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CitySmart Blog

Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Clint Nelms, Network Infrastructure Practice Manager
Be careful of reusing usernames and passwords! That's one way hackers compromised this Public Safety office. Read more at http://tinyurl.com/42mjhur
Sunday, July 17, 2011
Todd Snoddy, Software Development Practice Manager
Imagine law enforcement being able to instantly and accurately ID a suspect by snapping their picture from up to five feet away with an app on their mobile device.  Read more at http://tinyurl.com/44l39pn
Friday, July 15, 2011
Dave Mims, President
Sophicity recently published The Myth Behind 'Managed Services' and the Cost to Municipalities in the July 2011 issue of South Dakota Municipalities magazine. The magazine is published by the South Dakota Municipalities and focuses on a variety of contemporary municipal issues. We encourage you to read the complete article and also visit South Dakota Municipalities online.
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Dave Mims, President

GovTech had a great article recently about the public sector’s response to cloud computing. Compared to the private sector, state and local government is adopting cloud computing at a much slower pace. The statistics are alarming, and here’s why:

1. “42 percent of private-sector organizations are operating on some level in the cloud, while 23 percent of public-sector organizations are doing the same.” We have seen this kind of percentage not just with cloud computing, but with information technology adoption as a whole. Continuing to run old systems and not embracing technology innovation is costly and very risky to municipalities.

2. “75 percent of responding public-sector entities said they didn’t have the IT skills in place internally to support a cloud environment.” What about the IT skills to support data backup, disaster recovery, financial software, website hosting, ERP systems, etc. etc. Saying you don’t have the skills when you are the steward for public services is a very risky argument to make. Where will citizens turn when an emergency occurs? How can a public steward respond that “our systems were down” or that “our City is X years behind the technology curve”?

3. “59 percent of the U.S. public sector saying they were concerned about security issues in the cloud. 37 percent said they feared the potential for data loss in the cloud.” This is where the biggest dose of reality is needed. We would argue from experience that local government, with their existing on-premise systems, are significantly less secure and at more risk for data loss than a cloud solution. Very large technology organizations like Google, Microsoft, Amazon and others have been heavily investing into the highest standards possible. By contrast, underfunded cities with obsolete technology, talent shortages, and lack of federal or state regulation as to the quality of their information technology will often increase the probability of having significant security issues.

We encourage you to read our article from last year about cloud computing, but at the very least to take away a few points:

- Cloud computing has the potential to save you a LOT of money.
- Cloud computing is typically MORE secure than systems you now have in place.
- Cloud computing removes some IT management burden and frees up staff time.

If cities are not seriously exploring cloud options, they are (once again) missing the boat.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Kevin Howarth, Director of Business Development

Luke Fretwell at GovFresh shares this interesting blog entry with two videos of Steve Jobs presenting to the Cupertino City Council. Watch Jobs do his magic at a City Council meeting, and take notes for the next time you need to present to your elected officials!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Clint Nelms, Network Infrastructure Practice Manager

Every time you read or watch the news, it seems that another hacking job has succeeded on high-profile targets such as the Central Intelligence Agency, the United States Senate, and companies like Sony. A recent article from CNET notes:

“Hacker groups Anonymous and LulzSec said [Monday, June 20] they are uniting in a campaign aimed at banks, government agencies, and other high-profile targets, and they are encouraging others to steal and leak classified information.”

While no one organization is 100% safe, it is unfortunate that many of these organizations are hacked easily because of weak security. Local government is ripe for such attacks because of limited budgets, lack of information security regulations or standards, and obsolete or missing technologies (e.g. firewalls, etc).

Given that these hacking groups have declared cyberwar against government targets, here are three Information Security 101 things you can do to prevent yourself from being an easy target:

1. Patch software regularly (e.g. regular Windows updates). Before Sophicity stabilizes a city’s environment, we find in most cases that servers and workstations are woefully behind on basic software patching.
2. Install an enterprise firewall along with deploying an antivirus solution.
3. Change passwords regularly and have a password policy in place.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Kevin Howarth, Director of Business Development

Billy Edwards
City Manager
City of Hinesville, Georgia

Billy Edwards is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the City of Hinesville, Georgia and oversees all City government departments. He acts as a liaison between the City Council and the public by responding to inquiries and resolving conflicts. He is also responsible for oversight of the City Council meeting agenda process and implementing policy decisions made by the Council members. Having served at the City for over 30 years, Billy has a wealth of experience in city administration and shared some of his insights with Sophicity.

What are the biggest challenges facing the City of Hinesville?
The biggest hurdle to overcome is budgetary concerns in a down economy. Last year, when we were putting together our current fiscal year budget, we had to make some tough decisions. We ended up dipping into our fund balance much deeper than I think anyone was comfortable doing. However, we were able to avoid layoffs and substantial reductions in services or employee benefits.
At the same time, we are a growing community. We’re not growing as fast if economic circumstances had been different, but we’re still growing. We have some capital projects that need to get done, and getting funding for those is obviously far more difficult now than it was then. We’ve got some infrastructure issues primarily with regard to potable water demand which we anticipate increasing as a result of continued growth. We expect to grow substantially over the next 10 years or so, and some of our growth will be the result of additional troops assigned to Fort Stewart over the next 4 years.

How does technology fit into the City of Hinesville’s strategic vision?
Along with enhancing communication, technology allows fewer people to get more accomplished. One example of technology’s benefits for the City of Hinesville is with water meter reading. Back in the old days, we had meter readers go out, visually look at every water meter, write down the data in their car, and bring it back to the office so they could key punch it into a computer. Then a bill would be produced as a result of that process. We gradually migrated to a system where meter readers do not actually have to read or write any data down. All data is captured on a little portable computer that they carry around with them. They also use a system that will allow 2 or 3 people to read the entire county’s water meter data in one day. That helps us get more accomplished with fewer people and frees up staff time so they can do more service calls.
About 20% of our utility customers pay their bills online now. When face-to-face contact with water customers is reduced, customer service representatives have more time to focus on service and less time having to multitask. That’s helping us substantially. We are also building a citywide wireless network for our employees. It’s primarily for public safety (police and fire), but other employees can use it too. Those individuals will have wireless connectivity if they are on a City-owned network. At this point in time, we have to deploy hot spots to accomplish this goal. That means staff has to drive to a hot spot to get connectivity to the City’s network.
There are many benefits to having a citywide wireless network. For example, if a police officer is out in the field, he or she can write up a report immediately instead of having to come back to the office. Wireless also helps us in an area like the inspections department. Inspections staff is able to provide near real-time information back to their department, which can facilitate the building permit process. Overall, we find that wireless improves response time and also cuts down on travel time.

How has the City of Hinesville leveraged GIS?
We’ve had a GIS operation for probably 25 years at the City of Hinesville. As an example of how we use this information on a daily basis, I recall recently visiting with a citizen and utilizing GIS data to explain why he couldn’t do what he wanted to do on his property. We looked at an aerial photograph that showed clearly why their property situation was a certain way. GIS is a great communication tool. It’s also helpful for economic development because we’re able to meet with individuals who are interested in potentially locating a business in Hinesville. GIS helps us better discuss what property is available and what kinds of services we have. Also, departments such as police, fire, and inspections use GIS very effectively.

How have mobile devices impacted the City of Hinesville?
Sometimes I feel we can be a little too connected to our mobile devices, but I also don’t know what we’d do without them anymore. Their primary purpose is to help us stay connected and communicate, but they also help me individually to keep my schedule organized. I am anything but in control of my time since I’m often at the service of city staff, elected officials, and citizens. But my mobile device allows me to stay abreast of where, when, and what I’m supposed to be doing. Since I am called out of the office so much, I’m able to stay connected to my email and other data which prevents me from getting swamped whenever I return to my office.
With everyone always checking their smart phones, the downside is that we have a tendency to lose focus on what we’re doing at the time. I don’t know how somebody can focus on what a speaker is trying to tell you when you’re texting or responding to email. I think we’ve diluted our attention so that we don’t focus enough on what we’re doing at the time we’re doing it, and so our depth of understanding is somewhat minimized.

How do you stay informed about not only your City but also wider municipal trends?
For me, the Georgia City-County Management Association (GCCMA) and the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) are the two primary points of intersection with my colleagues. I think everybody, regardless of industry, should have a group of individuals from their profession who they talk with on a regular basis. There are people I call on for advice and ideas on occasion, and it’s reciprocated.
Within the City, I meet with key staff on a regular basis. That includes our IT director, police chief, fire chief, chief financial officer, and other department heads. We’re all in close proximity to each other, so we stay in touch and they keep me abreast of anything significant I need to know. We have bi-monthly staff meetings and review Council meeting agendas to make sure we have all of our bases covered, but we also use that opportunity for each staff member to inform other staff members about key issues that may impact or be of interest to the other departments.

What do you do for fun?
I like to spend time with my family. I also like fishing. I enjoy salt water fishing in Liberty and McIntosh Counties and catching speckled trout, redfish, and flounder. It’s nice being out on the water in a boat even if you don’t catch any fish. I’m actually rebuilding a boat right now. I’ve got a little 14-foot fiberglass boat that I’ve gutted, and I plan to tear it up and rebuild it. It remains to be seen whether or not I have the courage to put it in the water!
Visit the City of Hinesville, Georgia online at cityofhinesville.org.
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Kevin Howarth, Director of Business Development
Data backup and disaster recovery are probably the most important and least appreciated areas in information technology. When VML Insurance Programs (VMLIP) noticed data backup costs increasing too much while unnecessarily confused about exactly what services they were getting, they needed to reassess and find a different solution with less cost and comprehensive coverage. Steven Bergman, Director of Technology & Operations, shares his insights about VMLIP’s initial data backup problems and how he solved them.

What was VMLIP’s initial problem with its data backup?

First was cost. I felt our vendor was overcharging us. We also had difficulty restoring individual files or mailboxes, and the headache and hassle of working with the vendor was starting to take way too long. I never understood how we were billed and exactly how much data was covered.

What did VMLIP need as a solution?

We looked at several co-location facilities and initially thought we would replicate our data over to them. However, the costs in most cases were outrageous. We needed a cost-effective umbrella solution encompassing data backup, disaster recovery, and business continuity. We decided it was in our best interest to see if there was one vendor that could provide all of these pieces.

At first, the vendor research was frustrating. Even though we were clear about what we wanted to back up, vendors seemed to ignore that we had a lot of data in file shares that worked on virtual machines. They often said, “Oh, we didn’t realize you wanted that data backed up too.” And all of a sudden the price jumps way up. That happened three times with three different vendors. We told them exactly what data we had, and in all three cases they didn’t listen to us.

What did Sophicity provide as a solution?

Sophicity provided us with a reliable data backup solution that minimizes the risk of data loss because of how often (every hour) our information is backed up throughout the day. If we lose information, it’s an easy restore process. We just contact Sophicity’s helpdesk and files get restored. We also saw a dramatic decrease of 60% in monthly expenditures.

We partnered with Agility for continuity to provide a place to work in case of disaster. With the combination of Sophicity and Agility, we have data backup and disaster recovery, more options and less cost. Also, there is no bureaucracy to go through when getting data restored. With Sophicity, you send them an email or give them a call, they get back in touch with you, they get on it as soon as possible, and they do it.

Why would VMLIP recommend that local governments consider this solution?

First is cost. For what you’re getting, it’s a cost-effective solution. Second, many local governments probably have a data backup solution but not disaster recovery. It’s one thing to have your data backed up offsite, but if you lose your facility and you have no equipment, then what good is your data? Sophicity’s data backup and disaster recovery solution, along with the ability to either fail over to their data continuity appliance or they ship us another server, is very valuable in minimizing our downtime.

This article was originally published in the May 2011 issue of Virginia Municipal League's monthly magazine.
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Clint Nelms, Network Infrastructure Practice Manager

In case you haven’t noticed, the theme of cloud computing and cost savings is spreading like wildfire through many organizations – including municipalities. According to a recent GovTech article, the City of Alexandria, Virginia will save $1 million over the next 6 years through its use of cloud computing services. A few tips stand out:

- Standardize computers, operating systems, and software packages to save money on licensing costs.
- Evaluate if your users are suffering from disruptions or obstacles to productivity. If so, it’s a good opportunity to reevaluate your information technology.
- Don’t ignore your phone systems. These are often very expensive, but the City saved money from transitioning off of Blackberries to iPhone/Androids. Cloud computing VoIP options may also help reduce costs.

You may feel your municipality or organization is in the Dark Ages of information technology with aging computers and software, and that modern trends have passed you by. Actually, if so, this is the best time to explore cloud options.
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Kevin Howarth, Director of Business Development

Pujan Roka wrote an excellent concise article about cloud computing in the May 8, 2011 edition of the Atlanta Journal Constitution. In it, he describes how information technology is increasingly becoming more like a utility. Cities (especially for the cost savings) should seriously be looking at the cloud. For example, the City of Canton, Georgia is experiencing feature rich benefits from using Google Apps – while saving $10,000/year in costs.

In our discussions with both technical and non-technical decision makers at cities, we hear objections and some confusion about how the cloud will benefit them. One way to think about cloud computing is to consider the early days of electricity. Roka points out how factories initially had to produce their own electricity, which was expensive and created a lot of waste. Once electricity shifted to the utility model, costs came down and quality of service went up.

Information technology is going through a similar revolution and despite some recent highly publicized outages, the reliability is all but 100%. It’s now just a matter of jumping into the cloud – and bringing your costs down.

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