One of the main reasons cities utilize IT vendors is to
help with IT talent or staffing shortages. In some cities, there might not be
enough IT talent to hire locally, or the city’s budget would be strained with the
salary required to hire an IT staff that covers all of its needs. An IT vendor
can be a much more cost-effective solution that provides a city with all of the
IT talent and resources they require.
But cities must also challenge the decision to use an IT
vendor. Over the years, we’ve heard many questions about our people and
expertise. Why us? Why any vendor? And while we get plenty of questions about
the technology, the questions that matter most in the end are about the people.
Based on our experience, we offer up some observations
and insights about what people-focused questions to ask when you’re evaluating
While easy to talk about, it’s unfortunately difficult to
find such IT vendors. When evaluating IT vendors, be picky. Look for vendors
that combine municipal, business, and technical experience and who embrace
change. By setting the bar high, you benefit from having the right IT vendor
To talk more about evaluating IT vendors, please contact us.
When we recently started offering unlimited data storage
as part of IT in a Box, some cities asked us how this was possible. After all,
data must reside somewhere and take up finite space. How can it make sense from
a business standpoint to offer unlimited storage?
In this post, we’ll take you through various historical factors
that have helped data storage evolve along with some reasons why there is an increased
business need for unlimited data storage. As you will see, we are at a point in
the evolution of information technology where cities no longer have to worry
about limited (and expensive) data storage space.
Moore’s (and Kryder’s) Law. At
the heart of understanding why unlimited data storage space is possible, you
must understand the basic premise of Moore’s and
Moore’s Law famously says that the number of transistors on an integrated
circuit (the kind used in your computers) doubles in performance every 18
months, and Kryder’s Law applies a similar law toward disk storage density. Just
like with circuit technology, we’ve also seen data storage capacity increase exponentially.
This technological evolution also lowers the cost of data storage. It’s why when
you buy a new computer, tablet, or smartphone, it seems to store more data
while costing you less than a machine you bought a few years ago.
High-speed Internet. Until
recently, the limitations of high-speed Internet affected how much data you
could use and access. But with high-speed Internet becoming more ubiquitous even
in rural areas, you can quickly access more data than ever. Smartphone and
tablet technology has all but caught up too, with people accessing their email,
Internet, and rich media while on the go. As high speed Internet access
improves, the need for data storage grows as people need places to store their
files, documents, and content.
While businesses obviously use more resources than individuals, early
innovations in consumer-driven applications have often led to businesses also
taking advantage of those innovations. For example, Gmail shocked everyone when
it came out, offering 1 GB of storage for users when they were accustomed to
only a few MB from other free email providers. As people began to take more
photos and videos with phones, they needed places to store and back up that
data, driving the creation of services ranging from Dropbox to Carbonite. Those
competitive wars have helped increase data storage capability and reduce its
Rich media now a must, not a nice to have. The
expectations for rich media - video, audio, animation, presentations, etc. -
have grown as the Internet becomes more sophisticated. As services such as
YouTube grew over the past five years, businesses started to understand the
power of using rich media to differentiate their content from competitors. To use
rich media, you need storage space. Today, the appetite for rich media
continues to grow - along with the storage space to match.
Cloud computing. The
scale of cloud computing - with thousands of servers spread across many
geographically dispersed data centers - has brought down the cost of data
storage. Onsite hardware (with limited data storage space) is much harder to
maintain and will be more expensive. It’s more cost effective to store your
data in the cloud, and technology innovation keeps increasing cloud data
storage capacity and reducing the cost. As a result, storing your data in the
cloud becomes a no-brainer when cloud vendors can offer you the best quality
and lowest cost when they operate on such a large scale.
Obviously, one last thing that makes unlimited data
storage possible is knowing the human limits of how much data is actually
needed. Most cities, even those with lots of videos or documents, will not come
close to creating an abnormal amount of data. Whether it’s for data storage or
backup, we’re now at a point where a typical city that has a need for growth
and doesn’t want to worry about storage limits can comfortably store all of the
data they want without any worries. Only very large cities with highly unusual
data storage needs might require special customization.
If you’d like to talk more about unlimited data storage, please contact us.
Having covered three PCI DSS compliance topics in past
posts (vulnerability management, data protection,
and network fundamentals), we now move on to authorization. While
past discussions have focused on what you can do to secure your networks, it’s
all useless if the wrong people have access to your systems.
Preventing unauthorized access to online payment
information is extremely important because you are responsible for the
protection of extremely sensitive citizen information. That includes credit card
numbers, financial history, and even social security numbers. If the wrong
person accesses that information, maliciously or innocently, you can find
yourself legally liable.
Let’s look at some different aspects of authorization
that need to be covered if you’re going to offer online payments.
Authorizing someone to access sensitive online payment
data covers administrative policy, technical know-how, and physical security.
All need to be considered and working together to make sure that only
authorized people have access to online payment information. Work with your IT
staff and vendors to both test and audit your overall security, including
authorization. Look for gaps that may make it easy for people to gain access to
your data, and shore up those gaps with a stronger information security policy,
better IT network security, and more comprehensive physical security.
To talk about data authorization in more detail, please contact us.
operating system such as Windows XP can become so familiar that it seems
unnecessary to change it. In fact, about 37% of desktops still use Windows XP.
Many employees are not technologists who often seek the latest and greatest
technology solutions. Non-technologists are like most people—you get used to
something and become comfortable with it.
there are many dangers to clinging to an operating system or outdated software.
We’ll use Windows XP as an example, since so many cities use it and it’s been
tagged by Microsoft for end-of-life in April 2014. When it reaches end-of-life,
that means cities continuing to use Windows XP create huge security and
cover some reasons why sticking with Windows XP will hurt your city.
that technology—hardware or software—is not like most things a business
would buy. Buildings, cars, office equipment, and furniture can all last for
many many years. Software such as Windows XP not only gets obsolete quicker,
but it also becomes more and more of a risk when you keep it way beyond its
shelf life. If Microsoft stops supporting it, that’s a sign you’ve kept it too
you need one last reason to consider, then think about compliance and cyber
liability. If you get hacked and your information is stolen because you were
clinging to an unsupported operating system, then you will have a lot of legal
questions to answer when people start piecing together what happened.
talk more about updating aging software, please contact us.
Has a friend or colleague ever told you, “Hey, I got a
spam email from you!” Of course you didn’t send it, and you scramble to change
your password as quickly as possible. When this happens as a city employee,
it’s even more baffling. Did someone hack into your city email and send spam
from your account?
Usually not. Spoofing is different from being compromised
(e.g. someone hacking into your email account). Spoofing simply means that
someone is using your email address to pretend that their spam or
phishing email is coming from you. These spammers are tricking the way email
programs work. Email programs identify to you who is sending an email, and
spoofers simply use one of your trusted contact’s information to make it look
like the email is coming from them.
Because spoofing an email address is very easy to do,
it’s a common form of Internet fraud. While it’s incredibly difficult to
prevent spoofing (short of never using the Internet or email at all), there are
some common sense tips that can help reduce the risk of someone spoofing your
While it may be frustrating to know that you cannot
prevent email spoofing, be reassured that it’s not as serious as your email
being compromised or hacked. Most people’s email addresses have been spoofed at
one time or another. Overall, just keep your city email address as private as
possible. Even if you’re a city official, use a secondary email address, a
form, or a link to your email if you need to post your contact information on
your website. There are many workarounds to make sure that your primary work email
address is as private as possible so that spoofers leave it alone.
If you have been spoofed, change your email address. It
may be hard to let go of your favorite email address that you’ve had for many
years, but once you’ve been spoofed your email address will be in the hands of spammers
indefinitely. After you create a new email address, keep it private (using our
To talk about spoofing in more detail, please contact us.
The Tribune 4.2 release has been completed and tested, and Sophicity.com has been running on it now for weeks. Our release date is Friday, July 12.
This release includes:
The next release will have Mobile Friendly Administration that allows you to add, update, and delete content on your Tribune website from mobile devices. Our ETA to deliver this next release is October.
On the radar to come:
As always, as you have recommendations for product features you would like to see, please contact us.
One question we often hear from cities is “Is it safe
to have my data in the cloud?” The main reason for this concern is a big
change in IT habits over the past few years. If cities are used to how data was
stored 5-10 years ago, it feels more secure when data is stored onsite. You can
see the machines that are storing your data, and somehow you feel better
knowing it’s all there.
Actually, your data is less safe when it’s stored at your
city rather than in the cloud. Cities are usually not IT companies, and there
are often limitations in how cities manage and maintain their servers, create
data backup and redundancy, and secure their data from hacking and theft.
If that wasn’t convincing enough, it’s a simple fact that
data is moving into the cloud because it’s safer, more secure, more
cost-effective, and less hassle for individuals, businesses, government
entities, and any organization. In this post, we explain some of the key
reasons why storing your data in the cloud is safer.
Understanding how the cloud works at the data center
level can help alleviate fears about how it’s secured. Letting go of your data
can be hard. Even Sophicity went through a process where our dyed-in-the-wool
IT experts who love their servers and technology had to phase out all of our hardware
into the cloud. Feeling like you’re losing control can feel like a loss of
security, but it was the right move. We not only saved money but also could scale
up our technology faster and allow our staff more flexibility to work from
As you can see, cloud vendors at the Microsoft and Google
level have too much to lose and too many important clients to protect. They are
throwing billions of dollars of resources to protect your data that no single
organization can match. And that’s why the cloud is so revolutionary. It’s
truly a leap forward in data security and management.
To talk about the cloud in more detail, please contact us.
While we’ve touted the benefits of Voice over IP (VoIP)
phone systems in the past, we’ve also acknowledged when you hit limitations.
What are those limitations? And why do they exist?
To begin, it helps to define again what VoIP really does.
Instead of transmitting phone calls across traditional phone lines, VoIP
transmits your phone data over the Internet. Technology has improved so much
that a VoIP system is nearly indistinguishable from a traditional phone system
in terms of features and quality. With a usually much lower price point
compared to traditional phone lines, VoIP suddenly becomes a compelling
But cities need to know when traditional phone lines
still need to be used and in what situations. Below are some of our
observations about the limitations of VoIP based on our experiences with cities.
As you can see, VoIP works best when you already have a
strong technology network already in place. That doesn’t mean that smaller
cities cannot take advantage of VoIP. It just means to look before you leap.
Assess your phone system along with your technology, and explore if VoIP makes
sense. In some cases, technology limitations or sensitive public safety systems
may require traditional phone lines in all or parts of your city.
And remember, despite even us touting the benefits of a
technology, always do an assessment to figure out if a particular technology is
best suited for you.
To talk about VoIP in more detail, please contact us.
As the Internet continues to evolve, content becomes more
and more important. People usually research on the Internet as a way to explore
nearly any topic, including learning about cities. Where 10 years ago people may
still have found a lack of city website content acceptable, the same is not
Your citizens (and even non-citizens) are “customers” who
have distinct similarities in what information they need at certain times. They
may be discovering your city for the first time and want to learn more about
it. They may be researching your city to decide if they want to move there and
join your community. Or they may be citizens that need answers to questions
about city services.
Whatever needs people have, it’s up to your website to
meet those needs. And do that, you need content. If you want to assess if you
have some glaring content gaps, make sure you at least have the following five
Even with just these basics, creating content takes
sustained effort and some dedicated resources. It can’t be irregular or
haphazard. The overall impression of a website matters, and too many content
gaps reflect poorly on a city. Sometimes, this means taking a fresh look at
your city’s content, identifying any ways that your content can answer
questions better or show off the vitality of your city more effectively, and
taking the time to rewrite it.
If you want to talk about websites and content in more
detail, please contact us.
Windows 8 is such a leap forward compared to past versions of Windows that cities have a lot of trepidation about upgrading. While you don’t want to be left behind, at the same time you want to make sure you’re not upgrading just to upgrade. There needs to be a compelling reason to upgrade.
Here are a few things to keep in mind if you’re on the fence about Windows 8.
The verdict on Windows 8? We have to take the safest answer: It depends. In our analysis above, we provide a mix of positive, negative, and neutral analysis. Windows 8 is still not fully established as a standard and Microsoft is still working out some user and branding issues. The technology is sound, but the leap forward was more abrupt than any Windows launch since the mid-1990s. That abruptness makes cities understandably wary.
Once you assess your current technology needs, your plans to move to the cloud, and the state of your current software applications, you will get a better sense if you should upgrade to Windows 8 now or later. To talk more about if Windows 8 is right for your city, please contact us.
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