We put the IT in city®

CitySmart Blog

Friday, August 23, 2019
Kevin Howarth, Marketing & Communications
Wednesday, August 21, 2019
Ashton Hollingsworth, Network Infrastructure Consultant
Ashton Hollingsworth

Assumptions, assumptions, assumptions. These are the culprits that often cause a data backup and disaster recovery plan to fail. It’s too common to see cities still relying on consumer-grade solutions or manual data backups—and never testing them. Whether you use an online consumer-grade data backup solution, external hard drive, or even tape backup, don’t assume that your tool is backing up everything you need.

Unfortunately, when cities begin to restore their data after an incident or disaster, they can harshly learn that’s not the case. Certain kinds of critical data end up as not recoverable, and that puts cities in a bad situation. Permanent data loss may occur with records you are legally required to maintain, police records essential to investigations, or sensitive citizen data.

Here are four kinds of critical data that your data backup solution may not be backing up.

1. Databases

Databases are not like word processing files or PDFs. They are complex structured repositories of data that are built in layered, sophisticated ways. Because they may vary in size, that means they may also vary in the amount of time it takes to create a backup and the amount of storage space needed for the backup. Plus, databases are often frequently updated with a sequence of additions, deletions, and changes (transactions) keeping them in a state (open) that unsupported backup solutions or processes will fail to capture. In short, if what you are using or what you are doing to back up your database is not supported by the database vendor, then you are at great risk of not recovering your data when you need it.

We don’t want to get too technical in this post, but these are just a few questions that—even if the jargon is over your head—simply show that there is a lot to think about when backing up databases:

  • Are you backing up the full database (including sequences that are currently open)?
  • Are you considering incremental backups (changes made every hour) to minimize potential data loss?
  • To where is your database backing up? Another server? The cloud? An external hard drive? Tape? Is there enough storage space to back it up?
  • Will the database actually work if you need to restore it after an incident or disaster?
  • Are you accounting for nuances such as backing up the operating system software, the relational database management system software, both the system and user databases, transaction logs, etc.?

2. Specialized software and applications

Specialized software and applications can become complex because sometimes the vendor desires to back it up in a proprietary way. However, if they aren’t responsible for backing up your software, then it’s up to you. So what do you do? How do you add an entire vendor’s software system to an external hard drive or a consumer-grade backup solution? Can you? If you can, will it even restore properly?

Backing up software and applications can get very technical, and incompatibility often exists between a vendor’s software and your data backup solution. Here are a few questions just to illustrate that you may have made some incorrect assumptions about backing up your software:

  • Is your data backup solution actually backing up your operating system or software applications? If not, how will you back up and restore them? Many consumer-grade backup solutions ignore these applications when backing up your data.
  • Are you accounting for the nuances between backing up “installer files” versus “application files”?
  • Is your data backup solution technically complex enough to account for the rapid changes in application files that take place all the time? If not, restoring the application may not work.

3. Specific, unique files

Many consumer-grade data backup solutions have trouble or lack the functionality to back up specific kinds of files. Others can back up those files but you may not realize that the default settings have missed backing up some of your most critical data.

Some examples of specific files that may not be getting backed up include:

  • Operating system files
  • System files important for running your servers and computers
  • Very large files (including video files)
  • Data from online cloud-based applications (such as consumer-grade email software that you access through the internet)

Without knowing if you’re able to back up all files or not, you may overlook critical files needed to restore your systems.

4. Email

We’re specifically highlighting email because so many cities still use consumer-grade online email as a “free” way to have email access for city employees. Also, it’s not uncommon to see personal email accounts used for city business. Whether it’s Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, or another provider, your emails are usually not backed up if something goes wrong. Additional red flags with these types of email accounts include adhering to city records retention policies and fulfilling Open Records Requests.

We’ve only scratched the surface of this topic here. But even if some of the discussion was technical, think primarily about the uncertainty it raises. Think about your payroll software, accounting software, financial databases, public safety data, court data, utility billing data, 911 systems, citywide email, and other mission critical systems. Is your current backup solution able to back all of these up? Or not?

Don’t wait to find out. Reach out to us today to talk about your data backup needs.

Monday, August 19, 2019
Kevin Howarth, Marketing & Communications

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

Public Entity Partners Risk & Insurance Symposium
August 21-23, 2019
Franklin, Tennessee

Friday, August 16, 2019
Kevin Howarth, Marketing & Communications
Wednesday, August 14, 2019
Matt Wood, Network Infrastructure Consultant
Matt Wood

Body worn video cameras represent one of the biggest public safety innovations during the last few years, and many cities are investing in this technology. In the past, we’ve talked about some of the expected obstacles of such a technology—especially the costs, the storage, and adhering to state records retention laws.

However, as we talk to police chiefs at many of the cities we serve, we’ve learned that many common but unexpected obstacles arise that take public safety departments by surprise. In this post, we talk about five of these unexpected obstacles and how you can maneuver through them.

1. Hardware, software, and systems not working together.

Once body worn video cameras are implemented, they involve a variety of technologies: the actual video cameras worn by police officers, the hardware used to store the data, computers used to view and access the data, the video software, and IT systems that ensure hardware and software runs properly.

This is a delicate dance that sometimes falls apart. Some integration problems may include:

  • Software not working with your current operating system.
  • Video file formats not compatible with software.
  • Data migration issues between systems.
  • Functionality failing (such as video recording or sound).
  • Lag times or freezing issues.

It helps to have a municipal-experienced IT engineer assess your overall systems, determine what you need, and assist with any configuration, implementation, and deployment. If you aren’t aware of compatibility issues before you invest in specific hardware, software, and other tools, then you may waste a lot of money or divert it into the wrong solution.

2. Inability to easily find video footage.

Despite the expectation of technical difficulties, police departments often assume that finding video footage would be one of the easier pieces. However, video footage volume, software functionality, and search capabilities can all present technical obstacles when attempting to search and retrieve data.

Remember, body worn camera footage will grow all the time and the footage is very large in file size. Having a video management system (or filing process) to easily organize, manage, and search video will help you easily retrieve videos for investigations and Open Records Requests.

3. Struggling to secure the video footage.

Due to the nature of body worn video, security is a must. Police departments can’t assume security happens automatically just because they store video on a server or in the cloud. Many security gaps can exist including weak passwords, unauthorized data access given to staff or vendors, a failure to patch software, or misconfigured cloud services.

Your IT staff or vendor needs to help you:

  • Configure all hardware and applications properly.
  • Configure storage applications (especially the cloud) properly.
  • Require policies around passwords, authorized access, and security best practices.
  • Regularly patch software.
  • Monitor your systems and alert you in case of an issue.

4. Figuring out the right hosting.

Should you host your body worn camera video footage onsite or in the cloud? There is no right answer, and it can depend on your situation. Sometimes the cloud can offer a very affordable option with unlimited storage and low costs—especially from eliminating the need to purchase and maintain your own servers. In other cases, cities can save money by storing the video footage onsite.

Whatever the solution, police departments need to make sure that the information is secure, compliant with the law, and accessible. Onsite may work as a better solution, but you will also need IT engineers on hand to closely monitor and maintain this equipment. If cloud seems a better option, then security and compliance absolutely must be a factor when evaluating vendors—especially when you don’t directly control the storage onsite.

5. Backing up video footage.

While true for any city’s information, data backup and disaster recovery become even more important with the volume and sensitivity of body worn camera video footage. You don’t want to permanently lose this data, especially if it pertains to an investigation, Open Records Request, or state records retention legal requirement.

Police departments need to consider:

  • How they will back up data onsite for quick recovery after a minor incident (like a server failure).
  • How they will recover from a disaster such as fire, flooding, tornado, or ransomware. In this case, unlimited offsite data backup storage in the cloud is an excellent option.
  • How they will archive video following state records retention policies.
  • How they will test their data backup and disaster recovery.

In 2017, we conducted an interview with the City of Auburn’s police department. Police Chief Carl Moulder (retired) and Lt. Chris Hodge (now Chief Hodge) said, “I highly recommend involving your IT provider from the very beginning. They can keep you from making huge IT-related errors. Again, I believe it’s better to not have a system at all than to have a system that doesn’t work properly.”

In other words, involve IT from the very beginning to avoid the five obstacles we mentioned above. That way, your body worn camera technology will have a greater chance of working over the long-term and truly improve the quality and transparency of your police department.

Having trouble with any of the five body worn camera obstacles above? Reach out to us today.

Monday, August 12, 2019
Kevin Howarth, Marketing & Communications

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

MRAC: Customer Service & Best Practices / Cybersecurity Course
August 14, 2019
Covington, Georgia

Friday, August 9, 2019
Kevin Howarth, Marketing & Communications
Wednesday, August 7, 2019
Dave Mims, CEO
Dave Mims

2019 is racing past us. The Alabama League of Municipalities, Arkansas Municipal League, and Georgia Municipal Association have already held their annual municipal conferences, and the Kentucky League of Cities, Iowa League of Cities, and Connecticut Conference of Municipalities conferences are on the horizon.

I’m excited to announce a new municipal league partnership with the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM). Officially launched by CCM on Wednesday, July 3, 2019, this is now our fifth partnership (along with the Alabama League of Municipalities, Arkansas Municipal League, Georgia Municipal Association, and Kentucky League of Cities) that involves delivering IT in a Box to towns and cities. We are excited to work with Executive Director Joe DeLong, Member Engagement & Programs Manager Beth Scanlon, Director of Information Technology Services Joseph DeLuise, and many of the other great folks at CCM—and we look forward to serving Connecticut’s towns and cities with the same vision of changing lives with each new city we serve that we do with Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, and Kentucky.

For all cities, cybersecurity risks continue to stay top of mind as we talk with city officials. Every week, a new municipality appears in the news that paid a large ransom to hackers. To combat these cyber risks, I strongly encourage you to share the information we provide in our articles below and in our blog with your staff and elected officials.

The 3Ps (passwords, patching, and people) continue to be your greatest cybersecurity risks. The bad guys are working really hard to deceive you. Don’t make it easier for them.

If I didn’t see you at one of the municipal conferences above, then I hope to see you at one of our future cybersecurity training sessions (that you can read about in the upcoming events section below). Remember: ‘People’ is one of the 3Ps, and training is very critical.

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


Dave Mims

New Clients

Brooks, GA
Hogansville, GA
Hughes, AR
Preston, IA
Stonecrest, GA

New Websites Launched

Farmington, Arkansas

Rincon, Georgia

Vincent, Alabama

Featured Websites

Alto, Georgia

Buford, Georgia

Cochran, Georgia

Donalsonville, Georgia

Farmington, Arkansas

Rose Bud, Arkansas

Featured Cybersecurity Article

Mobile Phishing: An Unexpected Threat for Cities

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. 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, this article offers a few mobile-specific phishing tips.


Featured Data Backup Article

When Did Your City Last Test Its Data Backup?

If this question alarms you or you can’t answer it, you’ve got a problem. Testing is quite possibly the most important part of a data backup and disaster recovery solution—short of actually backing up the data. Even cities with expensive data backup solutions and systems sometimes find they fail when an actual disaster occurs. The tools and technology were fine. The city just didn’t test that it worked. Testing is a critical data backup and disaster recovery practice for multiple reasons, and it’s something you need to do on a periodic schedule. Read why.


Featured Helpdesk Article

Bleeding Money: Ways Your City’s Reactive IT Support Drains Your Budget

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. Read about 5 ways your reactive IT support costs can creep up and wreak havoc on your budget.


Featured Records Management Article

5 Ways Document Management Saves Valuable City Clerk Time

City clerks have so much on their plate. 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. Read about 5 ways a document management system can save valuable city clerk time.


Newsletter Signup

Sign up for Sophicity's CitySmart Newsletter. Get all of the latest City Government news, articles, and interviews.

We hope to see you at these upcoming events:

ALM’s Summer Certified Municipal Official (CMO) Session
August 10, 2019
Montgomery, Alabama

MRAC: Customer Service & Best Practices / Cybersecurity Course
August 14, 2019
Covington, Georgia

Public Entity Partners Risk & Insurance Symposium
August 21-23, 2019
Franklin, TN

Monday, August 5, 2019
Kevin Howarth, Marketing & Communications

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

ALM’s Summer Certified Municipal Official (CMO) Session
August 10, 2019
Montgomery, Alabama

Friday, August 2, 2019
Kevin Howarth, Marketing & Communications
| 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | 31 | 32 | 33 | 34 | 35 | 36 | 37 | 38 | 39 | 40 | 41 | 42 | 43 | 44 | 45 | 46 | 47 | 48 | 49 | 50 | 51 | 52 | 53 | 54 | 55 | 56 | 57 | 58 | 59 | 60 | 61 | 62 | 63 | 64 | 65 | 66 | 67 | 68 | 69 | 70 | 71 | 72 | 73 | 74 | 75 | 76 | 77 | 78 | 79 | 80 | 81 | 82 | 83 | 84 | 85 |