or participate in a pickup game with friends? You play by your own set of
rules. The game might start and stop randomly. You might lose track of the score.
But if you watch a professional game right after your pickup game, you’ll
notice everything that was missing. The rules, the framework, the organization,
and the professional capabilities of the players. While there is room for spontaneity,
a professional game is sleek and efficient—run like a machine, overseen by
officials, and aligned to professional standards.
The same difference
exists between having and not having information systems management best
practices in place. You may have experienced organizations where the
information systems feel more like a pickup football game rather than a
professional football game. It’s only fun until something gets out of hand—and
it seems like something always gets out of hand.
disciplined information systems management to reduce risk, improve operations,
and even help comply with legislative audits such as those that occur in the state of
Arkansas. Here are some best practices that can get you there.
helps to understand the state of your information systems. What do you have?
How old is your hardware and applications? What’s the state of your information
security? Are you backing up your data? Use one of our risk assessments as a starting point and make sure you take a close look at your:
your risks, you can focus on your city’s biggest problems first.
It’s easy to
overlook. Cities may chug along managing their information systems without
asking some key questions about everyone’s roles and responsibilities. Who does
what? Who is responsible for information systems? Who has access to
information? Who is authorized to grant access? What outside vendors have
access to information?
At the very
least, create a list of people and vendors along with their roles and what they
do. For example, a small city may have a simple information systems org chart
that includes the city manager who makes business-related technology decisions,
a city clerk that works with the IT vendor to help them understand business
needs and requirements, and an outside IT vendor that monitors and maintains
all information systems on a day-to-day basis.
might contain some technical information that you need help drafting, your city
needs to have stakeholders create a policy and procedure manual for your
information systems. You will need to define and document important items such
As one of
the most important pieces of information systems management, your city needs a
plan for restoring data and systems in case of a server failure or a major
disaster. Some of the questions you need to address include:
training is important on many, many levels. First, empowering users with
knowledge about your city’s information systems helps with their proficiency and
productivity. If you’re investing in this technology, then training users
allows you to maximize your investment. But secondly, training users also helps
with lessening security risks. Many users may not be aware of the dangers of
malicious websites, email attachments, online quizzes, social media games, and
software that seems innocent. The more you teach users about the possibilities
of your information systems along with some of the security risks that exist,
your efforts will ripple positively across your organization.
city’s information systems like a professional football team, not a pickup game.
By following the five best practices above, you will build a great foundation
for your information systems, reduce risk, increase productivity, and comply
with important laws.
about your information systems management? Contact us today.
Obviously, your city must already
have some kind of records management in place. After all, it’s the law for
cities to keep records, respond to open records requests, and supply
information for audits and investigations. But many cities don’t have a records
management system in place beyond paper and cabinets, or they use a subpar
records management system that frustrates more than it helps.
While a city clerk might not be
able to change an existing records management system overnight, there are a
series of steps they can take to help them modernize and align their city with records
management best practices.
As a baseline, review your
state’s city clerk handbook (if it exists). If you cannot find an official
handbook, then contact your state’s city clerk’s association or municipal
league to see if any equivalent materials are available. Review any sections
related to records management to make sure that your city is—at a minimum—following
the law and any best practices that would be easy to implement. That includes:
In case of an open records
request, you need to provide any public information on demand. How easily can
you do it? Public information includes paper documents, electronic documents,
emails, and other computer-based information. Where is that information stored?
Is it in a cabinet or on a server where authorized personnel have access? Is it
only on one person’s computer? Do you even know? It’s good to make an
assessment of where all public information is located, note any unknowns, and identify
any challenges in case you need to access it.
If going through an open records
request is a time-consuming nightmare, then you need to consider a modern
document management system that helps you organize, access, and retrieve
documents in a more efficient way. Some things to consider include:
Consult with your state’s city
clerk association and municipal league to consider recommended document
management systems that shore up your weaknesses and modernize your technology.
To keep up on new laws, trends,
and best practices, consider receiving ongoing records management training. If
available, take basic courses that lead to certification. Then, take any
ongoing training classes and attend sessions at conferences. In some states,
you will be required as a city clerk to take some records management courses.
Other city clerks will have years
and even decades of experience with records management. Learn from them by
attending city clerk conferences and events. Network with city clerks and give
them a call with questions. In many cases, they will reinforce the points we’ve
made above and also help you dig into deeper detail about what works for them.
For additional information,
consider the following resources:
With software, cities feel that
they often face a dilemma. Standardized, out-of-the-box software lowers cost
but restricts customization. Customized software better meets the needs of
cities but may increase cost. What to do?
Let’s specifically look at
document management software as an example of resolving this dilemma. Luckily,
document management software has existed for a long time. That means it’s
matured over time and gives cities the best of both worlds—standardization and
customization. Sound too good to be true? Let’s look at both sides in more
Over the years, document
management system creators and practitioners have learned a lot about best
practices that apply to all organizations. These best practices get baked into
the software and you benefit from them without needing to customize. In fact,
many of these standardized benefits feature items you may not have thought to
include if you had created your own document management software
requirements—and they come right out of the box.
While standardized, document management
software also offers customized benefits that are relevant to cities.
With document management
software, you absolutely can have it both ways—customizing it for your city
while enjoying standardized benefits baked into the software. It helps to have
IT staff or a vendor work with you on the technical aspects to make sure that
you’re properly customizing your document management software in a way that
meets your needs and complies with the law.
Questions about document management software? Reach out to us today with questions.
likely have city employees who work at departmental sites that are separate
from your office building. At the very least, they check emails on their
smartphones. Are you finding it difficult to support employees who work across
separate sites? Could it be that your IT staff or vendor hasn’t kept up with
the pace of technology?
heads and staff at these remote sites grow frustrated because their technology
is essentially broken—and responses to technical issues are very slow. A modernized
helpdesk remains inexpensive and yet accommodates the needs of a remote site workforce.
If you’re evaluating whether or not your helpdesk meets these needs, then
consider the following areas where they must succeed.
time comes into play when supporting city workers. It’s not uncommon that staff
need help with their laptops, smartphones, and tablets before and after normal
workday hours. Also, servers may fail at two in the morning or a night shift
officer may need support when encountering an IT issue. An IT helpdesk can’t go
home at the end of a workday and return the next morning. They must remain
available to handle IT problems 24/7/365.
will need help with laptops, smartphones, tablets, printers, and other machines
spanning many devices and operating systems. An IT helpdesk cannot limit itself
to only a select few devices such as workstations in the office. A wide breadth
of knowledge and experience with both old and new devices, operating systems,
and applications is critical in supporting the needs of cities as technology
continues to rapidly change.
IT helpdesk helping remote employees must have security down to a science.
While serving remote sites, your helpdesk can help with making sure:
element of remote help is the use of remote helpdesk sessions. That’s when an
IT engineer will temporarily request access to your computer so that they can
help resolve a specific issue as if they were physically present. Whatever
software your helpdesk chooses with which to conduct remote helpdesk sessions
needs to be secure and non-intrusive so the user remains aware when support is
engaged. Remote sessions can even take place with smartphones and tablets.
taking a look through these four areas you realize that you’ve got some holes
in your IT helpdesk, then work with your IT staff or vendor to address these
gaps. Some of these elements may seem out of your reach or like overkill (such
as a 24/7/365 helpdesk), but they’re really not. IT helpdesks have evolved as
quickly as the technology you now hold in your hands. If you want to better
serve or enable your employees, then a modern IT helpdesk is a must.
Evaluating IT helpdesk options for your city? Reach out to us with any questions.
Many cities post minutes to their
websites. However, questions remain about how to best do it. Currently, there
are no specific laws that require cities to provide minutes on their website
(because all cities do not have websites). As a result, cities may not post minutes
to their website at all, they may post them irregularly, or they may post them
in ways that make it hard for citizens to find.
While not a legal requirement,
posting minutes to your city’s website is a helpful service to provide your
citizens. This activity hits upon many things that are important to cities and
citizens—government transparency, information sharing, and civic participation.
Plus, sharing minutes on your website gets your information out to the most
people in the quickest, most convenient fashion.
Use this checklist to see if
you’re posting your minutes properly and making them easy for citizens to find.
If you have a website, at least post
your approved minutes when they are ready. However, you also have the option to
post draft minutes before they are approved if you’d like to quickly share
information with citizens. Make sure you clearly indicate if you are posting
draft minutes versus approved minutes.
Similar to how you normally
distribute minutes, you can follow a similar process for your website. Either
post the draft minutes to your website (such as within two business days of the
meeting) or wait to post the approved minutes. Once posted, keep the minutes on
your website indefinitely—similar to how you keep them indefinitely in your
Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon
for a city to fail to keep minutes updated on their website. That can be
frustrating for citizens. Make the task of posting minutes to your website as
routine as your normal drafting and approving of your minutes as dictated by
law and ordinance.
To keep your minutes webpage
uncluttered and easy to use, consider at least showing links to:
By highlighting the current and
previous year on your minutes webpage, you make it easier for people to find
these most commonly searched for minutes. It is less likely that people will
search for old minutes, so you can create a link to an archived minutes page for
that purpose. Many cities also just put up links on their minutes webpage for each
year, which is also fine—as long as the current and previous year’s minutes are
prominent and easy to find.
Your city website likely has
navigation links at the top of each page that never change—such as Home, Government,
Departments, Business, Community. etc. Make sure that people can easily find minutes
through these links. For example, there may be a link right on the Home page
for Agendas and Minutes. Or, there may possibly be a link under Government to the
City Council page where the Agendas and Minutes link could be found. Either would
be easy to find.
On the other hand, if a person
can’t find an easy path to your minutes then you are making them hard to locate.
Grab three or four people who don’t know your website well and ask them to try
finding your minutes. If they’re all having trouble, then consider rearranging
how you get people to this information on your website.
When people look for specific
minutes, they will look for the year, month, and day. Label files with that
information so that filenames communicate what the document actually contains.
Also, minutes need to be presented in an unaltered, official, and final form. A
PDF is usually the best publishing format for this requirement. Publishing a
PDF is the best way to ensure that you are offering the official, final
version and it's also the most convenient type of file for people to download and print. A
PDF is a universal file format that works on any computer and it's usually preferred
by city clerks.
Overall, publishing minutes to
your website is one of the services you can provide your citizens who primarily
access information through the internet. When doing so, it’s best to follow
your current laws and ordinances, make it easy for people to find minutes, and
provide the files in the most convenient format. If you follow the tips above,
then you’re scoring some major service and transparency points with your
Questions about posting minutes to your website? Reach out to us today.
As we talk to cities at various
events and conferences, we sometimes hear that they don’t have a centralized
place to access shared files—such as a server or a location in the cloud. That
means cities may still store important files on individual desktop computers. Let’s take a step back and look at
three major risks in such a situation.
Storing important files on a
single computer means that if something happens to that computer then you will
lose all of your files. You may occasionally back up files on an external hard
drive or flash drive, but relying on a manual process that can be skipped or
performed incorrectly is a risk—especially because you may not regularly test those backups.
Plus, you’re also relying on a single person’s computer—and that single person
may accidentally or purposely delete files without you ever knowing they’re
gone. No matter how much you trust that person, they may act as the sole owner
of those files—not your city.
A single computer isn’t
guaranteed to make sure your files are consistently secured against threats.
Employee error (such as clicking on a malicious website link or email
attachment) is one of the most common sources of viruses and malware which
opens your city up to hackers. With that kind of security hole, a hacker may
steal your information or prevent you from accessing your files. Weak or irregularly
updated antivirus and antimalware software on a single person’s desktop computer
just isn’t enough to adequately protect important city information. No matter
how well-intentioned, a single user presents too many security risks if files are
primarily stored on their personal desktop computer.
City employees shouldn’t have to
rely on one person to give them access to important city files. What if that
person is sick or on vacation? What if they get fired or leave their job? Any
user who has been granted authorized access to important files should be able
to access them in a centralized, neutral location. A single user also has the
potential to be arbitrary, whimsical, unavailable, or difficult about giving
access to important files—which can be a hindrance to productivity, operations,
or answering open records requests.
So, what should you do instead of
storing files on a personal desktop computer?
No matter how small your city,
you still need to create a place where electronic files are centrally
maintained and secured—and where users with authorized access can find these
files. Some options (depending on your budget and technology limitations)
If you still want to store files
on a computer, then a newer computer will generally offer a lot of room. But
that’s still not wise—no matter how much space that
computer offers. What’s more important is where the files are located,
protecting the files from data loss, and securing who has access to the files.
Limiting file access to a single person’s desktop computer is just way too
risky for a city.
file storage? Reach out to us today.
Many cities—especially smaller
cities—often ask us if they need to “go digital.” By that, they’re usually
asking if they should transition their information from paper to electronic,
start centrally storing and managing electronic information in the cloud, and modernize
their technology to help with accessing that information such as upgrading
their email system, document management system, or website.
These are good questions for
smaller cities. After all, they have minimal staff who are strapped for time
and working with limited budgets. If going digital is a convenience, then
smaller cities could probably push it off to the side.
However, it’s clear that going
digital is a necessity. And not going digital leads to a variety of critical
problems. Think of it like carrying insurance. You don’t think about your
insurance a lot during your day-to-day work, but it’s there when a disaster
hits. Let’s look at some critical areas where “going digital” is a necessity.
With paper, it’s very difficult to
assure yourself that your information will survive a fire, a flood, or a
tornado. We’ve even encountered situations where paper with valuable
information has aged so much that it starts to crumble or termites have gotten
at it. All it takes is one incident like a fire and your valuable city
information is destroyed.
By scanning your paper
information and turning it into electronic information, you are able to protect
it from disaster. With offsite data backup, you can store that information in a
data center far from your city and know that you will be able to access that
information even after the worst disaster.
simply, it’s easier to find electronic information. Once you are digital, you
can find important documents and information in seconds rather than spending
lots of time sifting through paper records. Modern document management systems
help you label and organize documents so that they are easy to find. Similar to
how you search for things on Google, you can search for documents and
information in the same way. This capability helps with compliance (see below)
and also makes your time-strapped staff much happier when they can find
portability, we mean the ability to share information with others. It’s fairly
standard today for many government entities and businesses to share and receive
digital information. In fact, you may even find that electronic sharing and
retrieval of information is required by some entities. Even if it’s not
required, it’s way more convenient to citizens, businesses, and government
entities to offer electronic information. Whether you post information directly
to your website, offer it on a PDF, or have it stored electronically at your
city in a document management system, you can easily send and share information
with authorized people when it’s in electronic form.
overlooked, going digital helps with security. Sure, with paper you can lock
rooms and prohibit physical access to file cabinets. But it’s not uncommon that
access to city assets can be easily—in fact, very easily—obtained on-site. When
your information is digital, your IT staff or vendor can make sure it’s only accessible
to authorized people.
Open records laws, regulations,
and policies evolve each year so that expectations related to information
access, retrieval, and security continue to grow. With paper, you risk slowly responding
to open records requests. You may also have the opposite problem of not purging
documents on a regular schedule. As a result, you might store decades-old
documents that you’re not legally required to keep.
Going digital better equips you to
respond to open records requests in a timely fashion, set up automated
processes that ensure you’re following record retention schedules, purge
documents that you legally no longer need, and back up data in case of
Going digital strikes at the
heart of many necessities around information today—security, compliance,
backup, and ease of access. So even if you’re a smaller city, you need to
consider digitizing any information you have that currently resides on paper
along with modernizing your technology enough to be able to easily access and
share that information.
Questions about going digital? Reach out to us with any questions.
You spoke. We listened. Over the past year, cities have told us that
their requirements for data backup and video archiving grow more and more
immense. For example, the requirement for many cities to capture, record, and
store body camera video has drastically increased the amount of storage space
they need. In fact, some cities (such as in Georgia after a new law passed in 2016) must store that information or face legal
penalties. Also, cities (such as those in Arkansas) are feeling more pressure
from state legislatures about strictly adhering to laws and best practices related
Overall, there’s just too much at risk today to neglect a city’s
electronic storage capabilities and underlying information security. Here are
some new features of IT in a Box that help address these concerns:
We already provide cities with onsite data backup storage for quick
data recovery and unlimited offsite data backup storage for disaster recovery.
That now includes storing and archiving all versions of your important files,
documents, and data. Archiving is the long-term storage and indefinite
retention of your backed up data. This archived information is always
accessible in case you need it (such as for an open records request).
Cities tell us that body camera and squad car video
storage costs are a big concern for them—and storage needs for video data will
only continue to grow at an increasingly rapid pace. IT in a Box saves cities
money with our unlimited offsite video storage and retention. That means:
To best protect against cyberattacks, our IT in a Box staff will help
you adopt policies and best practices to educate staff and make sure your
technology helps you comply with state law. In addition to staff training, we
shore up any security holes by securing, documenting, regularly testing, and
proactively managing all of your technology including:
For Arkansas specifically, we help cities become compliant with the
state’s Legislative Audit.
about these new services? Reach out to us with questions.
Learn more about IT in a Box.
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