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CitySmart Blog

Friday, June 11, 2010
Tim Verras, Director of Marketing
If you live in the Tallahassee area you might want to check out the “Getting it Right: Customer Service and Citizen Engagement” event being put on by Governing magazine and Adobe. Speakers John Miri (Center for Digital Government) and Josh Van Tonder (Adobe) will discuss what governments are doing to increase citizen engagement while reducing the costs of communication. The event is on Tuesday, July 13 at 8:00 am.
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Tim Verras, Director of Marketing
Is your city grappling with issues of social media policies and do’s and don’ts? Check out this great website put together by April Edmonds of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. She is responsible for the agency’s use of Twitter and Facebook to communicate with hunters, fishers, and other people interested in Florida’s wildlife and game. She’s learned a few lessons along the way and she’s opened up for any government agency to share and collaborate. If you need a primer on proper Twitter etiquette and Facebook rules, this is the website for you.
Friday, June 4, 2010
Dave Mims, President
Lately we’ve been looking at how mobile apps are making the jump into the mobile space but a new Bloomberg piece suggests that it might just be the next internet boom. From open data initiatives to app contests and 311 improvements, private sector companies are lining up to help transition government entities into the modern business world and perhaps even give them an industry of their own. It might a bit early yet to call this the next internet boom but its certainly going spark a lot of innovation and improvement in the sector. I happen to know a company that might be able to help. ;)
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Jeramie Mercker, Director of Technology
While backing up your data is an important first step forwards data security what is possible more important is how that data is backed up. It might seem like a simple cost effective solution to back up data on a CD or a thumbdrive and store it in a safe. However, anytime your putting data on a physical object it is subject to the limitations of physical world, namely being lost or destroyed.

This is a lesson that Charlotte, NC recently learned when its vendor lost a year’s worth of employee health insurance data containing social security numbers due to misplaced DVD. To further the damage, the information on the discs was not even encrypted. This represents a huge danger to data security.

The Lesson? If you are backing up data, make sure it is backed up to multiple secure places (offsite and onsite) and that it is encrypted so even in the event of theft the data is nearly useless.

Friday, May 28, 2010
Dave Mims, President
Governing is running a great article about the black eyes that outsourced government IT has received over the past few years, especially in Virginia and Texas. Its great read because it espouses and important fact that we are committed to here at Sophicity: a hybrid approach is the best method for outsourcing your IT. In places where a vendor had complete control, the projects did not often go well. The key is having both government departments and the vendor working in lock step to create an IT infrastructure that efficiency supports the city. We’d much rather be in touch with city staff on the ground then trying to run the whole thing ourselves. To trot out a platitude, it’s a real team effort. Check out the article if you’re thinking of completely outsourcing the IT at your city.
Thursday, May 27, 2010
Jeramie Mercker, Director of Technology
This month we wrote about government mobile apps and Governing has a great companion piece on what DC is doing for the Government App Explosion. They’ve held an app contest, but that’s nothing new. What they want to do now is expose more of their operations to the public in hopes that app developers will come up with ways to actually improve the operating efficiency of the government. Releasing pubic data is one thing, but releasing operational data will be a whole new era of transparency. I’ll be very interested to see what they come up with as this is a challenge we at Sophicity face every day – how to make our government clients more efficient.
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Dave Mims, President
Google recently commissioned a study to look at citizen opinion on how government should be spending on technology. With the economic downturn, many cities might be thinking to cutting back on their technology spending, but Google’s data shows that a choice like that might not ring too well with the constituency. The study found that 70 percent believed that the government should use ‘the computer power and expertise of private companies to improve information technology departments in government agencies’ and 75 percent said they support spending on "quicker and more efficient e-mail systems" to increase productivity. That represents a significant portion of the voting population and it shows that most people understand that while technology can be expensive, it can save governments far more money than it costs.
Friday, May 21, 2010
Tim Verras, Director of Marketing and Customer Experience
We spend a lot of time talking about how many people are looking to government websites for information but we don’t always have the luxury of looking at some actual metrics. A recent Pew study offers a number of really fascinating statistics about how the public is using the internet. Here’s a few of the highlights:
  • 82% of internet users (representing 61% of all American adults) looked for information or completed a transaction on a government website
  • 48% of internet users have looked for information about a public policy or issueonline with their local, state or federal government
  • 41% have downloaded government forms
  • 25% have gotten advice or information from a government agency about a health or safety issue
  • 15% have paid a fine, such as a parking ticket
  • 11% have applied for a recreational license, such as a fishing or hunting license
This and many more statistics are available in the full report.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Jeramie Mercker, Director of Technology
City portals have been on the web almost since its inception but they are just not starting to be repackaged as mobile apps. This is arguably a better format for them because if your using a portal you are probably out looking for something to do and not sitting at home on your PC. Once such portal, MyCityWay, lets locals and tourists find everything from parking to street food vendors via a collection of highly localized mini applications housed within the portal. What’s interesting here is that the app also tracks a lot of data about who’s requesting what, which could turn into a gold mine for real estate investors, new business scouts, or anyone else looking to tap into the buying trends of the public. For cities, it’s a beneficial move because it helps drive commerce and get people to where they’re going in a more efficient manner. MYCityWay isn’t yet available for all cities, but there’s nothing stopping you from making your own portal for your city.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Jeramie Mercker, Director of Technology
If you take a look at current television commercials or tech blogs, you’ll quickly find a great deal of attention focused on smartphones and the mobile applications (apps for short) that are built on top of them. While traditionally focused on the Blackberry-dominated business user niche, smartphones made the shift to the mainstream after Apple’s introduction of the iPhone in 2007. Since that time the industry has experienced intense competition and tremendous growth year over year. While hardware sales have been brisk, the truly interesting part is that there is an ever growing user base for the mobile apps that these phones run. You’ve seen the commercials for apps that can schedule dinner, buy movie tickets, or find your friends. While many of these apps are focused on personal use, there is a growing niche for apps that interface with local governments. These apps have the potential to be a powerful communication tool and may revolutionize the way that governments interact with their citizenry.

The Trend
In 2008, President Obama tasked Federal CIO Vivek Kundra with making the federal government’s data more open and accessible to the public. While this information was always available, it often required significant effort to obtain and was in a format that made it difficult to use. Kundra set about taking datasets from multiple agencies and consolidating them at the newly-commissioned data.gov website in a number of widely used formats. With this move, datasets like population, crime, spending, traffic and others became available for anyone to include in their application. For the first time, government data wasn’t just available, it was usable.

While governments at all levels were opening up their data, the public was going wild over smartphones. What was once a niche market became the fastest growing segment in the mobile phone space. Research firm comScore recently reported that smartphones now comprise 19% of the active phones in the United States, some 45 million in total. In response to this market growth, mobile carriers began offering a wider variety of smartphones and implemented cheap unlimited data plans while increasing the speed and coverage of their networks. Product companies like Apple, Google, Microsoft and RIM released free tools that made make it easy for anyone to develop applications on top of their phones and operating systems. They also provide sprawling online stores to make it easy for developers to offer their app to the public. By 2010, Apple reported over 3 billion apps were downloaded on its store alone.

Combine the growing trend to open up government data with the rapid growth in smartphone adoption and you have a recipe for government mobile apps to appear on the scene. Major cities like New York and Los Angeles were quick to jump on board. After making data available they held app contests that rewarded the most creative entries. They then made all of these applications available for their citizens to use. Users could see everything from New York’s most dangerous neighborhoods to up-to-the-minute street parking availability. In the minds of consumers and citizens, this drew a clear line from the vast stores of data that a government collects to its practical use in the ‘real world.’ Let’s take a look at three popular types of local government focused mobile apps.


Citizen Relationship Management (CRM)
CRM includes many features that are generally lumped under 311 systems like report-a-pothole and other maintenance requests, reporting utility outages, and traffic updates. Most smartphones are equipped with cameras and GPS units that can record the location of the phone. Mobile 311 apps make use of both of these features to greatly improve the data that the city receives from the citizen. For example, a citizen may openup a 311 app on their phone and snap a picture of a pothole. The phone then records the GPS location, known as geotagging, and sends it to the city’s work order system. The road crew then gets a full report including location and a picture without the request ever needing manual attention from city staff. The potential efficiency gains are evident. Mobile 311 apps are typically developed by vendors as add-ons to pre-existing 311 systems and are among the most popular local gov-focused mobile apps, especially in larger cities with massive infrastructures. While still young, the hope is that these systems will decrease response time to reported issues, increase the number of reported issues, and provide a 24/7 solution to 311 that citizens will embrace.


Data Mashups
Data mashups arose out of the app contests held by cities around the country. Once developers had access to the city’s data they could combine it with preexisting applications in surprising new ways. For instance, traffic data could be combined with accident report data and overlaid with Google Maps to give citizens a bird’s eye view of dangerous traffic areas. Thus the term “mash-up” originated, which means “mashing” different data sets together to find something meaningful. Mashups can come in a variety of flavors from reporting areas of dangerous crime, locating open real estate, and showing the best bike routes in the city. The more data a city makes available, the more developers have to work with when designing their apps. Usually mashups are coded by individuals looking to better their immediate community in some way, and both governments and citizens benefit.


Disaster Recovery
Every city dreads a disaster but if one happens the citizens will turn to their local government for help and guidance. Some mobile apps are starting to focus around allowing government to better communicate disaster planning and recovery information to and from their citizens. These apps might warn people about a tornado sighting in their area, provide updated evacuation routes, and allow for citizens to report conditions on the ground to emergency service personnel. Now that most people have mobile phones, these apps allow for anytime, anywhere disaster communication instead of relying on television or radio. Some of these apps will even use social media sites like Twitter or Facebook to automatically update followers as to the status of the disaster. Not only are disaster recovery apps useful, they can help save lives.


Those are just three of the endless possibilities for government focused mobile apps. If your city is exploring this area, think about which datasets you can make available and how to generate interest in them. Remember, the more available your data, the more likely your citizens will come up with something unique and useful for the community. Also talk to your vendors to see if they are implementing mobile apps into their systems. These might help you reduce costs, increase revenue, and improve the level of service you provide to the community. Mobile apps may provide an additional means for governments to get their citizens truly engaged in a cost-effective and fruitful way.

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