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Monday, December 20, 2010
Clint Nelms, Network Infrastructure Practice Manager
This lengthy report from the United States Government Accountability Office highlights that government agencies often compromise their data and information because of basic security lapses with their wireless technology. Some questions cities can immediately think about and address include:

- What policies are in place concerning wireless encryption, usage, and access?
- How are laptops and mobile devices handled in terms of security?
- When was the last time a security assessment was performed?

It is a shame how basic security lapses can lead to embarrassing and costly compromises to city data. There are some good tips and advice that serve as a starting point for cities in this report.
Monday, December 20, 2010
Clint Nelms, Network Infrastructure Practice Manager
This CIO Update article presents some interesting data that shows how common and mainstream server virtualization has become for local government. If it is this mainstream, that means the ROI of virtualization must be growing more and more compelling as these technologies mature.

As one case study in the article points out, the City of Chesapeake, Virginia saved $3,000/month in energy savings, $200,000 in hardware savings, and $120,000 in implementation cost savings. In a July 2010 report from CDW-G, “Seventy-nine percent of state and local government agencies are implementing server, storage and/or client virtualization, and of these, 89 percent say their deployment is successful or somewhat successful...” Among those surveyed, 300 were state and local government IT professionals (the other 300 were federal IT professionals).

If you’re one of the few cities left that has not explored virtualization as an option, better dust off those calculators and start figuring out some ROI!
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Dave Mims, President

If you look at where municipalities spend the most time actually interacting with citizens, it is almost always centered on payment-based services like tickets, taxes, or utilities. On any given day there is a line of people in city hall waiting to submit some form of payment. The problem is that it’s a very time consuming and costly process for both parties. The city has to staff for the collection and processing, and the citizens have to spend time standing in a line (usually during the highly inconvenient 9-5 hours). 

This is how government functioned for ages. Yet over the last ten years many cities began experimenting with allowing some of these payments to be made online. The high-level benefits are immediately obvious: the city lowers costs while the citizens can pay whenever from wherever.  It seems like a win-win for everyone, so it is perhaps surprising to find that even in 2010 many cities still don’t offer these services. As cities look for ways to do more with less, moving payments online represents a great opportunity to realize huge cost savings and potentially even increase revenue. Here’s how:

Ask your city’s finance manager what the most important part of administering payments is and they’re likely to say “processing!” Even if payments come into the front window, if they aren’t properly processed it’s like they never arrived at all. Anything that can be done to streamline this processing can dramatically reduce costs for the city and get money into the coffers faster. Allowing citizens to make payments online eliminates a number of processing steps by having the payments entered directly into the city’s various accounting systems. A city will experience benefits such as:
  • Reduced foot traffic at municipal buildings.
  • Reduced total staff time to accept and process payments.
  • Increased total number of payments that can be processed at once.
  • Expanded processing time (e.g. from a 9am-5pm to a 24/7 operation).

Think about the amount of staff time spent accepting payments, entering data into the system, counting cash, or tracking down checking numbers. Think about the room for error in each manual step. How much money could you save by re-tasking these workers?

Record Keeping
The second most important task on your finance manager’s list is proper record keeping. If the books aren’t in good shape, it can cost the city tremendous money and manpower to correct the issue. Online payments help with financial records in two key areas: 

  1. Data Entry – Any time you have a manual process, there is an opportunity for error. Something as simple as a ticket may have to be manually entered into three or four different systems. Not only is it time consuming, but every time the information is touched creates an opportunity for error. Online payments represent a way to reduce those errors by having the citizens enter the information themselves.  Not only does it move the onus of data entry onto the citizen but if the payment system is properly designed it won’t even let them enter a successful payment without first checking key problem areas. Errors get solved earlier and quicker, dramatically reducing the time your staff has to spend ferreting them out.

  2. Data Access – Any time your city is accepting payments for a service it has to provide a way for citizens to get information about their account. For example, whenever a customer has a question about how much electricity they used this month, they need to call into the city where a staff member has to spend time helping them. Online payments can help reduce these time-consuming calls by giving citizens access to their own data. Think of it like on-line banking: in the past if you wanted to know how much money was in your account you had to go to the bank. Now you can instantly check your account online. When it comes to utilities and taxes, giving citizens a way to answer their own questions can reduce the number of calls handled by city staff, allowing you to refocus them on other tasks. It also helps improve citizens’ perception of customer service by putting more information at their fingertips.

Accepting online payments is a great way to reduce ongoing costs while increasing the quality of service. However, these costs are proportional to the number of services you have available online. While many cities have online ticket payment, fewer have taxes, registration, or utilities. Take a comprehensive look at the services your city offers and investigate if there is a way to move them online. The benefits in cost savings and increased availability to citizens make it an easy sell when it comes time to pitch it to city council. Who doesn’t want to get more for less? Online payments give you the power to do so.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Todd Snoddy, Software Development Practice Manager
This article about San Francisco’s shift toward open data illustrates both sides of the argument. On one side: Open data can possibly enable economic development, increase civic engagement, and hold cities more accountable. On the other side: Open data requirements may burden IT departments too much and it may burden city staff who have the additional task of submitting data into the open data pool.
The goal of open data is summarized by Mayor Gavin Newsom’s policy adviser Jason Elliott:
“Departments would be required to submit data sets to an online landing pad where that data would be publicly accessible by anyone to develop applications, to see what The City is doing and generally just promote transparency and accountability and openness.”

What’s your take on open data for municipalities?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Kevin Howarth, Director of Business Development
The Public Technology Institute and INPUT recently released their annual State of City and County IT National Survey. Coalescing the responses of local government CIOs and IT executives across the United States, the report includes the following highlights:

- 91% of overall IT budgets are staying the same or decreasing. Only 9% are increasing in 2011.
- Public safety / interoperability was the only category in which a majority of respondents (57%) said it was a high IT priority.
- Other areas receiving significant attention in 2011 include public works / facilities infrastructure, green IT, and eGovernment services.
- An overwhelming majority of respondents were skeptical of outsourcing their IT.
- 2012 looks to be the year in which cities will begin collecting increased revenue and upping their spending again.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Dave Mims, President
Clint Nelms, Network Infrastructure Practice Manager for Sophicity, recently had his article (“Cheap Backup Solutions Aren’t Worth the Risk”) published in the September/October 2010 issue of Minnesota Cities: A Publication of the League of Minnesota Cities. The article covers differences between consumer-grade and business-class internet-based backup solutions, risks associated with consumer-grade backups, and expertise needed for consumer-grade backups. It was featured in the Tech Window section of the magazine.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Kevin Howarth, Director of Business Development
At municipal IT conferences and conventions this year, we’ve heard feedback from IT directors and managers that the burden of social media has been unfairly placed onto them. There is often an understandable assumption on the part of non-technical decision makers that social media is simply information technology. The press, Web 2.0 companies, and consumers help create this perception by focusing on social media tools and technologies, but what is often left out of the discussion are marketing, branding, media, and communications principles that form the core of any successful social media initiative. This presentation analyzes why the burden of social media is placed upon IT, why social media is not IT, why organizations need a social media strategy, and what IT’s social media role should be.

Download the presentation here.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Clint Nelms, Network Infrastructure Practice Manager
Often, cities are so worried about spam, viruses, and hackers from the outside that they fail to realize the biggest threats are internal. A recent report by Forrester Research provides data and advice about IT security risks, including a reference to a 2010 Verizon report in which “nearly half of breaches were the result of users abusing their right to access sensitive data.” Good IT security policies will account for both internal IT security as well as external IT security, and we recommend that city administrators clarify these policies with IT staff and/or vendors.
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Kevin Howarth, Director of Business Development
In case you are still figuring out ways to utilize Twitter for your city, check out the cities that Twitter the most. In May 2010, NetProspex analyzed social activity across corporate America and government, presenting their findings in this recent Fall 2010 report.

The top ten Twittering cities are:

1. New York City, N.Y.
2. San Francisco, Calif.
3. Washington D.C.
4. Sacramento, Calif.
5. Phoenix, Ariz.
6. Denver, Colo.
7. Las Vegas, Nev.
8. Los Angeles, Calif.
9. Cincinnati, Ohio
10. Wilmington, Del.
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Todd Snoddy, Software Development Practice Manager
The open source battle wages on into the 2010s as city administrators and IT directors argue for and against its use in government. Some recent developments, including an initiative called Civic Commons, are spurring continued discussion about open source as an option for cash-strapped cities. The arguments are certainly compelling: greater sharing of data between municipalities, greater access to mission-critical technologies and applications, and reducing the costs of proprietary technology. This article from the Huffington Post summarizes some of open source’s and open government’s best attributes.

However, why has open source not caught on to the extent predicted in the early 2000s? Is it really “free”? One problem with an open source approach is that it’s easy to be a consumer where a city can leverage what someone else has written. It’s harder to be a producer of open source. How does a city or company justify the costs of creating something that is then shared freely with others?

Cities, organizations, or companies can save money by using open source because they won’t have to pay for software licensing fees. However, custom integration work may still be needed between the open source applications and the cities’ existing systems. Open source sounds good in theory, but any cost savings depends on the quality of the open source application and how well it meets the city’s requirements. Free doesn’t always mean free.
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