CitySmart Blog

Thursday, July 23, 2015
Brian Ocfemia, Technical Account Manager

Brian OcfemiaIf you still use Windows 2003 servers, you’re not alone. Millions of servers around the world in many organizations still operate using this popular server platform to run software, databases, and other tools.

However, Microsoft ended its extended support for Windows 2003 servers on July 14, 2015. What does that mean for you?

Well, you might think things are fine. After all, you’ve run your software on these servers for many years. Your IT staff or vendor may even know these servers like the back of their hand. Even if Microsoft ended support, you’ll be fine, right?

Wrong. Here are several important, critical reasons why you need to move off of your Windows 2003 servers as soon as possible.

  1. Significantly increased security risks. Microsoft is no longer providing security patches for Windows 2003 servers. That means your servers are at a higher risk of experiencing viruses, hacking attempts, and data breaches. Because access to your servers means access to your most important software, databases, and applications, you cannot risk keeping your Windows 2003 servers without opening up your most sensitive information to the outside world.
  2. No more support from Microsoft. Microsoft will not provide any more patches or updates to fix bugs, security holes, and other issues for Windows 2003 servers. Even if your IT staff or a vendor helps you, they will struggle to fix any server problems because they will not have access to Microsoft for support or a patch to resolve the issue.
  3. Increased risk of liability. Does your city handle online payments, financial data, or sensitive citizen information to provide services? Using unsupported Windows 2003 servers may expose you to legal situations because of negligence around how you handle sensitive data.
  4. Increased costs. Old servers already show their age, and you may already struggle with server failures and downtime. Repairing and maintaining these servers costs money, and the downtime also costs money. That problem will now grow even worse.
  5. Greatly diminished employee productivity. If your employees rely on old, now unsupported Windows 2003 servers to do work in the world of 2015, then it’s likely their productivity is hurting. Not only will downtime and interruptions affect productivity but also the lack of modern software and databases they can use to do work.
  6. Inability to scale your technology and use modern software to meet citizen and employee needs. Your Windows 2003 servers create a ripple effect that affects software, applications, databases, and other tools throughout your city. There is simply so much you can’t do when using such out-of-date servers. And taking advantage of the amazing cost benefits of the cloud? Forget about it. Not with Windows 2003 servers.

Okay, but what do you need to do next? The important first step is to recognize that you need to transition from your Windows 2003 servers to something secure and modernized. While we recommend talking to us in more detail about your particular situation, generally you will probably consider:

  1. Setting up a meeting with your IT staff or vendor to discuss your current technology situation and where you need to be.
  2. Conducting an inventory and assessment of all your servers and software, including your Windows 2003 servers, to see what you have.
  3. Set priorities on what you need to transition from Windows 2003 servers to a modern server environment, such as the cloud.
  4. Start transitioning!

If you’ve run software, applications, and databases on Windows 2003 servers for a long time, this situation can be a lot to digest financially and operationally. To ease your concerns and get a game plan going, please reach out to us.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015
Dave Mims, CEO
Dave MimsAML helps city launch new website, stabilize network infrastructure, and establish a technology partner.

Incorporated in 1967, the city of Bethel Heights, Arkansas has recently experienced rapid population growth. Increasing from 714 people in 2000 to 2,373 people in 2010, such quick growth changed Bethel Heights’s classification in Arkansas to a second-class city. That shift in growth means more citizens needing and demanding important services. And like many cities, Bethel Heights found itself needing to modernize its technology to keep pace with this higher demand and stress upon city staff.

Challenge

Unfortunately, Bethel Heights struggled to find reliable IT support to meet the service demands of a rapidly growing population. The city’s previous IT vendor did not always respond to requests for help and frequently missed project deadlines. This situation left the city with quite a few problems and challenges.

  • Outdated equipment. Despite investing in new server hardware, that new hardware sat unused for months while the city’s previous vendor missed deadline after deadline to set it up. That meant the city kept using outdated equipment and wasted its investments in new equipment.
  • Unstable, unreliable wireless network. The city became highly dependent on an unreliable wireless connection shared between city hall and the police department. Despite both buildings located across the street from each other, both facilities stopped working when one side’s wireless connection went down.
  • Outdated, unreliable website. Because of an outdated website that often failed to work, the city lost major opportunities to communicate with citizens and promote Bethel Heights.
  • Uncertainty related to onsite and offsite data backup. The city could not be sure of recovering its data in case of a server failure or larger disaster such as a tornado.
  • Reduced ability to satisfy Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests related to email. The city ran email software on a server that had significant storage limitations. This limited technology severely restricted the city’s ability to satisfy FOIA requests.

Solution

Bethel Heights solved these challenges and modernized its technology by using the Arkansas Municipal League’s “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 data backup storage
  • Email
  • Document management
  • Vendor management
  • Microsoft Office for desktops
  • 24x7 helpdesk and support
  • Server, desktop, and mobile management

Results

“IT in a Box” helped Bethel Heights:

  • Implement rock solid, reliable 24x7 IT support.
  • Maximize its investment of already purchased new equipment.
  • Stabilize its network infrastructure to reduce downtime.
  • Launch a new, modern city website.
  • Set up comprehensive onsite and offsite data backup and disaster recovery.
  • Migrate email to a reliable, searchable cloud platform to help with FOIA requests.
  • Create a predictable IT budget.
We are so amazed with the services that Sophicity has provided for Bethel Heights. We thought our systems were secure until we became infected with a virus. We then discovered we also had many more issues that needed immediate attention. Sophicity was the only IT company that could provide every service the city needed. Sophicity was excellent in guiding me through my many questions. We have new computers, offsite backup, a reliable wireless network, and 24/7 help. We receive prompt service from a friendly, professional staff. Sophicity transformed our old website from a “lump of coal” to a shiny new diamond! Since we acquired Sophicity’s services every need has been met with complete satisfaction. - Cynthia Black, Mayor
If you're interested in learning more, contact us about IT in a Box.

Print-friendly version of the Bethel Heights, Arkansas 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 backup 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.

Thursday, July 16, 2015
Dave Mims, CEO

Dave MimsIn many organizations such as cities, technology is often separated from discussion about business needs and goals. For example, city managers will focus on important areas like the city’s budget, citizen service, and city operations and see technology as a separate line item or cost center. Talk about new hardware, software, a website, or IT support then becomes something that’s more of a “nice-to-have” that the city can either afford or not. Only when technology seems absolutely essential or needed to avert an emergency is it seriously considered.

If this is how your city thinks about technology, you’re not alone. Many businesses and organizations think similarly about investments in technology usually due to an “IT public relations problem.” Historically, IT has often seemed like it’s an arcane, isolated department that uses technology to make cool things happen on top of regular business goals, operations, and projects.

But that’s not the way to think about technology. It’s actually ingrained in the day-to-day areas that keep city managers up at night. Here are some of those areas, and why technology helps city managers achieve their goals in each area.

  1. Budget. One of technology’s main benefits over the years is how it helps so many organizations cut costs and maximize existing investments. If you’re not harnessing technology to help cut costs, you’re missing crucial budget slashing opportunities. For example:
    • Transitioning hardware and software to the cloud helps your city get rid of hardware, free up space, eliminate expensive software licenses, and reduce maintenance costs.
    • Reviewing ISP and telecom contracts and exploring different options potentially offers you a chance to reduce costs.
    • Proactive IT support offers predictable costs instead of the havoc of reactive IT support with unpredictable costs.
  2. Citizen service and engagement. City managers focus on how to make citizens happier and more engaged with local government. Today, that task is impossible without a quality website, social media outreach, and accommodating people’s increasing use of mobile devices. A poor website that lacks easy-to-find information, news and announcements, and services such as online payments will frustrate citizens and reflect badly on your city.
  3. Attracting and retaining top-notch employees. Often overlooked, good technology impacts the experience that employees have when working for your city. Slow, broken technology not only brings productivity to a crawl but it also frustrates employees—who will then seek employment elsewhere. Replacing hardware every 3-5 years and upgrading outdated, creaky software shows employees that you care about their work environment and understand the right foundation that leads to productive work.
  4. Operational efficiency. As a city manager, day-to-day operations are your core responsibility. Great managers make operations as efficient as possible so that they can focus on more strategic goals and projects. Technology helps avoid operations that are chaotic, broken, inefficient, and manual, where you’re always putting out fires. A strong technology foundation greases the operational wheels, and the right software can drastically help departments like city hall, finance, and public safety.
  5. Avoiding risk, liability, and security threats. Poor investments in IT infrastructure, management, and support opens your city up to significant cybersecurity risks. For example, when we hear of cities that are crippled by a virus, we often see as we unpeel the layers that the city lacks investments in technology. City managers need to worry about unauthorized access to sensitive data, employees clicking on malicious websites and email attachments, and the right mix of technology and support that helps monitor and handle security threats.

If viewed as a “nice-to-have” or a cost center, technology can seem quite detached from the day-to-day worries of a city manager. But if viewed as a core foundation of helping city managers do what they do best, technology is an essential investment that helps cut costs and achieve important goals. The financial investments for technology are similar to ones that justify money spent on regular asset inventory audits, customer service, talent recruiting and retention, and insurance. That means you need to work with IT professionals who understand how to speak your language—not just the language of technology.

Need to talk more about how IT impacts your world as a city manager? Reach out to us.

Thursday, July 09, 2015
Nathan Eisner, COO

Nathan EisnerThankfully, with our Data Continuity Appliance (DCA) your organization currently doesn’t have to worry about the threat of losing data as a result of a server failure or disaster. This service regularly and automatically backs up your data and allows you to recover your data even after the worst disasters.

Because 24x7x365 environments like public safety, insurance organizations, and your organization cannot afford any downtime, we continue to stay committed to meeting your disaster recovery and business continuity needs.

At no additional cost and with the possibility of reducing your monthly DCA cost, we are making the following enhancements to your DCA services.

  • Backed up data now mirrored in an additional (secondary) data center facility. With backed up data geographically dispersed on both coasts of the United States, we further reduce the potential impact of a widespread disaster impacting your area.
  • Improved technology to minimize the amount of storage. Through a technical process called “deduplication,” we basically minimize the amount of storage you use. This helps keep your costs under control.
  • More granular control of what data you want to back up. We’ve always captured data comprehensively at the volume level to ensure a full recovery. But now, you can exclude non-critical data that you don’t want to back up. This potentially reduces your offsite data backup storage costs. (Note: Exclusions will only be performed by your direction. By default, the DCA will continue to capture at the volume level.)
Here’s a quick overview of our current DCA features, including our new enhancements.
  • 24x7x365 data backup
  • Fully automated, tapeless technology
  • Hourly onsite data backups
  • Onsite data backup storage
  • Onsite quick virtualization in the event of a server failure
  • Daily offsite data backups for disaster recovery
  • Mirroring of offsite data backups across two geographically diversified data centers (one on the East Coast and one on the West Coast)
  • Data deduplication to minimize offsite data backup storage requirements
  • Offsite server hosting for failover
  • Day-to-day restoration and full recovery in the event of a catastrophe
  • Real-time monitoring and full management of the DCA and remote storage
  • 256-bit high security encryption of all data onsite, in-transit, and offsite
  • Quarterly audits including data integrity tests and disaster recovery simulation. Yes, we test your data quarterly for recovery to give you peace of mind.

Contact us to learn more about our DCA and how it can help you back up your data while protecting you from disaster.

Thursday, June 25, 2015
John Miller, Senior Consultant

John MillerIf you work for a larger city, you might understand why hackers target it. The size of an Atlanta, a Lexington, or a Little Rock attracts a lot of cybercriminals, but those cities also spend a great deal on resources to defend themselves. We often hear that hackers should consider smaller cities to be so inconsequential that these cybercriminals wouldn’t bother attacking them.

Wrong.

The media only reports on the biggest hacking and data breach cases, leading many of us to think that only large government organizations get attacked. But many data and cybersecurity breaches occur at smaller cities that go mostly unreported and unnoticed.

So why do hackers go after your small cities? Here’s why.

  1. Hackers look for easy targets. Similar to the mentality of burglars or robbers going after unarmed, defenseless people or breaking into cars with visible valuables in them, hackers often see small cities as easy targets due to relatively unsophisticated security. It’s the same reason why individual computers without proper firewalls or antivirus software usually become compromised. With so many cities in the United States, hackers are betting on the chance that their security is not up to snuff.
  2. Smaller cities unfortunately often do have weaker security. It’s unfortunate that cities often live up (or down) to a hacker’s expectation. Vulnerable hardware, software, network equipment, wireless access points, physical security, and weak points are usually more frequent at a smaller city that hasn’t taken the time to examine its security weaknesses. If the probability increases for hackers to exploit these smaller cities, hackers will target those cities.
  3. Smaller cities tend to forget about internal security weaknesses. Many smaller cities at least invest in a firewall and some antivirus software. Usually, that will take care of many external hacking threats. But what about internal threats? Many data breaches are the result of weak server and computer passwords, users given access to data that they should not be authorized to access, and employees clicking on malicious websites and email attachments. Without also addressing the sources of internal threats, your city will be incredibly vulnerable to an attack.
  4. Smaller cities often have vulnerable, open wireless access points. Often overlooked, unsecured and unencrypted wireless access points are easy points of entry for hackers. Larger cities might have more physical obstacles that make it hard to sniff out any wireless access points, but smaller city buildings are usually modest in size and easy to get near. You need to secure and encrypt all wireless access points to shore up this weakness.
  5. Smaller cities often don’t have IT staff or a vendor providing ongoing, independent monitoring and maintenance to look for security anomalies. Again, if cities just have a firewall focused on external threats, it’s like having a guard only watching for intruders that approach a building—rather than understanding if something is going on inside a building. Independent monitoring and maintenance identifies and raises red flags about both internal and external attacks. Unusual repeated log-in attempts, abnormally high data usage, or unidentified users accessing data should alert your IT staff or vendor. They will then flag these events as possible security risks and investigate further. Without that kind of internal, as well as external, monitoring, you might miss an attack that originates from inside your city.

Hackers bet on your probable lack of security. For a quick assessment, ask the following questions that we posed in a recent webinar:

  • Are my passwords strong enough to prevent hackers from stealing city information?
  • Is my city at risk for getting a computer virus that allows hackers to steal information?
  • Is outdated software and a lack of regular software maintenance leaving me open to a cybersecurity attack?
  • Is my technology physically protected from unauthorized people stealing data or equipment?
  • Is my city website secure and hosted by a reputable provider?

More questions about the state of your cybersecurity? Reach out to us and we’ll help give you some answers.

Thursday, June 18, 2015
Brian Ocfemia, Technical Account Manager

Brian OcfemiaIf you owned a restaurant where the power continually went out, fires constantly erupted in the kitchen, and food always went bad, you could approach this problem in two ways. You could mess with the wiring every time, use the fire extinguisher every time, and throw out the bad food every time, doing the best you can to work around these obstacles. Or, you could investigate and remedy the root cause of the power outages, the fires, and the bad food so that these problems went away for good.

Obviously, you would choose the second approach. However, many cities unfortunately put up with information technology that parallels the first approach. Servers fail. Your website constantly goes down. Your tape backup never seems to work. Many cities just put up with these ongoing problems, moving from fire to fire. And some IT vendors are good at keeping many cities at the fire level, billing for these constant, ongoing issues without ever really curing them for good.

These kinds of problems affect how you serve citizens and how much work your employees can accomplish each day. Fighting fires every day is unwise for our restaurant owner, and it’s unwise for your city. Here are some steps your IT staff or vendor needs to take in order to cure your IT problems for good.

  1. Set up an ongoing IT monitoring and alerting system. Most IT staff or vendors use some type of monitoring and alerting software, but the quality and rigorousness can vary. Make sure your monitoring and alerting software gives you deep data that uncovers problems such as performance issues, outages, downtime, and security risks. At the same time, you don’t want software that gives you too much noise that confuses rather than clarifies any issues that arise.
  2. React to alerts, and collect data about how you fix them. Similar to what any IT vendor will do, you will react to any urgent alerts and remedy any problems impacting your city. At the same time, alerts will surface that indicate issues on the horizon. It’s at this point that you will be able to proactively address problems based on what the monitoring and alerting software is telling you. Usually, we attack a lot of urgent and near-term issues early on when working with cities that previously had a more reactive IT staff or vendor.
  3. Look for patterns in the problems you’re fixing. This is where the restaurant analogy comes into play. The difference between a below average and above average IT staff or vendor is usually at this step. You’re looking for deeper causes to ongoing problems, and that means investigating deeper than just fixing an immediate issue. An IT professional will start taking a deeper look at hardware, software, network equipment, wireless devices, Internet and phone connections, and mobile devices.
  4. Fix core problems. Your IT staff or vendor might report to you that repeated server failures are symptoms of a server over five years old that will continue to fail due to age. Corrupt data backup tapes may show symptoms of a cheap, outdated, and unreliable form of data backup that can’t handle the current demands of daily city information. A website constantly going down may indicate that it is old and poorly built compared to modern websites. Core problems then get addressed by fixes that are permanent, not temporary, such as moving your data and software applications to the cloud, upgrading to an automated data backup system, or launching a new website.
  5. Monitor, fix, and repeat. Once you fix your various glaring core problems, it’s tempting to think you’re fine and let your eye off the ball. But information technology monitoring and maintenance is an ongoing process that requires professional vigilance. Your goal is to see as few problems as possible, but hardware, software, and equipment will always grow older and experience problems and glitches. Staying on top of these problems is the best way to keep city operations smooth and to maximize your original IT investments.

While some cities may think that spending money on continuous monitoring and maintenance is expensive and overkill, especially when they don’t experience IT problems anymore (which is good!), just think of our restaurant example. We’ve all experienced certain businesses that just “get by” or eventually go out of business if they can’t take care of their core problems. While cities can’t go out of business, they can certainly inhibit good business by flailing around with solvable IT problems. Put out your IT fires for good, instead of dealing with a daily dose of fires every day.

Questions about your city’s IT monitoring and alerting? Drop us a line.

Thursday, June 04, 2015
Nathan Eisner, COO

Nathan EisnerWhile it’s important to prepare for disasters, many forms of data loss occur from common, everyday scenarios. However, we find that many arguments for the importance of data backup and disaster recovery focus on “big fear events” such as fire, tornado, or flooding. True, those things do happen with enough frequency to be concerned, but it’s often easier for cities to put off investing in data backup because these scenarios seem rare and unlikely.

But there are more common data loss culprits. More situations exist that can literally happen at any second that increase your city’s risk of data loss every day. If you’re not protected against these extremely common scenarios, then you’re placing your city’s data at extreme risk.

What kind of data loss scenarios are most common? Here are just a few.

  1. Employees deleting files or data by accident. Employee error is the most obvious and common form of data loss. In cities with poor data backup policies, files are sometimes only stored on one person’s computer. In other cases, important software systems may hold data on a server where an employee accidentally deletes something like important billing information. If you don’t have a good onsite and offsite data backup system, these employee errors could lead to permanent data loss.
  2. An employee accidentally downloading a virus. This situation can happen even to the best of us. The scary thing about viruses is that even with good antivirus software, an employee can still click on a malicious website or email attachment and let a virus in—similar to letting a thief in through the back door of a building. While good antivirus software may still protect you after the virus is downloaded, viruses often result in deleted or stolen data from servers and computers that need to be quarantined. You need to prepare for the worst case scenario for any virus situation.
  3. A power outage. Power outages especially place your data at risk if you are maintaining your own IT environment and do not have proper data backup equipment and procedures in place. Most data centers have backup generators that keep servers running while a power outage is assessed and fixed in order to maintain business continuity. Cloud data centers are even better, where multiple data centers across various geographies replicate your data so that a power outage in one data center doesn’t mean total data loss or lack of access. If you maintain your own servers and computers without proper data backup processes in place, you risk losing data.
  4. Server, computer, or device failure. Too many cities still improperly store and thus improperly back up their data. Instead of centralizing data storage on servers (either onsite, at a data center, or in the cloud) and backing up that data, important data is still stored on individual computers or mobile devices. Computers and mobile devices fail, and employees damage or lose them. That means any data stored on those devices is gone. Server failures without onsite and offsite data backup also place your city at extremely high risk of data loss.
  5. Untested data backup media. Cities that still use tape, external hard drives, or some other form of manual, portable data backup media often do not perform data backups on a regular basis or test those backups. This situation often sneaks up on cities. You actually think you’re doing the right thing. But then, when you lose data, you find out that a city employee hadn’t backed up your data for two weeks. Or, you start restoring the data and you find that 75% of your backup media is corrupt and won’t work. If you’re not testing your data backup, you’re risking data loss.

Having served cities for many many years, we can attest that these scenarios are unfortunately common. Like insurance, cities need to protect their data and ensure that city operations do not shut down merely because of a simple, common event such as an employee mistake, virus, or server failure.

To talk about data backup in more detail, please contact us.

Thursday, May 28, 2015
Alicia Klemola, Account Manager

Alicia KlemolaLet’s face it. Technology is often a pain, something you struggle against. You want your employees productively working, you’ve got important city business to conduct, and you’ve got that important city council meeting tonight. Like hitting your head against an invisible brick wall, technology can often frustrate you and prevent important tasks from getting done.

What’s more frustrating is that it’s like fighting an invisible enemy. Your IT staff or vendor might give you overly technical reasons for any issues, but all you know is that these issues are slowing down your progress—and possibly even losing you money.

In many cases, this arises from reactive technology support where you’re always putting out fires. Going deeper into the root causes, we find that the following issues are usually the core of what’s wrong—and what you need to fix in order for the fires to stop.

  1. Old, aging technology. It’s easy to think of servers, computers, and other hardware like a car or building. You want to get the most out of your investment, and you want to use it until it dies. The sad reality is that hardware lifecycles for servers and computers tend to be 3-5 years. For laptops and mobile devices, it’s closer to 2-3 years. You may even maintain the hardware perfectly, but the Internet, software, and applications constantly evolve and become more complex than older servers and computers can handle. Those older machines will slow down and cost your city valuable time when they aren’t very responsive.
  2. Inefficiently used software. Over time, many cities accrue siloed software applications that inefficiently help solve key problems. For example, city hall might have a document management system with one or two user licenses. The municipal court department won’t have a document management system at all, but they realize they need one. Or, they may even purchase their own document management system. When there are two pieces of software meant to solve the same problem, there will be inefficiencies, errors, and conflict.
  3. Technology underkill. Another source of continual frustration is when you heavily rely on what little technology you have to take care of all your city’s needs. We understand that cities have tight budgets, but if your website is constantly going down, your servers fail on a regular or semi-regular basis, or you lose data permanently after a disaster, then your lack of technology investment hurts your city. Even more important, a lack of technology investment increases the risk of a cyberattack that can potentially impact your city beyond day-to-day operations and become an embarrassing news story.
  4. No technology blueprints. By blueprints, we mean planning and using technology to think about how you can achieve your city’s goals. When you don’t plan out how you’re using your technology, you increase the risk of experiencing outages, lost employee productivity, and cyberattacks. Beyond crises, technology also helps you think about how to better serve citizens through your website, online payments, or better software to improve services. Involving IT staff or a vendor experienced in municipal IT strategy can accelerate the success of important city projects and objectives.

Once these root causes are addressed, we find that many of the everyday battles and struggles with technology almost miraculously go away. If you feel that only an expensive technology investment can get rid of your current problems, many times the opposite is true. Streamlining your technology and cutting out inessential investments can help you only use what you need to run your city. It’s also a time to consider transitioning many of your expensive technology investments into the cloud, where they are often cheaper, better maintained, and more efficient and secure.

To talk about your everyday technology struggles in more detail, please contact us.

Thursday, May 21, 2015
Dave Mims, CEO

Dave MimsFacebook recently started offering verified page badges for state and local governments. Verified page badges were originally created back in 2013 for celebrities and well-known brands to reduce confusion, fraud, and duplicate content for Facebook users while better protecting the reputation and credibility of celebrities and brands.

As people rely more and more on social media as an important source of information, it becomes clear that state and local governments are subject to the same problems as celebrities and brands. This recent GovTech article provides a good summary of the release of Facebook’s new verified page feature for state and local governments and how to verify your profile.

Savannah Verified Profile

But why should you care? Here are some reasons why you need to establish and verify your Facebook profile as soon as possible.

  1. Your city’s credibility matters. If other cities start to verify profiles and you don’t, your city profile page will not look credible. Plus, if there are fan-created city profiles, parody city profiles, or city profiles attacking you, then people may go to those Facebook pages rather than yours. Even if a Facebook profile page is run by a dedicated “fan” who is trying to be helpful, they could still be posting inaccurate information in your city’s name that your citizens may believe to be true. The “Verified Page” badge will establish that your city’s Facebook page is the official, credible source of information coming from your city.
  2. Verified pages show that more and more people are using social media to get information. The increasing need for verified pages shows that social media increasingly becomes more and more of a serious source of content for people. Social media platforms like Facebook continue to evolve, mature, and serve as a central collection of information for millions of people. Facebook users connect with friends, news outlets, businesses, entertainment, and, yes, government organizations for real-time information on the go. You need your city’s information on Facebook to serve the needs of people there.
  3. Facebook’s focus on state and local governments for verified pages means you need a social media plan. If anything is a wake-up call for your city to create a social media plan, it should be Facebook’s intentional creation of verified page badges for state and local government organizations. It’s a sign that Facebook is meeting an important demand for people, or they wouldn’t waste time with this offering. That means it’s time for you to create or reexamine your social media plan, which includes how you’re using Facebook. Are you providing essential, important, relevant information to your Facebook followers?
  4. You now have more authority to shut down damaging or slanderous Facebook pages. If someone operates a Facebook page that pretends they are your city or if they are misleading people about your city, then it’s easier as the owner of the official, verified version of your city’s page to work with Facebook to shut down misleading unofficial sites. Until you receive your verified page badge, you may have to work harder to prove to Facebook that another site is unofficial and shouldn’t be representing your city.
  5. A verified page comes up first in Facebook search results. Without a verified page, your city may come up in search results with a bunch of other unofficial or irrelevant Facebook pages that make it hard for people to get to your page. But with a verified page, it’s much more likely that your city will be the first or second result that a person sees when typing in the name of your city. That makes it easier for people to search for and access your city’s Facebook page.

From our perspective, the verified Facebook pages for state and local government are an overdue, necessary feature that helps citizens find important information and connect better with the information your city broadcasts. But this also means you need to step up your Facebook game as a city. Think about getting your verified page badge, more regularly sharing important information on Facebook, and engaging more with people on social media. That way, your city becomes even more of a part of your citizens’ lives every day.

Questions about how this whole verification thing works? Send us a note and we’ll do our best to answer.

Friday, May 15, 2015
Georgia Municipal Association

With technology so fast-paced today, cities are pressured more and more to modernize their information technology. But investments in IT infrastructure, websites, document management, and ongoing support all typically add up to a lot of cost. However, the City of Jonesboro knew that it needed a better website to engage citizens, securely stored documents following state records retention schedules that were also accessible anytime/anywhere, and proactive IT maintenance and support that lessened problems instead of just reacting to fires.

In one fell swoop, the City of Jonesboro’s investment in IT in a Box—which GMA constructed as one package to keep the costs of essential city technology as low as possible—gave the city a new, more service-friendly website, removed any worry as to the security and integrity of documents needing to follow state records retention laws, and provided experienced IT professionals that support the city without the costs of hiring additional staff.

Ricky Clark, City Clerk at the City of Jonesboro, took the time to discuss the importance of a website that engages citizens, documents stored in the cloud, and even a “Taste of IT” that shows the human side of GMA’s technology service.

Websites are often the first thing many people see when they research a city. How has your new website improved the way the City of Jonesboro interacts with citizens and web visitors?

It’s more welcoming and inviting, showing we are a friendly, homelike city that’s deeply involved with our residents. The biggest theme that I focused on with the website was transparency. When I arrived at the city, we received a lot of phone calls about things that people should have been able to easily to look up on the website. But the information just wasn’t available. For a small municipality, the key to a tight knit government is having a hands on approach with our residents. With that in mind, I tried to think of any questions that citizens would ask or information that citizens would need. We also included useful features like email notifications. Overall, we helped make useful and important information more transparent and accessible 24/7/365. Having this kind of website also helps with economic development because there are businesses that may want to relocate to your city.

How did your new website also help your staff internally?

Before our new website, we had to send all of our content to our website hosting provider and they posted it for us. That caused a significant delay. With our current website, we upload our own content. No more delays or waiting periods. If we have an emergency or special event that we want to communicate immediately, we can post the information right away.

Talk about how Sophicity supports the city of Jonesboro through its staff and helpdesk, and why that kind of support is important for cities.

If we have an issue, we simply submit a ticket detailing that issue just as if we had IT staff in house. The ticket is put into a queue and then Sophicity’s engineers remedy or fix the problem. What’s neat is that they can fix many issues remotely without traveling to our city. Plus, I like how Sophicity provides us a single point of contact for all of our issues. That makes it easy to communicate with them. We also have tracking capabilities and can escalate an issue if it’s urgent.

Sophicity also knows which software vendors have state contracts, and so they help us get hardware and software much cheaper than if we were to purchase it from a retail store. Just recently, Sophicity helped us get two printers for the cost of one. Plus, my staff doesn’t have time to call different vendors to source any necessary hardware, software, equipment, and parts. Sophicity does all of that for us.

City clerks obviously deal with many documents on a day-to-day basis. Why is modernized document management important, and how does Sophicity help you with that?

We have a document repository stored in the cloud. That’s where all of our information that used to be stored on our onsite mainframe systems now resides. With the different document retention policies that I have to follow as a city clerk, it’s important for me to know that our documents are protected and have some form of integrity all of the time. Sophicity gave us an offsite document repository to store all of our information, so we don’t have to worry about losing documents if our building burned down.

It’s also much easier—and cheaper—to find and access documents. For example, if someone asks me a question about minutes from a 1993 meeting, it’s simple for me to just go onto the document repository online from anywhere and retrieve those documents. No more looking through the paper minute books at the office. Once a city digitizes its files and stores them in the cloud, the sky is the limit as far as searching capability, access, and time savings.

For cities that are hesitant about moving forward to modernize their information technology, what advice would you give them?

Look at it from an analytical standpoint. Total up the amount you are paying for IT infrastructure, document repositories, cloud services, etc. and compare that cost to the cost you would pay per license with IT in a Box. Think of someone’s salary and benefits, and then compare that cost with IT in a Box where you don’t have to worry about additional personnel costs.

Before you knock it, give it a try. At least get a demonstration and see how things work. For example, the cost of a simple website alone will be around $15,000-$20,000 or more depending on how complex you want it. By contrast, IT in a Box provides cities a website and a lot of other great software under one package. And those aspects of the IT in a Box package are going to be the way governments are headed with their IT infrastructure anyway.

As cities know, it’s not possible to have 100% operational uptime, so I feel the best way to handle that situation is to have someone actually maintaining and monitoring your IT 24/7/365. With IT in a Box, you only pay for licenses that you use under your specific plan—and you don’t pay the full cost of salaries for the engineers that help you out.

We heard a rumor about something called “A Taste of IT.” What is that?

To show their support for the day-to-day operations staff at the city of Jonesboro, Sophicity drove down, brought hamburgers, hot dogs, and plenty of other food, and cooked it up for us. It was not only a Taste of IT, but it gave us the face of IT. We saw the faces of the people who were behind making our systems operate from day to day. Our employees and elected officials enjoyed it. Many times in city government, we work with companies but never see them. We simply cut them checks. A Taste of IT proved that Sophicity goes above and beyond to show that they’re thankful for our business. In my book, that goes a long way.

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