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CitySmart Blog

Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Kevin Howarth, Director of Business Development
It's been quite clear for some time that cities are hurting. Revenues from income taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, and other sources are down. If business (especially small business) is hurting, then cities are hurting. That means cutting budgets, staff, and even the essentials of city operations is commonplace.

This article from PM Magazine is astute in its crystal clear analysis of the difficult times in which municipalities find themselves, but there are opportunities to leverage IT for particular needs going into the 2010s. Certain technologies are maturing (e.g. cloud computing), costs have lowered and become predictable, and needs have arisen (e.g. social media) that have created the perfect storm to revolutionize three areas in particular: citizen engagement, location-specific services, and software and hardware of local government.
While Sophicity will continue reaching out to municipalities to share our ideas about these particular areas, it is hopeful to note that hard times sometimes become the best times for reevaluating needs, challenging current ways of doing business, and exploring new ways of better servicing citizens.
Monday, September 20, 2010
Clint Nelms, Network Infrastructure Practice Manager

To imagine the future of cities, it might seem like a pipe dream to simply build a test city as a lab experiment. That's exactly what Kitson & Partners is doing in Florida by building the “world's most sustainable city.” All major city services are connected via cloud technology, and city administrators will be able to oversee all of their job functions from an easy-to-use dashboard. The city also harnesses solar energy and a smart grid to keep costs low and increase energy efficiency.

Meanwhile, this future is not so futuristic in the city of Grand Prairie, Alberta, Canada. They are implementing two broadband networks and improving the communications infrastructure for public safety. As the article states, “[The city] has requests out for proposals to create a pair of broadband networks, one of which will serve the public by giving it anytime, anywhere access to public services and information wirelessly. The other will be dedicated to public safety. Everything from hand-held police radios to cameras in traffic lights will be connected wirelessly.”

While these examples represent where cities are headed in the next 10-30 years, there are a few items city administrators can be thinking about now:
  1. Harnessing cloud computing to increase efficiency
  2. Modernizing IT infrastructure to increase the capabilities and options of servicing citizens in (cost-)efficient ways
  3. Reducing IT energy costs by use of a few simple tips
Friday, September 10, 2010
Todd Snoddy, Software Development Practice Manager
Cities everywhere are understanding the urgent need to have websites that help economic development initiatives in attracting businesses and residents to their communities. As cities evaluate features and options, it sometimes helps to learn from the best. The recent e.Republic’s Center for Digital Government's 2010 Best of the Web and Digital Government Achievement Awards honored ten cities in its city portal category, including first place (Boston, Mass.), second place (Louisville Metro Government, Ky.), third place (Fort Collins, Colo.), fourth place (Castle Rock, Colo.), fifth place (Coralville, Iowa), and finalists Chicago, Ill., Corpus Christi, Texas, Riverside, Calif., Rochester, N.Y., and San Diego, Calif.
Friday, September 10, 2010
Kevin Howarth, Director of Business Development
During the past few years, we've seen a trend in cities exploring more robust citizen relationship management (CRM) solutions. Due to pressure from the federal government and increasing citizen demands for transparency in an Internet and social media driven world, cities are taking steps to evaluate and implement CRM solutions that meet these demands. As this article from American City and County argues, cities may be unnecessarily limiting their view of how CRM can assist their operations. The article includes 5 ways that CRM can be utilized beyond just managing citizen requests.
Friday, August 27, 2010
Clint Nelms, Network Infrastrucutre Practice Manager
Started last year, Power IT Down Day is a program to drive awareness of energy conservation in the Government IT sector. The premise is simple: at the end of the day, turn of unneeded workstations, monitors, printers and other devices. The energy savings can add up quick, especially if left on over an entire weekend. So if you’re leaving the office to enjoy the weekend, make sure you turn off all of your IT equipment and save your city a bit of money. In fact, if everyone at your city did it, it could end up saving the city a lot of money. Just make sure you leave your servers on!
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Clint Nelms, Network Infrastrucutre Practice Manager
As a follow up to my last post about Nashville's IT woes, I want to point you to another GovTech article that walks government folks through creating an IT security plan. This is exactly the kind of thing that we work on with our customers – creating a citywide, comprehensive IT security plan that covers all areas of the IT infrastructure from laptop policies to theft prevention. City’s store a lot of sensitive data and do a tremendous amount of business with money, yet often they lack the kind of policies needed to adequately protect these areas. GovTech gives you a great place to start if you’re looking to implement such policies at your city.
Monday, August 23, 2010
Clint Nelms, Network Infrastrucutre Practice Manager
GovTech is running an interview with Nashville’s Technology Chief Keith Durbin about how the city has learned from the mistakes of its numerous security breaches. Durbin primarily focuses his thoughts around how the lack of robust IT security policies led to most of the breaches. Whether it’s a misplaced thumb drive or a stolen laptop, without encryption and security policies in place, vast amounts of citizen data can be leaked. Unfortunately for Nashville, they had to learn the hard way and suffer the negative media attention. But you don’t have to. Read over the article, learn from it, and begin putting IT security policies in place right now to prevent this sort of thing from happening at your city.
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Tim Verras, Director of Marketing and Communications
Government adoption of social media is a frequent topic of discussion at nearly every education session, conference, or convention of government professionals. Mayors, City Council members, city administrators, and IT professionals are all grappling with how government is going to use social media. Why the pressure? According to a Pew Internet study, 47% of adults and 74% of people under 18 use social media on a regular basis. As a result, the wide adoption of social media by the citizenry has created an expectation that the government will embrace it as well. Cities can no longer afford to ignore social media.

While cities are starting social media initiatives, strategy can sometimes get lost in the shuffle. A good social media strategy should define three key areas: audience, ownership, and content creation. Let’s take an in-depth look at each:

Defining the Audience

Knowing your audience is the first and most important element of your social media strategy, as it will determine which social media services will best fit, dictate what kind of content will best resonate, and define the level of effort needed by city staff. For example, a social media plan built around general citizen communication is going to be very different from one built around attracting businesses to move into the city. While audiences will vary from city to city, here are a few common audiences that cities target:

  • General Citizen Communication – This strategy focuses on disseminating as much information as possible to citizens. Much of this information is similar to what the city puts on its website – news, project updates, events, or anything else of general interest to a wider audience. The difference is making use of a mix of social media channels to disseminate this information. If your citizens already spend time on Facebook and Twitter, you become part of their news feeds and provide another avenue for people to access your city’s website.
  • Business Development – Attracting business is an essential part of helping cities grow. Prospective business owners want to see signs of vitality from a city, and social media increasingly serves as a way to reach out and communicate the positive economic benefits that businesses will experience by moving to the city. However, business owners are concerned with different things than the average citizen. A business development social media strategy might focus on communicating incentives, infrastructure improvements, updates to rules and regulations, and perhaps easy access to the various forms that a business would need in order to become part of the city.
  • Emergency Communications – A growing use for social media in many cities is emergency and disaster communications. According to a Red Cross study, 1 in 6 citizens will look to social media channels first for news about a disaster – and this number is expected to grow. Information can spread incredibly fast through a social network and this is important when a government is trying to warn its citizens about emergencies like storms, disasters, or police and fire activity. This strategy would be driven by public safety, 911, emergency management or similar departments within the city.
These are just three common examples of different audiences for social media. Other audiences might include commuters (traffic updates), those interested in parks and recreation activities, those affected by construction, or any topic with a specific audience. It is important to not use social media as a one-size-fits-all communication tool. Using the same Twitter feed to cover multiple audiences is going to water down messages and, at worse, confuse readers. As such, a city might have multiple Twitter feeds, numerous Facebook pages, and so on. The critical rule for social media is to stay on target with a specific audience.

Defining Ownership

Once the audience is defined, the next step is to determine who will be in charge of each section of the social media strategy. Each audience is going to be driven by a different team or department within the city. However, having one department or person (call them a “social media guru”) that is tasked with governance of your social media strategy and communications is a good idea. If the city is large enough to have a marketing or communications department, they are likely candidates for this role. It would be up to the social media guru to help each team keep a consistent look and feel for social media communications and drive those responsible to create the necessary content.

In talking with city government IT professionals, we hear that one mistake many cities make is tasking their IT team with the role of overseeing social media strategy. While IT is the perfect place to help users set up accounts and maintain security, social media is not simply an IT tool. The strategy and execution behind social media requires the same oversight that city marketing and communications requires. IT teams are not marketers, and they lack the time and experience necessary to create effective social media content on a regular basis. Just because social media requires the use of a computer doesn’t mean that IT should oversee social media strategy. If possible, a social media strategy should be a city-wide initiative.

Creating Content

After an owner for each piece of the social media strategy is defined, it is time to think about content. One frequent mistake many newcomers to social media make is immediately jumping into the content creation phase without any real plan. Content might be published on a regular basis for a while, but as other duties press or content becomes scarce, the social media feed can stagnate, which will quickly drive the audience away. Users expect social media to be updated regularly so it is a good idea to have a long-term plan in place before the first word of content is ever written.

For example, if your city is starting a general Twitter feed, plan out a month ahead when the content will be released and what it will be about. If possible, create all of the content ahead of time and keep it in a “waiting to be published” folder. This will help keep the channel freshly stocked with content. If you can’t create the content ahead of time, at the very least have an idea what kind of content will be posted on a particular day. You might do a parks and recreation update every Monday, a city council update every Tuesday, and so forth. This doesn’t mean that you can’t ever do ad hoc updates, but sticking to a plan will make sure there is at least a bare minimum of content to keep your audience interested.

Another key factor in content creation is understanding how long it takes to create a piece of content. For instance, keeping a 140 character Twitter feed updated is much easier than maintaining a YouTube feed that requires filming, producing and editing video. Having an idea of what it will take to actually produce the content will help you determine the staffing needs to keep the content going. Many a blog or Facebook page has gone dead because the individual tasked with keeping it updated simply ran out of time to do it. Before starting any social media strategy, ensure that you have the staff to properly maintain it.

Government use of social media is a new field and many of the rules are still being written. However, by creating a simple strategy, defining the audience, and ensuring that the staff has the proper resources to create content, you will have laid the foundations for a successful social media communication channel. There may be a great deal of anxiety about social media but having a strategy in place can go a long way toward mitigating any concerns.

What isn’t an option is ignoring social media. In an age where many citizens are using it on a regular basis, there is an expectation for governments to provide their own strategic, targeted social media channels.

Friday, August 13, 2010
Kevin Howarth, Director of Business Development
The conventions keep on coming. Join Tim and I at the Florida League of Cities Annual Conference in Hollywood, FL next week! If you are planning to attend, drop by Booth 24 and let us know what’s on your mind. Conventions are fun but staying at an awesome hotel on the beach makes them even better!
Thursday, August 12, 2010
Tim Verras, Director of Marketing and Customer Experience
Social media, especially Twitter, is often a frequent topic of discussion amongst government professionals. We’ve heard it come up a number of times at conventions and there are always a few folks who seem to dismiss it as a fad for children. The problem is, that’s just not true. Many government organizations are finding ways to use Twitter that are dramatically changing the landscape of G2C communication. In fact, as this recent study shows, citizens are using Twitter and expect their government too as well. 18% of those polled said they would turn to social media for any emergency updates. Problem is, if the government’s not listening, they may lose an opportunity to communicate with almost 20% of their citizenship. That’s a significant number during a disaster communication scenario. Cities are no longer in a position to dismiss social media as a fad. If you don’t already have plans in the works, now is a great time to start.
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