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Tuesday, August 12, 2014
Clint Nelms, COO

Too often, many businesses and organizations have a data backup solution in place and assume it’s working. As long as it appears to back up your data in some form, you feel fine. But if you’ve had an unchallenged data backup process going on for even just a few years, you might want to ask some questions.

That’s because many data backup systems still fail to restore data when an emergency occurs. Assumptions...well, you know the saying. Too many businesses and organizations still assume their data backup is working when they have no clear idea of what’s being backed up, how it works, and even who is backing it up.

Answering the following five questions is essential for understanding if your data backup solution needs an overhaul or a serious upgrade. 

1. WHY are you backing up data?

This may seem like an obvious first question. But different data has different priority. Often, businesses and organizations will spend a lot of time and money backing up everything—even old, uncritical documents that take up a lot of space. It’s good to spend time assessing your data. What’s the most mission-critical data that you need to restore the quickest? What’s next in priority? Is there any old data that does not need regular daily or weekly backups?

2. WHERE are you backing up data?

A recent article from Network Computing indicated that many organizations still use tape backup. That means a majority of organizations—possibly yours—rely on outdated, corruptible technology when better data backup solutions exist. Manual onsite data backup with traditional storage devices like tape, external hard drives, or thumb drives places your data at critical risk. It’s better than nothing, but too many things go wrong with these solutions. At a minimum, you need to back up your data both onsite and offsite through automated servers or a cloud solution to ensure full security and disaster recovery.

3. WHO is backing up your data?

In too many circumstances, non-technical people are saddled with handling manual data backups such as tape or external hard drives. When someone wears too many hats, data backup can easily fall off someone’s to-do list. Professional IT staff or an IT vendor needs to handle the complicated processes of data backup to ensure that your data is captured, tested, and recoverable in case of a disaster.

4. WHAT are you using to back up your data?

As mentioned above, manual data backup solutions have become outdated and high-risk. Typically, businesses are better off if they use an onsite server to back up data but the risk of full disaster still exists if your building is destroyed or severely damaged. Using the cheap storage of the cloud helps with offsite backups, and using cloud applications ensures that you can access your data from any location. Sometimes, you might still find a need to use an onsite redundant server (or servers) for certain applications where a server failure might risk data loss or interrupted business continuity.

5. WHEN do you back up your data?

This is also why it’s important to ask “Why?” Depending on the importance of particular data, you may want to back it up every hour, every day, or every week. We recommend at least every day for mission-critical or highly used data. For example, you might use an onsite server to capture hourly snapshots of financial or ecommerce data during the day. For all files (including non-essential documents), you might send a daily snapshot at the end of each day to the cloud. Having a regular schedule that is automated and enhanced by modern technology avoids issues of infrequent data backup (such as every week) or forgetting to back up data.

It’s also worth noting that cost may inhibit you from thinking about answering these questions and looking for a better solution. First, consider the cost of data loss. If a server fails or a disaster hits, what will happen? That’s usually a sobering thought and highly encourages many businesses to make the investment. But second, technology has significantly advanced to the point where many modern data backup solutions are comparable or even less costly than traditional tape or server backups. When you add automation and reliability to your cost-benefit analysis, it definitely doesn’t hurt to shop around for a better solution.

To talk more the 5 Ws of data backup, please contact us.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014
Alicia Klemola, Account Manager

It’s summer, and you’re probably enjoying the season but not the air conditioning bills that always skyrocket to keep you cool. With heat and cold, you clearly see the direct cause and effect relationship. You know that if heat waves extend over long periods of time, your power consumption will rise. If power bills become severe on a tight budget, then you might think of ways to reduce your air conditioning bills given the special circumstances.

Yet, technology increases your power consumption 24/7/365, stealing your money like a thief in the night. The cause and effect is less apparent. You know you need your servers and computers to help you run your business. Whatever it takes to maintain those machines, you’ll do it—including lots and lots of air conditioning to make sure servers and computers don’t overheat.

Luckily, there are ways to reduce your power consumption—and save money—if you know how to eliminate as much of your hardware’s power hungry appetite as possible. Use the following tips to assess your technology and explore if you can find ways to recoup some money through power savings. 

1. Reduce your total number of servers.

We live in a day and age when cloud computing has revolutionized technology. That means you don’t need as many servers. Instead, you can access critical software and applications through the Internet. This software is hosted in massive cloud data centers where you don’t have to worry about cooling and maintaining your own servers. The more servers you have, the harder your air conditioning has to work. So, the more servers you eliminate and switch over to cloud software, the more money you save.

2. Replace older desktops and laptops.

As technology improves, hardware manufacturers build leaner and meaner desktops and laptops. That technology includes advances in power efficiency, and so newer machines end up using a lot less power than older machines. Your older desktops and laptops are far less power efficient than newer models. Of course, while power consumption alone probably isn’t enough of a reason to justify replacing a computer, it’s another argument for your business case if you’re looking for reasons to purchase new computers.

3. Implement a telework policy.

An obvious way to lessen power consumption is by not using it at all. If your staff can work as effectively at home as they can in the office, let them stay home all or part of the week. Beyond power consumption, teleworking has proven to offer many benefits for both you and your employees. It gives your employees more flexible time to do their work while taking care of personal needs (such as kid-related activities or taking care of relatives), and you benefit from increased employee morale and productivity. Offering teleworking also helps with recruiting talent for your organization.

4. Power down or decommission servers and computers that no one is using.

This might sound like a silly or obvious tip, but you’d be surprised. In many business environments that we’ve seen over the years, we often find servers and computers running 24/7 that no one is using, and that no one has used for years. If you’re not using a server any more, work with your IT staff or vendor to decommission it properly. The same logic applies to computers that are just on and running. Only power up hardware that is regularly or semi-regularly used for a specific purpose.

5. Check load balancing on any servers that are running onsite.

Load balancing is quite technical and we won’t get into the nuts and bolts of it here. But it’s something your IT staff or vendor should rigorously monitor and check. On a high level, load balancing ensures that a server or servers aren’t overtaxed beyond what they’re capable of (such as a small email server trying to serve too many employees) or running at full capacity when they’re not being used much or at all (such as a GPS software server that few people use but that takes a lot of power to run). Load balancing helps make sure servers are handling as much input as they are capable of handling in the most efficient way.

From the obvious to the technical, there are quite a few ways to reduce your technology power consumption. Much of the time, we tend to run machines in wasteful ways that we wouldn’t do with other equipment. By powering down and eliminating hardware waste, you not only save money but also encourage a greener business environment. A lot of sensible energy policies center on waste, and the more waste you eliminate the better it is for the environment—and for your bottom line.

To talk about energy consumption in more detail, please contact us.  

Tuesday, July 29, 2014
John Miller, Senior Consultant

A recent tragic murder investigation in Atlanta led to a news report by 11Alive about how investigators used computer forensics to uncover deleted files from the alleged killer’s computer. In some discussion about the case as passing conversation, we heard a good question from a client: “If I want to make sure that sensitive business information is deleted from a computer, how do I make sure?”

In this alleged murderer’s case, he didn’t realize that even seeming to permanently delete files does not actually delete them. While investigators are thankful that this person didn’t know any better, it does bring up an important issue for cities and businesses. Simply reverse the situation: What if these investigators were professional criminals, corporate spies, or IT-savvy angry ex-employees who were looking through your seemingly “discarded” hardware with sensitive information inside? How do you protect yourself?

First, it’s good to understand two common misperceptions about deleting data from computers. 

1. When you delete a file, it’s not actually deleted.

You might already know this, but many users do not. They think by deleting a file that it’s gone forever. Tell them to go up to that Recycle Bin or Trash Can icon on their desktop. Double click. And yes, there’s all of their deleted files. It’s only when you delete files from this repository that you “permanently” delete all of your files. If a user does this, those files are now usually inaccessible to both themselves and non-IT savvy users.

2. When you permanently delete a file, it’s not actually deleted.

What? This is an extremely common misperception, and it’s a very dangerous one. Most people do not know that files still exist on your computer even when you “permanently” delete them. On a high level, what happens when you “permanently delete” the file is that you tell the computer that the space that the file takes up can be used if needed. Unless it’s overwritten by other data (which usually only happens if you’ve almost run out of disk space), it’s still there.

These misperceptions lead to cyber liability issues. Let’s say you sell or recycle a computer, and it ends up in the hands of someone outside your organization who is unauthorized to access sensitive information (like intellectual property or social security numbers). All they would need is a professional (for maybe a few hundred dollars) to recover any contents on the hard drive and use that information in a negligent manner. The rarity of such an incident is no excuse for allowing such information to get out there. All it takes is one breach of sensitive information for your city or business to face a lawsuit or even a criminal charge.

So, how do you really delete data? There are three levels of protection and assurance to make sure that deleted data cannot be accessed by people outside your organization. 

1. Encrypt your hardware’s data.

The information is still on your hard drive, but at least the probability becomes nearly nil that anyone can access it. Essentially, you require encryption passwords by a user to access anything on their computer. This is a separate password and set at a higher level than the password for opening up Windows or an application. If a computer gets into someone’s hands through a sale, recycling activity, or theft, the information will be worthless without the encryption password.

2. Professionally wipe the hard drive completely clean.

Encryption still offers a slim chance that someone could access the data. Unfortunately, there is no user-friendly “Wipe Hard Drive” button. To completely wipe the hard drive clean, you need an IT professional to handle the task. You can also try the process yourself, but it’s difficult for a non-technical person and introduces the risk that you haven’t properly wiped the drive clean. It often includes complicated software, technical steps, and even removing the hard drive from your computer and mounting it onto another computer. Let IT professionals handle such a procedure, and they’ll also make sure you’ve complied with cyber liability best practices.

3. Physically destroy the hard drive.

Similar to professionally wiping the hard drive clean, you don’t want to do this yourself. To be thorough and safe, let an IT professional handle the proper destruction of a hard drive to ensure that it’s done safely, completely, and in an environmentally safe way. This is the way to really have confidence that no one will access any data on a hard drive. If it’s gone and destroyed, there’s really no way for that data to be retrieved ever again.

As the alleged murderer found out, data can still be found unless you take further precautions. For cities and businesses, understanding this issue is a great help for cyber liability. Deletion on a computer just isn’t enough, and you risk that data getting into the hands of malicious people. At the very least, encrypt all of your computers (including tablets and smartphones). Then, when it’s time to decommission, use professionals to ensure that your computer’s hard drive is a blank slate or goes to hard drive heaven.

To talk more about encrypting and decommissioning computers, please contact us.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Brian Ocfemia, Technical Account Manager

One of the biggest burdens we try to lift off our clients’ shoulders is what we call “vendor management.” For non-technical people, “vendor management” is the time wasted trying to diagnose technical problems on the fly and spending hours on the phone with the vendor’s support technicians when you’ve got your normal job to do. Plus, you’re not a technical expert, so you’re often not sure about specific details related to the problem, knowing if the vendor really solved the problem, and feeling sure that you’re talking with the right person about it.

Through our experiences, we’ve seen time wasted and even money lost when vendor management slips out of your control. These situations can range from getting bamboozled into purchasing software with too many bells and whistles to vendors not properly following their support agreements. Here are five common scenarios where you’ll most likely lose time and money without professional vendor management vigilance. 

1. Following and sticking to business and technical requirements.

Sounds simple. You build out requirements, and that’s what you need to buy. You’re probably laughing because you’ve experienced “scope creep” with vendors. You only need X, but they try to sell you X, Y, and Z. The time to “splurge” on requirements is when you objectively create them before you start shopping. After reining in your ideas into what’s feasible and cost-sensible, you then shop based on those requirements. From a computer to complex software, it helps to have an IT professional who knows the kind of noise that vendors make when selling bells and whistles. That IT professional will work to keep the vendor focused when evaluating their products and services.

2. Ensuring proper configuration and installation.

Vendors can be lazy and indifferent once you’ve purchased a product or solution. Sometimes you’re stuck installing it yourself. Other times, you may receive limited remote or onsite help. Even then, these technicians are experts about their product but not with your particular IT systems. If you rely too much on their limited experience, you might have problems getting your product or software quickly up to speed. An IT professional can help troubleshoot through any common issues with the vendor and ensure that your product or software is installed correctly.

3. Monitoring and maintaining any hardware, software, or equipment in your environment.

Only an IT professional who regularly monitors and maintains your environment will be able to holistically note red flags that a vendor’s hardware, software, or equipment is causing. Product vendors might have some limited monitoring capabilities but they won’t have access to your overall server and workstation management dashboards. IT professionals help manage this process by ensuring that patches and updates are applied, technical problems are noted, and the product is working harmoniously within your environment.

4. Handling technical issues efficiently.

This is one of those areas that’s often time-consuming and frustrating. You call, try to explain the problem, talk to a Tier 1 support technician, then another, and then another...and soon you’ve wasted half a day on the phone. An IT professional can save you a lot of time here. They know the game, they know basic Troubleshooting 101, and they can explain a problem faster. If that requires escalating the problem to a higher support technician, they can assess that quickly and push for a fast resolution. Plus, when an IT professional handles those phone calls, it’s like an accountant handling your taxes—a huge sigh of relief.

5. Enforcing support contracts.

Vendors usually provide support within their contracts but many organizations often don’t enforce and use them to their fullest benefit. Your IT staff or vendor might be very skilled, but they are not experts in your vendor’s product. When major problems arise, the vendor needs to send their people over to solve them. An IT professional can help organizations enforce those contracts, coordinate the vendor’s support, and make sure the vendor provides what they promised. Support contracts not only provide you things like security patches and updates but also help pay for expensive parts and give you customer service priority.

Like any technical activity such as finances or the law, technology vendor management can be overwhelming when you’re an owner, director, or manager running a business or organization. We’ve noticed that when we take “vendor management” off of someone’s plate, it saves huge amounts of time and money. Plus, we often uncover productivity issues, configuration problems, or parts of support contracts that weren’t previously enforced. Technology is a tough area for non-technical people to wrap their heads around. Just as lawyers deal with lawyers, let IT professionals deal with other IT professionals.

To talk about vendor management in more detail, please contact us.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014
Nathan Eisner, CMO

It’s fairly conventional for city websites to include history pages that summarize highlights throughout the decades and even centuries that the city has existed. Interesting facts abound as most cities grew throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, and cities like to know that their efforts in the 21st century rest upon a rich history. So how are you approaching your history page?

Chances are that it’s not really a priority. If it’s not helping serve citizens and if it’s not essential for day-to-day business, then it’s easy for history pages to become an afterthought. Yet, a lot of important information is communicated through your history page—much more information than you think. But a quick scan of many city websites showcase only dry, dusty information that sounds like an old-fashioned encyclopedia, with maybe a few photos added.

How can you spice up your history page while also improving your engagement with both citizens and non-citizens? Read on for some tips.

1. Connect the past to the present.

One mistake that many cities make is to give a dry recounting of old history and just leave the text sitting there, like a dusty antique on a shelf that no one looks at. Instead, use your history to highlight themes that are important to your city today. Maybe your city has had a historical commitment to diversity. Or perhaps there is a particular kind of industry that was important to your city’s growth. Look to your past to find themes that resonate in the present so that citizens feel they are living in a city where its history is still being written.

2. Add visuals to help illustrate your history.

Photos and videos help bring your history to life. High quality professional photos of buildings and landmarks will interest people as they read the text on your history page. Plus, consider using digital imaging to scan old historical photos so that you can share them on your website. Present a few photos to accompany the text and then consider creating a separate page or slideshow in case people want to spend a lot of time looking at many photos.

3. Offer a timeline to highlight key events in your city’s history.

A timeline is another visual device that helps people easily grasp key events that happened in your city throughout the years. You can create a simple list or table, but you may also want to hire a graphic designer to help make something more visually appealing. While New York City’s timeline might seem a little fancy, it’s actually a good model for how a timeline might work for your city with easy to read facts and dates.

4. Tell stories about significant or interesting events in your history.

While a chronological overall timeline is good because it includes all of your city’s history, don’t be afraid to take interesting stories and expand upon them if they’d be of interest to people. Maybe a founder of your city was an interesting person. You might have a unique building or landmark with a neat story. Or a famous fair or sporting event was held in your city at one point. Tell the colorful stories of your city’s history to draw out its character and charm.

5. Connect your history to tourism.

Let’s say you interest people in your city’s history through your overview, visuals, timeline, and stories. You’ve intrigued them and they want to visit. But there’s no information on the history page telling them about locations or what’s open to the public, and so they stop at just reading the history. Link to any locations you mention. Better yet, provide a list of information about historical places that people can visit including festivals and other events related to these places.

Your city history page is really an extension of your marketing, public relations, and tourism efforts. If it’s dry and lifeless, it makes your city look like a relic. But by connecting history to your city’s vision, mission, and themes, you create the idea that your city is a work in progress. The foundation of your current governmental, business, and residential efforts builds upon the past while looking toward the future. Use the past to make the present seem that much better.

To talk more about your city’s history page, please contact us.

Thursday, July 10, 2014
Dave Mims, CEO

Sophicity was flattered to see our IT in a Box service recently featured in a Georgia Municipal Association interview with Mayor James Grogan of Dawsonville, Georgia. More specifically, Mayor Grogan spent a lot of time highlighting the importance of a modern website for cities. As a small city of about 2,500 residents, Dawsonville did not use the size of their city as an excuse for keeping an old, outdated website that wasn’t frequently updated with new information.

Mayor Grogan recognized that our Internet use has matured to the point where it’s second nature for citizens to expect that city websites are one-stop shops for city news, information, and services. In case your city isn’t convinced that it needs a website upgrade, don’t take it from us. Here are five reasons that we’ve extracted from this GMA interview that highlight what Mayor Grogan felt was important about websites and convinced him to update his city’s website ASAP.

1. Design impacts the impression citizens will have of a city.

Just like a city hall building is the face of a city, the same is true of a website on the Internet. Do you keep your city hall looking good, or do you let it get dirty, unkempt, and damaged? While most cities would never let their city hall look awful, they unfortunately let their websites look awful. Yet, ironically, more people are probably looking at your website than your city hall building. You don’t need an expensive web design budget to update the look and feel of your website. Many sleek, modern designs are available in template form to cut down costs while still making your website look good.

2. Cities need to keep websites updated with fresh, timely information.

Mayor Grogan pointed out in the interview that “When I go to a website and there’s nothing happening there, I’m not going to go back and I’m definitely not going to go visit the city.” Too many cities let their websites decay like abandoned buildings. Citizens look to websites for information about events, news, and minutes from city council meetings. If you’re not posting that information, it makes your city look lazy and even negligent. Modern websites have content management systems built in to make it easy to add and update content every day in a timely fashion.

3. Visual content helps make your website pop.

While photos and visuals seem like a secondary concern on your website, they can actually have a great impact—positive or negative. Old, outdated photos make your city look out of touch, and unprofessional photos make your city look amateurish. Take professional, beautiful photos of your best city landmarks and points of pride. Visual content should also include photos of key city employees, especially those who serve and interact a lot with the public.

4. Supply more content that meets the needs of citizens.

Many city websites have major content gaps and scanty, bare bones information. That’s not good enough anymore. Offer up overviews and detailed information about each city department to help orient, inform, and serve citizens. Post events and news so that people can stay engaged with your city activities. Keep citizens informed about city council business and major projects to stay transparent. And continually think about what information might best help citizens—and then supply it on your website.

5. Reduce paper costs by posting newsletters online.

Like Dawsonville, your city may send out expensive printed newsletters to citizens. Whether they go out with a water bill (like Dawsonville) or separately, you can cut out those paper costs by putting your newsletters online. While there still might be a few citizens who prefer the paper newsletter, we now live in an era where almost everyone now has Internet access. If you still want to send a paper newsletter, make it something that citizens have to request and opt into. Everyone else can access it online, and you might publicize it through an email to citizens.

Mayor Grogan’s insights from his experience of implementing a new website directly correlate with the needs of your city. Your website is like an online city hall. It’s the first place that many citizens and even non-residents are going to check when looking for information about your city. Like a city hall, it needs to look good, provide services, and supply information. Thankfully, you are probably in the best position today to transition to a new website that meets all of these needs while staying low-cost.

To talk more about transitioning to a new website, please contact us.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014
Clint Nelms, COO

In the past, you may have gone through a long technology or software approval process. Knowing that new hardware or complex software would be a large capital investment, you took your time with the technology procurement process. You identified your requirements, secured budget approval, researched solutions, watched demos, sourced and interviewed vendors, whittled down your finalists, and finally made a decision. This process could take many months or even years.

A recent article in ZDNet by Joe McKendrick points out that these long technology procurement cycles are made obsolete by the cloud and that sticking to the old way of purchasing technology introduces risk. That’s because when you finally purchase hardware or software, it’s likely out of date by the time you pull the trigger. Yes, that’s right. Technology is now moving so fast that the solution you decide to purchase now will be obsolete by the time you jump through all of your hoops, select the vendor, and pay for it.

To expand upon some important points in McKendrick’s article, we offer some analysis as to why you need to be looking at cloud solutions to help you procure technology much more quickly while still ensuring that you’re purchasing a quality solution. 

1. Cloud deploys quickly.

Because there is no hardware, cloud software is deployed virtually at high-end data centers. Servers are literally carved out and created with a click, and they are easy for your IT staff or vendor to set up and maintain. With traditional technology, deployment is a large cost of the solution because the vendor’s technical staff or your IT staff must spend time setting up, installing, and testing your new hardware and software onsite. The cloud centralizes all of this activity in a data center, and specialized virtualization technology allows for quick deployment and immediate access through an Internet connection.

2. Cloud eliminates capital expenses.

A big budget hurdle of traditional technology procurement is the upfront capital expenses. You often pay for hardware, software licenses, and other equipment as a capital expense. As you know, capital expenses need to be justified in your budget and those kinds of decisions take a long time when set against other priorities. The cloud works from a leaner operational expense model, making it easier for you to approve budget. When there is less money at risk, it’s easier and quicker to approve a technology line item.

3. Cloud scales up and down depending on your needs.

Traditional technology procurement is sometimes a gamble, especially when you’re betting on continued growth or assuming that your number of employees will stay the same. But you’re stuck if you buy 40 software licenses and then have to reduce your staff to 30. You’re still paying for those 10 extra licenses until the contract runs out. With the cloud, most software is instantly scalable. You only pay for what you use, and you can add or subtract your number of users as needed. This reduces the risk of underinvesting or overinvesting in a technology solution when you cannot anticipate future growth or hardships.

4. Cloud software updates continually.

Because you’re accessing your software from cloud data centers managed by vendors from a centralized location, they can continually update software at the data center level and push out those updates to you. Compare that to traditional software models where you buy a version of the software that remains static unless you buy a newer version. A famous example is Microsoft. You might have bought Windows XP and watched newer versions appear such as Windows 7 or 8 while you’re stuck with your original investment. With the cloud, new software versions and updates are pushed out automatically, reducing the need for you to go through an entirely new technology procurement cycle to update software.

5. Cloud eliminates hardware.

Although we mentioned this fact in the deployment discussion above, it’s worth mentioning separately. Hardware tends to be one of the biggest technology capital expenses that you face. The purchasing, installation, maintenance, support, and decommissioning of hardware involves a lot of costs including the labor of your IT staff or vendor. By eliminating hardware through the cloud, you eliminate not only one of the biggest capital expenses but also the need for recurring hardware procurement every few years (or watching your hardware become obsolete if you cling to it in its old age).

Through our many years of experience, we’ve watched budget-strapped businesses and cities struggle with multi-year technology procurement processes for essential purchases of hardware and software. They waste so much staff time and delay the actual use of the technology when they need it most. We find that the cloud doesn’t make the technology procurement process instantaneous, but it does remove several major hurdles that drag out technology purchasing. If you struggle with similar long technology purchasing processes, you might be surprised how the cloud helps eliminate most of those hurdles.

If you want to talk more about how the cloud reduces the time to procure technology, please contact us.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014
Alicia Klemola, Account Manager

Attracting new, relocated, and expanding businesses is obviously a key goal for any city. More businesses mean more jobs, more tax revenue, and greater economic vitality for your city. Once a slew of businesses emerge in your city, it often has a snowball effect and can lead to significant growth. But to attract those businesses, you need to market your city and provide the right information to business owners when they consider your city as a prime location to operate.

A major part of that marketing and communications activity takes place on your website. Businesses large and small will research cities to find out which ones will be best to set up shop. If you’re not providing the right welcome and the necessary information businesses need, they’ll pass you by and go somewhere else.

So what do you need on your website to attract those businesses? Here are some content tips that should help.

  1. Show off the best aspects of your city. First, it helps to brag and show off a bit to let businesses know why you’re a great place to do business. Maybe your city is in the midst of a growth spurt. Or perhaps you have a new business or technology center where you’re developing a cluster of startups within a specific industry. You might even have a booming downtown that’s perfect for a small business. Let businesspeople know why your city is special and the perfect place for them.
  2. Collect all of the information they need in one place. A business owner shouldn’t have to navigate through several sections of your website digging for scattered information. Collect all necessary information for them on a business page that provides links to more specific areas of your website. Be helpful. Not only include business information about licenses and fees but also link to other sections of your website such as utilities or city council information. Make your business page a one-stop shop for anything a business owner might need when researching your city.
  3. Provide a clear checklist of business requirements. While many cities have similar requirements such as business licenses, each city can be slightly different in what a business owner needs to do when starting, relocating, or expanding a business. Provide a checklist of requirements such as business licenses, inspections, fees, signage, renovations, etc. to help a business owner easily see what he or she needs to do. Otherwise, they’ll be annoyed if they have to hunt through your website for the information or call you because an important piece of information is missing.
  4. Highlight special business resources available in your community. Don’t just provide the bare minimum of utilitarian information for businesses. Highlight any incentives, grants, support groups, incubators, or any other special resources that may help businesses thrive. Your city, like many cities, may compete for businesses by providing amenities and perks. Let business owners know about these amenities on your website and describe the positive impact they are having on business growth. Plus, business owners like to know they are stepping into a like-minded community of other business owners with whom they can network and share information.
  5. Talk about your city’s overall economic development progress. Get specific about the economic development initiatives going on in your city. Provide high-level highlights but also dig into current plans, projects, and groups that are spurring growth. Remember, economic development can include everything from college and university expansions to downtown development projects. Even things like a new music venue or park impact economic development, and it’s good for business owners to know about this activity.

The bottom line: Be helpful and highlight the best business-friendly information. Business owners generally want to know two things: That it’s easy to do business with you, and that your city is economically vital. If it’s tough to figure out what they need to do and if your website lacks information about exciting economic development projects, they’ll turn to another city. Luckily, it doesn’t take much on your part to please businesses. In fact, it should be fun to talk about what makes your city great for businesses and to take the time to better highlight your awesomeness on your website.

To talk more about your city’s business page, please contact us.

Thursday, June 26, 2014
John Miller, Senior Consultant

When cities tackle information security and cyber liability, they usually make sure their servers, desktops, laptops, and networks are locked down and secure. It’s easy to overlook mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones. After all, these are the kinds of devices we use every day and they seem detached from a lot of common technology security issues such as viruses, hacking, and unauthorized access.

Yet, cities need to treat mobile devices just as strictly as their other hardware. But how can you go about doing that when a plethora of personal and city-issued mobile devices are in the hands of employees in various locations every day? Here are some tips to help you assess if you’re tackling your mobile security as well as your traditional technology security.

  1. Track mobile hardware assets. Just like you inventory your servers, workstations, and network equipment, you need to track the total number of your city-issued laptops, tablets, and smartphones. There should never be a mobile device that has mysteriously disappeared or in an unknown place. Last year, some highly publicized incidents at the highest levels of government showed some embarrassing consequences when mobile hardware went missing. And if people bring in their own devices, make sure you know who’s accessing your city network, and what they can access through their device.
  2. Protect mobile devices in case they are lost or stolen. If employees use mobile devices to store and access city data, that means a user can have access to sensitive information. Some basic precautions need to be taken on all mobile devices to ensure that data is not accessible to a person who steals or acquires your mobile device by unsavory means. Your IT staff or vendor needs to make sure that all city-issued or personal mobile devices accessing your data are encrypted and password protected. In addition, it doesn’t hurt to use a tracking app to find out where your device is if it gets lost or stolen.
  3. Restrict access to data at the cloud level. For added security, consider moving your data to the cloud. Then, mobile devices will not have to store or upload sensitive data. If a mobile device is stolen or even if an angry employee tries to access data after getting fired, it’s easy for your IT staff or vendor to simply remove, at the cloud level, that user’s permission to access data. The device then becomes just an access point and not a storage device containing data that could get into the wrong hands.
  4. Beware of spam and phishing attacks. In the early days of the iPhone and the iPad, there was a myth and misperception that Apple devices were unhackable. Despite that being untrue, it gave many people a false sense of security as if they could access anything they wanted on their mobile device without any bad consequences. But just like a desktop computer, spammers are trying to get people using mobile devices to click on malicious links. A virus can compromise your mobile device...and your data. While antispam helps, you want to train your employees to avoid clicking on malicious links, downloading apps from untrusted sources, and giving away sensitive username and password information.
  5. Keep mobile device software up to date. For your IT management efforts, mobile devices are just like servers and desktops. They need software updates and patches to ensure that they are secure and free of common bugs and vulnerabilities. If you’re using city-issued devices, you need to push out updates on a regular basis. For personal devices, you need a policy that ensures that people’s devices maintain a basic security standard so that city data is not compromised through an unmanaged device.

As you can see, many of the tips for mobile device security are similar to traditional IT management and monitoring. It’s easy to just allow employees to hop on your network with their own devices, with little oversight. But you open up security holes if you don’t enforce a stronger set of security standards. If employees protest, remind them of the severe consequences of cyber liability, which is sobering. Maybe it isn’t fun for them, but your city will be best served by a strong mobile security policy ensuring that devices - both city-issued and personal devices - are as free of security vulnerabilities as possible.

To talk about mobile security in more detail, please contact us.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014
Brian Ocfemia, Technical Account Manager

While we don’t often get too cutting-edge in our blog posts because we want to discuss the current, practical needs of cities and businesses, there were some important Apple announcements at the recent Apple Worldwide Developers Conference that will impact you in the not too distant future. They all relate to the cloud and how it’s changed the way we interact with technology.

We’ve gathered together some observations about some key Apple announcements from the conference of what we feel will be significant to your city as the cloud continues to grow in importance and become the technology standard for nearly all software. As you’ll see, the implications aren’t just technical things on the backend. They affect the way you actually behave and use technology interfaces. 

1. The distinction between files stored in the cloud and files stored on your device will disappear.

Right now, even if you use the cloud you might still store files on your desktop or laptop that are only located there. That option is going away. Devices are quickly becoming access points to the cloud. Any need for using your devices to store files is going away. Imagine a day when you can drop, destroy, or lose a device and not worry about ever losing any files or data that were on it.

2. The distinction between desktops/laptops and tablets/smartphones will disappear.

We don’t mean that the hardware will change. There will still be a variety of different devices that allow for different user experiences and capabilities. Currently, you might use your desktop with a specific set of desktop software, and your tablet or smartphone with a different set of software. Some software syncs across devices, but they are different user experiences. In the future, it will be like you have one and only one software suite and your devices are simply different access points into the same suite. For example, you might open a Word document on your tablet, hop on your desktop to continue editing it, and finalize it on your smartphone before sending it.

3. The distinction between the phone and your computer will disappear.

Yes, even the phone is blending into your total cloud experience. Think about it. With your smartphone, you’re already using a computer to select contacts, call people, and store voicemail messages. Just take that idea further so that voice calls just become streaming Internet data like any other data. Instead of thinking about the idea of a “phone,” you’re simply using a device – your PC, your Mac, your tablet, or your smartphone – and some software that allows you to talk to people.

4. The distinction between your devices and third party software will disappear.

We’re not saying that software won’t have individual companies that create, sell, and support it. But there are implications with some Apple announcements about iCloud Drive at the conference that third party cloud applications will become easier to sync and create seamless experiences between different devices (e.g. PCs and Macs, or iPhones and Androids). Today, there are still issues when certain cloud software only works on iPhones and iPads, but not on Androids. The cloud is whittling down some of those vendor barriers because people don’t necessarily care about brand loyalty. For example, they just want their Google Docs to work on their iPhone.

5. All of these technological advances can be managed easily to ensure security, privacy, and ease of access.

It makes sense that if the cloud is centralizing data in one place, the management of that data also becomes easier. Many companies are worried about the “bring your own device” (BYOD) trend where it’s unclear how much or how little you should restrict access to data on an employee’s personal device. Instead of worrying about if an employee-owned Android should access data on your accounting server, your IT staff or vendor will simply restrict access to anyone from any device through a cloud dashboard. No matter what device is trying to access the information, you can set permissions that restrict employee access.

While these technology advances might seem far off in the future or too good to be true, they’ve been slowly taking over your desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones for a few years. By storing everything in the cloud, worries about maintaining your own hardware, software, and storage needs largely go away. This is why investing in the cloud now not only saves you money but also keeps you ahead of the curve as these technology standards eventually become the norm.

To talk more about the cloud and its impact on your city, please contact us.

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