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Thursday, January 14, 2016
John Miller, Senior Consultant

John MillerAs you wade into a new year, it’s inevitable that you will soon take a close look at your city budget. That includes your technology spending, including both operational and capital technology costs. A few years ago, we wrote a series of three articles about municipal IT budgeting that have proved popular every new year. We recommend you read these three articles (scroll down below) to explore the areas discussed in this post in more depth.

However, for this post we’re providing a quick basic overview of technology budgeting based on these three articles. Many cities do not clearly break out technology as a line item in their budget or they tend to lump it in with various departments. It’s worth looking at technology budgeting as clearly as possible to understand where you might be losing money or failing to invest properly for important business activities and projects.

Area 1: Broken Technology

Broken technology is an obvious place to start with technology budgeting. If hardware, software, your website, or data backup constantly fail you, then you are losing money due to lessened productivity and effectiveness. You may need to invest more in certain technologies if you underinvest or take dangerous shortcuts. The most common broken technology symptoms include:

  • Data backup that fails you when you need it
  • Aging hardware (more than five years old)
  • Poor quality Internet service provider and telecom services
  • Reactive or overwhelmed IT support (staff and/or vendor) always putting out fires
  • Aging software that doesn’t work with modern Internet browsers or the cloud

Area 2: Costly Technology

Okay, so maybe your technology works. But have you performed a cost analysis lately? You may find that newer, modern technology solutions and services exist that can trim down your technology budget. Unlike Area 1, the goal of Area 2 is to save money if you’re spending too much. Some costly technology areas often include:

  • Hardware that you may no longer need if you move to the cloud
  • Software that may work better if modernized and will cost less if it’s in the cloud
  • Expensive, hourly IT support or high salary IT employees that don’t give you the biggest bang for your buck
  • Manual (instead of automated) data backup processes such as tape or external hard drives that waste employee time
  • ISP and telecom service contracts that have not been examined in a long time

Area 3: Unhelpful Technology

Even if you have modernized technology, it may not help your city achieve specific goals related to the city’s vision or to assist with important projects. Technology is not simply another utility. Wise technology investments can help you achieve important city business goals in less time and/or with an end result even better than what you originally envisioned. Some key areas to focus on include:

  • Technology resources and options to help major departmental projects and initiatives
  • Software requirements and vendor evaluations
  • Returns on technology investments
  • Long-term operational goals
  • Citizen services such as online payments

Read our three-part series for more information about each area. When budgeting for technology, make sure you look at your broken technology, places where technology might cost you more than you need to pay, and opportunities for technology to help your city meet its most important goals.

Municipal IT Budgeting Part I: Fixing What’s Broken

Municipal IT Budgeting Part II: Maximizing Your IT Investments

Municipal IT Budgeting Part III: Let Technology Spur Your Vision

Questions about your technology budget, or not sure where to start? Reach out to us.

Thursday, January 7, 2016
Alicia Klemola, Account Manager

Alicia KlemolaA new year provides a good excuse to take a fresh look at your city’s information technology. After all, it’s 2016. The great thing about information technology today is that many services have drastically improved in quality while lowering in cost over the last few years. If you haven’t taken a fresh look at your information technology during the last two or three years, then you might be missing out on some powerful cost savers and productivity boosters.

But where do you begin? Here are some technology areas and questions to help you assess the current state of your IT. Use this assessment to help you take a fresh 2016 look at your city’s technology investments.

Your city’s website.

Today, many people first go to your website to find online services, research your city, or look for city council information. That means your website needs to work even harder than city hall to provide information on a constant basis and serve as the first impression of your city for many people. Because first impressions are so important, ask yourself:

  • How old is our website? Has it been five or even 10 years since we had a redesign?
  • How old is the content on our website? Have we updated it recently with fresh news, events, and city council information?
  • Do we offer online payments and services?
  • Do we host our website with a reliable, reputable provider? Does our website go down a lot?

Your data backup and disaster recovery.

Currently, many cities use aging, unreliable, or incomplete data backup solutions that fail during a crisis. Data backup is one of those things that goes unnoticed—until a server fails or a disaster strikes. In those moments, you may discover too late that you cannot recover critical data. Ask yourself:

  • Is all of my important data backed up?
  • Can I quickly recover any lost data from an event like a server failure?
  • Do I back up my data offsite in case of a severe disaster?
  • Have I tested and audited my data backup recently?

Your ability to find information and respond to open records requests.

As you may know, finding information is half the battle when it comes to open records requests. But many cities use insufficient email programs or lack modern document management systems. Free or cheap email software prevents cities from easily finding information and blurs the boundaries between personal and business email. And if your city isn’t storing documents in a centralized place where authorized people can easily search for information, then you’re making city business that much harder for yourself. Ask yourself:

  • Do I use a free, cheap, or difficult-to-use email program?
  • Do I have enough storage for email and documents? Or am I always hitting storage limits?
  • Can I easily find emails and documents, especially for open records requests?

Your hardware, software, and network equipment.

Many cities slow down to a crawl because of aging equipment. Old servers, workstations, and network equipment (like routers or firewalls) can lead to constant crashes, slow computers, and frustrated employees. Plus, aging software that consists of expensive servers and software licenses may need revisiting by looking at some modern cloud options. Ask yourself:

  • Are my servers and workstations more than five years old?
  • Do I often have major issues with hardware and software?
  • Are there cheaper cloud options available for which I don’t need to have as much hardware on site?

Your IT issues getting resolved.

Do you have overworked IT staff who take a long time to get to technical issues? Or maybe you use an “IT repairperson” of sorts who comes over every now and then to fix a lot of issues at once? In the meantime, lingering technology issues means your employees wait a long time for fixes and struggle to do their work. A 24/7 helpdesk used to be a luxury for many organizations, but today they have become more cost effective. For way less than an IT person’s salary, you get experienced engineers constantly working on any IT issue you throw at them. Ask yourself:

  • Is my current IT staff or vendor always available to help me?
  • Do IT issues get lined up in a long queue that takes seemingly forever to get resolved?
  • Is someone clearly accountable so that I can always follow up on the status of an issue?

With this assessment, you’ll be able to quickly identify if you have any problem areas or opportunity for improvement. If at least three of these areas worry you, then seriously consider evaluating the current state of your information technology in depth. Look for more modern, cost-effective options that meet the needs of your employees while lessening the number of ongoing problems.

Want to talk about any of these areas in more detail? Reach out to us today.

Thursday, December 17, 2015
Brian Ocfemia, Technical Account Manager

Brian OcfemiaAccording to the most recent data as of this post, Windows 10 has only about 9% market share. Most people and businesses are still using Windows 7, Windows 8 (including 8.1), and even the now dangerously outdated Windows XP. If you haven’t upgraded to Windows 10, you’re definitely not alone.

When hearing about the benefits of upgrading to Windows 10, you might be tempted by any number of things: a better look and feel, more features and benefits, and even just the lure of trying the latest, greatest thing.

If your city wants to upgrade to Windows 10, then at least consider the following things as you evaluate your decision.

  1. Confirm with any of your critical line of business application software vendors that it’s safe to upgrade. Before you do anything, you first need to make sure that your most critical line of business applications (such as your accounting software) will work with Windows 10. In our conversations with many software vendors, we hear that their applications “should” work but that they are not officially supporting them on Windows 10 yet. If that’s the case, you’re taking a big risk if you upgrade. Have your IT staff or vendor confirm with the software vendor that it’s safe to upgrade—and also make sure you have kept your software up-to-date.
  2. The actual upgrade to Windows 10 is easy. It’s been our experience that the act of upgrading will go smoothly. Microsoft has made Windows 10 one of the easiest operating system upgrades in its history. And you don’t have to worry about reinstalling common applications like Microsoft Office, Adobe Reader, iTunes, and others. These common applications will seamlessly transfer over.
  3. Your employees will need to adjust to a new look and feel. Usually, a lot of problems in an operating system upgrade involve less technical users who get used to a particular operating system. An adjustment to a new operating system like Windows 10 may be really hard on them. You will need to prepare and possibly train your employees about the subtle changes to the look and feel of Windows 10. Everything will not be exactly the same as before, and you need to prepare users for that change.
  4. Your employees will need to adjust to a new Internet browser. Internet Explorer has been around seemingly forever (in technology time), and it’s a browser that many of your employees probably use. In Windows 10, Microsoft dumped that browser and instead provides the new Microsoft Edge browser. While it’s not radically different from Internet Explorer, it’s still different. Less technical users may have some trouble adjusting if they have used Internet Explorer for many years.
  5. Back up your data...just in case. You should have a data backup and disaster recovery plan anyway. But if not or if you still use a manual data backup system, make sure you back up your data before an upgrade to Windows 10. While Microsoft has made the upgrading process fairly easy, you never know if something might go wrong. If it does, at least you will be able to restore your data.

We don’t have a cut and dry answer for your city if you want to upgrade. However, we can (and do) bring up the concerns and comments above to help a city through its decision. As with most new operating systems, you’ll find that it takes a long time until the majority of businesses adopt a new one. Many software vendors will support the most common operating systems a couple of releases back. But we do strongly recommend, as with any new technology, to make sure you consult with your IT staff or vendor before performing any upgrades.

Have additional questions about Windows 10? Reach out to us today.

Thursday, December 3, 2015
Nathan Eisner, COO

Nathan EisnerA recent GovTech article pointed out that “...80 percent of information security professionals have experienced a data leak and call the problem a substantial concern.” So what’s a data leak? For an obvious example, think about when an employee shares sensitive information through email to the wrong people by accident. Quite simply, a data leak is when information becomes available to unauthorized people.

Cities often worry about threats from the outside such as hackers and disasters that threaten data loss. But GovTech rightly points out that data leaks can affect your information security just as seriously.

So what can you do? Here are five tips to help not only with preventing data leaks but also to help tighten your overall information security.

  1. Set up an internal security policy about how to handle sensitive information. As much as technology can help, you still need to train employees and communicate to them about the importance of keeping information secure. That includes employees sharing sensitive or confidential information to the wrong people through email, leaving computers out in the open and unsecured, and saving files on personal devices that are not connected to the city’s network (such as a home computer or smartphone). In short, you need to designate how employees handle the most sensitive and confidential city information.
  2. Properly maintain the software and systems in your environment. Your city needs to use modern software that’s supported by the software vendor, kept up-to-date to the latest version, and regularly patched. Any older, dated software and unpatched modern software opens you up to data breach risks. Keeping your software modern and up-to-date is critical because software vendors constantly release software updates to not just enhance features and functionality but also to close up holes that hackers may exploit.
  3. Set up permissions and authorize only certain people to access information. Modern document management systems are great for restricting access to documents. With the help of your IT staff or vendor, you can set up permissions for documents so that unauthorized users don’t access them. This level of security goes a long way toward preventing accidental leaks of information.
  4. Proactively monitor and maintain your information technology. Proactive, 24x7x365 monitoring and alerting helps enforce security best practices and actively looks out for security risks. This way, you identify security risks in real time and protect yourself against many possible security issues before they occur—including data breaches. A reactive IT environment increases the risk that you’ll only notice a security issue long after a data leak happens.
  5. Encrypt your city’s computers. In case a laptop or tablet gets stolen or lost, you want to make sure the information is encrypted. This means that the information on the laptop or tablet is useless to anyone who accesses it. It’s an extra layer of security that’s well worth the investment just in case someone does get access to unauthorized information.

When thinking about information security, it’s much easier to think about the big threats like hackers and viruses. But the day to day actions of your employees can also contribute to information security vulnerabilities. Taking the time to modernize your technology, proactively monitor and maintain it, and set up a strong employee policy will tremendously help in preventing both data breaches and leaks.

Need a fresh look at your information security? Reach out to us with your questions.

Thursday, November 19, 2015
Victoria Boyko, Software Development Consultant

Victoria BoykoYou might have seen CEO Dave Mims’s recent video that shows many great examples of modern city websites that not only look great but also have begun impacting the lives of citizens. As Dave says in the video, when people first think about your city, where will they go first? That’s right. Your website.

So, if they’re going to your website as an introduction to your city, are they seeing a website that reflects your community well?

If your answer is not a resounding YES, then you might want to explore modernizing your website. Luckily, what we talk about below can be done extremely cost-effectively—just as we’ve done for many of the city examples you will see.

Let’s look more closely at the benefits of a modern website that most help cities.

1. A modern, nice-looking custom design gives your city a look and feel that fits your city’s image.

As you can see with the City of Marshallville, Georgia’s website, a great modern look and feel can convey some powerful messages about your city’s beauty and charm. You have cost-effective options to not only modernize your website but customize it based on the unique aspects of your city. Maybe it’s your history, tourist attractions, economic strengths, or beautiful parks and scenery. Whatever it is, your website needs to serve as a beautiful, warm welcome that conveys a lot of important things about your city in the first few seconds that someone sees it.

Marshallville, Georgia 

2. Timely information helps keep citizens informed and engaged.

A city like Dawsonville, Georgia uses its new website to keep citizens informed about news and events. Because it’s so easy to upload content to this modern website, city staff can post information in seconds. Citizens stay engaged by signing up for a newsletter or sending in their own events—all from the city website. A modern website allows cities to create as many pages as they need to help the specific needs of citizens and businesses. Content such as city council agendas and minutes, meetings, calendars, videos, and photos all keep citizens informed, educated, and up-to-date about city happenings.

Dawsonville, Georgia 

3. Online payments give citizens and businesses better customer service and more flexible, convenient options.

As you can see with the City of Bethel Heights, Arkansas, they offer the ability to pay sewer bills and tickets. Many people are accustomed to paying bills online, and so citizens come to expect the same kind of service from cities. In our digital age, it’s frustrating if snail mail, phone, or in-person payments are the only options. By providing online payments, you are giving your citizens and businesses an extremely convenient way to conduct business with your city.

Bethel Heights, Arkansas 

4. Let your city website do some “heavy lifting” by providing useful content 24/7.

You can only give in-person tours during the day, but Jonesboro, Georgia gives an online historical tour of its city 24/7. This is just one example of a great way to let your website work for you when you’re not working. There are many creative ways to provide information through photos, videos, and text to create tours, guides, and checklists about anything important related to your city. People can access this information anytime / anywhere, allowing them to learn more about your city and get their questions answered—without you lifting a finger.

 Jonesboro, Georgia

5. Quickly direct people to information.

Most importantly, you want your city website to speedily direct people to the information they need. The City of Georgetown, Kentucky does an excellent job by providing some quick links along with clear steps such as “Ask a Question or Make a Request,” “Find Information,” and “View My Questions/Requests.” While you want to present some softer content like tours, pictures, and city history, never forget that citizens often come to find specific information—fast. And you need to deliver that information and make it easy to find.

Georgetown, Kentucky 

Watch Dave’s video for a quick recap of these benefits and reach out to us if you’re interested in modernizing your website.

Thursday, November 12, 2015
Dave Mims, CEO

Dave MimsMany cities often wait to reexamine and modernize their technology only until a major disastrous event such as a server failure, virus, or natural disaster hits. But that likely doesn’t mean the technology worked perfectly until that point. Warning signs probably existed that were ignored or accepted as the status quo.

We understand. It’s sometimes hard to realize how bad you have it when aging technology and reactive IT support are your norm. Use the following assessment to see if you’ve been ignoring or putting up with failing technology—and ask yourself if it’s time to take a good, hard look at your current technology investments.

  1. Your city website goes down a lot. Your website is your public portal to the world, used by citizens to find information and visitors to learn more about your city. If your website is often down or unavailable, that situation doesn’t reflect well on your city. Often, website crashes stem from hosting issues either on your own servers or through a cheap web hosting provider. Because websites aren’t optional or nice-to-have anymore, you need a reliable web hosting provider that minimizes downtime.
  2. Your Internet access is slow or spotty. Internet access is essential to government business today. Many of your employees spend each day connected to the Internet in some crucial way to conduct city business. When Internet access becomes unreliable, productivity instantly lowers. A robust, reliable, high-speed Internet connection is absolutely essential. Internet problems usually originate with poorly set up wireless access points or ongoing problems with Internet service providers that have never been fully addressed.
  3. You can’t easily find electronic files and documents. Cities using free email accounts or lacking document management systems usually find it incredibly difficult to locate electronic information. This problem becomes especially apparent with open records requests. It becomes a major hassle to access an employee’s personal email account or documents located only on a person’s desktop. Cities really need business-class email software and document management systems to professionally and systematically collect, organize, centralize, track, and access information.
  4. Your IT support staff and technology vendors are always putting out fires. If there’s always a technology crisis going on, that’s not acceptable. Yet, this situation is often one that becomes a status quo at many cities. If servers always have critical problems, if computers are always crashing, and if there are always problems with your IT network, then your city is just limping along from day to day. Your technology needs to work like a utility, not like an old car that you constantly fix. Proactive IT maintenance, modernized technology, and upgraded software all help put out fires permanently.
  5. You use paper and phone calls as workarounds because technology fails you. Sure, paper and phone calls may do the trick when you’re frustrated with technology. But they are just stopgaps and time-wasters when technology needs to handle the brunt of repetitive, labor-intensive tasks. Paper adds to storage costs and presents a higher risk of data loss. Phone calls usually result from frustrated employees not able to rely on email or electronic document sharing, or from citizens calling when the website is down. Relying too much on paper and phone calls are signs that technology may be failing you.

It’s easy to become so accustomed to a negative technology environment that you think there isn’t much wrong with your situation. Hey, as long as you’re getting by day by day. But letting these technology problems go on introduces many risks including:

  • Making it more likely that a major disaster will lead to permanent data loss and a long outage.
  • Frustrating employees and citizens, which affects morale.
  • Slowing productivity to a crawl when you could be running.

How did you do on this assessment? If you’ve noticed some issues and problems, reach out to us today.

Thursday, November 5, 2015
John Miller, Senior Consultant

John MillerAt a smaller city, a common reaction when your IT person leaves is to hire a new one. Or maybe you’ve never hired one before and you think that having a full-time IT person will benefit your city. Perhaps. But information technology is one of those costly areas where it’s critical that you explore and vet other options.

The reason your municipal association has a program like IT in a Box is because they have listened to you. They know the unique needs of cities. IT in a Box is a technology service tailored to local government that provides many benefits to cities—including cost-saving alternatives to hiring a new IT person.

Let’s break it down.

Salary and Benefits Cost

Hiring a full-time person means paying that person a competitive salary and benefits. It’s currently a tight IT job market and that means you’ll need to pay a lot for a good, experienced person. You might get to pay a lower market salary, but not much lower. And don’t expect that person to stay long.

What Happens When Your Expensive, Salaried Employee Isn’t Around?

So, you hire a full-time person who dedicates themselves to their IT job during the day. Let’s say they even go the extra mile and remain on call most of the time. But your full-time employee will inevitably get sick or go on vacation. What then? Who is taking care of ongoing, regular IT issues and maintenance? You’ll potentially experience service interruptions when they aren’t around. Even worse—what happens when your IT person leaves for another job? Your IT will potentially be neglected until you hire a new person—which can take a long time.

What Happens When Your Expensive, Salaried Employee Is Around?

Even as your IT employee puts in time on the job, they will experience various problems as a department of one.

  • Support bottlenecks. Your IT employee must prioritize and eventually get around to a long list of support requests. That leaves many problems lingering for days, weeks, and (at worst) months.
  • No activity when your IT employee isn’t working. No IT work is getting done between the time they go home and come in the next morning.
  • Lack of comprehensive expertise. Even at a small city, an IT employee will need to handle many aspects of technology including end user support, hardware and software support, network management, upgrades, vendors, the city’s website, email, document management, cybersecurity, and much more. Technology changes so fast. That’s a huge burden for one person to shoulder and it’s rare to find one person who is good at everything.

By contrast, consider IT in a Box for a few compelling reasons.

A 24/7 Support Team of Municipal-Experienced Engineers for Less Than the Cost of a Full-Time Employee

When looking at cost, you have to look at what you’re getting. Options now exist to simply get much more bang for your buck. If you can pay less than one full-time normal salary to get the capabilities of an entire experienced IT team who is always available, then you seriously need to look at this option simply from a budget perspective. With such an option, it’s harder to justify paying a salary (or even salaries) with benefits for a time-limited, less experienced person.

Ongoing Stability and Continuity Without Pause

A 24/7 support team of municipal-experienced engineers provides proactive monitoring and management of your IT environment. They never get sick, never go on vacation, and never leave for another job. That’s because a team manages and supports your IT environment so that multiple people on your city staff can get supported at the same time. This kind of setup removes support bottlenecks and allows you to more proactively handle your IT issues, needs, and projects.

Engineers Experienced in Different Aspects of Technology

Instead of the impossible expectation of one person trying to be an expert in everything, a team of engineers will have blended skill sets. That means different people may handle your basic IT support, your website needs, your email, your document management, or your cybersecurity. Small cities can now have a team of engineers that only large companies usually have access to—all for less than the cost of one full-time employee.

When considering IT in a Box, your cost will be based upon the number of supported users. That means small cities will benefit from a much lower cost and way more bang for their buck than they would get from a full-time employee. Based on the number of users, a monthly flat fee is set up. You will not pay any upfront onboarding, equipment, setup, or project fees, and you will not be charged any unpredictable hourly fees along the way.

Considering hiring an IT employee, or did an IT employee recently leave? Talk to us first about IT in a Box.

Thursday, October 29, 2015
Alicia Klemola, Account Manager

Alicia KlemolaWireless technology has gotten to the point where many cities see it as an affordable option of providing Internet access to employees. After all, most cable companies now offer a wireless modem as a standard component for consumers, and wireless technology has both lowered in cost and improved in quality.

These cost reductions and advances in technology may mean more cities using wireless—but often with a do-it-yourself mentality. Because people often set up wireless access points in their home, it’s easy to think you just need to go to a retail store, buy the equipment, and set it up for your city.

This hands on approach can lead to a host of critical performance and security issues for cities that increase cyber risk. Use this list to see if your city might be at risk.

  1. Using consumer-grade wireless hardware. Consumer-grade wireless hardware is great for homes and very small businesses. Not for cities. You need secure, scalable wireless hardware that accommodates your envisioned Internet access needs along with leaving you plenty of margin for expansion.
  2. Setting up wireless access points with weak security. At many cities, we often find wireless access points with simple, default, or even no passwords. We even see wireless hardware sitting out in the open. A weak wireless access point presents a ripe opportunity for unsophisticated and even novice hackers to access sensitive city data or take down your network. It’s like leaving a door wide open at your house.
  3. Failing to provide enough coverage area. It’s easy for wireless connectivity to be obstructed depending on where the access point is located (such as in a basement or on a top floor), the thickness of walls, and other electronic devices and appliances interfering with the signal. Proper planning and deployment are key to prevent this issue.
  4. Relying on non-technical city employees to manage your wireless network. Just like your non-technical city employees wouldn’t monitor and maintain servers, you don’t want them managing your wireless network. Business-grade wireless access points have a lot of technical configurations that need to be set properly. If not, you could be exposing your city to major security risks. In addition, your IT staff or vendor can help keep your wireless network up-to-date with patches and upgrades, monitor for unauthorized access, and address the root cause of problems so that they don’t affect you long-term.

With wireless, don’t mess around. An experienced IT professional or vendor will be able to identify what kind of wireless hardware you need, how many wireless access points, where they should go, how your wireless hardware fits into your entire network, and how to provide the best security for your employee needs.

Got questions about your city’s wireless connections? Reach out to us today.

Thursday, October 22, 2015
Brian Ocfemia, Technical Account Manager

Brian OcfemiaOver the years, many cities have been slow to adopt and incorporate advancements in information technology. Begrudgingly, some are required to upgrade when the technology just stops working and vendors no longer support it. Plus, technology continues to improve in leaps and bounds, and it becomes available at an ever faster pace.

As a result, cities encounter a tough uphill climb because servers, computers, and laptops cost a lot of money. Maintaining onsite hardware and software also requires a lot of complicated technical equipment and know-how. Today, information technology is still a necessary investment but often hard to understand.

With the above said, don’t be so quick to dismiss using tablets at your city. Tablets can be leveraged for all sorts of city business—from public works employees using them in the field to councilmembers using them for meetings.

If your city hasn’t embraced tablets yet, then consider a few compelling reasons why you should.

  1. Easy-to-use. Tablets don’t require a lot of complicated setup and software, and they are built very intuitively. A few icons serve as shortcuts to the commonly used apps that you will need (such as your email, the Internet, and your documents), and you’re ready to go. Unlike desktops and laptops, tablets are unusually user-friendly.
  2. Extremely portable. A tablet is easier to carry around than a laptop. In fact, despite laptops always being touted as a great form of mobile computing, they can be unusually cumbersome to carry around and place on your lap or a small table. By contrast, tablets are about the size and feel of a magazine, and you’ll find yours easy to carry with you wherever you go.
  3. Anytime, anywhere access to your documents. If you store your documents in the cloud, your tablet can access them anywhere, anytime. That means access to presentations, PDFs, Word files, and other documents you use during your day-to-day city work. This kind of access becomes especially valuable when you’re at home, traveling, or at a city council meeting.
  4. Comfortable way to read. Tablets are designed for reading. Desktops and laptops are not very comfortable to read on, and smartphones often present text or a screen that is too small. Tablets are just right for reading and you can easily read work documents sitting on your sofa, waiting to catch a flight, or grabbing a meal at your local diner without having to get out a laptop or squint to see something on your phone.
  5. Eliminate most of your paper needs. A tablet can help eliminate your city’s need for paper. Imagine your city council meetings run with tablets instead of printing up agendas and supporting documentation. If you have access to city documents through your tablet, you’re less likely to use up paper and ink on a constant basis to print up documents that you want to read or reference later.

Also, because tablets have lowered in cost and increased in functionality, they are often relatively inexpensive investments that don’t require a large upfront cost.

Wondering if tablets might work well for your city? Reach out to us to chat more about these handy devices.

Thursday, October 15, 2015
Nathan Eisner, COO

Nathan EisnerFollowing open records laws and records retention policies is serious business. However, email sometimes gets treated like an informal type of communication. But when email is considered a public record, an informal approach to email becomes hard-to-manage, expensive, and time-consuming when responding to an open records request.

Unfortunately, many cities have not modernized their email systems. As a result, they open themselves up to greater risk by not having proper business-class functionality to help properly archive and maintain email.

Here are a few serious mistakes that jeopardize a city’s ability to respond to open records requests that involve email.

  1. Using free or personal email accounts. Free software platforms often lack a central way to manage and maintain email that can effectively match your city’s records retention policies. Personal email accounts involve even more risk because they blur the boundary between business and personal information. Politicians from Sarah Palin to Hillary Clinton have run into ugly, expensive problems when using personal emails for government business. Conduct all city business with a business-class email system that your IT staff or vendor manages and maintains.
  2. Lacking an email archiving policy. To reduce the risk of deleting or losing important emails, it helps to set up archiving on your email platform. That means taking a serious look at storage. Reducing employee email storage increases the risk of employees deleting emails that need to be retained. If you know how long you need to keep your emails and when they can be deleted, then you can automate your email system to take care of this.
  3. Failing to properly back up emails both onsite and offsite. Emails for city business are public records. In other words, failing to back up emails is not optional. If you already have a data backup plan for your email, then you need to examine if you back up that data both onsite and offsite. Also, you need to test your backups at least quarterly to ensure they work.
  4. Relying on email for document management. We’ve written before that email is no substitute for a document management system. Document management systems work exceptionally well for creating, editing, reviewing, and finalizing official documents while collaborating transparently with other people. Documents don’t get lost, they are seen by any authorized user, and they are easy to find when you receive an open records request. By contrast, documents become much harder to manage when they only reside in people’s emails.

To avoid the above mistakes, your city can follow this simple checklist.

  • Use a business-class email system.
  • Archive email to match with your city’s retention schedule.
  • Back up emails both onsite and offsite.
  • Create official documents in a document management system.
  • Clarify city policy and procedures about using personal and business email.

Worried about how your city handles open records requests that involve email? Reach out to us with your questions.

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