If it seems like we’ve been writing about the benefits of
cloud software and technology a lot, it’s because this technology has a
far-reaching effect into so many important areas that impact cities. And no
area could be more important than keeping city operations running in case of a
In a recent article from InformationWeek Government,
the author talks about how the General Services Administration (GSA)
experienced disaster in the form of Hurricane Sandy. A few years ago, lost
power and flooding would have meant destroyed email servers. But with its email
in the cloud, GSA employees worked remotely from home and coffee shops until
they could return to their offices.
More importantly, services kept running despite near
total disaster at GSA offices. While it’s fun to talk about how the cloud
reduces costs and gives your workforce more remote access to city information,
its true power shines in a disaster. Here are a few ways that happens.
When you think about your disaster recovery and business
continuity plans, be sure to consider cloud software if you haven’t invested in
it already. As you can see, the benefits in a disaster are invaluable—from
making sure your data isn’t lost to being able to serve citizens despite
significant damage to buildings and resources.
To talk about disaster recovery in more detail, please contact us.
In our many blog posts about the cloud, we usually cover
core essential software such as operating systems, data backup, and email. But
the cloud applies to many other often unexpected areas of operations and business
A great article on the American Express Open Forum blog
explains nine unique ways to use the cloud, including even areas such as
language translation. However, we’d like to elaborate upon two of the items
that this article mentions: phone systems and remote support. Since these two
areas impact cities heavily, we want to share our thoughts on why you should
consider the cloud even for these services.
If you dislike the complicated phrase “Voice over
Internet protocol” (or “VoIP”), you can now think of it as “cloud phone.” With
voice data transmitted over the Internet, cloud software can now manage the
software that takes care of your phone needs. The combination of high-speed
Internet and the ability to host telephony software in the cloud creates an
opportunity for Internet phone service to match (and sometimes even exceed) the
quality of landline phone systems.
While landline phone systems are still a sturdy service, a recent blog post from National Public Radio points out that less
and less people are using them. (It’s currently 71% for a service that used to
be almost 100%). Plus, the infrastructure is aging and decaying, with less and
less people available with the knowledge to repair it. You may still need
landline phone systems for particular departments or as redundancy for
important services like 911, but considering cloud phone is a good bet
considering the bleak future of landline phone infrastructure.
The good news that we’ve seen when helping cities shift
to VoIP is that:
While there are still a few disadvantages to cloud phone
software, those disadvantages are mostly related to lack of high-speed Internet
access, the quality of a city’s network infrastructure, and the level of IT
support you have on hand. As long as you have high-speed Internet access and
quality IT support, then you should seriously consider hosting your phone
system in the cloud.
One of the great things about core cloud software such as
operating systems, email, and document management is that these systems can be
supported remotely, no matter where your employees are or what device they use.
With older software, the back end was not built for easy-to-use remote support,
if at all. You may use some older software that can only be supported onsite or
through a difficult VPN connection where your employee has to allow access to
New software is built for the cloud and unshackles itself
from adhering to a specific device. For example, let’s say your employee logs
in through the cloud to their desktop at work. That means their entire work
platform is just a piece of software accessed through the Internet. If there is
a problem, your IT support would have access to that particular piece of cloud
software without having to touch or enter that employee’s desktop, laptop, or
mobile device. The same logic applies to IT support problems with email,
document management systems, or other cloud-based software.
So, if your employee is at work, at home, on the road, or
simply accessing their software through a tablet or smartphone, IT support will
be able to solve most issues remotely. By making support management easier for
your IT staff or vendor, cloud software allows your employees to benefit from
getting problems resolved without having to go into the office or giving an IT
person access to their entire personal device.
These are just two ideas that the American Express post
offered up. After reading the rest of the article, we would think that cities
could also ask questions such as:
The cloud introduces new opportunities and possibilities for all kinds of operational and productivity improvements. To talk more about these possibilities, please contact us.
It’s tempting to think that the cost of hardware is
simply the purchase of a machine. Maybe you also include the cost of the
software on the server or workstation. But the full cost of hardware includes
many aspects that cities and other organizations often fail to track—leading to
inaccurate perceptions about how much the hardware actually costs.
Since cloud software often eliminates a lot of hardware,
it’s helpful to reveal in more detail how much onsite hardware actually costs.
Let’s look at how we break down hardware costs when looking at what’s called
Total Cost of Ownership. We’ll assume we’ve already accounted for the actual
purchase price of the hardware and software.
It’s usually by neglecting one or more of these areas
that unexpectedly leads to a surge in high IT costs when cities experience
hardware issues or failure. The total cost of ownership for hardware covers a
lot of areas. Some of those areas can be lessened in cost from eliminating as
much hardware as you can and moving to cloud software. But if you still need
hardware onsite, then looking at the costs as more than just purchasing the
hardware will be helpful for your budgeting and purchasing processes.
If you want to talk about hardware in more detail, please contact us.
A recent study from Stanford University quoted in a PCWorld article pointed out that teleworking is actually
more productive than working in an office. While there are still logistical,
social, and operational reasons why people need to show up at the office, the
myth that teleworking is less productive than working in an office has been
debunked yet again.
Cities may still balk at letting employees telework, not
so much from trust but more about concerns with technology. If the technology
isn’t there to support teleworking, then people will have to come into the
office whether they like it or not.
When you boil down the elements of a day at the office,
it’s really the ability to meet, call, work, access information, and store
information. If you can do those things from home or a remote location, you can
telework. Here, we provide a technology checklist of these essential work
functions to see if you’re equipped to telework.
Really, after taking care of these technology needs, the
only issue left for teleworking is one of personal responsibility. While
certain types of jobs might still be good to keep onsite (such as customer
service or highly interactive work such as a city clerk), there are quite a few
jobs where the work can be done remotely. As long as you’ve hired someone who
has proven their personal responsibility, teleworking can not only help raise
morale (giving flexibility to employees who may have special family or personal
needs) but also reduce the amount of space used in your buildings.
To talk about teleworking in more detail, please contact us.
31% of desktops still use Windows XP, so chances are you may be one of those organizations with people still using it. While it’s understandable to stick with a familiar operating system out of habit, it’s important to understand how much your already high security and cyber liability risks will increase after Microsoft stops supporting Windows XP on April 8, 2014.
At Sophicity, we want to make sure that cities are not exposing sensitive data and critical information to hackers and data thieves. By staying on Windows XP, it’s like you’re leaving the front door open for criminals to steal your data.
Here are some important security points about the dangers of keeping Windows XP.
Windows XP was an expensive investment. Why are there such security risks in software from such a well-known vendor like Microsoft?
Windows XP came out in 2001. If you bought a new car in 2001, you might still be using it today. But no matter how good it was, today it’s outdated and lacks important modern safety features that have evolved over the last 12 years. Software works the same way but becomes even more obsolete, quicker, because of the fast pace of technology. So many security threats and responses to those threats have occurred since 2001. The way Windows XP was fundamentally built means that it lacks critical security features that are now built into modern operating systems. Such an old piece of software cannot be “fixed” by Microsoft. That’s why they just build new operating systems every few years.
What are the specific security risks?
When support ends on April 8, 2014, Windows Updates will stop. As you may know from using your individual computer, Windows Updates often include important security patches and malicious software removal tools to preventatively address security threats. When those updates stop coming, Windows XP simply cannot respond to the plethora of modern security attacks and to criminals exposing holes in this old software. As a result, you will be more vulnerable to attacks.
Why can’t I just use antivirus software?
Antivirus software alone does not protect any computer, including Windows XP computers. A computer needs a combination of well-built modern software with security protection built in, updates and patches from the software vendor (such as Windows Updates), and antivirus software all working together to provide a strong security foundation. Only relying on antivirus software for an unsupported Windows XP is like installing an alarm system in a building with no locks and that no one ever visits in person.
If you want to take next steps to decommission Windows XP, we recommend that you:
If you’ve seen the TV show Parks and Recreation,
you know that even through the satire the show’s writers still communicate an
understanding that a city’s parks and recreation department is important for a
community. Parks and recreational activities bring citizens, civic groups, and
tourists together to partake in a city’s quality of life. It’s a critical way
for a city to market itself to both citizens and possible future residents.
That means your parks and recreation page must
accommodate a variety of needs and questions that people have when exploring
your city’s website. To help you analyze if you have the right information on
your parks and recreation page, check to see if you provide the following
content to your website visitors.
Once you have the foundations of this page’s information
down, you can enhance the page by adding visuals. Showcasing pictures of your
parks, trails, community centers, natural beauty, and past events will
reinforce the quality of life of your city and the vitality of your parks and
recreational facilities. Overall, with just some basic information you can
create a useful, functional page that works for citizens, groups, and tourists
To talk about your website content in more detail, please contact us.
Information security is not something you should assume
or feel in your gut. Yet, a study shows that many organizations think that way.
Referenced in a recent PC World article, a joint study between
Office Depot and McAfee revealed a few startling statistics about small and
medium business owners:
Since we always notice many parallels between SMBs and
cities, it’s safe to say from our observations that many cities feel a similar
false sense of security. But are you really secure? To check, ask yourself the
While the PC World article states that there is no one size fits
all situation to help solve an organization’s data security, we do feel that
there are some common areas that can be addressed. Yes, each city might
approach data backup or mobile security differently. But the point is that
these areas need to be addressed, whatever the details. Your city’s data is too
important to be so unprotected.
To talk about data security in more detail, please contact us.
In many of our posts, we mention the cloud. You probably
hear that term a lot and get the general idea of it (accessing software, data,
and files through the Internet that you would normally access through your own
servers). But what exactly makes something hosted “in the cloud”?
Since the cloud has become so important to cities as a
way to reduce costs and increase the quality of technology services, it helps to
have a non-technical understanding of something very technical. In this post,
we’ll take you through what makes something “the cloud” versus normal hardware
and information technology services.
The cloud is built upon servers, so it will help to
review what a server is—and does. A server is a specialized computer that
hosts important software, data, and files such as your website, your email
system, your document management system, your accounting software, etc. Unlike
your desktop computer, a server connects to multiple computers so that it can
deliver specific information to those computers. For example, if you have an
email server, it delivers email to individual computers at your city. Each
computer needs to connect to the email server in order to access email.
Traditionally, a city would buy a server for a particular
function (such as email) and all city computers would connect to that server to
access the information. But sometimes a city is unable to manage its own
servers due to complexity, lack of time, or lack of onsite IT resources. That’s
when a city might consider a data center.
A traditional data center simply hosts your servers for
you. Sure, the server management may be more complex. You might own or lease
servers that are dedicated—which means they are solely for your use. Those
dedicated servers may be used for one specific piece of software (e.g.
accounting software). To reduce costs, your servers may also be shared servers,
which means that other customers may share space on the same server if you’re
not using all of the space. Shared or dedicated, you access your servers
remotely through the Internet. The technology then works exactly as described
Data centers might reduce your costs, especially if a
data center can host many servers much more efficiently than you can. However,
it’s still just placing the burden of your server management onto another
company. You still own or lease a machine, and you can even visit the data
center to look at your machines if you’d like.
The cloud takes the idea of the data center a step
further by eliminating the idea of owning or leasing specific machines.
With traditional data centers, machines are still
isolated and discrete. Even if you share a server, you can still say that, for
example, five customers have websites hosted on one server.
Cloud data centers scale up to such a high degree that
they eliminate the idea of discrete servers. To make it easy to visualize,
think of a traditional data center with only 100 servers. Those servers are
each owned or partially owned by specific customers. That means those machines
need to stay separate and discrete. Even if a few servers are not using all of
the space available, it doesn’t matter. If your city owns or leases one of
those servers, you’re paying for the space—used or not.
A cloud data center instead coalesces the space from all
100 servers into a gigantic pool. From that pool, the cloud data center carves
out “virtual servers.” That means instead of a server tied to a physical
machine, a virtual server is just a chunk of that overall space from the 100
servers. That means one physical server could be any number of virtual servers,
or a virtual server could be distributed across many physical servers. It’s fluid.
In other words, the idea of server space associated with a
specific physical server has disappeared. That’s part of the reason why it’s
called the “cloud.” At this level, server hosting works almost like magic. All
you need is an Internet connection—and you don’t need to worry about hosting
your own servers anymore.
So why is this technology good for you?
First, by pooling together server resources so
efficiently, cloud software providers significantly cut costs. Hardware
maintenance and software license costs decrease from this gained efficiency.
Second, cloud data centers are usually run by the best,
most reliable IT vendors around such as Microsoft, Google, and Amazon. That
means they have resources that smaller data centers lack such as 24/7
monitoring, management, and high levels of physical and information security.
Third, cloud data centers are now too big to fail since
so many large businesses and government entities rely on them for mission
critical data. For example, Google cannot go out of business. That same
technology benefits you. Cloud software originates from servers with multiple
Internet connections, a great deal of redundant backup power, and data spread
across different geographies. Short of an Internet outage local to your own
area, cloud software rarely fails. And even then, once the power comes back on,
you can access your data again.
As you can see, servers have grown up quite a bit and, in
a way, have “ascended” into the cloud.
To talk about the cloud in more detail, please contact us.
Back in June, we wrote about Windows 8 and offered an analysis about whether cities should
upgrade. On October 17, 2013, Microsoft released Windows 8.1 and offered a
variety of improvements that attempted to remove many of the reasons that dissuaded
organizations from wanting to adopt Windows 8.
Our analysis of Windows 8 pointed out two key problems: a
lack of business urgency in upgrading, and a confusing user experience. We know
that cities need software that is functional and easy-to-use, so switching to
something that is perceived as unessential and confusing might prevent an
We dug through many Windows 8.1 reviews and conducted our
own analysis to highlight the key improvements. Let’s see how Windows 8.1 compares
to the original Windows 8.
Given these improved features and user experience, cities
may want to consider upgrading to Windows 8.1 if it makes sense for their
particular situation. Even though Windows 8.1 is easier to use than Windows 8, there
is still going to be a learning curve for city employees—just like any major
operating system or software upgrade. You also want to make sure that your
applications and software can run on Windows 8.1. Some older versions of
accounting, court, or other key operational software might not work on Windows
8.1, so you’ll want to do a full application compatibility analysis.
As of the date of this blog post, Windows 7 is still used
by about 46% of all computers while Windows 8 and 8.1 are only used by about 9%.
Many are still sticking with Windows 7 for now, but Windows 8 and 8.1 will
increase in adoption over time. Depending on your situation, there will be a
right time to switch. Just make sure you don’t make the leap before looking.
If you want to discuss Windows 8.1 or your current
operating system in more detail, please contact us.
If you’re used to sending and distributing documents
through email or dumping them onto a shared drive in a crazy variety of
folders, you’re probably glad to know that a document management system will
eliminate those chaotic problems. But how? Once your document management system
is implemented, you might wonder how you’ll distribute or receive documents if
you’re no longer using email or shared folders.
Early on, your city should establish clear business
processes for documents that establish and smooth out how documents will be
distributed. In this post, we discuss five key setup areas that help take the
mystery out of document distribution and make it much easier for city staff.
As you can see, document management systems can
potentially solve a lot of chaotic document distribution problems. But a city
needs to spend non-technical time defining workflows. Once that happens, your
IT staff or vendor can help you set up notifications, permissions, versioning,
and archiving that help enact your workflows. Then, you’ll see that the
problems of asking yourself “Where’s that document?” will go away. No more searching
through your emails or shared drives. Instead, you’ll know exactly where to
access your documents.
To talk more about distributing documents within a
document management system, please
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