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CitySmart Blog

Thursday, September 27, 2012
Dave Mims, President

The National League of Cities recently reported that cities continue to lose revenue, forcing them to cut staff, delay or cancel projects, and slash services. In these times, every dollar saved counts—which is why many cities continue to shift toward online payments.

Cities as diverse as Farmington, Michigan; Blaine, Washington; and Portage, Indiana have joined hundreds of cities around the country that have switched to online payments. (Blaine’s switch to online payments saved them $20,000 a year in credit card fees.) In case your city wants to make the switch or upgrade from an aging online payments system, here are some reasons why online payments will positively affect your city’s bottom line.

  • Less customers at city hall. You don’t need customers coming to city hall to conduct simple transactions. Online payments reduce foot traffic so that city staff focus more on higher quality, hands-on service.
  • Less processing time. Accepting and processing payments can take up a lot of staff time. It is tedious, mundane work that can be automated and tracked in an online payment system.
  • Increased processing volume. Once you gain some initial efficiencies, you’ll find that you can process payments faster and in higher volume. That means collecting revenue quicker and serving customers better.
  • 24/7 payment options. The city can collect revenue 24/7 instead of waiting for people to come in between 9am and 5pm. Many people often delay paying the city because it’s inconvenient to come in during the week. 24/7 payment options make it easier for people to pay on time, on their time.
  • Reducing error. Online payment systems collect and store information electronically, reduce a large amount of human error, and track data more effectively. By reducing error, you collect more revenue.
  • Ability for customers to set up recurring payments. With recurring payment options, customers submit their credit card information and set the day of the month they will pay. The city then collects their payments like clockwork. Fewer late payments and less time chasing down people to pay their bills means collecting more revenue.
  • Less paper and postage. With online payments, you eliminate massive amounts of paper and postage—which means more money back into the city’s budget.

Not only do you gain these immediate benefits, but you also increase your reputation as a modern, business-friendly city. Online payments are part of the minimum requirements that businesses and residents expect when dealing with modern municipalities. Providing something as simple as online payments signifies that you make services easy for people who may form part of your future tax base.

If you’d like to discuss online payments in more detail, please contact us.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Clint Nelms, Network Infrastructure Practice Manager

Recently, I gave a cyber liability presentation for the Kentucky League of Cities. I addressed a group of city clerks who increasingly have to worry about this technical and legal issue. As online business and online transactions become an ingrained part of our day-to-day lives, expectations for protecting data and securing online transactions increase significantly.

But the area covered by “cyber liability” is broad and sometimes confusing. What is “cyber liability”?

InsureNewMedia, which provides specialized insurance to technology and Internet companies, defines cyber liability as: “…the first- and third-party risks associated with e-business, the Internet, networks and informational assets. Cyber Liability Insurance coverage offers cutting edge protection for exposures arising out of Internet communications.”

Huh? This definition was not much help for my audience that day. Let’s talk about cyber liability in plain English.

So What Is Cyber Liability...Really?

Cyber liability encompasses a number of potential Internet and information technology-related liabilities that can negatively impact a city. That can include:

  • The loss of electronic data.
  • A lack of security measures to prevent website hacking.
  • A lack of antivirus measures to prevent an electronic virus.

These liability issues not only cause disruptions to finance, operations, and productivity, but they can also create a liability for the city—which means lawsuits, fines, and negative public relations. While cities often delay taking preventative measures, possibly because the solution seems to involve overly complicated (and expensive) technology solutions, ignoring these issues unfortunately leads to severe real-world non-technical consequences.

In this three part series, we’ll cover data loss, website hacking, and viruses, which we see as the three most common areas of cyber liability. For each cyber liability issue, we’ll provide easy-to-follow steps that will help you prevent similar issues. Today, we’ll focus on the cyber liability of data loss.

Cyber Liability for Data Loss: The City of New Orleans, Louisiana

In 2010, the City of New Orleans lost 20 months of real estate records due to serious data backup failure. On the surface, it appeared the city was doing the right things. The city’s IT staff utilized a system from a nationwide data backup vendor. However, while implementing the backup system, the city’s IT staff failed to test and monitor the backups. The city did not confirm that the data was actually backing up.

When the city’s computer systems failed, the city’s backup system failed to recover the data. Once word leaked out that the real estate data was permanently lost, the general public was outraged that the city had not taken proper measures to protect this data. The media’s coverage put pressure on the city to explain how this situation happened, leading to negative public relations.

Media attention began to focus on the city’s leaders. City council was pressured to research the issue and find out what happened. The IT director was questioned, and his responses were not deemed satisfactory. He explained that a more comprehensive disaster recovery project was a “to do” item on his list. Concerned citizens and affected business owners publicly voiced their frustration with the city’s lack of disaster preparedness.

The result? Not only did the City of New Orleans lose 20 months of real estate records, but the data loss negatively affected the buying and selling of homes. Several local real estate brokers closed their businesses because they could not buy and sell homes as a result of the lost data. In short, the city’s lack of disaster recovery readiness led to...a disaster.

Tips on Preventing Data Loss Liability

A city’s data loss affects many citizens and businesses in the community. In times of crisis, citizens look to cities for help and assistance. If cities are not prepared for a disaster, then who do citizens rely upon when disaster strikes?

Data loss is also an extremely common scenario. There are so many ways to lose data—server failures, computer failures, theft, fire, flooding, power loss, hurricanes, tornadoes, and the list goes on. There is no excuse not to have a full disaster recovery plan in place that includes contingencies for data loss. And not having a plan in place makes the city liable.

Here’s what any city needs to do—immediately—to protect themselves:

  • Perform a regular audit of your data backup and disaster recovery processes. Over the years, we’ve performed network assessments and audits for cities. Unfortunately, cities rarely pass the data backup and disaster recovery portion of our audit. For example, cities often rotate tapes and hard drives, but the accountability for this activity is often lacking. Many times, we’ve seen cities backing up to tape (or rotating tape), but never checking the tape to see if it’s blank. Thinking you have backups when you actually do not is almost worse than not having them at all. Without auditing your data backup and disaster recovery efforts, you just don’t know.
  • Regularly test your data backup and disaster recovery. This is the only way to ensure that data can be recovered in case of an emergency. We recommend testing at least once a month (if not more frequently) to make sure that your data backup process is reliable. This activity is essential for picking up on common problems (like file corruption or hardware issues) and waving a red flag, sooner rather than later, about any potential data backup issues.
  • Make sure your data backup and disaster recovery plan has an onsite and offsite component. A major disaster can affect a wide geographical area. An onsite-only solution (even when your “offsite” backup is only a few miles away in another building or bank vault) is not good enough. Many offsite solutions are available that store duplicate data in data centers around the country or (better yet) in the cloud. The best disaster recovery solutions mean that if City Hall (and the surrounding area) blows up, you still have all of your data.

In Part II, we’ll discuss website hacking and ways to prevent it. If you’d like to talk more about data backup and disaster recovery issues, contact us.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Dave Mims, President

A recent study from Citrix shows that most Americans are confused by the cloud. The ongoing problem with the term "cloud computing" is that it often complicates an explanation rather than clarifies. Most people use cloud computing every day, but they don't know that they are using it.

To help clarify matters, we wanted to give you a layperson's definition of cloud computing. If you ever need to explain it to someone else, use this as a guideline. We'll use Gmail as an example throughout, since it is a well-known cloud service.

  • Are you accessing services over the Internet? For example, if you are using Gmail, you are accessing that service over the Internet. You don't have to have an email server on your network. Instead, you are accessing this service through the...cloud.
  • Are these services accessible anywhere/anytime by a variety of devices? Cloud services are accessible anywhere/anytime through servers, workstations, laptops, tablets, and mobile devices. For example, Gmail can be accessed from any device. You don't have to be at home or at work to access Gmail.
  • Are you able to access these services without buying and installing hardware or software? While you might still purchase access to an application like Gmail over the Internet, you are not buying a Gmail server or purchasing Gmail software that someone has to install on your network and then on everyone's computer.
  • Are you able to access these services without use of a data center? It's not the cloud if you simply locate your dedicated servers in a data center. That simply takes the hardware that you bought and places it in another location. You access cloud services without any data center arrangements, and you don't own the hardware.
  • Does all data reside on the cloud vendor's servers? In other words, your Gmail data is stored in Google servers—the "cloud." Your Gmail data does not reside on your company servers or on your personal devices (desktops, laptops, tablets, or mobile devices).
  • Does the service work like a subscription model? Can you turn the service on and off, like a utility? Cloud services work like this—whether it's software, virtual servers, storage, data backup, security monitoring, etc. Again, instead of buying hardware and purchasing software licenses, you simply subscribe to the service. The vendor makes the hardware and software investment. Once you subscribe, you have access to the application (or service) through the Internet. If you don't want the service anymore, you "unsubscribe" and it turns off.
  • Does the service scale up and down effortlessly? You might have to pay more for scaling up, but you can simply buy more of the service with ease. Need another server? More storage space? More users added to your email? No problem, and you don't have to buy any additional hardware or software. If you don't have cloud services, chances are you're restricted by your hardware limitations or software license agreement before you can consider scaling up and down.

If you answered "yes" to all of these questions, you're probably using cloud services. If you did not answer "yes," you might want to reconsider your existing hardware and software investments. They are depreciating and rapidly becoming dated. Instead of your earlier confusion about "should we get into cloud computing?" you can instead evaluate your current hardware and software with the following questions. If you find yourself answering "no" to many of these questions, you may want to consider cloud options to reduce cost and increase efficiency.

  • Can I access this service over the Internet?
  • Can I access this service from any device?
  • Can I access this service without buying dedicated hardware (either located onsite or in a data center)?
  • Can I access this service without buying packaged software to install?
  • Does all of the data related to the service reside on a vendor's servers? (In other words, you do not purchase servers nor are responsible for their upkeep and maintenance, either onsite or in a data center.)
  • Can I scale this service up and down with ease?
  • Is the cost related to my scale? (e.g. number of GB, number of users, etc.)

If you'd like to discuss cloud options in more detail, feel free to contact us.

Thursday, September 13, 2012
Clint Nelms, Network Infrastructure Practice Manager

A recent study by the 2012 National Study of Employers from the Families and Work Institute and the Society for Human Resource Management (reported in Business Management Daily) noted some recent trends in teleworking. The most important insight: teleworking is the new normal.

As Business Management Daily says:

If your organization's execs still insist on eight consecutive hours of face time each day from every employee, you're probably already losing young hires, new moms and mature employees. They're going to competitors offering more flexibility. Make flex central to your recruiting and retaining effort.

In addition, evolving and widespread technologies make teleworking easier and easier:

  • Increasing broadband speeds
  • Cloud services (meaning you can access email, documents, and other services from your computer, anytime and anywhere)
  • Smartphones with increasing sophistication

If your city provides limited or no teleworking options, consider these benefits when making your case for teleworking:

  • Talent Retention and Morale Employers compete for the talent you want to hire, and they even compete for the talent already working at your city. If teleworking is the "new normal," that means talented employees will weigh this kind of flexibility against what other employers offer. Cities that don't offer teleworking can lose employees to other businesses. Your talent recruitment efforts will suffer along with existing staff morale.
  • Business Continuity Few people think about this aspect of teleworking. In case of a disaster—such as a tornado, fire, severe thunderstorm, or hurricane—it's much easier for city operations to return to normal when everyone works remote. Until the city returns to normal operating capacity, basic city functions still hum along—virtually.
  • Green and Environmental Initiatives Driving less means less gas and emissions. Less employees in the office means less electricity and power. Those add up and contribute to green efforts. If the city already promotes green initiatives, teleworking nicely complements this strategy.
  • Reduced Costs Especially look at teleworking as a way to reduce the total amount of employees who work at the city each day. Real estate and office space eats up a lot of money. You might significantly cut costs by lessening the amount of people who actually come into the office every day in terms of physical space and electricity.
  • Accommodate a Diverse Workforce Teleworking makes it easier for people with disabilities, working parents (especially single parents), and sick or ill people to still work for the city. You accommodate these people's life circumstances while utilizing their talents—the talent you lose to another business if you force people to come into an office every day.

To meet the new normal, you need flexibility. Teleworking not only benefits and accommodates your staff, it also benefits the city on many levels. For more information about what technology you need to enable teleworking at your city, contact us for more information.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012
John Miller, Network Infrastructure Manager

While password policies seem like just a small part of IT management, a perfect storm is brewing that places password vulnerability at an all-time high. Fox Business recently reported (from a Janrain study) that people are experiencing password fatigue. By contrast, Ars Technica recently reported "the dangerous practice of password reuse has surged. The result: security provided by the average password in 2012 has never been weaker."

If people are weary of coming up with new passwords, that means they will use (and reuse) weak passwords. That makes it a feasting ground for hackers, and a source of anxiety for IT.

Thankfully, a strong IT department or vendor exists to enforce some basic password best practices that don't agonize users while also securing this often user-generated Achilles heel.

To assess if you've mastered your Password 101 basics, use the following as a quick checklist.

  • Force users to have strong passwords. A strong password is one that is long with multiple characters. Use a complex password with letters, numbers, a capital letter and a special character such as a dollar sign. While annoying at first, users will get used to creating more complex passwords—which are more difficult to hack.
  • Force users to create new passwords. Whether it is every three months, every month, or some other frequency, have users change their password on a regular basis. Again, it will annoy them at first, but it will soon become habit.
  • Your IT staff must also create strong passwords and frequently change them. Users are one thing. But IT staff often shockingly use weak passwords for server and administrative access—and rarely ever change them. Since these passwords protect the most sensitive information, they—of all passwords—must be the strongest. No excuses.
  • Train users to NEVER give out their passwords through email or over the phone. Phishing unfortunately tricks millions of users every year. All it takes is an official-looking message or an unknown person on the phone to gain access to a user's password. Either give out passwords face-to-face, or use an automated secure system where users can create or reset passwords.
  • Consider 2 factor authentication. This means a user needs to authorize a computer before they can use sensitive applications such as email. Users should be used to this through Google and Facebook's services, which often sends a verification code to a person's cell phone before they can officially log in. This adds an extra layer of password security that makes hacking more difficult.
  • Create a password policy. This not only includes requirements for strong passwords and when they should expire, but also handles items such as who has access to users' passwords.
If you want to discuss these issues in more detail, contact us. We'd be happy to chat!
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Dave Mims, President

If a business fails at customer experience, it soon loses business (or goes out of business). But cities operate differently. While cities cannot go out of business, they serve as a backbone to an entire community. Customer service failures may not bankrupt the city, but they end up affecting the lives of every citizen. And because their taxpayer dollars help fund the city, citizens grow frustrated when cities fail to measure up to basic customer experience standards.

Thankfully, cities have continually improved their customer experience over time, but even the most well-meaning cities often struggle with their website. And online customer experience expectations increase each year. Several trends are pressuring cities to increase their website customer experience, despite size or location.

Increasing broadband access. While speeds often vary from area to area, broadband penetration is currently at 80% of the United States. That percentage will only get higher.

Mobile access. Over half of people with mobile phones have smartphones. That means an increasing segment of the United States population expects to access online information with their smartphones like a computer.

Higher customer experience expectations for websites. Amazon, Google, major online retail stores, and other businesses make online experiences easy. As online payments and billing become mainstream and the preferred way of conducting transactions, then the expectations for something as important as city services rise higher and higher. For example, people lose patience if they cannot easily pay a simple bill or fee online.

Of course, we understand that local government budgets remain tight. As long as your website gets you by, it might seem unreasonable to splurge for a new website. You might also believe that building or redesigning your website will cost thousands of dollars.

However, cost-effective options exist for modernizing your website. Below, we share some tips about improving your city's online customer experience without breaking your bank.

  • Modernize Your Website With a Well-Designed Look-and-Feel Without spending thousands of dollars on a redesign, you can still modernize your website. Too many city websites still look like they were built in the late 1990s or early 2000s. Many design templates and low-cost hosting options exist. Freshen up your website and bring it aesthetically up to date.
  • Create Pages That Match Your City Services Make sure you provide pages that match each of your city services, and that they prominently display on your homepage for easy navigation. That means pages for City Hall, Public Safety, Parks and Recreation, Community Development, News, Events, and any other information that citizens need most.
  • Offer Online Payments Whether through your own website or a third party, you should offer online payment options for most city services. Provide ways to pay property taxes, fines, and fees online. Most people find it difficult to get to City Hall during normal weekday business hours. They expect options to pay from home, outside normal business hours.
  • Share Information We live in an era of transparent government, and that means you need to share the business of government with citizens. Share agendas, minutes, and videos of important meetings. Share relevant documents and public notices through your website. Failing to share information leaves you open to attack.
  • Use a Content Management System (CMS) to Update Content If you primarily rely on a webmaster to upload all of your content, you are wasting time and money. Content management systems exist to make updating your website content as easy as using Microsoft Word. Many low-cost CMS options exist. Your staff needs to update website content themselves, especially when fresh content signifies a vital website to citizens and even businesses considering locating to your city.

By focusing on these basic issues, you will solve many of your customer experience woes. Contact us if you want to discuss some options that will help you alleviate these pain points.

Friday, September 7, 2012
Clint Nelms, Network Infrastructure Practice Manager

Information technology is already hard enough to manage, and its cost and complexity make it one of the most important investments for a city to manage. Unfortunately, managing multiple IT vendors turns this already difficult situation into a nightmare.

City managers and clerks often tell us about the difficulty of calling in for software support. When calling the vendor, they often encounter customer support representatives who talk over their heads, rush them too fast through an issue, or just plain fail to understand the problem because of language barriers. Too many vendors unfortunately do not seem able to communicate effectively with non-technical customers, and they often make the non-technical customer feel at fault.

This situation is even more frustrating because cities are strapped for time and often lack the technical expertise to know exactly how they should interact with their IT vendors. In addition, vendors are often trying to sell unnecessary products and add-ons to cities as part of their "service," so that makes city staff wary about how best to filter a vendor's recommendations.

Here are three tips that may help you and your city manage IT vendors.

  1. Hire a trusted IT staff person or IT vendor to manage these relationships. Just like it's good for lawyers to talk to lawyers, or doctors to doctors, it's beneficial to have IT professionals talk to IT professionals. For example, we routinely take on all IT vendor communications when we work for a city. Our expertise, experience, and negotiating abilities keep IT vendors on their toes and focused on providing the best services for cities. We make sure the warranties and accessories ordered are what the city actually needs (and not commission-based items that line the vendor's sales team's pockets).
  2. Collect, understand, and reinforce all service agreements. Understand what support covers. Make sure you document the details of these agreements and store all contact numbers in a handy place when something goes wrong. This documentation also makes it easier to hand off support details to your IT staff or IT vendor managing your infrastructure.
  3. Understand exactly what a vendor provides. Know what a vendor sells. If the vendor quotes services or uses terms that mystify you, ask them to get a sales engineer on the line. If you are not comfortable with the conversation, do not make the purchase until you can receive a solid explanation. Especially follow this advice with telephone service providers. Cities often sign up for telephone services they never use, which needlessly increases their monthly bills.
If you would like to discuss these issues further, please contact us.
Wednesday, September 5, 2012
Clint Nelms, Network Infrastructure Practice Manager

Recently, I was talking with a city manager who wanted to learn more about our services. We chatted about how they would have email handled through Microsoft's cloud platform. During the conversation, he mentioned some other cities where the elected officials received email to their personal accounts and used those personal email accounts to conduct city business.

I mentioned that those accounts could be subject to open records requests, and he just nodded forebodingly. He had just gone through an open records request and noted how time consuming and expensive it was. He could not imagine what the process would be like if personal email accounts were involved.

Through our experience and conversations with cities, seeing email addresses such as mayor@yahoo.com is not uncommon. Georgia includes emails in its open records laws, and those emails need to be as retrievable and accessible as possible. This issue is real, and this year alone showcases many stark examples.

Preventing a Costly Open Records Request

Thankfully, while handling an open records request is never easy, it's a great deal easier with some simple email software and organization. Here is a quick assessment you can take:

  • Are you using a personal email address for city business?
  • Is city email being forwarded to a personal email address?

If yes, then your personal email is at risk for an open records request. Going forward, you need to eliminate this issue and keep all city business emails stored and archived in a city email account. If you do not have your own city domain name (e.g. mayor@cityofsomewhere.gov), then you need to acquire one. All city business email should then be conducted through city email addresses.

  • How much time did it take to process your last open records request?
  • How much did it cost?

Even if you already have a city business email account, your email might not be stored, archived, and accessed in ways that reflect best practices. For example, email cloud solutions exist that can be managed by IT staff or a vendor. That means if you get an open records request, your IT staff can easily enable you to access and collect the exact emails you need, quickly. Some vendors can even handle that for you for no additional fees.

For more about email solutions that may help this situation, read more about our solution and contact us if you have additional questions.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012
Clint Nelms, Network Infrastructure Practice Manager

A recent CIO Magazine article discussed how businesses are empowering the mobile worker by allowing them to use their personal devices for work. If cities want to follow this trend, they must be more cautious than a typical business. Local government faces regulations and audits, handles sensitive information, submits to open records requests, and operates with high transparency expectations.

That means the blurring of personal and government information is especially frowned upon in local government. We've all heard the horror stories about government business conducted with personal email addresses and the consequences that result—both financially and from a public relations standpoint.

Yet, you don't want to halt progress and you want to accommodate people who use their own mobile devices and tablets. Personal devices are not going away, and yet you don't often have the money to buy all city employees business-only tablets and smartphones. What do you do?

Assessing the Risks

Many employees want access to city email, documents, and content from their smartphones, tablets, laptops, and home personal computers. We caution city management about making this access too easy for two reasons:

  1. Lack of control If the city does not own the personal device, they cannot control how employees use it. That opens the device up to viruses, unauthorized access, and exposing confidential information.
  2. Liability/exposure during e-discovery Wherever city data lives, it is considered discoverable. Do you want an audit to extend to your city employees' personal computers, laptops, tablets, or smartphones. What will auditors find on personal devices?

It's tempting to have employees bring their own device to cut costs. After all, isn't it great that you don't have to purchase an extra computer, tablet, or smartphone? But while device costs go down (reducing the city's upfront capital expenses), hidden costs associated with loss of control and potential for e-discovery skyrocket. You don't want a lawsuit or fine to result from the misuse of a personal device or an unintentional breach of city data security or privacy.

How To Best Handle City Employees' Personal Devices

Here are some tips and recommendations that will help you decide how to handle personal devices in your local government environment:

  • If possible, issue employees their own business-only devices. While this can be expensive, the hardware and software is locked down and controlled by the city. The employee then uses the device for city purposes only.
  • No data of any type (including email) should be stored on a device that is not a city asset. As tempting as it is to install email programs on personal laptops, tablets, and smartphones, don't! You run too many legal and security issues.
  • Use a cloud solution to allow employee access from a personal device. If you cannot budget for city owned personal devices, then consider cloud services. Employees can access email and documents without having to store that information on their personal devices. We recommend that a city point of contact requests and authorizes particular city employees who should have this capability before it is provisioned. This also gives cities the option to remotely delete data (e.g. Microsoft Office documents) on the city employee's mobile phone, which is useful in case the device is lost or stolen.
  • Wipe a city-owned device clean of all data before issuing it to another user. When an employee leaves the city and returns the device, it should be wiped clean of all data, securely, before re-issuing to another user. You do not want a new or different employee with access to sensitive city data.
  • Wipe a damaged city-owned device clean of all data before handing it over to a vendor for repair. This best practice is often overlooked. If a device is damaged and you need it repaired by a vendor, that device should also be securely wiped clean of all data prior to submitting it for repair. You do not want a vendor (or any outside unauthorized person) with access to city data. (If the device is so damaged that you cannot wipe it clean, then that device should be securely destroyed by a vendor that offers this as a service.)

If you would like to discuss these issues further, please contact us.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Clint Nelms, Network Infrastructure Practice Manager

A recent IDC Government Insights report revealed an alarming glimpse into the mindset of local government about cloud computing. GovTech's summary of the IDC report said, "Local government participants were the least optimistic about the cloud with 14.7 percent saying the cloud wasn't important." Overall, the report showed a need for more education about the benefits of cloud computing in terms of not only technology infrastructure but also budgeting.

This report is consistent with what we have traditionally seen with how fast local government moves versus the pace of technology and businesses.

We have written a good deal about the essence of cloud computing, so we will focus on traditional local government obstacles of adopting change due to funding and IT architecture concerns.

Cloud Solutions Offer The Potential to Cut Costs or Quickly Acquire Enterprise Level Services Within Budget

A common myth about the cloud is that it's an additional technology to purchase. Partly, that's the fault of the abstract, technological term "cloud computing." The term does not effectively reflect the financial and productive sides of its benefits.

Instead, cloud computing is an alternative, modern version of many existing technologies. That means you can audit and assess your current hardware and software investments and seek out areas to cut costs through cloud alternatives. If you've invested heavily in hardware and software, cloud computing solutions often significantly cut costs.

If you haven't invested in much hardware and software, then cloud computing offers you low-cost options to acquire enterprise-level tools and technologies (website, data backup, document management, etc.) that may have seemed out of reach just a few years ago. Typically, we find that local government underspends on important areas such as data backup, security, and business productivity because of the cost of traditional technologies. Cloud computing options give local government an unprecedented chance to address any chronic lack of investment in these essential areas.

To get a better handle on your potential cloud investments, first know what you're already spending for hardware, software, licenses, labor, and annual maintenance fees. We've written about this at length in the past, but it's good to currently analyze how much you're paying for:

  • Email servers and maintenance
  • Document management
  • Data backup and disaster recovery
  • Microsoft Office (or other vendor's) productivity suite
  • Antivirus and antispam
  • Web hosting and maintenance
  • Instant messaging and online meetings

If cloud computing options help bring these costs down, then you can not only approximate funding but also return on investment. If you're not currently investing much in these areas and need to justify funding, then you need to make your case from a different point of view.

It's not uncommon for local government to feel the pains of aging technology through hardware failures, data loss, and slowed productivity. Cloud options give you the chance to seriously look at modernizing your technology environment with enterprise grade solutions while keeping capital investments and overall costs at a minimum.

Changes to Your Technology Environment - The Cloud is Easier To Manage and Maintain

While most cities do not have large IT infrastructure environments, we sometimes hear concerns about how a switch to cloud computing will affect the management and maintenance of servers, workstations, and software. Three main concerns usually come up:

  • Fewer onsite servers Cloud options are available for nearly any function currently taken on by a typical server. Fewer servers means there will be more of a focus on remote cloud server management instead of managing servers onsite. For those used to managing only servers they can see and touch, a switch to remote cloud server management can be jarring.
  • Offsite data backup and storage After years of backing up data onsite, it can feel strange for your data backup to be stored in the cloud. However, the cloud can be a safer data backup option than doing it in-house. We've heard too many horror stories of neglected, forgotten, or misconfigured data backup that ends in painful data loss. While cloud solutions are not infallible, the data backup standards are extremely high. Intense vendor competition means they can't afford to let your data disappear, and this competition-driven innovation benefits you.
  • 24/7 remote access support Cloud services allow access to information 24x7. That means 24x7 support is more important than ever. This serious issue is not always addressed by cloud solutions. You may have cloud access via the Internet, anytime anywhere, but if something goes wrong, who do you call?

These infrastructure issues are really just aspects of technology change. Cloud solutions are where technology is headed, like it or not. These technologies are a significant improvement over managing and maintaining your own IT infrastructure. Any new change can create anxiety, especially if your staff is used to doing something a certain way for many years. For those cities without IT staff or a close relationship with a technology vendor, this anxiety is lessened but the justification for funding becomes more important.

This is why the local government concerns of the IDC report are legitimate and relevant. But do not fear. The switch to cloud computing is a significant revolution in technology, and it only benefits you - both from a cost perspective and an infrastructure management perspective.

For more about the cost and infrastructure sides of cloud computing, read more about our solutions or contact us to have a discussion.

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