive requiring Executive Branch departments and agencies to patch a serious vulnerability in Windows Server software commonly used by local governments. CISA “strongly recommends state and local governments, the private sector, and others patch this critical vulnerability as soon as possible.”

Why is this critical patch important to your municipality, no matter your size? A few things can happen if you do not patch your servers.

  • Sophisticated cyber criminals could take control of your servers. The consequences for a city caught off guard could be devastating—leading to servers or computers being down for weeks or months and the possibility of paying a lot of unbudgeted money to fix the problem.
  • Cyber criminals can steal your data. A data incident will require you to notify regulatory authorities and let citizens know their data was compromised. In addition, these incidents often make their way to the press and lead to time-consuming remediation efforts.
  • Cyber criminals can destroy your data. It’s not uncommon for cyber criminals to corrupt and destroy data as part of an attack. Is your city prepared for the consequences of permanent data loss?

How can you make sure this vulnerability does not affect your city?

  • Proactive towns and cities patched this vulnerability in August. Municipalities (including VC3 and IT in a Box customers) that regularly patch their software will have applied this patch in August when Microsoft released it. Those cities will not have to worry about this vulnerability.
  • Patch this vulnerability now. CISA would not release an Emergency Directive if it was not very serious. A vulnerability like this will be exploited within days by very sophisticated cyber criminals looking for easy targets.
  • Conduct regular, ongoing IT monitoring and maintenance. If your municipality missed this patch in August, you may want to consider more proactive IT monitoring and maintenance. Trained IT professionals will proactively apply software patches to shore up security gaps and vulnerabilities while also proactively monitoring your environment for cyber threats.

The bottom line: Patch now, if you haven’t already. Cyber attackers will exploit this vulnerability and prey on those towns and cities with lax security. Citizen data is too important to leave open to the world’s cyber criminals.

If your municipality is concerned about cybersecurity and your current level of protection, reach out to us today. We’ve helped over 340 municipalities stay safe from cybersecurity threats.

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