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CitySmart Blog

Wednesday, June 19, 2019
Jasmine Williams, Network Infrastructure Consultant
Jasmine Williams

Hiring reactive, “as needed” IT support begins with hope and temptation.

The hope? “I’m a small city. We don’t need much technology support. Our servers and computers should work fine most of the time.”

The temptation? “If those servers and computers work fine most of the time, then I’ll barely need to use our IT support—and we’ll save lots of money.”

And how does that hope and temptation usually turn out? Not well.

Why? The harsh reality of information technology is that it requires constant monitoring, maintenance, and patching in order to maximize your investment. Technology will have issues, break, or malfunction. Users will need help. A cyberattack or natural disaster may occur. A great deal can happen during a given year.

So, cities can either leverage proactive IT support at a fixed cost to minimize issues and maximize their IT investments. Or, a city’s technology will break often enough that they will call their “as needed” technology support on a regular basis.

Also, think about the incentive. If an IT support resource is billed hourly, they are incentivized to bill for more hours. But if your IT support resource is fixed cost, they are incentivized to minimize the chance of problems occurring and fix problems as fast as possible.

Here are five ways your reactive IT support costs can creep up and wreak havoc on your budget.

1. Break-fix mentality leads to unexpected projects and crises that eat up tons of hours.

First, a break-fix mentality leads to constant unpredictable IT costs. You never know when an issue will arise, and crises will especially cause disruptions to your budget. When you’re not receiving proactive IT support, every piece of technology at your city is like a ticking time bomb. Something will eventually go wrong—and it won’t be pretty.

Second, the specific costs for each incident will be quite high. Each break, major issue, or crisis eats up a lot of billable hours at a high billable rate. Your reactive IT support resource will charge for onsite time and likely need many hours to fix the issue. This makes reactive, hourly IT costs unusually higher than proactive maintenance.

2. Unexpected or unnecessary charges.

When you’re in an hourly, ad hoc relationship with your reactive IT support vendor, every interaction may lead to yet more costs. Cities tell us stories about getting charged for calling their vendors on the phone, emailing their vendors, or paying for travel time even when the IT vendor is local. Again, these costs add up when you have the inevitable constant issues from not dealing proactively with your technology.

3. Too many onsite visits.

We’re not saying all reactive IT vendors make excessive onsite visits. However, the collective stories we’ve heard from many cities over the years show that it appears many reactive IT vendors turn any little issue into an onsite visit. For example, a slow server, a need to install antivirus software, or a malfunctioning printer are all tasks that can likely be handled remotely but that reactive IT support vendors sometimes use as an excuse to plan an onsite visit. These onsite visits take longer than remote support and also include travel time—again costing you a lot of money.

4. City staff downtime.

We know you’re not a for-profit business, and so you’re not losing sales or revenue when employees can’t work. However, don’t kid yourself that you are not losing money when employees can’t work—or can only work very slowly. You are paying most of them a salary to perform work. When that work cannot be performed because of break-fix issues, then you might as well be paying employees to hang out at city hall. True, good employees will find things to do, but even the best employees will lose productivity. This is an indirect cost of encouraging a reactive IT environment.

5. Potential city revenue impact.

A city’s revenue collection can get impacted from reactive IT support in two ways:

  • Directly: Citizen service outages lead to inefficient revenue collection and possibly missing out on collecting revenue. When your online payment services for utilities, taxes, and fines don’t work most of the time, then citizens are less likely to pay you on time—leading to debt collection costs, time on the phone to process payments manually, and sometimes simply not receiving the revenue.
  • Indirectly: If you want to appear to the public as a vital, functioning city, then your website and city operations must appear professional and demonstrate that you are able to do business. Constant downtime with servers and computers doesn’t just affect you internally. It affects public perception. Each time you are unable to process a payment, follow up on a request, or fail to provide information because “our computers are down” says something to both current and potential citizens and businesses. Obviously, we’re not saying that constant server failures will lead to businesses and citizens leaving your city in droves, but this data point can form part of an overall perception used to assess your city—positively or negatively.

By following a proactive IT support model, cities will save money through:

  • A fixed monthly cost.
  • Proactive, preventative maintenance to address the root causes of problems.
  • Remote IT support to quickly address many common issues.
  • Less downtime.
  • A more positive public perception of your city’s professionalism.

Interested in taking the steps to transition from reactive to proactive IT support? Reach out to us today.

Friday, June 14, 2019
Kevin Howarth, Marketing & Communications
Wednesday, June 12, 2019
Brian Ocfemia, Engineering Manager
Brian Ocfemia

City clerks have so much on their plate. Keeping city records. Administering elections. Recording city council meetings. And so much more. They are the glue that holds a city together.

Because the weight of so much responsibility falls onto their shoulders, city clerks need every minute of their valuable time. Yet, many city clerks lose time with outdated filing systems and manual processes.

Modernizing a city’s document management system may get shot down if nothing seems “broken.” Yet, many time-saving elements of a modern document management system can help city clerks do their jobs better and get more done.

Here are five ways a document management system can save valuable city clerk time.

1. Centrally storing documents.

It is not uncommon to find documents stored in a variety of places. Various computers. Various servers. Flash drives. Paper documents in file cabinets. When documents are spread out everywhere, they are difficult to find. What if an employee leaves, goes on vacation, or gets sick? How easy is it to access their computer to find a document? Some people even “store” important documents in email.

A modern document management system allows you to store your documents in a centralized place—one place to view the official, most recent version of a document. In addition, these document management systems provide you search capabilities (similar to using a search engine) that make it easy to find documents. City clerks will be able to access records easier, and in less time.

2. Easier document communication and collaboration.

Sharing emails about a document or record can get confusing, complex, and convoluted. With a modern document management system, you can work on documents together in one place. This allows you to:

  • Share edits and comments in one place (rather than in multiple emails).
  • Have multiple people look at the document and work together to finalize it, even in real time.
  • Restrict access to only those people who you want to view and edit the document.

When everyone is working on the same document in the same place, then you can see all the proposed edits and comments, make needed changes, and finalize the document in less time than if they had to swap dozens of emails back and forth. Plus, you can receive notifications when edits or comments are made on a document you are watching.

Most modern document management systems will also be cloud-based, which means that people can access these documents anytime, anywhere—making communication and collaboration even easier and more time-efficient.

3. Automated workflows (including automated application of records retention schedules).

Automated manual processes not only save time but also greatly reduce the chance for error. It’s easy to overlook the burden of manual processes until they are lifted from you. A modern document management system can help city clerks in two ways:

  • Creating structured workflows to reduce errors and make processes more efficient. With so many tasks to juggle each day, it’s easy to make errors by not following the same process each time for a document. Within your document management system, you can set up structured workflows for particular documents that require specific steps, rules, and information that must be followed or the process doesn’t move forward. For example, a city council agenda may need specific items always filled in, the review of the city clerk, and the approval of the mayor. Your document management system can require all these steps as part of the workflow of creating the document.
  • Automatically applying records retention schedules to your documents. While city clerks know their adopted records retention schedules inside and out, it can be tough during the daily grind to make sure those schedules are applied to the many, many documents stored by cities. With a modern document management system, you can automatically apply records retention schedules to specific documents so that you can archive, retain, and delete documents. This saves city clerks lots of time and also reduces risk and liability issues.
  • 4. Scanned paper documents.

    Many cities still store cabinets full of paper documents, which are time-consuming to file, search through, and retrieve. While upfront time and potential costs are needed to scan your paper documents to convert them into electronic documents, that investment will save you a great deal of time in the long run. Imagine being able to search for all your current paper documents with just a few clicks. Plus, if you use optical character recognition (OCR) technology to scan your paper documents, you will be able to search for specific words in any of those paper documents. No more paper filing and searching through cabinets.

    5. Document versioning.

    We already mentioned that sharing documents through email can lead to confusion and wasted time because of how difficult it is to collaborate efficiently. A key failure of email-based document collaboration is that you often don’t know what’s the most recent version of a document. One of the most frustrating aspects of working on a document is making edits to what you thought was the most recent version, and then suddenly you receive a revised document that makes your hard work irrelevant because you edited the wrong document.

    In a modern document management system, document versioning ensures that you are working with the most recent, up-to-date document. How? First, there is only one current version of the document at any given time. Second, let’s say you’re working on the document. That locks everyone else out until you are done. Then, once you finish, another person can step in and edit the document. This eliminates the problem of multiple people editing different versions of the same document at the same time, which leads to branched, separate documents and wasted work—a big time waster.


    If you’re a city clerk who has been too busy to consider modernizing your document management system, know that many benefits await when you do—including lots of saved time. The benefits above may resonate with you if you struggle with paper documents, decentralized documents, manual processes, and confusing email document swaps. All those problems can be solved—and give you back many hours of your day.

    Need help modernizing your document management system? Reach out to us today.

Monday, June 10, 2019
Kevin Howarth, Marketing & Communications

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

Arkansas Municipal League 85th Annual Convention
June 12-14, 2019
Little Rock, Arkansas

Be sure to join Dave Mims in the "Cybersecurity Best Practices, What is the Latest?" session on Thursday, June 13 at 4:30 p.m.

Friday, June 7, 2019
Kevin Howarth, Marketing & Communications
Friday, May 31, 2019
Kevin Howarth, Marketing & Communications
Thursday, May 30, 2019
Dave Mims, CEO
Dave Mims

 

I enjoy highlighting new city customers in our newsletter, but it’s rarer to welcome entire states to the Sophicity family. That’s why I’m very proud to announce our new partnership with the Alabama League of Municipalities (ALM). Now our fourth partnership (along with the Georgia Municipal Association, Kentucky League of Cities, and Arkansas Municipal League), this new service was officially launched by ALM on Monday, April 22, 2019 after successful pilots with the cities of Vincent and York. We are excited to work with Executive Director Ken Smith, Director of IT Chuck Stephenson, Communications Director Carrie Banks, and many of the other great folks at ALM—and we look forward to serving Alabama’s cities with the same vision of changing lives with each new city we serve that we do with Georgia, Kentucky, and Arkansas.

Enjoy our newsletter. And, 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 Clients

Charleston, Arkansas

Mansfield, Georgia

Pine Apple, Alabama

Sharpsburg, Georgia

York, Alabama


New Websites Launched

Forrest City, Arkansas

Rose Bud, Arkansas


Featured Websites

Berlin, Georgia

Blue Ridge, Georgia

Fairmount, Georgia

Forrest City, Arkansas

Fort Valley, Georgia

Greensboro, Georgia

Guyton, Georgia

Lavonia, Georgia

Slaughters, Kentucky

Twin City, Georgia

White, Georgia


Featured Cybersecurity Article

How to Spot 5 Tricky Spam Emails

Just as your city may have the best police officers serving your community, they cannot guarantee 100% that a bad guy won’t drive into town today. Now, multiply that situation many times over with the internet. A cybercriminal can be working alongside you (yes, in your office), in your city, in your county, in your state, somewhere in the country, or across the globe. We need to stay vigilant, keeping a careful watch for the possible dangers. With spam, some emails will still come through that attempt to trick you. Read about five that you must be extra careful about.

READ MORE


Featured Data Backup Article

“My Data Backup is Fine.” Let’s Define “Fine”

You may have heard the phrase, “Denial ain't just a river in Egypt.” We think of that phrase when talking to cities about data backup. Without much explanation, we hear their data backup is “fine.” But it often sounds like denial of deeper problems. What does “fine” exactly mean? It’s okay if your data backup is “fine.” But before we’re convinced, we ask cities to consider 5 important questions posed in our article.

READ MORE


Featured Helpdesk Article

How Quick Does Your City’s IT Support Respond?

When a new city contacts us wanting help with IT support, we often hear frustrations about their current provider such as:

- “They can take days to respond.”

- “It sure does take them a lot longer than expected to fix what should be simple issues.”

- “They return to fix the same issues again and again.”

Have you said or thought the same thing? Assess your current IT support against five different aspects of responsiveness and consider if improvements are needed.

ASSESS YOUR SUPPORT

Featured Website Article

Behind the Rise of ADA-Compliance Lawsuits and What Cities Can Do

Currently, lawyers are aggressively identifying city websites that aren't ADA-compliant and then suing the city. These lawsuits are difficult to fight as measured against the ADA, and the award usually includes the city having to pay attorney fees and a requirement that the city’s website become ADA-compliant. To give a brief overview of this situation, we’ve answered a few of your most common questions and provided additional resources if you want to learn more.

READ MORE

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We hope to see you at these upcoming events:

Arkansas Municipal League 85th Annual Convention *
June 12-14, 2019
Little Rock, Arkansas

* Be sure to join Dave Mims in the "Cybersecurity Best Practices, What is the Latest?" session on Thursday, June 13 at 4:30 p.m.

2019 KLC City Officials Academy
January 16-18, 2019
Lexington, Kentucky

American Public Works Association Talking Top Tech: Cybersecurity Edition
June 20, 2019 (11 a.m. - noon)
Online

Georgia Municipal Association’s 2019 Annual Convention
June 21-25, 2019
Savannah, Georgia

Alabama Municipal Revenue Officers Association Summer Conference
July 8-10, 2019
Mobile, Alabama

A Taste of I.T.

Recently, the City of Austell, Georgia and the Town of Vincent, Alabama took time out of their busy daily schedules to grill out with us for what we call a Taste of IT. These are BBQ-heavy :) customer thank you events that we’ve been bringing to our customers. Literally each month, we bring the food and beverages and get to have lunch with your staff. At the City of Austell, thank you to Mayor Pro Tem Ollie Clemons and Finance Officer Denise Soesbee. And at the Town of Vincent, thank you to Mayor Ray McAllister, Council Member Bridgette Jordan Smith, Council Member Larry King, City Clerk Becky Landers, and Water Board Clerk Lea Hethcox. We had an awesome time!


Wednesday, May 29, 2019
Dave Mims, CEO
Dave Mims

The Alabama League of Municipalities (ALM) has recently partnered with Sophicity to deliver IT in a Box to cities in Alabama. This new service was officially launched by ALM on Monday, April 22, 2019.

IT in a Box is consistent with ALM’s mission to not only provide leadership and guidance for cities but also to help local government stay innovative and efficient in serving their citizens.

Ken Smith, ALM Executive Director, said:

“IT in a Box is aimed at providing cities and towns in Alabama with state-of-the-art information technology tools supported by experienced, highly skilled IT professionals. This service is being offered through a contract with Sophicity. The municipalities of Vincent and York worked with Sophicity on a pilot program and both have provided positive feedback. Additionally, the League selected Sophicity to redesign and host our own website and they worked very closely and professionally with our staff to design a fresh, user-friendly site.”

For one monthly all-inclusive fee with no long-term contract, a city will receive:

  • Cybersecurity and Computer Maintenance
  • 24x7 Helpdesk
  • Data Backup and Disaster Recovery
  • Records / Document Management and Email
  • Video Archiving
  • Policy and Compliance
  • Website
  • Vendor Management and Procurement

Learn more about this service from AML.

For additional information, please contact:

Alabama League of Municipalities
Chuck Stephenson at (334) 262-2566 or chucks@alalm.org

Sophicity
Dave Mims at (770) 670-6940, ext. 110 or davemims@sophicity.com

Friday, May 24, 2019
Kevin Howarth, Marketing & Communications
Wednesday, May 22, 2019
Patrick Perry, Network Infrastructure Consultant
Patrick Perry

Just when you thought you had your mind wrapped around the threat of phishing attacks on a desktop or laptop computer, mobile phishing has emerged as an even more dangerous threat.

Why?

First, many people use their mobile devices more than a typical computer. Second, mobile devices are personal. A person’s comforting familiarity with their favorite smartphone or tablet means they can let their guard down more than when they use a desktop or laptop.

A few alarming stats include:

 

  • Mobile ransomware increased by 33 percent last year, according to Symantec.
  • “Lookout says that between January and September 2018 that 56% of their users (a mix of consumer and enterprise) clicked on a phishing link via their mobile device. Since 2011, there’s been an 85% growth per year at which consumers fell for mobile phishing links.” (Source)
  • “One in three organizations admitted to suffering a compromise due to a mobile device, according to a new study by Verizon that surveyed 671 professionals in charge of mobile device procurement and management in their organizations. This represents a 5 percent increase compared to the results of a similar survey last year.” (Source)

To help your city employees avoid clicking on malicious links or attachments that will expose your city to ransomware or viruses through their mobile devices, we’re offering a few mobile-specific phishing tips here.

1. Be even more skeptical of clicking on malicious links and attachments.

On a desktop or laptop, you can more easily see website URLs, email addresses, and security red flags on a bigger screen. To conserve space on the screen, mobile devices sometimes hide such important information that helps people know if they are in risky territory. For example:

  • When using a mobile browser, the URL sometimes becomes hidden as you scroll down on a webpage. That means you could be on a malicious website and not realize it.
  • To conserve space, mobile email software may hide email addresses. Also, you’re not able to hover over links in a mobile email to check out the URL as you can on a desktop or laptop. Instead, you must press and hold the link on a mobile device to see the URL.
  • Because some mobile devices either do not allow antivirus software or may have limited antivirus protection compared to desktops and laptops, it’s easier to click on malicious attachments and accidentally download malware.
  • Using our fingers on a screen is often clumsier than the precision of a mouse click or keyboard stroke. Even if we’re mentally careful, sometimes our fingers might accidentally click on a link or attachment when that’s not what we intended.

Stay vigilant and apply the same phishing best practices that you’ve learned on the desktop and laptop. But be extra vigilant on mobile devices.

2. Only download apps from the Apple or Google Play app stores, and even then…

One way to highly increase your risk of a virus or malware is to download an app from an untrusted source. An employee might get tempted with innocuous-looking apps for games, antivirus software, or even flashlights. What seems innocent suddenly starts to slow down your phone and serve up unexpected pop-up ads. When your mobile device stops working properly, it may mean you have a virus or malware.

While we recommend downloading any apps through the legitimate Apple App Store or Google Play Store, still be careful. The Apple App Store tends to thoroughly vet apps, but the Google Play Store is notorious for allowing malicious apps. If you must download an app yourself, make sure it is legitimate through indicators such as the number of downloads, reviews, and recommendations from a trusted contact.

Even legitimate apps may have permission to share sensitive or confidential information that may violate laws or hold you liable in case of a cybersecurity incident, and non-technical employees may not even know they are sharing such information.

3. Be careful about clicking on ads (especially pop-up ads).

As a society, we’ve grown more jaded about ads on a desktop or laptop computer. It’s not uncommon for pop-up blockers to block most ads on a webpage. On mobile devices, ads look more inviting, less intrusive, and easier to click. The negative consequences of clicking on an ad seem less in such a context. But ads can be a major source of malware, especially on websites and through apps.

Apps—even legitimate apps—often deliver malicious ads. For example, a weather app from a legitimate company may deliver regular, trusted information. However, they may also use an ad network with poor vetting that occasionally serves up malicious ads. Just because you trust the app doesn’t mean you should trust the ads.

4. Don’t get “smished.”

What is “smishing”? Also known as “SMS phishing” (with SMS standing for “short message service,” the technology behind texting), smishing seeks to trick people into clicking on a malicious link or attachment through a text message. These text messages are similar to the usual phishing scams—pretending to be your bank, a retailer, the IRS, etc. But because texting has an immediacy and urgency that emails lack, you might be prompted to log in to your bank, respond to an account error at a retailer, or think the IRS needs a payment from you. Scammers also try to trick you in more positive ways such as telling you that you won a contest or reward. (NBC Nightly News did a segment on smishing in 2018 that provides a good overview.)

To spot these smishing attacks, look for obvious signs such as:

  • Texts that come from numbers not in your contact list.
  • “Urgent,” unsolicited texts that want you to do something NOW.
  • Misspellings and weird grammar, especially if the text seems to come from a trusted contact.

If you have any doubt about a text, call the business directly (such as a bank) or ask your IT support vendor for help.


It’s a great idea to discuss mobile phishing and smishing in your employee cybersecurity training. Talk specifically about the ways mobile phishing works differently from desktop/laptop phishing, as well as pointing out the similarities.

It also helps to have IT support staying on top of these risks and working to guard employees against bad threats, even if they make an occasional mistake when clicking on a website link or attachment.

Need help protecting your city’s technology? Reach out to us today.

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