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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In our last online payments post, we discussed firewalls and passwords as two foundational aspects of protecting sensitive online payment data. Next on the list of PCI DSS requirements is the somewhat vague category of “protecting cardholder data.” What does it mean to protect data?
Protecting data really means paying attention. Where does sensitive data come from? Where does it go? Where is it stored? If you cannot account for data during its entire lifecycle, from user entry to deletion, then your data might not be protected.
Here are four things you need to think about as you take a more serious look at data protection.
Data protection really amounts to having a forest-level overview of your data so that you see it in its entirety, combined with a tree-level awareness of where each piece of data originates, moves to, and resides. Usually, a data breach with sensitive information occurs where you least expect it—a stolen laptop, an unsecure wireless network, or an external backup hard drive. But by ensuring your sensitive online payment data is protected, no matter where it resides, you will have prevented most problems from occurring. Your online payment vendor should also be able to answer most of these questions for you and provide you with guidance about ensuring the highest level data protection.
To talk about data protection in more detail, please contact us.
Budgeting season has arrived for most cities, and information technology is a critical part of a city’s annual spend. Yet, we find that many cities often don’t know where to begin when specifying their IT budget, or even if they should include it at all (other than in a lump sum line item).
We find that it’s important for cities to flesh out a fairly detailed IT budget to help uncover inefficiencies, save money, and better execute business and operational goals. In our multi-part series, we’ll look at how you can use your IT budgeting process to help fix what’s broken, find ways to save money in the long-term, and work to help execute your city’s strategic vision.
While it might seem like broken technology has little to do with city budgeting, your IT budget can actually reveal how obsolete hardware or underinvestment might be costing you money each year. Bad technology impacts your bottom line every day, and it’s often a hidden source of lost city revenue.
For a great place to begin analyzing your IT budget, ask yourself the following questions about your technology.
By examining these important questions first, you’ll often find low hanging fruit and ways to slash your IT budget immediately. These reductions can often be significant, even for smaller cities where it might not seem like you’re spending a lot on IT. Whether it’s reexamining telecom contracts or replacing broken hardware, there is plenty of opportunity on a first pass to see if you can both fix your technology issues and save some money in the process.
In our Part II post, we will look more at the long-term investment side of technology, and how you can budget to maximize the money that you’re spending.
Lengthy telecom contracts – those giant documents that mostly go unread – often contain language and conditions that work against your city’s best interests. In most cases, telecom works much like a utility. You purchase it once, become accustomed to its quality of service (good or bad), and rarely think of it again.
When beginning our work with a new city, we usually find old telecom contracts and technical setups that are expensive, low quality, and relying on outdated technology. All this despite new technology existing that works better, faster, and cheaper. For less cost, cities could experience a quantum leap in quality of telecom service.
But where to begin? Here are some common questions to ask when starting to sift through your telecom contracts and services.
We’ve been amazed that so many cases exist where cities are simply paying too much for inferior technology and poor service. If you haven’t examined your telecom services in a long time, you have the opportunity to save a great deal of money. These situations apply to rural and non-metro cities too, especially with the advent of increased high-speed broadband connections and mobile services. Whether you’re a large metro city or a small rural city, it’s worth taking a critical look at your telecom contracts.
To discuss your telecom contracts in more detail, please contact us.
While more and more government organizations are moving their email to the cloud, backed up by significant examples that it is one of the safest places for your email, we still see many cities clinging to old or obsolete email hosting methods. Unfortunately, hosting your email improperly or through a method that is no longer a best practice can put your city at risk.
Those risks can involve security, compliance, retention, and responsiveness to open records requests. Poor email hosting jeopardizes the safety of your emails and opens your city up to legal troubles—especially if people need to find and retrieve specific emails in response to an official request.
Here are five things to look out for with bad email hosting. If any of these situations applies to you, it is imperative that you begin to consider enterprise cloud email hosting.
Cloud email hosting from experienced, widely used vendors (e.g. Microsoft) eliminates these problems by offering enterprise level service and support, documented security and compliance policies and procedures, and data backup. And with a lean, scalable model (usually per user) that does not require expensive onsite hardware, software, and licenses, that means you can pay (like a utility) for exactly how much email hosting you need.
Especially on the cyber liability side, considering cloud email hosting becomes less of a “nice to have” service and more of a required service. If you cannot guarantee that you are following essential security and compliance related to your email hosting, then you need to leave it up to experts that regularly host email for many government institutions.
To talk more about email hosting, please contact us.
“Metadata” is an intimidating word, often sounding very technical and from the complex world of search engines. Quite simply, metadata is data about data. Let’s say books are data. How would you describe and order groups of books? Probably by genre, by author (A to Z), and maybe even by “most popular” or “bestsellers.” Those categories of genre, author, and “most popular” are metadata, and that metadata helps you navigate through a bookstore—instead of just sifting through a giant pile of books.
In a document management system, you probably know the feeling of sifting through information when it is poorly labeled and organized. You search over and over for something, you get too many search results in return, and it seems like keyword searches just don’t work right. Those kinds of document management systems often have poor metadata.
So where you do start if you’re a metadata novice? While we recommend also talking to someone technically conversant with your document management system (and if you’re a large city, you might want to have an information architecture expert in the mix), we focus here on some metadata basics that we notice when we help cities with their document management systems.
Our advice in this article focuses primarily on the business side of metadata, and less on the technical side. For most cities we work with, they just need to be using metadata on a basic level so that users can more easily find documents. With larger cities, document management and metadata grow much more complex, and we recommend bringing in more technical expertise at that level. Otherwise, as long as you can get your users labeling and categorizing documents consistently, and in a way that makes them easy to find, then you’re on the right track.
To discuss document management and metadata in more detail, please contact us.
When we sit down to talk with cities about vendor relationships, many of the war stories center around how vendors waste a city’s time. An important part of any vendor relationship boils down to two things: expertise and communication. Can the vendor do the job, and can they communicate about issues and problems effectively?
To this day, we are still amazed at some of the stories we hear. You would think that vendors would learn from the best in the business or listen to the feedback that municipalities regularly share at events and conferences. Many vendors unfortunately prey on cities, secure the deal, and then take a hands off approach to the engagement.
Cities need to understand that wasted time equals wasted money. Here are some warning signs to look out for.
The shame about these issues is that problems often do not emerge until you start working with a vendor. If you are researching IT vendors, make sure you have a senior experienced IT person at the table. Have them ask tough questions about the vendor’s experience, processes, and problem resolution. Talk to customers who work with that vendor. And if you’re seeing too many of these negative signs with your current IT vendor, then it’s time to start looking for a new IT vendor.
If you want to discuss these vendor management problems in more detail, please contact us.
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