While larger cities benefit from having procurement offices
to spend time researching, selecting, and negotiating with vendors, smaller
cities can feel at a disadvantage when procuring items—especially technology
products and services. And even procurement directors can have trouble keeping
up with the latest hardware, software, and technology solutions.
Despite the overwhelming technical aspects of technology
procurement, we’ve found through our experience that there are some basic tips
that help cities get the best bang for their buck. Even if you’re not a
technical expert, these tips can help you better prepare when you’re ready to
invest in technology.
Technology purchases can be quite expensive and complex.
That’s why it helps to follow the steps above to make sure you’re vetting each
purchase rigorously and appropriately. With many city revenue streams in a
precarious state, you want to make sure you’re investing in the right
technology responsibly. You don’t want to become so paralyzed with fear that
you don’t buy anything, but you need to have the right guidance and expertise
on hand to help you step boldly forward in your investments that will help
achieve your city’s vision and business goals.
To talk more about technology purchasing, please contact us.
In a December
2013 report titled “Cyber Security: Pay Now or Pay More Later. A Report on Cyber Security in Kentucky,” author Adam Edelen discusses some of
the biggest cyber security risks to government—including local government.
Coming from the state of Kentucky’s auditor of public accounts, the
recommendations are serious and worth a read.
I had the good
fortune to be on a panel discussion with Adam back in October 2013 at the
Kentucky League of Cities’s annual conference. Together, we talked about the
risks of cyber security for cities. While we’ve shared our insights concerning
the basics of cyber liability in a past blog post, we want to highlight
some important and often overlooked cyber security points that Adam mentioned
in his report.
While there are
many more issues contained in the report, these are the five most important
cyber security points that we feel are overlooked by cities. Sometimes, IT
vendors can be accused or suspected of hyping up these same security issues in
order to sell products and solutions. So when the state of Kentucky’s auditor
of public accounts is discussing these cyber security threats in such detail as
part of an official report, it’s an extra signal to take action and address
these issues at your city.
The good news is
that most of the security breaches that Adam mentions in the report could have
been prevented by addressing some of the basic security measures above, along
with implementing preventative tactics such as data backup, ongoing IT support,
and antivirus software. In the report, Adam says, “When attacks
against public sector entities are successful, citizens begin to lose
confidence in government’s ability to protect the data it stores.” If you don’t
want your citizens to lose confidence in your city, it’s best to address your
cyber security risks now—rather than after an embarrassing disaster.
talk about cyber security in more detail, please contact us.
If you’ve ever added or updated content to a website without
doing anything technical, you’ve most likely used a content management system.
The phase “content management system” (or CMS) is a bulky term for a tool that
simply makes creating web content easy. After all, its goal is to remove
technical barriers that prevent you from making changes to your city’s website.
However, confusion sometimes exists about what exactly a
content management system is and does. In our latest article to help demystify
a common technology term, we will explain what a content management system is
and what it’s supposed to do for you.
When websites first evolved, technical webmasters, coders,
and software developers made any and all changes. In order to make changes
yourself, you would need to know how to code, how to access the technical back
end of your website, and how to upload and publish any changes. These were the
days when technical professionals held the keys to your website. Making any
changes without technical knowledge was all but impossible.
Of course, websites were also simpler back in the 1990s and
early 2000s. But as websites grew more complex, they also began to mature and
require more timely information. Updating simple news items or correcting an
error on a website became more important to business but could take a long time
if there were other requests in the webmaster’s queue. This situation was not
sustainable as the Internet became a more critical source of communication for
businesses and organizations.
While content management systems have existed since the
1990s, these early systems were technical and hard-to-use. By the mid-2000s,
content management systems began to incorporate user-friendly features and
remove many of the technical obstacles that prevented non-technical users from
publishing website content. When blogging exploded in popularity in the
mid-2000s, blog content management systems became so easy to use that those
tools pressured website content management systems to replicate many of these
easy-to-use features. Today, every organization with a website is, in a sense,
a publisher. And it needs a CMS to quickly publish and update content.
As an application, a content management system may either be
part of your website or a third party application that needs to be integrated
with your website. This content management system application gives you a back
end interface connected to your website that allows you to create, upload, edit,
publish, and update content without technical knowledge.
Beyond these features, modern content management systems are
also often cloud-based. That means they are accessible from anywhere as long as
you have an Internet connection. In the early days of the Internet, someone
would have to be at the city and access a web server to make any changes. With
a content management system, people can manage your website content if they are
at work, at home, or traveling.
As long as you explore a website option that includes remote
hosting in a data center or through the cloud, your content management system
will likely have the benefit of remote access. Such ease-of-use also reduces
the cost of having a technical professional having to help you create, publish,
and update content. That’s because you are able to do it yourself.
While content management systems certainly are capable of
much more than we’ve discussed here, these features are the core of why content
management systems have become standard back end applications for websites. If
you’re still using a webmaster or someone is coding your website updates, then
you’re long overdue to explore some website options that offer a content
To talk about content management systems in more detail, please contact us.
With so many recent advances in website design, email
software, and social media, the importance of online website forms are often
overlooked. Yet, they remain one of the best ways to capture information and
Online forms are not great for every situation. When used in
the wrong place (such as having someone fill out a form to read an article),
they can annoy people and cause them to leave your website. But for situations
such as general contact submissions, specific customer service requests, and
questions targeted for a department (rather than a specific person), online
forms can be a great tool.
With online forms now easier to create and implement on
websites more than ever before, we’ve shared some benefits that may get you
thinking about how to use this helpful tool on your website.
A recent Mashable article listed online forms
as a great alternative to email in certain situations, signifying that online
forms definitely remain a great tool to use on your website. Take a look at
common questions that inundate your email inboxes, customer service requests
that typically take place by email or phone, and forms that you have tied up in
PDFs or paper. Then consider if online forms might be an easier way to deal
with these requests for information while also increasing customer service for
citizens and easing the email burden on city employees.
To talk about online forms in more detail, please contact us.
While there are many data backup solutions out there, they
can be misleading when you think they all do the same thing—completely and
flawlessly back up your data. If you believe that they all work the same way, it
can be a rude awakening when a server fails or disaster hits. At that point,
you might find yourself unable to recover or piece together your data into a
reasonable working condition.
For cities, data backup needs to go beyond consumer-grade
backup or a cheap automated solution requiring little oversight. Why? Here are
a few things that a data backup solution does not automatically cover.
The important point is that data backup consists of more
than just the act of backing up data. There are a variety of important
processes that must take place around this activity, and some upfront planning
and organization helps customize your data backup solution to your particular
situation. Never assume the data backup solution is “just working.” Make sure
you have IT professionals helping you organize, test, and restore data while
guided by an overall plan.
To talk about data backup in more detail, please contact us.
other forms of technology, the modern website continues to evolve at a rapid
pace. We know that cities don’t need websites that are as complex as Amazon’s
or Facebook’s, but we do see a lot of cities with either no website or what’s
now termed a “brochure website” or static website. Those websites tend to be
obsolete and outdated, presenting limited, unchanging information to your
audience that is difficult to update and might require special coding to
websites offer a lot of complex features, there are some basic features that a
city website should have that create the greatest efficiency for both technical
and non-technical users alike. To demystify the basic elements of a modern
website, we’ll outline how it’s hosted, how content is created and updated, and
how online payments are handled.
websites are not just simple pages to display. They involve a lot of memory,
storage, and databases in order to do things like edit and update content
yourself, offer dynamic content (i.e. information that automatically changes on
your website), present decent graphics and visual presentation elements, host files
such as video or audio, offer the ability to integrate with other software and
applications, provide search capabilities, and give you the ability to scale up
by adding pages, information, and data.
your website needs some form of server to host all of these various parts and
pieces. Depending on the complexity of your website, you may host your website
on a server onsite at your city, in a data center, or through the cloud. Part
of website hosting ensures purchasing a specific website domain (e.g.
sophicity.com). When people type in that domain name, it translates on the back
end to a specific numeric website address—like a unique physical address.
That’s how people then get to your website, connecting with your website server
and accessing pages.
important to understand the strengths and limitations of each website hosting
option. For example, it may be difficult and expensive to maintain your own
onsite web server, and a cloud hosting option may be more robust,
cost-effective, and provide anytime/anywhere administrative access if you need
to make changes.
websites have evolved to help non-technical people manage the information that
is displayed on a website. Many years ago, technical webmasters controlled all
of the content and display through coding. That meant anyone without technical
know-how could not add or update website content.
websites usually include a “content management system,” which is a back-end
part of the website software that allows you to create, upload, edit, and
update content by yourself. Ideally, the interface is easy enough for you to
use so that if you know how to use Microsoft Word then you can use the content
management system. It’s meant to be user-friendly because it’s often essential today
for non-technical people to update websites with timely, up-to-date content.
management systems also allow you to set permissions for different users so
that unauthorized people can’t alter important parts of your website. And while
there are more complicated website content features including tagging,
metadata, archiving automation, search engine optimization, and security
management, the bottom line is that a content management system takes the power
from technical people and puts it in the hands of non-technical people.
As more and
more people become used to paying online (and even using tablets and
smartphones to make payments), they expect that modern websites will
accommodate online payments. Many city services are such a routine part of
people’s bills and payments (utilities, property tax, parking tickets, etc.)
that the ability to pay online is a sensible thing to expect on a website.
capability for a website to provide online payments basically ensures that a
person can transact business over that website. To do this, the website needs
to contain an online payment interface (usually webpages that include forms
that people can fill out and submit) that allows people to sign up for
services, set up billing preferences, send payments, and receive various
communications. When credit card or checking account information is exchanged,
a special software known as a “gateway” ensures that payment information is
approved and coordinated between the city, the credit card company, and the
Both your website and the gateway software vendor need to provide high standards of security, especially when dealing with sensitive information such as credit card or social security numbers. Part of setting up online payments includes following the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) which ensures that all sensitive information is secured, encrypted, and protected.
evaluating if you need to upgrade your city’s website, it’s good to first see
if you are behind in providing a website that serves your citizens in a
convenient way. You might be challenged by an expensive, difficult-to-maintain
web server. Your city staff may not be able to upload and update website
content. Or you might not be offering online payments at all. If so, it helps
to get up to speed about modern web hosting, content management systems, and
online payment options in order to see if you can improve your website
experience for citizens and city staff alike.
about website modernization in more detail, please contact us.
budget-conscious cities often have a temptation to stay up on new technology by
purchasing what other cities use or what the media says is essential to have.
When we sit down with a city for the first time, we sometimes find hardware,
software, and other technology tools that may be exceptional and robust but
that sit mostly unused, not serving the needs of the city for the money they’re
technology has a history of being sold on features and benefits that were often
crammed into organizations to fit the product, instead of the product adapted
to meet the needs of the organization. Today, with so many technology advances
continually occurring, it helps to review the timeless principles of looking at
your current technologies through the lens of your users. Then, if you do make
a decision to change your technology, you’re doing it based on user research
rather than peer pressure or gut instinct.
the following user-focused questions as you’re evaluating either current or new
on users of technology, you will answer many questions that help you shop for
just the right solution or tool. Again, notice how the questions above are
technology-agnostic. They ignore cool benefits and features, focusing only on
what users need and how any business objectives may impact those user needs.
With this information in hand, you will have better conversations with
technology vendors as you evaluate solutions. Overall, you’ll reduce costs as
you use this information to eliminate wasteful technology.
To talk more
about technology user needs, please contact us.
planning and development website content must cover a wide range of information
from visionary multi-year plans to specific questions about building permits.
Managing city growth is complicated, but the content on your city website
should simplify that complexity by making it easy to find information about
land use, zoning, building permits, development projects, and much more.
city websites tend to provide too little information or an information dump of
PDFs for citizens to laboriously sift through, you’ll be ahead of the curve if
you apply the following tips to your planning and development content.
tips follow the basic principles of website content like many other city pages,
your challenge for the planning and development page is complexity. Take some
time to sit down with both your planning and development department and your communications
person to sift through all of the information and what to prioritize that best
helps citizens. Remember, your citizens will not know your policies, rules, and
regulations as well as you. It’s up to your planning and development content to
do a lot of heavy lifting in providing answers when citizens need them.
about your city’s planning and development website content in more detail, please contact us.
It can be
frustrating to use a document management system but then never seem to find
what you want. It’s like trying to find a reference in a lengthy book using an index
that lacks the words and phrases you’re looking for. At that point, a book full
of useful information becomes useless if you can’t find specific information
management system indexing works by the same principles. Uploading documents is
the easy part. But work and planning needs to be done to make sure you index
documents enough to make them findable. This becomes especially crucial for
open records requests, timely information needed for a city council meeting, or
specific information that may be stored within hundreds or thousands of similar
While an IT
vendor can help you with some of the technical aspects, keep the following tips
in mind to help you index your documents and save hours of wasted time having city
staff futilely search for information.
that you can index and find files easily in your document management system
gives you a taste of how massive a challenge search engines like Google have on
a daily basis. We produce so much digital information today that what starts as
a seemingly modest list of documents can soon become unmanageable. But with the
right indexing planning and ongoing filling in of the right fields for each
document or file, you are on the road to making your information as findable
and searchable as possible within your document management system.
To talk more
about document management indexing, please contact us.
When most people want to avoid computer viruses, the
common wisdom says to focus on your antivirus software. Of course, that’s a
sensible strategy since the purpose of antivirus software is to stop viruses
from ever infecting your computer. This report from KUTV in Salt Lake City, Utah is typical of the
kind of advice that’s usually dispensed in lieu of a particularly nasty virus
Only at the tail end of this report, buried underneath
advice about antivirus software and even paying a ransom to criminals in order
to get a businessperson’s data back, do we hear about data backup. Even more
than antivirus software, data backup is actually your best antivirus
Even Microsoft said in a recent post that “the most important tool for dealing
with ransomware is to make sure computers are backed up.” Why? Let’s look at
Data backup is a more fundamental and important way to
prevent the effects of a virus outbreak than even antivirus software. We
recommend making sure you have a data backup and disaster recovery solution in
place, combined with an enterprise antivirus solution that is managed by IT
And even though the businessperson in the TV clip paid
the criminals that held his data hostage, we recommend to never pay a ransom!
These are criminals. It is not guaranteed that you will get your data back, and
they may also use your credit card information to commit identity theft. With
data backup in place, you won’t even be tempted to pay a criminal for your
To talk about data backup and antivirus software in more
detail, please contact us.
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