It’s fair to say that most cities must operate with tight
budgets. Making any investment requires a lot of prioritizing and debate. As one
of the more expensive investments on a city’s list, information technology
often needs to prove its value. No matter how positive the benefits IT
investments can bring, the monetary value must show itself too.
Historically, IT has always had trouble proving its
value. That’s because, on the surface, it is an operational cost. Operational
costs tend to look like cost centers that don’t save you money or provide a return
on your investment, despite being necessary costs. At the same time, just
because IT’s value isn’t immediately obvious doesn’t mean it can’t be shown.
Whether you’re evaluating existing IT investments or
considering new ones, the following areas can help you understand how to get
the most value.
If you’re needing to make the business case for IT at your
city, or if you’ve been skeptical of investing too much in IT, we recommend
starting with area number 1 above and working your way down to number 5. By
gaining some easy wins first, you are often better able to justify additional
investments in the future if you’ve shown that you’ve already saved your city
The most important point is that you need to see how the
cost of IT is outweighed by the value of IT. It’s one thing if you reject a
“nice-to-have” piece of software because it isn’t a fit at this time. But if you
reject things like data backup or have your employees working on old,
unsupported operating systems (like Windows XP), then you’re not tying needed
IT investments to their value. You’re just looking at cost. Look at value too.
That’s the way you will truly be cost conscious.
To talk more about IT value, please contact us.
While larger cities may have already populated their
websites with content, we routinely encounter many smaller cities that are
creating website content for the first time. Either these cities have had no
website or they’ve used a very outdated website in a purely functional way for
In the past, we’ve talked website design, templates,
and content management systems, along with also discussing the
that cities need to address. But on a more granular level, cities also seek
guidance about the kind of content they need to create—page by page.
Content for each city will be customized and different,
but there are some general guidelines about what cities should write for each
page. We’ll cover key pages over the course of a series of blog posts, starting
with the most important page—your homepage.
Since your homepage is the most trafficked page and the
place where people will most likely get their first impression of your city,
you need to make sure you have the right content to meet a variety of needs.
Here are five essential pieces of content you need for your city’s homepage.
If you start with these five elements, your homepage will
go a long way toward doing the job it needs to do. If someone visited your city
and arrived at City Hall for the first time, wouldn’t you greet them? Show them
around? Talk to them about useful and relevant things? Tell them what’s best
about your city? That’s what your homepage needs to do for online visitors.
To talk about homepage content in more detail, please contact us.
When cities finally take the leap and start using a new
document management system, many questions arise that have nothing to do with
the technology. While document management systems have a lot of slick features and
benefits, they don’t solve your business process and policy issues concerning
While the art of document management can become extremely
technical and complicated, especially if you have a large volume of documents
that need categorizing and storing, we have provided some questions that will
at least help get you thinking about where to start.
Acquiring a new document management system is exciting.
It provides centralized storage, protection from disaster, better organizational
capability, and easier search tools. But a mess of documents transferred to a
document management system will still be just a mess of documents if you don’t
think through the questions above. If you take the opportunity to review your
business processes before transferring your documents, then you will better
maximize your document management system investment.
To talk more about document management system best
practices, please contact us.
used products is great for many areas of life. Used cars, books, or furniture
are usually good investments and relatively low risk as long as the quality is
still high and the items can be used for a long time. Used servers and
workstations are an exception to this rule. They are not only bad investments
but also dangerous investments.
Why dangerous? It may seem like you
are saving money by purchasing used hardware. After all, you might acquire
newer model servers and workstations that you might not normally afford—for
only a fraction of the cost. And as long as these machines seem to run
properly, it can feel like a great deal.
Here are some dangers that accompany
used server and workstation purchases, and why you should avoid such
Buying used hardware is risky even for individuals.
There are many horror stories about computers purchased on Craigslist or even
from friends where too many things went wrong and ruined the purchase. For
cities (and any professional organization), the risks are even greater. And the
investment is entirely unsound.
Budget tightening should not lead to desperation or
shortcuts. Plan out what hardware you need, understand the best investment to maximize
over 3-5 years, and buy new. New machines give you the highest quality, the
most modern equipment, the right software and peripherals included, and the
best bang for your buck.
To talk more about buying hardware, please contact us.
A recent research report from Veeam (a provider of
virtualization and backup solutions) points out a number of problems that small
and medium businesses are having with data backup and recovery. Since a city’s
IT needs often parallel the needs of small and medium businesses, we think that
some of these numbers are worth highlighting.
As SMBs are struggling with these issues, our experience
shows that cities struggle with these issues even worse. We find similar
patterns in the quality of data backup, the lack of rigor and testing, and an
ability for cities to respond to open records requests effectively.
Using this excellent report as a foundation, we wanted to
draw out some points that we think are relevant for cities when they confront similar
data backup issues.
Again, while the Veeam report focused on SMBs, cities
also need to pay attention to these trends. An enterprise technology
environment with cost-effective and tested data backup is not out of reach.
However, cities are stuck with or have been burned by vendors over the last
5-10 years who have gouged them with the high costs of annual fees, licenses,
and add-ons to their services.
But even in the last two years, IT has changed
drastically and the quality standard has risen. Cities need to reevaulate their
current data backup solutions and really look at the cost, current assets, and
maintenance. If any of the above points seem to indicate any gaps, then it’s
time to address those gaps so that you can increase your data backup quality
while reducing costs.
To talk about data backup in more detail, please contact us.
Whether cities are pressured to buy hardware onsite or at
a data center, vendors continue to assert that cities need to own their own
hardware rather than rent it. While this used to make sense in the early days
of the Internet before social media, mobile technology, and cloud computing
became the norm, old habits die hard. Many cities unfortunately pay for
expensive hardware that is overkill for their needs and budget.
Before considering new hardware purchases, cities first need
to consider hybrid cloud solutions depending on their needs.
We’ve noticed that many vendors are not offering cities
these options. Instead, they are pressuring cities to only buy dedicated
hardware for each software application instead of exploring
hardware-as-a-service through the public or private cloud.
Why would vendors not tell you about these other options?
- You purchasing the hardware at the vendor’s price,
instead of the special state and local government price.
- Bulk add-ons such as backup hardware and licensing.
(Think of how car dealers make most of their money off of special features
rather than the car itself. It’s the same idea.)
- Professional services labor to perform the hardware
A lot of municipal software still works primarily with
the dedicated hardware model. As an example, we recently saw that the latest
version of a particular kind of city software will cost cities about $15,000 in
fees—before even considering the actual software licensing costs! This
approach to always buying hardware is not sustainable economically, and these
vendors will eventually need to relent and offer other options.
On the other hand, some purely cloud-based hardware
models, where you’re essentially 100% renting, may not best fit your city’s
website and software application hosting needs. However, there are hybrid or
customized cloud offerings from vendors that work just like servers deployed
onsite. The price points for these offerings continue to drop, so it’s time
that your city started looking at these options. Otherwise, you’re just paying
unnecessary fees to vendors and losing money.
So, to debunk the myth, buying is NOT better than
renting. To talk about hybrid cloud options and hardware-as-a-service in more
detail, please contact us.
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.
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