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Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Clint Nelms, Network Infrastructure Practice Manager

You may have already read about cloud computing hype, so skepticism in this Wall Street Journal article comparing it to the Industrial Revolution is understandable. It’s understood that cloud computing has distinct benefits. If you suffer headaches from purchasing and maintaining software or email on your own servers, then cloud computing’s “buy as you use” model (which works similar to utilities) can reduce your costs and increase performance without the worries of software maintenance.

However, the article also says: “Far-fetched though [the comparison to the Industrial Revolution] may sound, research published by the London-based Centre for Economics and Business Research in December seems partly to reinforce this view. It predicts that the increased productivity, job creation, business development and competitive advantage brought about by cloud computing will generate an additional €763 billion ($1.04 trillion) in economic value and will create some 2.4 million jobs in Europe during the next five years.”

These benefits are a consequence of less disruption (and more operational continuity), reduced costs (and more hiring), and lower cost of entry (which means more access to critical line of business applications that improve citizen services). If your municipality has not seriously explored the cost and productivity benefits of cloud computing, talk to your IT director or a trusted vendor.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Dave Mims, President

This article notes Jacksonville, Florida’s successful process of moving to a new ERP system and expands upon other cities’ experiences illustrating what can go right...and wrong...with such implementations. To maximize the investment for such a complicated project, it’s essential to follow a clear methodical process that includes rigorous requirements, vendor selection, and project management. If a sound process is followed, a city can truly make a leap forward in terms of cost savings and productivity enhancements.

For another case study on an ERP implementation, please review the City of Duluth, Georgia’s successful project.
 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Kevin Howarth, Director of Business Development

Security issues and social media are two unwilling dancing partners in the evolution of the communication services that are revolutionizing how we communicate. There is no doubt that entering the world of social media is a must, yet many legitimate security issues unfortunately scare off municipalities from fully participating.

However, with just a few basic IT network and security precautions, a municipality can be assured that entering the world of social media will involve no more risk than Internet access and email for employees.

  • Make sure all servers and workstations are being proactively monitored for security threats by your IT staff or vendor.
  • Make sure all antivirus, antispam, and content filtering/blocking tools are active and up-to-date.
  • Enforce existing municipal policies that cover usage and permissions.

A Compuware study last year found that around 99% of data loss incidents are caused by internal users (not external attacks). It’s easy to blame the users, but even the most savvy of users can be tricked by some of the complicated virus and phishing attacks seen on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites. We recommend talking to your IT staff or a trusted vendor to discuss methods of securing your network and making sure users are protected.

As this GovTech article states unequivocally, “...some would argue that without anti-virus, data loss prevention and scanning tools, a social media presence simply wouldn’t be possible for a public agency.”

Monday, February 14, 2011
Kevin Howarth, Director of Business Development


Phil McLemore
City Administrator
City of Duluth, Georgia

As the independent focal point for daily City operations, Phil McLemore guides the City of Duluth through surges in residential, commercial, and quality of life growth. Mr. McLemore works with a municipal staff of 138 employees, manages a $42,543,413 annual budget, and advises the Mayor and Council on strategic and tactical planning, budgeting and programming. He has been with the City of Duluth since 1996. Before coming to Duluth, he worked for Polk County government in Florida as the Development Services Director and, prior to that, he worked for Cobb County government and the Atlanta Regional Commission. He currently resides with his wife in Dunwoody. They have one daughter who has made him a proud grandpa of two girls and a boy.


What are some of the biggest challenges facing the City of Duluth?
 
While our City faces various challenges such as embracing diversity, maintaining infrastructure, and expanding parks, they all take second seat to the economy and the City’s budget. Duluth’s major challenge right now is building back the 20% of our general revenue that we lost to the recession at the end of 2008.
 
At that time, Duluth had to find a way to balance its next budget. The loss of revenue meant either tax increases or expense cuts to offset the loss without cutting services. We also had to maintain the support of our citizens at a time when many were losing their jobs. The City decided to form a citizens budget committee with 44 volunteer members. The citizens received information about the City’s expenditures from the previous budget to study, and they were encouraged to ask questions. Each City department appeared before the citizens group to explain what they had cut and what the impacts would be for additional cuts.

What actionable information resulted from this citizen group?
 
The Citizens were told that they could recommend a reduction of employees, furloughs, tax increases, reductions in reserve funds, and any other ideas. The group indicated they felt more services should be paid for with fees by those who used that service. For example, our court operation was a big cost item. However, those using the court were paying no more for its operation than those who never used it. The group recommended that the City establish a $20 court usage fee. This fee was put into place and it generates $200,000 a year in new revenue.
 
The group also recommended that the new software and handheld hardware purchased for our police officers should have a technology fee charged to all users of the technology. As a result, the City added a fee to every ticket that is now going to pay off the cost of new software and hardware. Wrecker services, business licenses, alcohol permits, parks, city events, and sanitation were additional areas that the group felt the City could charge fees.
 
In 2009, these fees (along with cuts by staff and some reserve funds) balanced the City’s budget. In 2010, the same approach was used and the citizens committee determined that they did not want to cut City services. They recommended a tax millage increase of up to 1½ mills, the use of more reserve funds to balance the City’s budget, and that the City look into a stormwater utility as another method of charging fees. The City’s use of a citizens budget committee has proven to be one of the best tools the City has ever used in developing a working relationship with its citizens.

How does technology fit into your overall strategic vision?
 
A couple of years ago we recognized that the technology we were using was almost 20 years old and it was becoming too labor-intensive to do anything with our existing system. One example was that our City Council was receiving complaints about speeding tickets. Our police chief has repeatedly said we don’t stop people unless they are going more than 15 MPH above the speed limit. The Council wanted clear documentation as to how many tickets we had given for speeding less than and greater than 15 MPH. We had no technology that would let us query the system and give us that information. The police chief had to assign one person who manually went through every single ticket for the year, and it took that person one week of work to come up with an answer. After we updated our system, we can now do it in 15 minutes.
 
With the help of an IT consultant who helped us find the right software, we have seen tremendous changes in our efficiency since the software has been implemented. One of the greatest changes is evident in the Police Department. From the time a police officer writes a ticket, our police and court system used to manually rewrite the same information five different times. Now all of our police officers have handheld units in which they key in information. And that’s the last time someone needs to write down that information.

So this software had a major impact on public safety and many other departments?
 
This past year was the first time when we’ve had the software system up and operating to use with our annual budgeting. When we presented our financial information to City Council, we showed them the budget for each department through our software. The process went faster and easier because we could easily pull up any requested information. We didn’t have to go make changes and send it back to Council on another day. If Council wanted to make changes in the budget, they could be done while we were meeting.

How has the use of mobile devices impacted your city?
 
All of our department heads and key employees have iPhones now. These devices have become a good way of transferring data. We probably use them more for data than for voice. If I’m out of the office, I can access email on my iPhone and respond immediately if necessary.

How do you connect with and learn from other municipalities?
 
I am fortunate that the City of Duluth is in a county with fifteen other cities. Because of this number of cities, the Gwinnett Municipal Association was formed. The Association charges a fee for each City based on the number of citizens who live within that city. The money is used to hire a full time director who keeps all Gwinnett cities informed and acts as a State lobbyist on behalf of the cities. This group of united cities also has a much stronger voice when dealing with the County on items of common interest.
 
The Gwinnett Municipal Association meets twice every month. One meeting is for elected officials from the various cities, and the second meeting is for mayors and city managers. The city managers from the various cities will also contact each other between meetings to discuss items of common interest.
 
An example of the cities working together and exchanging information is their joint concern regarding fair and equitable treatment by the County of the City’s taxpayers. All of the cities joined together and paid for a study to look at what the City taxpayers paid for County services. The study’s findings indicated that city taxpayers overpaid the County for services they did not receive by as much as $20 million per year. Duluth taxpayers were paying over $2 million a year for services that were not received from the County such as police service, planning, zoning, and transportation. Duluth has its own police, planning, and zoning departments and does not use those services from the County.
 
Armed with documentation, the cities in Gwinnett have been trying to negotiate a settlement with the County to lower its tax millage on the services it is not providing to cities. The cities are expecting some type of agreement on this early this year.
 
In addition to the Gwinnett Municipal Association there are a few other organizations in which I participate. The Georgia City County Management Association provides education programs throughout the year and informs City and County Managers about state and federal issues that may affect them. The Georgia Municipal Association attends almost all of the Gwinnett Municipal Association meetings and keeps the cities informed about State laws and legislation. They also provide training for both elected officials and staff during the year. I am also a credentialed member of the International City/County Management Association which requires a minimum of seven years in a City Manager position as well as a minimum of 40 hours per year of study.

What do you do for fun? How do you enjoy your free time?
 
When there is free time, I spend it with my grandkids. I have three. I spend time with them doing anything they want to do. I’m fortunate in that they’re only about 15-20 minutes away, and we see other just about every weekend. I also enjoy getting outside and jogging, reading, and vacations that allow me some time to get away from everything!
 
Monday, February 14, 2011
Clint Nelms, Network Infrastructure Practice Manager

In our journeys over the past few years, we have spoken to the occasional municipality with outdated technology which places the city in a precarious state of affairs. While the example of the City of Chesapeake in this article from the Virginia Pilot is very extreme, it is not too dissimilar from some of the problems we’ve seen municipalities put off.

- Obsolete technology. Chesapeake’s is over 35 years old, but anything over 10 years old is just as ancient.
- Public safety effectiveness threatened by poor IT support and services.
- Servers and workstations failing or often being down.
- IT staff retiring or leaving who have all of the city’s IT knowledge in their heads.

Often, the longer a city waits to stay current with information technology, the more expensive it becomes to upgrade in the long run. If you feel your city might be behind the curve, talk to your IT staff or a trusted vendor for ways you might be able to lessen these risks.

Monday, February 14, 2011
Kevin Howarth, Director of Business Development
Despite the late-2000s recession and current recovery slowing down the exodus of Baby Boomers from the workforce, it is inevitable they will leave in mass numbers in the next few years. While this recent article from GovTech focuses on IT staff at the state level, the same law applies to municipalities.
 
As the article reports, the National Association of State Chief Information Officers says that 20-30% of state CIOs will retire over the next five years. In addition, “...nearly 55 percent of [state CIOs] said they were having trouble filling IT positions. Government continues to have trouble competing with higher salaries in the private sector and restrictions in the civil service system...”
 
Municipalities will see parallel trends with its IT staff over the next five years. Fortunately, there are cost-effective methodologies available to counter these hits. Information technology is too important to solely rely on full-time employees. High salary costs, the risk of knowledge leaving your municipality, and competition for IT talent will always make staffing-only a shaky strategy. A hybrid approach is best, which you can read about in one of our past articles.
Monday, February 14, 2011
Todd Snoddy, Software Development Practice Manager
Transparency has become a government buzzword over the last few years. However, what happens to that data often gets overlooked. When the public can better access and socialize over data sets, benefits are unleashed as seen by an experiment called OpenBaltimore. At the City of Baltimore, data from 21 agencies is not only shared with the public but the OpenBaltimore platform also allows users to suggest data sets, customize views, and discuss uses of the data with fellow developers and citizens.
 
As the City of Baltimore’s CIO Rico Singleton explains in a recent GovTech article:
 
“The additional functionality and uniqueness that I think is somewhat different is it gives you a tremendous ability to democratize the data and socialize it. [...] So you can create your own views, your own use of the data, your own charts. You can share that out to common social networks — whether it be Facebook, Twitter, Digg — and create discussion forums around the data.”
 
If you’re thinking about the transparency of data at your city, also think about how that data can be distributed and shared with the public. The benefits can be - literally - exponential.
Monday, January 17, 2011
Kevin Howarth, Director of Business Development


Patrick Dale
Director of Information Technology
City of Roswell, Georgia

Patrick Dale has spent over 15 years in information technology beginning with a position as software engineer at a company that developed mobile software for law enforcement agencies. He spent over 10 years handling IT at the City of Coconut Creek, Florida, where he was in charge of data and voice networks, application systems, IT training, help desk support and GIS services. At the City of Roswell, Georgia, he is responsible for all IT projects, capital budgeting, research and evaluation of new enterprise hardware and software, vendor management, strategic planning, disaster recovery planning, and policy and procedure documentation for citywide equipment usage. He earned a B.S. in Computer Information Systems at Florida Atlantic University. His free time is largely spent with his wife and two young children.

What are some of the biggest IT challenges facing Roswell?

We’re trying to do more with less. Right now, we’re getting ready to deploy two major enterprise level applications: a municipal enterprise resource planning (ERP) system and a computer aided dispatch (CAD) 911 system. I’ve got a very limited staff, so we’re taking the people who normally perform specific roles and training them to be able to manage these systems as well as doing their current day-to-day jobs. Budgeting is a big challenge for everyone right now, so I have to be creative. There is limited money available to get everything done.

By cross-training our IT staff and utilizing people for more than one task, we’ve overcome some of these budget challenges. Right now, I’m preparing one of my helpdesk staff members to be a trainer. She will not only be doing helpdesk but will also train city staff on software applications. For example, we’re currently rolling out Office 2010. One of my helpdesk people will temporarily become a full-time Office 2010 trainer and work with different city departments on changes to their Office software. We had no budget to hire an outside trainer or send people to take Office 2010 training, so we improvised internally.

How have you taken advantage of recent technology innovations?

During the last couple of years, we installed a fiber-optic ring around the city. Most of our sites are now connected by fiber. We own the fiber, and it’s managed by another company. We’ve installed point-to-point wireless for some of the sites to which we weren’t able to bring fiber. This has increased our overall bandwidth speeds and allows us to push out VoIP technology to those remote sites.

We’ve also been leveraging SharePoint, and it’s starting to help create some very good process changes for us. We’re currently starting the process for next year’s budget, and the entire budget process is going to be run through SharePoint. All of our project management will be in SharePoint, too. Our processes were previously very disjointed. Multiple copies of documents were everywhere and we never knew whose copy was the right copy. SharePoint is going to help us eliminate those problems and create true workflow.

How have you leveraged GIS?

Many of our departments are leveraging GIS. Our transportation department uses it for streets and roads, our community development department uses it for land permitting and other needs, and our fire department uses it for their operations. We have an internal GIS staff that resides in our community development department, but we also have GIS champions in other departments who work alongside the GIS staff. One of the things we did recently was sign an enterprise agreement with a GIS technology company, and so now we have the ability to push out its GIS software to nearly every desktop. In the next 12 months, we’re going to be pushing this software out to more departments so they are able to access GIS data sets for use in decision making. We even created a GIS users group that consists of a few of us from IT, the GIS staff from community development, and one representative from every department.

How has cloud computing affected your IT strategy?

We’ve looked at this trend on a few levels. We’re using cloud services for our legislative system that creates agendas and minutes for our council sessions. That service is run in the cloud through a legislative management software company. Right now, that’s the only service we’ve pushed to the cloud. We seriously considered cloud services with our latest ERP system, and the company has a cloud option for their software. We took a pretty thorough look at it and there wasn’t enough cost savings. True, we would not have had to invest in any new infrastructure, but in our situation we needed to invest in new infrastructure anyway. In terms of software costs, it was flat even between onsite versus cloud. For Roswell, there wasn’t a good enough justification to go with a cloud solution.

How has the city leveraged its website, eGovernment, and/or social media?

We’re doing a lot of eGovernment now. Utility billing, tax billing, red light camera payments, and tax payments all have online eGovernment components on the City of Roswell’s website. That type of customer self-service will be growing more with the implementation of our new ERP. We also have a decent Facebook presence for the entire city, law enforcement, and smaller groups such as Keep Roswell Beautiful. We’ve even kicked off a program which shoots out alerts via email and SMS about weather, traffic, and any other major alerts that need to be shared with residents. Residents can sign up for this today via email or SMS.

How have you leveraged IT for greater interaction between the city and its citizens?

We were asked to provide free WiFi access at some of our parks. Today, we offer free WiFi to residents at five parks and facilities. It works out especially well at some of our locations where there are classes taking place. For example, we have a physical activity center at our Roswell Area Park where there are many gymnastics, dance, and other classes. Most of those programs are only forty-five minutes long. To drop your kid off at the park, leave, and come back really doesn’t make sense for many people. We found many parents were just hanging out and we had real demand for this service while they were waiting. So we’ve done that.

How has the use of mobile devices impacted your city?

They’ve had a wide impact. We’re running mobile devices in all of our police cars. Those devices allow officers to spend more time on the road. Most municipalities are doing that now. We’ve also extended that mobility to code enforcement, building inspectors, and transportation. For example, our road crews are now mobilized and they can quickly examine the conditions of roads and update the grading remotely. People are spending less time in the office and much more time out where they need to be.

How do you connect with and learn from IT directors at other municipalities?

The Georgia Chapter of the Government Management Information Sciences (GMIS) and SIM International is definitely a big part of my peer-to-peer networking. I utilize the knowledge of many contacts I’ve made through GMIS through its listserv where I can query my peers about current IT issues. I also regularly reach out to my peers by phone and email when I have questions.

Monday, January 17, 2011
Dave Mims, President

Network World recently published a great article quantifying the financial impact of deferring IT maintenance. IT often simply seems like a cost center, but it is further behind than ever according to the author. This lag affects services to citizens and city staff productivity from:

- Not replacing hardware on schedule.
- Not upgrading software or evaluating better options (email, document management, etc.).
- Letting enterprise applications deteriorate (accounting, police, public works, etc.).

The positive side to this situation is that the cost and quality of routine proactive maintenance is better than at any time in the past. For a relatively low monthly fee and a smart contract, a vendor can help maintain and monitor your IT environment while knocking out needed projects through a strategic plan led by city officials.

Monday, January 17, 2011
Kevin Howarth, Director of Business Development

The Center for Digital Government recently released the results of its annual Digital Cities Survey. Many of the top technology-savvy cities were located in the Southeast. The rankings included:

250,000 or more population

4th City of Charlotte, N.C.

125-249,999 population

1st City of Richmond, Va.
3rd City of Norfolk, Va.
5th City of Hampton, Va.
5th City of Winston-Salem, N.C.
6th City of Alexandria, Va.
7th City of Augusta, Ga.
9th City of Hollywood, Fla.

75-124,999 population

5th City of High Point, N.C.
6th City of West Palm Beach, Fla.
8th City of Roanoke, Va.

30-74,999 population

2nd City of Lynchburg, Va.
3rd City of Danville, Va.
9th City of North Port, Fla.

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