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Thursday, October 10, 2013
Alicia Klemola, Account Manager

In a recent article from CIO Magazine entitled “7 IT Mistakes That Will Get You Fired,” two of those mistakes (#1 “Slacking on backup” and #6 “Unmitigated disaster) have their roots in failing to test an organization’s data backup. It still saddens us to hear so many stories of data loss—even at the highest levels of government—where the IT team simply did not test their data backup.

Why do so many cities and other organizations not test their data backup? Usually, there is an assumption that “it’s technology, so it must be working.” But even the most reliable technologies can fail to work, experience data corruption, or even fail from human negligence. Not testing data backup means opening yourself up to huge amounts of risk—and usually when you realize that your data backup actually doesn’t work, it’s already too late.

We mention data backup testing throughout many of our blog posts and bring it up at many meetings with cities. Since it’s so important, we’re delving a bit deeper into the topic and outlining the most important aspects of testing your data backup.

  1. Test your data backup as soon as possible. If you haven’t ever tested your data backup, or haven’t tested it in a long time, test it as soon as you can. You want to find out immediately if you have any existing problems. Are there certain kinds of data failing to get backed up? Are there parts of a manual data backup process that haven’t been getting done? At this point, you want to uncover all issues and take a good honest look at your data backup strengths and weaknesses.
  2. Simulate a full disaster. Don’t do a limited or weak test, such as checking to see if files seem to be replicated on your data backup server or only checking your accounting files and thinking everything else must be fine. Pretend the worst disaster has happened and city hall is wiped out. Can you recover everything? Does your recovery process actually work? Remember, you’re performing data backup to recover from disaster—so you must replicate a disaster when you test.
  3. Ensure that your most important data can be recovered. Some files are more important than others. If you are concerned about payroll, accounting, financial databases, public safety data, court data, and other mission critical information, double check to make sure all departments feel confident that their most important data can be recovered in case of disaster. Sometimes, it’s easy for one IT person or vendor to look at the data and assume it’s all backed up, but it helps to check with actual city stakeholders to make sure all of their data is accounted for.
  4. Dig deep during a test. Your IT staff or vendor needs to really dig deep during a data backup test. Data backup isn’t just about files and folders. Testing should include important databases, software code, event logs, and other technical yet important data that needs to be up and running after a disaster. Often, we’ve seen limited data backup at cities fail to account for the complexities of databases, leading to significant problems when trying to restore them.
  5. Set a testing schedule. Once you perform a full disaster simulation and know you can recover your data, then you need to set up a regular testing schedule. We usually recommend testing at least once per quarter, although you may want to do it more if you have particularly sensitive data. A testing schedule should be accompanied by auditing documentation so that you can demonstrate even to non-technical decision makers that your data backups are working.

Like the CIO article suggests, you don’t want to get caught in a situation where a disaster actually strikes and you find your most important data gone forever. It happens, and the consequences are often ugly—firings, public embarrassment, critical hits to business operations, and wasted money. Testing ensures that your data backup processes (and financial investments) are actually working.

How would you feel if you drove a car for the first time if the manufacturer never tested the engine, braking system, or steering wheel before you bought it? That’s how you should feel if you don’t test your data backup.

To talk more about data backup testing, please contact us.

Friday, October 4, 2013
Nathan Eisner, CMO

The question now is not if, but when, government will start using cloud software. A recent article in CIO magazine showcases how Microsoft and Google are competing to sell their cloud productivity software to government organizations of all types. While this article is aimed at larger government agencies and entities, some of the problems it outlines are ones you may relate to.

  1. The cost and time spent running your own email servers.
  2. Hardware you bought but don’t use, or that you underutilize.
  3. The inability for city employees to remotely access documents and email.

Why is government embracing the cloud so furiously right now? If you haven’t considered cloud software for your email and productivity software (such as word processing, spreadsheets, etc.), then consider some of the following reasons why governments are investing in the cloud.

  1. Saving money. Cloud software is often cheaper than the upfront capital expenses involved in buying hardware and software licenses. You also avoid the costs (both in money and time) of maintaining your hardware since you access cloud software through the Internet on a per user basis. Because it’s sold like a subscription, you turn it on and only pay for the specific people who are using it. Many cities that switch to the cloud often get rid of a lot of hardware that they don’t need anymore and reduce their costs compared to previous software licenses.
  2. At least 99.9% uptime. Service level agreements for cloud software usually guarantee at least 99.9% uptime, and sometimes higher. From our experience, cities are rarely able to match this level of uptime when managing their own servers and software. Cloud software vendors use data centers with extremely high levels of availability and reliability, and so the levels of uptime are higher than anything you can usually do yourself.
  3. Encrypted and secure data and communications. By using cloud-based data centers, software vendors ensure that your data and communications are protected by high standards of encryption and information security. Similar to the 99.9% uptime, cloud software vendors can often guarantee higher encryption and security standards than cities can provide themselves. And the more these cloud software vendors become entrenched in serving government, they are incentivized to maintain extremely high security standards. Let those vendors worry about those standards, not you.
  4. Data backup. Cloud software makes data backup and disaster recovery much easier. Since cloud software is accessible through any Internet connection and often saved just about every second, it’s easy to recover your data even after the worst disaster. From any location, as long as you can access the Internet, you can access your data.
  5. Easier e-discovery. For open records requests, easy e-discovery is critical. When cities manage their own servers, we’ve found that a variety of non-standardized approaches to maintenance make it hard to find documents, emails, and data when it’s requested. With cloud software, vendors make it much easier for you to store, archive, search for, and retrieve documents, files, and email when needed. This has been a major selling point for government organizations, and cloud software vendors have stepped up to make sure this need is addressed.
  6. Many email benefits. If you’ve struggled with managing your own email servers, you’ve probably hit the limits of your storage space or failed at times to keep the software up-to-date. Cloud software vendors, for a low cost, offer lots of storage space with generous mailbox sizes. In addition, tools like email, calendar items, and tasks are usually all integrated together. That means you can see and update these items all in one place instead of using separate email software, calendar tools, and project management software.
  7. Easy to use software. Since cloud software works much the same way (often identically) to software that your employees already use, it’s usually easy for employees to adjust to cloud software with little training or bumps in the road. And as software continues to evolve over the Internet, it’s in the vendors’ best interests to make the software as easy to use as possible. You benefit from that evolution.

These benefits illustrate why cloud software is becoming the gold standard for any word processing, spreadsheet, email, and other productivity tools that you’ve used in the past. If you’ve been putting off your exploration of cloud software, the time is right for you to look into it now. Not only does your city have the potential to save money, but the quality of your productivity software—from security to ease of use—will likely increase by leaps and bounds.

To talk about cloud software in more detail, please contact us.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Brian Ocfemia, Technical Account Manager

We’ve already tackled the home and news pages, and now we look at another critical aspect of your city’s website: the events page. Typically, most cities have a calendar of events that detail and highlight everything from city council meetings to fun community events.

While a city’s events page seems like the most basic of content, there are a few content tips that can help you make sure that what you’re providing is both useful to citizens and easy to navigate. Many city calendars are unfortunately unpopulated or hard to scroll through, and that makes it difficult for citizens to access events content.

Take the following suggestions to heart and you will make your events content easy for citizens to use and consume.

  1. Provide an easy-to-use calendar. While “easy-to-use” can be part of the design of your calendar, you should also think of your calendar as a module in which people will upload and also consume event content (usually in the form of event listings). The calendar should look nice, but also be easy to scroll through month to month (or even year by year) and get to relevant event listings. You should also be able to upload a new event or edit an existing event without much trouble.
  2. Populate the calendar with items. While you want to prioritize how you list events so that you don’t overpopulate the calendar, you definitely want to make sure you populate your calendar with a variety of event listings. Otherwise, your city looks lifeless and that you have nothing going on. More importantly, if you forget to even upload basic events such as city council meetings, citizens can get angry and think that you’re not being transparent. A populated events calendar looks like you’re a vital, active city.
  3. Link events on the calendar to a more detailed event page. On the calendar, keep it brief. The title of the event, time, and location should suffice. Don’t stuff the calendar with hard-to-read details about the event. Instead, link those event listings to a page where all of the event details reside. There, you can give a summary of the event, speakers or entertainers who will be present, and any other additional details you want to share. That way, if people are browsing through your calendar and want more information about an event, they can click on the event headline in the calendar and read about more details if they’re interested.
  4. Regularly list any city business meetings. We hinted at this tip in #2 above, but we repeat: you must regularly post any business meetings related to city council, elected officials, and public meetings. Even if you decide not to use your calendar for anything else, you need to post information about these meetings. Government at all levels, especially in the Internet age, becomes more and more transparent. Information is easy to share, and citizens grow more accustomed to expecting certain information on city websites. You need to fulfill at least the bare minimum of these calendar expectations by posting all events concerning city business.
  5. Use the calendar to promote your city’s vitality. Your calendar will be one of the most visited pages on your website. Use it not only functionally but also as a way to market your city. Post any community events that you feel best highlight your city. For example, the City of Oakwood, Georgia posted their 4th Annual Secret Santa Car Show event that will happen on October 5, 2013. The City of Tybee Island, Georgia posts American Legion meetings. Each city is different, and there are events of particular importance to citizens in your city. Use your calendar to spread the word about the positive community events happening in your city.

Ultimately, the news and events pages are your main way to both serve information to and market your city. The upkeep can be difficult, and you’ll need people staying up on keeping the calendar up-to-date. But once you get into the habit, you will find yourself thinking of new events to post that you didn’t think about before. You can also open up the calendar to citizens, where they can post events that may be of interest to citizens. You’ll definitely want an approval process before an event is posted, but that service gives citizens an opportunity to engage more with your city.

To discuss event content in more detail, please contact us.

Thursday, September 26, 2013
John Miller, Senior Consultant

As USA Today recently reported, phishing is alive and well. Phishing is the tactic by which cybercriminals steal your personal information and passwords in order to do things like access your bank accounts, use your credit cards, or hack into sensitive government and business databases. Unfortunately, these criminals know they can prey on trusting behavior when people are faced with suspicious websites or emails.

While your IT staff or vendor can help you block many spam emails and malicious websites, they cannot block them all. Cybercriminals are always finding ways to bypass filters and look legitimate.

Luckily, most attempts at phishing are easily spotted—but you have to continually question all communications you receive over the Internet. To help you and your employees better spot phishing attempts, use the following tips to question your way through a suspicious email or website.

  1. Question the context. How did you receive or get to the information? If you find yourself clicking on a website that seems unfamiliar, outside of your usual Internet browsing, or lacking a familiar brand that people use, then you should question its legitimacy more. Email works the same way. Suspicious emails will usually wind up in your spam folder, come from unknown people, or not look like typical emails that you receive. If something feels wrong and outside of normal habit, it’s good to be wary and ask further questions.
  2. Question the communication. Look at the communication clues and see if they appear strange or deviate from a normal email or website. In an email, especially look at the sender’s information. For example, the message below appeared in my spam email folder. On the surface, it looks like Google is sending me an important message. But notice:
    • It comes from “Google.” Do you really think Google would contact you without being more specific (such as “Google Voice” or “Google Play Support”)?
    • The email address does not look like it comes from a Google employee.

    Phishing Example 

    Most phishing attempts can be discovered by examining the subject and sender lines in an email. On a website, look for suspicious, vague, or missing contact information as a sign that it’s not legitimate.

  3. Question the message. Apparently, most phishing attacks do not have the benefit of professional writers! A message supposedly from a business or government entity should not have many spelling errors, grammatical mistakes, and horribly written sentences. Also, most legitimate organizations will clearly explain a process to you and usually already have a pre-existing relationship with you. Question any message from a website or email where the action they want you to take is explained in a vague or terse fashion. And especially question messages where you did not receive or seek out a communication based on something you did, such as sign up for a service.
  4. Question the action. This is the critical piece to phishing, and the most dangerous. For phishing attempts to succeed, cybercriminals must get you to submit personal information or download a file that will install a virus, spyware, or malware. Since this is the equivalent of actually placing your finger on the Internet oven burner, you must make sure that you do not click on any website link or file if you are suspicious about its origins. Legitimate organizations and professional IT departments will not, out of the blue, send you PDFs and zip files to download. Nor will they ask for personal information over the Internet unless there is a clear, understood reason. If you are the least bit suspicious about a link or file sent to you, check with your supervisor, IT department, or vendor.
  5. Question the process. Sometimes, phishing attempts can really look like the real thing. So you may find yourself on the fence over a rare phishing attempt that replicates the experience of a banking service, social media alert, or request from your boss. As human beings, we are pattern seekers, and you need to put your pattern seeking to the test. When all else fails, ask yourself if the website or email follows a normal process. For example, if you’ve been logging into a database the same way for two years, and then suddenly without explanation you must submit your social security number to “confirm your security credentials,” be suspicious. Especially if city policy says to not give away sensitive information, or if you did not receive a heads up from management or your IT department. If something deviates from normal process, be suspicious.

Cybercriminals play upon people’s gullibility and psychological weaknesses, and even the best of us can get fooled sometimes. But usually most phishing attempts can be spotted simply by looking for anything suspicious about a website or email that breaks your usual pattern of doing something. It’s always better to ask about a website or email and later find out it’s safe, rather than download a virus or submit sensitive information that leads to a lot of financial and operational harm to your city.

So, always question, be alert, and look for any red flags related to Internet and email communications. To talk about preventing phishing attacks, please contact us.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Clint Nelms, COO

Unlike other technologies that you don’t interact with every day, you most likely directly understand the power of the mobile revolution. Over the past few years, the phone in your hand has become almost or even more important than your desktop or laptop computer. Not only it is your phone, but it’s also your connection to email, web browsing, and a variety of important business and personal tools. You may even carry around a tablet that does many of the same things but also serves as the way you read books, record video, and give presentations.

Many cities tap into the power of mobile technology in a haphazard, individualized fashion. Certain people might be mavericks or pioneers in using their mobile devices for taking cool videos, giving a presentation at a City Council meeting, or using a mobile app for their job. But how do you get a city, as a whole, using mobile technology in a more beneficial way?

Here are a few areas where you can get more power out of the mobile devices that people are already using, whether they bring their own devices to work or you give devices to employees.

  1. Switch over to cloud software for easier mobile access. It’s tough to access traditional software with a mobile device, and you’re usually stuck needing to use a virtual private network (VPN) that involves a complicated technical setup and passwords. With the cloud, you just access your software through the Internet. Then, a person logs in with their mobile device and accesses the software from anywhere. Consider transitioning your software over to the cloud, especially since trends show that people will be using mobile devices even more than traditional desktops and laptops in the future.
  2. Get people used to taking photos and videos for business and marketing purposes. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then it’s clear from the popularity of Pinterest, Instagram, and Tumblr that visuals have become more important as the Internet evolves. For your city, sharing pictures of community events, dedications, speeches, holiday festivities, and other events gives you visual content to use on your website and social media platforms. While you still want professional photographers for important events or highly visible parts of your website (such as the home page), there is room on other pages of your website and on social media to use pictures and videos taken by citizens and employees.
  3. Make sure that forms on your website are also mobile-friendly. If you have forms such as “contact us,” report a pothole, or a business license application, make those forms easily accessible by mobile devices. It’s convenient for people to access your city services and submit information when they are on the go. Plus, those services also are more likely to be used on mobile services. Reporting a pothole is a great example, as people can report it on the spot or just after having seen it.
  4. Create or use mobile apps that solve specific problems. Maybe you have IT staff or a vendor that can develop mobile apps for you. Better yet, so many mobile apps have already been created for government (and any other area you can imagine) that there might be something already developed that fits your needs, solves an important problem, enhances customer service, or increases government responsiveness. Since there are so many mobile apps, looking through a directory on iTunes or Google Play might be overwhelming. Network with other cities to find out what mobile apps they’re using. If you have a critical need or opportunity that it seems no other city is handling, you might consider building your own mobile app to solve the problem.
  5. Use mobile devices as ways to broadcast information and market your city. Finally, the great thing about mobile devices is that they are broadcast mechanisms that people are checking pretty much any time they’re not asleep. The same can’t be said of radio, television, or even the Internet on a desktop or laptop. By taking advantage of text messaging, social media, and updated content on your (mobile-friendly) website, you can distribute important information to citizens and employees quickly. This can range from important weather and emergency alerts to news and information about community events. People can opt-in to text alerts, or they can see your information on Facebook and Twitter. Think about how much attention people pay to their mobile devices. Now make sure you’re communicating with them in mobile-friendly ways when appropriate.

Now that you’ve gotten used to some functional aspects of mobile devices, really start thinking along the lines above to more creatively leverage the power of mobile. It’s a great way to stay connected with your citizens and give them more opportunity to engage and interact with your city. Remember, while mobile technology may be new, it delivers upon a timeless principle of government. You want to connect with citizens and measure their engagement. Mobile helps you deliver upon that promise in a way that was unheard of a few years ago.

To talk more about making your technology mobile-friendly, please contact us.

Friday, September 20, 2013
Dave Mims, CEO

Working on your computer can feel very personal. Your email, documents, and data feel like private information. If you’re at home using your own equipment, that’s the ideal. No one should have access to your information other than you.

However, the rules change when you’re in a work environment—and especially a government environment. Government in particular requires a lot of transparency, and city administration often needs to respond to open records requests and other legal demands to see any records of specific city business.

That means when you work for a city, your work is essentially city property. That includes even email communications. Usually, there’s not much reason for someone to look at your computer or emails. But it’s within the scope of city administration to examine your email if need be.

Are You Doing Your Job? Monitoring for Productivity

Although sometimes the reason for the examination of your emails and files might be an open records request or investigating illegitimate employee activity, in other cases it’s for productivity reasons. If you’re hired to do a specific job and you’re not doing it, city administration has the right to produce evidence that you are not being productive.

As a result, employees should never consider their online behavior at work as private. For example, while social media is becoming more and more of a legitimate activity for marketing and public relations at cities, there’s a difference between using Facebook and Twitter as part of your job versus using it to waste time.

If the network data shows that you’re spending four hours a day on Facebook when your job doesn’t require it, that’s evidence of a problem. If you’re connected to a network at your city, there’s a good chance your social media activity is being easily tracked—and flagged.

Cities have begun to implement computer usage policies to counteract this loss of productivity from social media, These policies can either be manual, such as a policy telling employees what sites they can and can’t use. If they are allowed to use sites like Facebook or Twitter, it’s clearly defined how—and how often. Some cities even take this a step further and invest money in website blocking systems. That means employees are simply unable to access certain social media sites that may distract from their work.

Often, it’s not this cut and dry. After all, there are many other websites that distract people other than social media sites. Employers may implement systems to block personal web surfing, but employees should know that city administration is more likely to log their Internet surfing data and approach employees about any potential problems. Employees can be shocked when this happens because they often get a false sense of security when they feel they have the freedom to access any website they want at work. However, they cannot assume that because a website isn’t blocked that nobody is paying attention to their web traffic.

What About Email? Isn’t That Supposed to Be Private?

Yes, email seems like it should be more private than web surfing. Today, government transparency grows in importance, and it’s less acceptable for government to rely on free email accounts that cannot be managed. That means more enterprise-class email systems managed by IT staff or a vendor are being implemented at cities.

These kinds of email systems not only help with government transparency but also log all email traffic. If an employee tries to cover their tracks by deleting obscene, illegal, or personal emails that show an improper use of work time and resources, they should know there is still a trail that others can find and report.

While some people may cry out that this sounds a lot like Big Brother or privacy violation, the reality is that businesses and government property are just that—property. Getting hired to work and use another entity’s resources means that you are responsible for a job and specific actions enabled by your work email and software. When an employer steps forth to point out that an employee is sending out reams of emails unrelated to their job, conducting a side business through accessing a particular website all day, or spending most of their day on Facebook, then that employer has the right to use that evidence as justification for firing that employee.

More importantly, when city government gets challenged to produce data or evidence about something related to city (public) business, access to all relevant government information is required—including even a specific employee’s email and files.

Remember, your city email and files are not your property. It may feel private to you, but it’s a myth to think that no one is looking at your work email or files.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013
Alicia Klemola, Account Manager

While we’ve gotten used to online payments from banks, financial institutions, and online retailers, some entities—including cities—might still doubt that they need to make this transition. Especially if a city deals in relatively non-critical low volume payment transactions, it might seem easier to just keep handling those payments like you always have: in person, by phone, and through the United States Postal Service.

However, even for small and medium cities, online payments are really a “must” at this point in time. Even if many citizens still feel comfortable with traditional methods of payments, more and more people are using tablets and smartphones as a part of their lives. They’re connected to the Internet all of the time and they are accustomed to using it to take care of most billing and financial payments.

If you’ve been on the fence about online payments, here are five reasons why they are a “must” for your city.

  1. Speed. Online payments are the fastest form of payment for both citizens and cities. Citizens pay with a click and immediately receive an email receipt. Cities receive the payment quickly, usually within at least one business day. If you want your city to show a quicker response to citizens, one excellent way is by implementing online payments. Otherwise, you’re creating unnecessary payment delays with in-person, phone, or snail mail—all of which require time and waiting.
  2. Error reduction. Any time you have a manual process controlled by people, the risk for error increases. Mailed payments get misfiled. A city employee doesn’t hear something correctly over the phone, such as a last name or account number. A citizen fills out incorrect information on a paper form. Online payment systems are equipped to ensure that certain forms are mandatory and filled out correctly. Capturing correct billing addresses and credit card information is important, and a good online payment system will automatically flag any errors.
  3. Citizen convenience. The days of a 9-to-5 working world are gone. People have schedules where they work odd hours. Taking care of family needs, dealing with transportation issues, or living with a physical disability can all affect a person’s ability to go to City Hall to pay a bill. With an online payment system, citizens can pay from the comfort of their home after business hours through an Internet connection. Citizens can also set up automatic payments so that they don’t even need to manually pay every month.
  4. Security. While there are still some fears and doubts about online payment security, the reality is that online payment systems are now usually more secure than traditional methods. Ask yourself, how secure is an in-person payment transaction? How about by phone? Mail is especially insecure—a piece of paper that anyone can open and view. We’ve written a great deal about PCI DSS online payment security in the past. These standards handle everything from authorized network access to encryption of payment information. If your online payment system follows these standards, then you’re operating with very high security.
  5. More money. With traditional payment methods, cities often lose money owed to them. It’s harder to track payment information when it’s manual, and it can take a long time to figure out when people have delinquent accounts. Human errors and lack of real-time information can affect how you collect payment. With online payments, you have a real-time view of who has paid and who has not. Plus, there are automated methods of increasing the amount of timely payments to the city such as email reminders, late notices, and reports that city employees can view. With cities always struggling with budgets and collecting revenue, online payments allow you to collect your money more efficiently.

Online payments have an impact that affects many different areas of a city—budget, employee time and productivity, citizen morale, and even compliance (with security). Consider how easy reporting and tracking information becomes when an online payment system captures important billing information for you. And auditing also becomes easier when you implement an online payment system.

To talk more about the necessity of implementing online payments, please contact us.

Friday, September 13, 2013
Nathan Eisner, CMO

While software can be exciting to use and help your city’s productivity, it’s not so exciting to get the bill. When you purchase software for a city with many users, that means often buying hardware and licenses while incurring costs related to maintenance and ongoing upgrades. Those costs can add up, but they often seem like part of the pain of using software.

In only a few short years, the costs of software have gone down, become more efficient, and downright changed. For cities that have a mindset about what it takes to own software from five or more years ago, you might be surprised that you could be wasting a lot of money with your current software investments.

Some software vendors would prefer to not inform you about these changes and keep collecting your money. Other vendors have lagged, not evolved their software, and think they don’t have to change with the times. Either way, you need to evaluate your current software to see if you can free up some money lurking in your license costs by answering the following questions.

  1. Do you need all of your software? Inventory your software to see if you actually need all of it. Over the years, different departments, managers, and individual users may have purchased software that is no longer being used, has become obsolete, or is underutilized. Look at each piece of software and ask yourself how it’s being used and how important it is to your city. If you can’t justify using it, consider getting rid of it.
  2. Are cloud software services available? For software that you do use, if you’re paying expensive hardware, license, maintenance, and upgrade fees, consider using cloud software subscription services instead. These services can be trimmed down so that you only pay a fee per user. Plus, you get rid of hardware (that you also have to maintain), upgrades are often included with the subscription, and your employees can access the software from anywhere.
  3. Does your software contain too many bells and whistles? Unnecessary software features and benefits often increase the price of software. You may have thought you needed certain features, or a software vendor might have sold you on excessive functionality. Examine each piece of software and drill down to what makes it so expensive. Are there benefits and features in your bill that you can do without? Your IT staff or vendor can help you work with the software vendor to trim excess functionality and reduce your software costs even further.
  4. Do specific users need to use the software? One subtle thing that increases software costs is thinking that all or most users need the software. Does everyone need to use the city’s accounting or GIS software? Was certain software purchased to help a specific person or department, but everyone ended up getting a software license? Even if you’re using cloud software services, ask yourself which specific people need to use the software. Otherwise, why pay for software licenses if no one is using them?
  5. Are you enforcing software agreements? There are often many included goodies in software agreements that cities don’t know about. Technical support, upgrades, maintenance, and onsite time is often included in vendor agreements. But if you don’t know what’s in these agreements, then you may instead have your IT staff or vendor doing (expensive) work that the software vendor should be doing. Instead, have your IT staff or vendor understand and enforce software agreements and work with the vendor to solve problems as much as possible. That way, you’re maximizing your software investment even more.

Basically, while addressing the above questions might take a lot of work, the payoff can be worth it. Getting into the habit of regularly evaluating your software in order to justify all costs can help you save money at your city. Plus, upgrading your software helps your city by improving its quality and potentially giving better access to employees so they can work from home and access software by their mobile devices.

To talk more about evaluating your software licenses, please contact us.

Thursday, September 12, 2013
Brian Ocfemia, Technical Account Manager

So you’ve taken the step to get a document management system. Now what? Document management systems fail or are used unproductively not so much from technical reasons, but from business reasons. To make sure you integrate your document management system in your day-to-day city business as quickly as possible, make sure you’re tackling the following questions.

  1. What are your most important documents? Until getting a document management system, you might just go about your day-to-day business creating what documents you need and not really thinking about various degrees of importance. Take the time to do a document audit (even if it’s limited) and ask yourself what documents are most important to your city? Categorize or rank them in whatever way you’d like. The important thing is to prioritize documents that multiple people collaborate on, that have high business impact, that are important for legal reasons, or are often needed for reference.
  2. Who has these documents? This is the point where you get rid of siloes—or people who hold the only access to documents on their individual computers. If there are documents that need to be stored in a document management system where everyone has access, you can’t have a single person or department storing them on their own computers. You should not need to ask or beg a person in your city for a document that should be public. Find out where the most important documents are stored and have those people or departments prepare to scan or upload them into the document management system.
  3. What documents need to be uploaded into the document management system? This is where the rubber meets the road. Once you decide which documents are most important and who has them, plan to upload your most important public-facing documents into the document management system. This step will be guided by both the city and your IT staff or vendor. The city needs to decide what documents will go into the document management system, how they will be organized, and who has access. Your IT resources can help with the technical implementation and any issues that arise as both paper and electronic documents are migrated into the document management system.
  4. Who needs to use and access the document management system on an ongoing basis? A modern document management system allows you a great deal of flexibility in giving people permission to access specific documents, but that means you need to decide a) who can access the document management system at all, and b) what they can access. People will still create files by themselves, and there may be some files created that don’t need to be in the document management system (e.g. working drafts, ongoing research, personal notes, etc.). The document management system should be used for collaboration and the creation of any documents that require transparency. People need to get used to using the document management system when documents need to be public-facing or shared, so training might be required to reinforce this habit within your city.
  5. Who will help maintain your document management system on an ongoing basis? While your IT staff or vendor can help you with technical maintenance and issues, you still need someone from a business viewpoint to help maintain your document management system. That means making sure that:
    • People are using it for documents that need to be shared publicly or collaborated upon.
    • People are labeling and tagging documents appropriately so they are easy to find.
    • People are individually following rules and policies concerning documents.
    • Overall, the city is following legal rules and policies to help with archiving, document retrieval, and open records requests.
    Your IT staff or vendor can only help you so far, and they cannot make business decisions for you. Find an appropriate person to oversee your document management system at your city.

If you answer the above questions, or at least make strides toward answering them, you’re well on your way to maximizing the use of your document management system. With such a great investment in place, you don’t want to leave it sitting out like a new car that you never drive. Integrate your document management system into your environment by prioritizing documents, uploading them, and using the system to increase collaboration and transparency at your city.

To talk more about document management, please contact us.

Friday, September 6, 2013
John Miller, Senior Consultant

With data backup, you often think of worst-case scenarios. What happens if a tornado hits your city? What happens if a server dies? But there are more common scenarios that can affect you on a day-to-day basis, like losing a file or some important data.

In those moments, panic sets in. All you know is that you want your data back as fast as possible. A disaster to you might be losing that important report you worked on all morning, and it can hit you just as hard as a tornado.

Luckily, most backup scenarios recover data in a matter of seconds or minutes. If you’re struggling to recover data in terms of days or weeks for most of these scenarios, then you probably don’t have the right IT infrastructure in place. Ask yourself: How fast can I recover my data in each scenario?

  1. I lost some data within a document or file. With most cloud-based software and document management solutions, your files can be “versioned.” That means if something weird happens and you lose some data within a document, you can go back to a previous version of the document. For example, cloud-based documents (such as a Microsoft Word document) often automatically save changes as you work so that it’s easy to return to a version from just a couple of minutes ago.
  2. I lost a file. Losing an entire file is probably the worst thing that can happen to a person short of their computer crashing. Again, this is where having cloud-based productivity software and document management solutions can help you recover a previous version of the file. Depending on how often your city backs up your files, you should at least be able to find a file if it existed at the time the last backup occurred. For example, if your city performs hourly backups, you should be able to recover your file if it existed at least an hour ago.
  3. My computer crashed. While a single computer crashing still might take some personal files with it, it’s ideal if your city is set up so that all files are stored on servers (either in the cloud or at least on servers hosted privately by the city). If your computer dies, it’s really just an access point dying. Just access your files through another computer, and you’re ready to go. Along with setting up cloud software and data backup, you need to make sure employees save all files in a place where they can access them from any computer—not just their own.
  4. My server died. Now we start getting into real disasters, and yet the time to data recovery should still be relatively short. We recommend that, at a minimum, you set up hourly data backups through a server onsite or in the cloud. For example, if a server fails, the backup server can take over and you can be up and running with your data from at least an hour ago. While you’re waiting for a new server to arrive, you’ve only lost up to an hour’s worth of time and data.
  5. A disaster destroyed our hardware. Even if the worst happens, your time to data recovery should at most be minutes, not hours or days. We recommend that you back up your data offsite in case of a disaster such as a tornado, flooding, fire, or theft. To speed up the backups and recovery time, we recommend that you initially perform a backup of all of your data. After that, daily offsite backups go quickly because you only back up what’s changed (which is usually a small percentage of your overall data). This allows you to keep your offsite daily backups quick and easy to recover in case of disaster. When disaster hits, your data is accessible through any device through which you can access the Internet.

With the cloud and related technologies that make it easier to save, store, back up, and recover data, it becomes harder and harder to really lose important data anymore. However, life is not perfect, and you will occasionally lose data due to human error, software glitches, and hardware failures. When that happens, your chance of quickly recovering your data increases the more you invest in modern technologies that reduce such risk.

So the next time you’re missing a file, you hopefully can at least say, “Let me grab the previous version from a few minutes ago,” grumble a little bit at the few minutes you’ve lost, and move on quickly.

To talk more about data backup, please contact us.

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