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CitySmart Blog

Thursday, August 16, 2012
John Miller, Network Infrastructure Manager

A recent article in "The Tennessean" (and shared in the Public Technology Institute's July 25, 2012 email newsletter) reveals how inundated cities feel by technology pressures. It just doesn't end—new technologies related to websites, servers, desktops, tablets, mobile phones, broadband, and GIS barrage cities every year. All of these investments require money that cities unfortunately lack in this rough economy.

The article highlights a few common themes that we've also seen while talking to cities.

  • Cities feel they are lagging extraordinarily behind. They watch businesses and society on the cutting edge of information technology, and they feel they got left behind in the 20th century.
  • Cities are strapped for cash. They do not have the budgets for a complete technology overhaul or additional IT staff.
  • Citizens expect better services and availability from cities. Citizens are used to their high-tech dealings with other businesses and their everyday smartphone, tablet, laptop, and desktop experiences.

Mayors, council members, city managers, and city finance officers feel caught between a rock and a hard place. If cities tried to do everything at once, they might have money for anything else. So where to start?

Cities do not have to attack every problem immediately. We usually see information technology investments as needing to occur in two phases.

City Information Technology: Basic Investments

Here are a few key areas to solidify first.

  • Data Backup and Disaster Recovery Make sure you have a data backup and disaster recovery plan. Even in the worst disaster, your data needs to be restored within a reasonable amount of time.
  • Aging Hardware and Software Replacement Replace your most creaky, ancient hardware. You would not drive a city van or truck to the point when it's falling apart. Start by replacing any hardware over five years old and any software that is no longer supported by a vendor.
  • Internet Service and Telecom Today is an excellent time to shop around and renegotiate contracts with ISP and telecom providers. Many older contracts are expensive. Cities can benefit from heavy competition - more services for less cost.
  • Server, Workstation, and Mobile Device Security and Maintenance Most cities have little to no security or support for their hardware and software. When things break, it disrupts city operations. Cities need to ensure they have a combination of skilled, knowledgeable IT staff and vendors securing and supporting their systems 24/7.
  • A Modern Website A city's website needs to not only look professional but also be easy to use for non-technical users. There are many cost-effective options for cities to choose from today. Citizens, visitors, and businesses all need to have a favorable online impression of your city and also have easy access to city services.

City Information Technology: Advanced Investments

Once you have planned to address the basic fundamentals, you can start to look at more complicated aspects of information technology. Many of these areas can only succeed if you have taken care of broken or failing IT infrastructure, data backup, website, and support.

  • Long-Term IT Budgeting Once you've put out your IT fires, you can work with your finance officer, IT staff, and IT vendors to plan out a cost-effective long-term IT budget. A city's strategy and priorities will drive the budget.
  • Hardware and Software Lifecycle Strategy Make sure you are replacing and upgrading hardware and software every 3-5 years.
  • Server Virtualization and Cloud Services Once your servers have been upgraded and are being maintained properly, the next step is always to see if they can be virtualized and even maintained in the cloud. Lowered costs and ease of management result.

Cities often jump to advanced information technology needs before they have dealt with the fundamentals. Mastering the fundamentals first will ensure that your long-term budgeting and advanced technology projects will be more likely to succeed.

If you're interested in learning more, contact us.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012
Clint Nelms, Network Infrastructure Practice Manager

As we meet with cities, we find that so much city activity centers on city clerks. They are the heartbeat of any city, and one of their key roles is document management. If you need a document for any reason, all roads lead to the city clerk.

However, despite their role, the city clerk does not have superhuman powers. They are limited by time and technology. With increasing demands and pressures, from customer service to government regulations, any significant document management limitations (or lack of any document management in the case of a paper filing system) cripple their ability to work effectively.

Major Document Management Concerns

We mostly hear three main concerns from city clerks about their document management:

  1. Time Spent Manually Purging Documents If you add up the annual time it takes to identify and manually purge records and documents that have expired, it adds up to many, many hours. Tedious and repetitive, this work is not productive and it takes city clerks away from more pressing duties.
  2. Locating Documents If manual documents are misfiled, locating them becomes a nightmare. Do you search every file cabinet? Every folder? Misfiling happens with paper-based systems, and locating those documents wastes massive amounts of time...that is, if you're able to find the document. Lost or misplaced documents are an unfortunate consequence of manual document management.
  3. Disaster Recovery City clerks (and Mayors) fear disaster. Fire, theft, or a natural disaster can permanently destroy manual records. When city business depends on these documents or auditors need to see them, this loss is embarrassing and irreparable.

Document Management Benefits for Cities

Thankfully, many cost-effective document management solutions now exist that not only eliminate these problems but also increase operational efficiency.

  • Scanning and Storing Cities can scan and store all of their documents electronically, eliminating reliance on paper.
  • Document Backup and Disaster Recovery All documents are stored either on a server with full data backup and disaster recovery, or in the cloud with similar protection. If a fire or natural disaster destroyed city hall, your documents would be safe.
  • Archiving for Open Records Requests You need to archive your email and documents for any open records requests.
  • Remote Anytime Access Instead of having to go to city hall to access a document, a document management solution allows you to have access to your documents at all times. Even if you're working from home or traveling, you will have access to any needed document.
  • Authorization and Access Rights With a manual system, some physical security is required to enforce access—and it's never perfect. But with online document management, you can set up permissions to make sure that only those with authorization can access documents. Documents can also be encrypted and protected from malicious access.
  • Automated Workflows Document management systems allow you to implement automated workflows to improve operational efficiency. It's very reassuring to know that a document will be processed in the same way—with appropriate checks and balances—every time. Version control can also help eliminate redundant or duplicate documents.
  • Audit Readiness When auditors come calling or regulations must be followed, it's a lot easier to know that your document management system provides a transparent, automated methodology for storing, archiving, and authorizing access to all documents.

For a relatively low cost, city clerks can be enabled to handle these challenges through a robust document management system. Just applying state record retention processes automatically to save a city clerk days each year will allow the document management solution to pay for itself—many times over. If you're interested in learning more, contact us about IT in a Box.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012
Dave Mims, President

Georgia Municipal Association helps city stabilize data backup, disaster recovery and email

Like many municipalities, the City of Oakwood, Ga. struggled with managing its technology and keeping costs associated with it affordable.


Oakwood faced challenges with both its data backup solution and its email system. The city needed data backup to ensure information is never lost. And, the availability of the email system was critical for both City Hall and the police department to ensure during an emergency, hardware failure, or disaster, that city officials would be able to communicate with each other and residents via email.

Likewise, residents would not be able to reach city leaders electronically. Email provides a vital critical communication tool for cities.

Resolving and modernizing these technological challenges was likely going to be an expensive undertaking for Oakwood because of the required hardware, software, and labor costs. Once the initial investment was made, Oakwood would then have to pay ongoing maintenance and support fees because it did not have IT assistance in house.


To address its technology challenges, Oakwood engaged the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) for "IT in a Box," which is powered by Sophicity.

"IT in a Box" delivers a complete IT solution for municipal governments. It includes a website, data backup, offsite storage, email, document management, Microsoft Office for desktops, server and desktop management, vendor management, and a seven-day a week helpdesk.


Using "IT in a Box," Oakwood saw tremendous results in just three months. Sophicity helped Oakwood:

  • Mitigate the risk of data loss through onsite and offsite server backups.
  • Ensure a highly available and dependable email system.
"Sophicity's reliable data backup service gives me piece of mind." - City Manager Stan Brown
"I have been extremely impressed with Sophicity's responsiveness to our needs 24/7." - Chief Randall Moon

Oakwood saved $46,977 (or 54%) of the costs that would typically be seen in modernizing a city network. This helped Oakwood stabilize its technology and create a predictable IT budget.

If you're interested in learning more, contact us about IT in a Box.

About Sophicity

Sophicity is an IT services and consulting company providing technology solutions to city governments and municipal leagues. Among the services Sophicity delivers in "IT in a Box" are a website, data backup, offsite storage, email, document management, Microsoft Office for desktops, server and desktop management, vendor management, and a seven-day a week helpdesk. Read more about IT in a Box.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Clint Nelms, Network Infrastructure Practice Manager

A slew of recent articles have pointed out that organizations still using Windows XP or Windows Vista will not be able to use Office 2013. The outcry stems from the fact that XP and Vista are still popular operating systems, and the argument goes that Microsoft is wrong to prevent those people and organizations from using Office 2013.

Of course, these are legitimate concerns. But we look at this issue very differently.

The Reality of Hardware and Software Lifecycles

Sometimes we wish hardware and software could be like land, a vehicle, or office furniture. We want our servers and computers to last more than ten years. We want to completely maximize our original investment.

But information technology is different. Think back to your servers and computers in 2001, just ten years ago. Or even in 2006, just five years ago. Think about what did not yet exist, remember your slow computers and cell phones, and recall the limited functionality of websites and online business. It was not that long ago, was it?

Technology moves at light speed. Let's return to XP and Vista, especially in context of running an organization. How would you face the following facts when your organization completely depends on your IT?

  • XP stopped being supported by Microsoft on April 14, 2009. (Extended support ends on April 8, 2014.)
  • Vista stopped being supported by Microsoft on April 10, 2012. (Extended support ends on April 11, 2017.)
  • A PC has an industry expectation of a three-year lifespan. Many people can stretch that lifespan to five years, but desktops and laptops will literally start to fall apart beyond that span of time.

Just like a bridge, a road, or a truck that falls into absolute disrepair after decades, IT falls into the same disrepair - but after only three to five years. It may be annoying, but unfortunately it is reality. But there are ways you can stay up to date without having to spend inordinate amounts of money on hardware and software upgrades.

Keeping Microsoft Office Up to Date Without Hurting Your Budget

With Office 2013, Microsoft is delivering a productivity suite that is designed to run on new equipment. That is because Office 2013 can take advantage of performance increases built into newer operating systems such as Windows 7 and Windows 8. We see two options depending on your operating system.

  • If you already have Windows 7 (or already plan on implementing Windows 8), great! You can already run Office 2013. Keep in mind that there are still minimum technical requirements In order to use Office 2013.
  • If you are determined not to change operating systems and stick with XP or Vista, then you can take advantage of services such as Office Pro Plus and Office Web Apps. Similar to Google Docs, you'll be accessing your Office 2013 from the cloud.

Keep in mind that if you are set upon running your servers and computers into the ground, you risk downtime and data loss - especially if those systems are no longer are supported by Microsoft. We recommend a strategy that at least does the following:

  • Takes as much of your software as possible into the cloud to reduce costs (especially from capital to operational expenses). That includes email, document management, and productivity software.
  • Consider replacing all outdated and unsupported servers and workstations with new equipment. When assessing your hardware and software, take advantage of a knowledgeable expert to help you figure out how this activity will save you money.
  • Ensure hardware and software is targeted and used only as necessary. In other words, everyone may not need to use every aspect of Office 2013.

Read more about hardware and software lifecycle best practices and contact us if you have additional questions.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Dave Mims, President

The Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) has recently partnered with Sophicity to deliver IT in a Box to cities in Georgia. This new service was officially launched by the Georgia Municipal Association on Thursday, July 26, 2012.

IT in a Box is consistent with GMA's mission to not only provide leadership and guidance for cities but also to help local government stay innovative and efficient in serving their citizens.

Lamar Norton, Executive Director of GMA, said:

IT in a Box is aimed at providing cities with state-of-the-art information technology tools supported by experienced, highly skilled IT professionals. This service is being offered through a contract with Sophicity, GMA’s longtime IT consulting partner. The cities of Oakwood, Oxford, and Flowery Branch have piloted the service, and each city has already provided very positive feedback.

For one monthly all-inclusive fee, a city will receive:

  • A website
  • Data backup and offsite data storage
  • Email
  • Document management
  • Microsoft Office for desktops
  • Server and desktop management
  • Vendor management
  • Helpdesk support seven days a week

Watch an interview with Mike Miller, Mayor of Flowery Branch, and Stan Brown, City Manager of Oakwood sharing their feedback and experience with IT in a Box.

Learn more about this service from the Georgia Municipal Association.

For additional information, please contact:

Georgia Municipal Association
Lou Comer at (678) 686-6260 or lcomer@gmanet.com
Pam Helton at (678) 686-6275 or phelton@gmanet.com

Dave Mims at (770) 670-6940, ext. 110 or davemims@sophicity.com
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Clint Nelms, Network Infrastructure Practice Manager

In 2012 alone, severe weather has challenged the fortitude of many cities around the United States. Massive thunderstorms hit the East Coast in late June and early July, the Southeast was hit by unusual storms back in January, and massive tornadoes slammed the Midwest in February. Recent wildfires and drought conditions have also strained the limited resources of municipalities that serve the West and Midwest.

To combat severe weather-related data loss, many have heard about cloud backup as a kind of modern cure-all. However, recent complaints (such as those quoted in a July 16, 2012 Computerworld article) show that cloud services (including Amazon's Cloud Services) were also affected by the same severe weather that hit various regions of the country. This kind of cloud services failure unfortunately encourages people and organizations to revert back to dangerous practices (such as only keeping one's data onsite).

During severe weather, data backup is especially important for cities since citizens often rely on municipalities for emergency information and services. If the cloud is not a cure-all solution, what is the ultimate answer to a city's data backup needs?

Data Backup Questions For Cities To Consider

To combat the effects of fire, severe weather, and other disasters, you need to strategically think through your data backup just as you would think through any other municipal disaster recovery policy.

  1. How long can you be down without your data? Is it okay to be down for several days? A week? Or do you need to be up in minutes or hours? Municipalities can differ based on the services they provide, so it's best to imagine the worst has happened. In that worst case scenario, how long could you last without your data?
  2. How long will it take to get your computer systems back online? Ask your IT staff or IT vendor to provide this information if you don't know.

Compare the two figures and you will quickly know if you are in trouble. For example, if you need to be back up in two hours, it's not a good thing if your servers will come back up in three days!

Ensure You Are Able to Recover Your Data

Now that you have a gut level understanding about where you stand with your data backup, you can then explore services and options to better align these numbers. We often deal with cities that need their systems available at all times, so our solution typically recovers files in minutes. In order to assist a city in recovering from a disaster, these files are stored in multiple data centers across the country.

Finally, data backups should be tested frequently to maintain your confidence that you can recover when disaster occurs. Simulate the ultimate disaster such as a massive storm hitting your entire region, a hurricane, or a tornado. Will your data be recovered even in the worst possible case? (The answer should be YES!)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Dave Mims, President
Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Dave Mims, President
Thursday, July 5, 2012
Dave Mims, President

The federal government has encouraged its agencies to focus on operational expenditures rather than capital expenditures during the upcoming fiscal year (October 2012-Septmber 2013). However, only one-third of technology leaders are considering this change according to a recent study by MeriTalk, a government IT network.

In fact, only 36 percent of IT officials are considering a shift of their IT programs to operational expenditures. Respondents cited network and data center infrastructure as likely places to transition funding. They also believe federal financial professionals offer very little consensus on what constitutes operational expenditures. Additionally, they see layers of new approvals needed to make funding changes.

Many IT managers (30 percent) are missing the opportunity to maximize their budgets by transitioning to operational expenditures because they just don’t realize what is available to them, according to the survey.

However, moving federal websites and computer systems to cloud storage rather than using in-house data center storage is one way to make headway on operational expenditures. Agencies can pay for cloud storage like a utility, where cost is based on how much storage they use. In short, federal agencies would save money and use it elsewhere because they wouldn’t have to buy new servers or maintain them.

Additional survey results are available in this recent Next.gov article.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Clint Nelms, Network Infrastructure Practice Manager

Security breaches can have more severe consequences than lost or stolen data. In the case of one government official in Utah, cybercrime may have led to his resignation.

According to an opinion piece in Government Technology, Utah’s CIO submitted his resignation last month, after the state’s IT officials discovered that health and Medicaid data for nearly 800,000 residents — including 280,000 Social Security numbers — had been stolen from a poorly secured server operated by the state's Department of Technology Services.

According to the story, the state was dealing with a significant increase in cyberattacks in the months preceding the massive security breach – to the extent that they didn’t take the time to conduct preventative measures, such as scanning their networks, to thwart additional risks.

The article, which originally appeared in GOVERNING, is a cautionary tale that demonstrates some of the other negative outcomes of security breaches. At the same time, the piece provides advice on what steps, such as better document classification, that agencies can take to avoid these situations.

Most important, government officials and agencies need to make sure that cybersecurity issues are addressed in an ongoing manner rather than when something goes wrong.

To read the full story, click here.

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