CitySmart Blog

Tuesday, June 04, 2013
John Miller, Network Infrastructure Manager

In our last two online payments posts, we discussed firewalls, passwords, and data protection. Next, PCI DSS compliance requires “vulnerability management.” That means taking a deeper look at your antivirus and network security. Unfortunately, for many cities those areas are woefully inadequate—leaving cities open to attacks.

Cities that want to offer online payments cannot have security holes and gaps that risk malicious access to payment data. That means ensuring that a city’s antivirus and network security is enterprise level without breaking the bank. Luckily, there are some common sense, cost-effective basics to follow that ensure your security fundamentals are ready for online payments.

Two Antivirus Essentials

While we’ve written extensively about antivirus in the past, you really need to worry about two key aspects.

  1. Apply an enterprise antivirus solution on every computer. Don’t rely on free antivirus software, or for employees to individually maintain their own antivirus updates. By enterprise, that means your IT staff or vendor is monitoring your antivirus software at all times. They are receiving reports about threats and keeping your antivirus up-to-date. Every computer needs to have this enterprise solution applied, since all it takes is one infected computer to affect an entire IT environment.
  2. Proactively manage and audit your antivirus software. Once you install antivirus software, you cannot assume it works automatically. It helps to audit your software regularly, ensuring that the software is installed on any new machines, confirming that it’s installed on every machine at all times, and making sure all antivirus licenses are current so that you’re able to apply any updates.

Three Network Security Essentials

With antivirus taken care of, you also need to think about security for your entire network. Focus on three network security essentials.

  1. Set up proactive monitoring and alerting. Every city network needs to have 24/7 monitoring and alerting to flag any security issues. Your IT staff or vendor needs to always be analyzing your network data to detect any denial of service attacks, unauthorized access, or suspicious data patterns. Don’t rely only on automated monitoring. Make sure your IT staff or vendor is always reviewing and analyzing the data.
  2. Apply all necessary patching and updates. We always want to think this is obvious, but we’ve seen too many city environments where security patches and updates are just not happening. Server and workstation patches regularly address security problems, and software updates often include security fixes along with bug fixes and enhancements. If you are not applying patches regularly, you’re exposing your network to unnecessary security risks.
  3. Use content filtering. While content filtering can be controversial, it helps to provide additional network security. It’s especially useful in sensitive environments, such as cities, where a data breach can have massive financial and legal implications for the public. All it takes is one person clicking on the wrong website and submitting password information unwittingly to give a hacker access to a city’s systems. Content filtering allows people access to safe websites but restricts access to malicious or unknown websites.

If your city wants to offer online payments, it’s essential to make sure you have a solution addressed for each point above. The scary thing about security is that it’s usually weakest on the front lines. You might have powerful servers or a data center that’s locked down, but a person’s workstation or laptop might be completely open to attacks. You need to make sure your network security extends to each and every person’s computer, and that means making sure all computers are protected with antivirus, monitoring tools, patches, and content filters.

In our next PCI DSS compliance online payments post, we’ll look closer at access – and how to assign authorized access to the right users while keeping out any unauthorized users.

If you want to talk about security for online payments in more detail, please contact us.

Thursday, May 30, 2013
Clint Nelms, COO

Cities often ask us where they should be storing their files, especially when they tend to save them to their computer. “Is that bad?” a person will ask.

The simple answer: yes.

First, a few reasons why you don’t want to store files only on your computer.

  1. Viruses – As one of the most common cyber liability events that can cripple a city, a virus usually originates on a person’s computer due to accidentally clicking on a malicious website or file. Once a virus spreads, the computer can sometimes be so infected that it needs to be wiped clean.
  2. Hardware Failure – Especially if your computer is old, you never know when it will crash for the last time. You might have experienced that moment where you always assumed your files would be okay…until they were gone forever. And recovering files from a failed piece of hardware is not always guaranteed.
  3. Accidental Deletion – Do not underestimate the power of human error during your everyday work. Sometimes you might accidentally delete a file, or it disappears mysteriously. Sometimes you thought you saved it, but something weird happened. If the file is only on your computer, these accidents mean your files are gone.

So, where should your files be stored? If not on your computer, what is the safest place to make sure that viruses, hardware failure, or accidental deletion does not mean the end of your documents?

A good place to begin is with your business processes. Depending on your city’s size, number of employees, and the kind of work you do every day, you will have different file storage needs. To start thinking about file storage, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Will users share files? If users are sharing files, then they need a central location where multiple people can access the same document. Depending on the level of sophistication needed, users could share files on a file server, within a document management system, or even through a cloud-based project management system.
  2. Do people need to access files from outside the office? While accessing files from outside the office has become more common in today’s work environments, cities may still have sensitive documents that need to be locked down from outside access. When evaluating your file storage needs, identify which documents would be ideal to access remotely and which need to remain more secure.
  3. Are there retention rules? Depending on how long you need to retain documents and how many documents you are retaining, your file storage needs will vary. If you do not have many documents, a simple file server may work. But if you have a large volume of documents that needs to be retained for a long time, then you want to explore a more sophisticated document management system.
  4. Do users need document versioning? Especially if you collaborate a lot on documents, you may want to factor in document versioning capabilities when exploring a file storage solution. If it’s important to revert to earlier versions, keep track of changes, and make sure you are editing the most recent version of the document, then document versioning is a must.

As you can see, your file storage solution will really depend on your business needs. But most importantly, we advise all cities to stop storing files on individual computers and transition to a solution that at the very least saves documents to a place that is backed up (with proper redundancy). That way, not only will your users create and edit files in a more disciplined manner, but they will also not scream disaster if they lose a file.

If you’d like to discuss file storage and document management in more detail, please contact us.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Nathan Eisner, Network Manager

In our conversations with cities, we often find that their data backup efforts fall short. Striking the right balance can be difficult to judge. When cities don’t invest enough in data backup, it’s usually from a feeling of security that does not correlate to the reality of their situation. The resistance to spending more on data backup is usually from thinking “nothing bad has happened yet” or “at least we’re doing something” or “we can go without our data for a while.”

In situations where there is a lack of investment in data backup, we see two common scenarios.

  • No offsite backup. This element is key to any effective data backup solution. If a disaster happens at the city – fire, theft, flooding, tornado – then anything onsite is at risk. Even data backed up in a building nearby is at risk if a disaster strikes locally. Cities without geographically remote offsite data backup might as well not have data backup.
  • No testing. We cannot tell you how many times we’ve seen cities simply not test their data backup. No matter what it is – tape, hard drives, servers – when a city finally meets a disaster, they find that their backups have not been working. Not testing data backup is one of the riskiest things cities do, and it severely jeopardizes their operations.

While we’ve written many times about data backup best practices, we’ll focus on three key aspects that make data backup “just right.”

  • Have onsite and offsite data backup. You should be backing up your data both onsite (in case of something like a server failure where you need to be up and running quickly) and offsite (in case of a disaster like a fire or tornado). You don’t need an expensive data center. There are many cost-effective solutions that back up your data in increments – meaning frequently backing up data that changes and still ensuring that all data can be restored after a disaster.
  • Test and audit your data backup. Test at least quarterly and provide documentation that proves you can recover in case of disaster. By testing, you expose problems that would cripple you if you really had to recover your data. This aspect is especially important when considering that city data often contains information that is critical to the operation of government, and that you will have your data soon after a disaster occurs.
  • Plan your backup frequency around the importance of your data. Correlate the frequency of your data backups to the impact that data loss would have on your city. For example, if you change certain kinds of documents about once a day, then hourly backups may be sufficient so that you can access a previous version. However, if you’re backing up a transaction system (e.g. payment processing), those databases may have to-the-minute financial transactions that need real time data backup. Think about how often your data changes and then adjust your data backup to those requirements.

While this article just skims the surface of analyzing your data backup needs, it touches upon the most common problems we’ve seen in our experiences with cities. You need a customized solution that meets the particular data backup needs of your city. It needs to be cost-sensible without compromising on quality. To sculpt such a solution, you need to talk to an expert rather than buying something off-the-shelf or just buying cool technology.

To chat more about data backup that is just right for you, please contact us.

Thursday, May 23, 2013
John Miller, Network Infrastructure Manager

While you might not want to take your work home if you’re concerned with work/life balance, it is the case that modern technology allows you to access your work desktop from home. In today’s work environments, it’s become more expected to work on the fly from home, coffee shops, hotels, or other places you may travel.

We often get a lot of questions from cities about the extent of teleworking technologies. Innovation moves so fast that many city employees do work at the office that can possibly be done remotely. Teleworking is especially beneficial for people who might be sick, taking care of ill or elderly relatives, or watching the kids. You can still be productive at work while also taking care of your other life needs.

If you still think you need to come into the office to perform the following activities, you may need to explore some different technologies to help give city employees more flexibility.

  1. Updating Your City Website. If you’re unable to make (permission-based) edits to your city website from any computer, then you need to take a serious look at a new website solution. Most modern websites have browser-accessible content management systems that allow you to make website updates and edits from any location. The cost of these websites is so affordable that even the smallest businesses and cities use them. If you still have a webmaster or can only access your city website via a server onsite, then you are in definite need of modernizing and lowering your website costs.
  2. Checking Your Email. Despite legitimate concerns about work-life balance, it’s become the norm for businesses to have access to email 24/7. If you’re locked into checking your email onsite, you not only lose a lot of productivity and responsiveness but you also lose flexibility. Especially for cities with services that take place outside of normal business hours (such as public safety or online payments), email responsiveness is often necessary to take care of urgent business. Most common email solutions are offered in the cloud, which means you can check your email from home or on your mobile phone.
  3. Accessing a Document. If you’re working remotely, you might sometimes need access to a particular document. Similar to email but more complex, modern document management systems are now stored in the cloud. That means you just need to hop on the Internet to access documents. If your city does not have this document access ability due to security concerns, know that modern document management systems are also equipped with rigorous security permissions. That means you can still make sure that unauthorized document access does not occur while still giving city employees the ability to work remotely.
  4. Participating in a Meeting. Scheduling (and rescheduling) onsite meetings are often a source of lost time and progress. Online meeting software is no longer a nice-to-have but has become part of the way we move business along. Even if people are dispersed – at home, in a different building, etc. – you can use online meeting software to gather the troops, conduct your meeting, and move projects forward. Whether it’s simple conference call systems or more complex video online meeting software, you don’t have to worry about missing an important meeting if you’re offsite.
  5. Using Exactly What’s On Your Work Desktop. Even with the above teleworking perks, people still ask us, “But can I work using exactly what I have on my work desktop?” Yes! First, programs exist to literally replicate your desktop at work. You log in via a secure virtual private network (VPN) and access your desktop like accessing a website. Second, and sometimes more flexible and cost-effective, is to spread out your work “desktop” between email software, project management software, document management software, and any other important work resources. By making sure you can do all of your work with access to the right combination of resources, you essentially don’t even need a dedicated, unique onsite desktop at work.

So, the good news is that you can work from anywhere. Very few limitations exist today to keep people onsite. Usually, you will be limited to onsite work through lack of the technology we discussed above, habit, or work environment requirements. If the technology is the limitation, then talk to your IT staff or vendor about updating your technologies to improve your teleworking capabilities. These upgrades not only allow your staff to work remote, but they also tend to save you money.

To talk about teleworking technologies in more detail, please contact us.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Dave Mims, CEO

KLC helps city launch new website, stabilize data backup, disaster recovery, manage city documents, and provide email

Incorporated in 1965, Lyndon, Kentucky has grown from 500 to more than 11,000 residents in almost 50 years. The city actively promotes business, ranging from UPS’s International Air Headquarters to smaller businesses numbering more than 500 in this thriving community. With the city’s 17-acre Robsion Park providing playgrounds and trails for its citizens, Lyndon is one of Kentucky’s most progressive cities.

Challenge

Despite phenomenal growth, the city’s technology unfortunately lagged behind. Uncertainty existed related to the city’s data backup, ability to recover in the event of a disaster, email, website, and hardware support. With so many questions unanswered, the city was not well prepared for a system failure.

As with many cities that have underinvested in technology, the potential high cost of upgrading prevented Lyndon city leaders from moving forward.

Solution

Lyndon solved these challenges by using the Kentucky League of Cities “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 storage, email, document management, Microsoft Office for desktops, server and desktop management, vendor management and a seven-day a week helpdesk.

Results

“IT in a Box” helped Lyndon:

  • Reduce service outages by switching to more reliable Internet access.
  • Mitigate the risk of data loss through onsite and offsite server backups.
  • Ensure a highly available and dependable email system.
  • Mitigate the risk of paper document loss and increase document retrieval ability through a document management system.
  • Launch a high quality, user-friendly website.
  • Replace an expensive, hard-to-maintain phone system with a VoIP system.

From Sophicity’s assessment of the city’s previous IT infrastructure, Lyndon saved $45,508 of the costs typically spent modernizing a city network of their environment and size, with no upfront capital expense. “IT in a Box” helped Lyndon stabilize its technology and create a predictable and affordable IT budget.

We are thrilled with the results Sophicity has been able to provide the City of Lyndon. Our records are now secure and the system is backed up daily to off-site storage. Sophicity assisted with analyzing our telephone/internet needs and they were able to provide a new system which is up, running and working well. And I can’t say enough about their availability, expertise and problem-solving skills. They are our “One Stop Shop!” – Mayor Susan Barto

If you're interested in learning more, contact us about IT in a Box.

Print-friendly version of the Lyndon, Kentucky IT in a Box case study.

About Sophicity

Sophicity is an IT services and consulting 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 storage, email, document management, Microsoft Office for desktops, server and desktop management, vendor management and a seven-day a week helpdesk. Read more about IT in a Box.

Thursday, May 16, 2013
Dave Mims, CEO

In previous posts, we’ve discussed what citizens and businesses should find on your city website. But what about people who are not citizens? Many cities tend to neglect focusing on non-citizens and either focus on functionality for citizens and businesses or simply focus on business-level economic development initiatives.

But think about it. People are moving to cities every day, and they have choices. Any given metro area may have dozens of cities that people can choose from. Those residents add to your tax revenue and help build your communities. Losing those people means stagnation for your city.

Your website is a key place to woo potential citizens. As long as you have some of the following basics built in, you will be able to compete with other cities to interest people in moving to your city.

  1. Craft a genuine, friendly welcome message. If the first thing a person sees on your website is impersonal – like a road construction project or list of RFPs – that can turn them off. What makes your city special? Mention it. Thank a person for visiting. Invite them to explore your website. Every website needs to function like a host at a party. If you don’t welcome someone, they will be turned off and go elsewhere.
  2. Show social media activity. In this day and age, social media presence is a sign of vitality. You don’t have to have hundreds of followers or Tweets, but if you have a presence on Facebook, Tweet regularly, and showcase your social media savvy on your website, then that attracts people who are checking out your city. It also allows them to talk to citizens on Facebook and Twitter who have raved and said kind things about your city. This person-to-person exchange is invaluable for marketing your city, and you lose out if you don’t provide this channel.
  3. Post news and events. If a city calendar is empty or the last news item is from a year ago, your city does not look attractive. Future residents are looking for energy, economic activity, and a strong community. Make sure you’re posting news that features both business and community success. Update your events calendar and invite groups to post a variety of community-minded content. This kind of public relations pays off and attracts people with interests that may span from festivals to tourism.
  4. Showcase a strong, open community. Cities need to show that its elected officials, city management, and community are supportive across a variety of activities. People look for certain signs such as strong school systems, active community leaders, and positive initiatives such as fundraisers, festivals, and arts programs. If you don’t show off such a wide range of community activities, if you only report dry city council minutes, and if you simply provide functional information, future citizens will look at other city websites for signs of a more supportive community.
  5. Highlight easy-to-use services. One of the biggest hassles for people moving to a new city is transitioning to a host of new services such as waste disposal, utilities, and tax payments. If your city website fails to mention anything about these services or presents an overly complex services maze, then it suggests that your city will be hard to do business with. Make access to services easy. Key services should be listed right on your homepage. Once people click on these services, the descriptions should be clear, the process easy, and the contact information immediately accessible. This kind of quality makes a great first impression and sets the right tone for people moving to your city.

While these recommendations sound simple on the surface, practicing them is hard but reflective of a positive, vibrant city. Sometimes great cities are not reflecting their vitality on their websites. When people are researching anything today, including what city to move to, they will be using your website as an important source of information. By comparing your website with many other city websites, they will be judging you on a variety of factors. If you are able to solidify the above recommendations, then your city will have the foundation for marketing itself well amid a sea of competition.

If you want to discuss the power of your website in more detail, please contact us.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013
Clint Nelms, COO

You know the frustration when your cable or Internet has issues at home. You call support and talk to someone that takes you awkwardly through a script. You may even have trouble understanding them, and they clearly don’t have a clue about your cable or Internet issues. You just want to talk to someone who has experience and expertise, someone who can get right to the heart of your problem.

If this level of home service is frustrating, we wonder why so many cities put up with the same level of business service with their IT support. Part of this is cost. Cities get sold on cheap annual IT support that promises comprehensive 24/7 service, but the service really amounts to helpdesk frustration, wasted time, and an inability to quickly solve problems.

A simple litmus test to evaluate your quality of IT support is to analyze the people who are supposed to help you on a daily basis. Answer the following questions and see if you’re really getting the IT support you need.

  1. Can you meet your IT support team? If you’ve only met salespeople, executive management, or high-level lead engineers, ask to meet the people who you talk to when you call the helpdesk. You should be able to meet the people you talk to on the phone by visiting the IT support vendor’s office or their nearby call center. If you only hear excuses and cannot meet them, it’s probably because your helpdesk is staffed out of state or offshored.
  2. Who does your IT support vendor send onsite? The same people you talk to on the phone should also be the ones who arrive onsite when there are problems. That’s the best way for your IT support vendor to understand your environment and business. But if the people sent onsite are different from who you talk to on the phone, if they charge extra fees when they spend time with you, or if they send a subcontractor, these are warning signs that you are either getting inferior and/or overly expensive onsite service by people who don’t really know your environment.
  3. Have the IT support technicians all received criminal background checks? Especially for cities, criminal background checks are extremely important. If IT support technicians are going to have access to your most sensitive city systems and confidential information, you need to trust them. But so many cities give access to their data and systems to unknown people. If you have no idea who is handling your data out of state or offshore, then your city is at risk.
  4. How effectively do your IT support technicians communicate? For us, communication ties into experience. The better trained and the more years that IT support technicians have been working with cities, the easier it will be for them to communicate about your technology issues. If they lack city experience and they don’t know what questions to ask when a complex technology issue occurs, how can they help provide effective support? When considering communication, look for an IT team that “speaks city,” avoids technical jargon, and asks you questions that focus on getting your problems solved.
  5. Do the IT support technicians mostly resolve problems? Good IT support technicians tend to resolve problems quickly or escalate them with ease. That’s because experienced IT support vendors know how to resolve most problems. For thorny problems, they know how to leverage their team’s experience and work together to resolve it. But if you’re always calling a helpdesk that awkwardly takes you through a script, never seems to understand even slightly complex technical problems, or always hands you off to another person, then you may be paying for “low cost” support that really isn’t saving you money.

Your IT support technicians should ideally be a phone call or email away. These are people you should get to know, who learn about your IT environment over time, and who generally solve your problems. You need a strong relationship, not a long distance mystery. It’s tempting to purchase cheap IT support, but when your helpdesk is an unknown – where you don’t even know if the staff has received background checks – then you need to reconsider what kind of people are handling your most sensitive data and systems.

To talk about the people behind your IT support in more detail, please contact us.

Thursday, May 09, 2013
Dave Mims, CEO

In Part I and Part II, we looked at both fixing your broken technology and maximizing your existing IT investments. But technology is more than just stabilization and settling for what you have. It’s also about the future, helping you execute your city’s vision.

Many cities often separate vision conversations from technology conversations. If you talk about vision without talking technology, you either create unrealistic expectations or you fail to realize what’s possible. If you talk about technology without talking about vision, you either wallow in tactical planning or make decisions about key city investments that may have nothing to do with overall goals.

In this post, we discuss some of the highest-level and most visionary IT budgeting action items you need to consider.

  1. Connect your city’s vision with technology. This means getting your visionaries and IT experts in the same room together. Tick through your vision by department, and list things that you want to accomplish for city hall, finance, public safety, economic development, parks and recreation, etc. It helps to set visionary goals first before becoming limited by technology. For your IT expert, you want someone who has municipal IT experience, believes in the word “yes,” and understands the business side of IT. Ideally, this person should understand what you want and be able to tell you what’s possible immediately or after some research.
  2. Create a list of projects with options. Divide up your vision into specific projects that should take place over the next 3-5 years. Your IT expert should be able to assess those projects and offer possibilities and options. For example, you may want an expensive accounting system that fulfills all of your demands, but your IT expert provides an option that has 95% of what you want for 50% of the cost. Or, you may want to connect two buildings but your IT expert says a fiber solution actually has the ability to connect all five of your buildings for the same cost. Until you vet each project, you still don’t know what’s possible and at the best cost for the benefits.
  3. Don’t forget any operational goals. When visioning for the next few years, you need to rely on IT to have a conversation about important operational goals. As technologies improve and standards continue to increase, the demands on IT will grow. Are there ways to make accounting, public safety, finance, city hall, or other departments more efficient? Do technologies exist that can help cities accomplish certain tasks better?
  4. Think about making citizens happier and more informed. While probably a part of your city’s vision, it’s worth noting separately that citizen services should always be a part of your planning. For example, think about what kinds of information cities need. Explore ways to improve your website, broadcast tools, and social media. Or think about ways to improve the online payment process and offer more citizen services online. Citizens continually demand more information, transparency, and services from cities, and technology can help you keep up with making your taxpayers happy.

While our advice is high level due to the brevity of this post, we really wanted to note that visioning should not be ignored in lieu of focusing on technology stabilization. Cities are able to achieve powerful goals when they connect technology with strategic initiatives, and we often sadly see the signs when that connection has not been made. Once you connect vision with technology, it’s useful to review your plan at least once a year to adjust for scenarios that have changed, projects that have not gone as planned, or new technologies that may have changed what’s possible.

All in all, embrace IT budgeting as an opportunity to enable your overall budgeting. Once you fix your broken technology, begin to truly maximize your IT investments, and connect your vision with technology, your city will make positive leaps forward in ways that you never before imagined.

To talk more about IT budgeting, please contact us.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013
Nathan Eisner, Network Manager

One of the joys of being immersed in the world of information technology is that we get to see it evolve in front of our very eyes. As people who track technology on a day-to-day basis, we take for granted some of the technology improvements that have changed our lives—and the lives of many people around the world.

It’s interesting that technology is as much of a cultural shift as a technological shift. Despite technology improvements, we are people—people who get used to a certain way of doing things. If you’re not staying up on technology, you might have become set in your ways at a certain time such as the late 1990s, early 2000s, or mid-2000s in term of technology standards.

From a bottom line impact at cities, some advances in technology not only change the way you do your work but can also significantly save you money. Here are five areas of technology that we often find city staff have grown accustomed to, and the “amazing” technologies that need to be adopted instead.

You’re Used To...Hardware For many years, a key aspect of information technology was the amount of your infrastructure. That meant that the more information needs you had, the more servers and desktop computers you would buy. Physical hardware matched your day-to-day operational demands.

Amazing Technology: The Cloud Today, hardware reductions are possible through cloud technology. When your information is stored in the cloud, you access software as if you’re turning on a utility. Instead of having to maintain your own onsite or offsite data center, you simply access the software you need through the cloud. All cities need to explore if their services, software, and information can be cloud accessible in order to get rid of as much hardware as possible.

 

You’re Used To...Manual Data Backups Tape. External hard drives. Thumb drives. Many cities have people on their staff who have a task on their list every week to take manual data backups somewhere: to a tape library, vault, or other storage facility. These routines have become habit over the past 10-15 years.

Amazing Technology: Automated Data Backup Manual data backup introduces too much risk: loss, theft, or data corruption. With automated data backup, servers can run both onsite and offsite to ensure that your data can be recovered after any disaster. It’s a waste of time for staff to mess around with manual data backup, especially when an onsite server can take hourly snapshots of your data and get you up and running quickly after a server failure.

 

You’re Used To...Buying Software Whether it’s Microsoft Office or an expensive accounting system, buying and installing software has become another convention that many cities have grown accustomed to over the past 10-15 years. You may have gotten used to purchasing expensive licenses and seeing the software manually installed on your servers and workstations.

Amazing Technology: Pay-by-the-User Cloud Software With cloud software helping reduce costs, many software packages can now be purchased online by the user without buying a server or software licenses. For example, Microsoft Office can now be purchased per user online, with full access and functionality to Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc. Even more sophisticated software such as accounting, document management, and workflow systems are moving to this model. It almost seems too good to be true, but it’s essential to move to this model when possible to save money.

 

You’re Used To...a Webmaster-Controlled Website Many cities still have old websites run by a technical person who has to code or have a technical understanding in order to update website content. This puts cities in a bind when non-technical staff cannot make simple changes to a website (such as posting an event) and affects keeping city websites updated in a timely fashion.

Amazing Technology: Non-Technical, User-Friendly Website Management Modern websites – even low-cost professional-looking websites – have evolved so that you can make changes with ease. Our information age continues to accelerate, and so you need to update homepage information, events, city council agendas and minutes, and other city news instantly. Your website should allow users to add, edit and delete information, and you can set permissions to make sure only authorized people can make changes.

 

You’re Used To...Coming to Work to Access Email and Software Many cities still have a 9-5 mindset to accessing work-related information such as email, documents, and software. Servers and desktop computers are onsite, and those machines are the only way people can access work-related information. If people need to access information outside of normal hours, they either have to come into the building or wait until working hours.

Amazing Technology: All of the Above Technologies = Teleworking The technologies listed above (cloud, software, websites, data backup) contribute to a work environment in which people can more easily work from home or a remote location. This has become the norm in most work situations, and that flexibility not only increases morale (e.g. people can work when sick or if they need to take care of their kids) but also improves productivity. If people can check email, access documents, and complete work through remote access, then project delays or lags potentially lessen.

 

We’ve all had to get used to an amazing array of changes over the last few years. If you had told us 10 years ago that – as an IT vendor – we would be managing hardware-less environments, that we’d access software like turning on electricity, and that users would be adding content to their own websites without our help, we might have laughed at you. But this fantasy is exactly where we are today.

If you find yourself stuck in any of these old habits, you have the opportunity to save a lot of money and significantly improve your city’s productivity. Plus, you’ll find that your staff will thank you. These technologies seem too good to be true, but eventually they will become, yes, a new habit.

Please contact us if you’d like to discuss any of these technologies in more detail.

Friday, May 03, 2013
Dave Mims, CEO

In our last city IT budgeting post, we discussed how broken technology negatively impacts your bottom line. But even if you fix and stabilize broken technology, the next step is to make sure you are maximizing your IT investments.

Creating sound long-term IT investments helps you from a budget standpoint and also allows you to benefit from the lifecycles of various technologies. Many times, cities do not understand when their technology investments are overkill, unnecessarily expensive, or simply trumped by better, more current technologies.

After spending some time with our Part I assessment, now ask yourself the following questions to see if your IT spend is maximizing every dollar you invest.

  • Do I need all of my hardware? With cloud computing, many systems and services previously needing onsite servers are now accessible through the Internet. In many cases, cities can significantly scale down the amount of hardware they have onsite and only spend time and effort maintaining essential servers. In addition, it helps to conduct a hardware inventory to examine if you really need every desktop, laptop, and tablet computer within the city.
  • Do I have a hardware lifecycle replacement plan? Cities that plan to replace their hardware after 3-5 years do the best job of maximizing those investments. Hardware becomes slow, obsolete, and unsupported after 3-5 years, and that actually increases maintenance costs and slows productivity. You should decommission and replace servers and workstations according to a lifecycle that makes sense to you, but it should be no more than 5 years.
  • Have I evaluated my software lately? When did you originally buy your current software programs? When was the last time you shopped around for a better solution? Just like with hardware, many software programs have become better and cheaper through the cloud. By “subscribing” to software per user, you avoid paying for expensive servers and software licenses.
  • Do I have all of my IT support needs covered? Many cities often have minimal IT staff, or even no IT staff at all. They often rely on IT vendors that only show up when a major problem occurs. At a certain point in a city’s evolution, it makes sense to better invest IT dollars into stabilizing the city’s technology and proactively maintaining and supporting it. Proactive maintenance requires a slightly higher investment than reactive IT vendors, but you will see savings in the long-term from not having to pay high billable hours to fix recurring problems that never go away.
  • Do I waste time on manual data backup? Manual data backup is expensive, time-consuming, and risky. It costs a lot of money to purchase and store portable media (such as tape), it takes staff time to do the backups and place them in a secure location, and it tends to be risky since it’s irregularly tested and audited. Automated data backup may be a better investment in terms of cost, certainty, and productivity.
  • Do I annually evaluate my ISP and telecom services contracts? Even if you’ve kept up on your ISP and telecom services, it still helps to have an independent expert evaluate your contracts and services every year to make sure you are maximizing this investment. A city’s needs change as it grows, technologies evolve, and regulations often impact services. Stay up on this area every year to make sure you are not losing money or spending it foolishly.

When looking at your IT investments long-term, you are evaluating whether or not you are receiving the best services for your city. Examine your IT budget every year with rigor. The commonality through the five questions above is that you need to stay on top of technology so that you are taking advantage of new products and solutions that lower your costs and keep your city’s operations modern and efficient. If you don’t, you’re losing money both directly and indirectly.

In Part III, we’ll look at how your city’s vision, strategy, and special projects connect to your technology budgeting.

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