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CitySmart Blog

Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Jeramie Mercker, Director of Technology
This story is a great example of why virus protection and good policies are absolutely important to running a city network. Last week the City of Norfolk, Va. lost almost 800 PCs to what can only be described as a virus time-bomb. At a certain preprogrammed time the virus went into action, destroying critical operating system files and rendering the computer useless. The city isn’t sure if the attack came from outside or a disgruntled employee but the lesson is the same: keeping anti-virus programs up to date and maintaining end user security are two absolutely essential elements to running a modern city, especially with the number of services and functions moving away from manual processes. Imagine what would happen if every single PC in your city suddenly went dead…
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Clint Nelms, Practice Manager: Network Infrastructure
We all know the importance of keeping a stable infrastructure - roads, bridges, utilities, and the equipment needed to maintain them all need to be in good working order to ensure a healthy city. However, there is another equally important yet often overlooked infrastructure: the network. As cities increasingly move from paper-based, labor intensive operations to automated electronic administration, having a stable and secure network infrastructure is crucial to keep operations running smoothly. 

Your network infrastructure is not unlike the physical infrastructure of roads and bridges that tie your city together, only it serves to move and protect data instead of transportation. Infrastructures in disrepair can negatively affect business and governance and lead to increased safety and security risks.   Network infrastructure includes items such as: 

  • Backup Strategy 
  • Security
  • Data Storage
  • Proactive Maintenance
  • Servers and Workstations
  • Internet Access and Usage Policies
  • Wireless

Pretend for a moment that your city is planning to use Microsoft Exchange to manage its communication needs. Now, ask yourself a few questions. Is our network reliable enough to ensure that city email will be up and available? Where is that data stored? Is it secure? Is the data being backed up? 

Starting an IT initiative without a good network infrastructure is like building an office complex in the middle of the woods with no road access, water or electricity. A good network should be proactively maintained, not the reactionary “as needed” task that it has been in the past. If you start with a stable network infrastructure, you can then implement IT projects on top of that foundation, giving your city a network that it can rely on and a road to future expansion.
Friday, February 12, 2010
Clint Nelms, Practice Manager: Network Infrastructure
More news out of California about how consolidation can save absolutely huge sums. How much? In California’s case a staggering $3 billion in 3 years. The project will reduce energy costs by 30% and data center square footage by 50% via projects that the Governator signed into law this week. We’ve spoken a number of times about the benefits of consolidating IT infrastructure but its always nice to get a reminder of just how much it can really do. I think the down economy has really helped cities see IT as a way to save money instead of a black hole.
Friday, February 12, 2010
Friday, February 12, 2010
Jeramie Mercker, Director of Technology
With many cities in a budget crunch curiosity about open source software is starting to peak. We often get asked by our customers whether they should consider an open source project and we always tell them the same thing: Do an assessment. Whether its standard software or open source whichever solution you choose needs to meet particular needs and an assessment will help you identify those needs. In some cases open source can work great, especially if it’s for a smaller job function. But more important applications require an in-depth analysis and open source applications still have difficulty meeting the rigorous support needs that many cities have. At the end of the day, it comes down to not just looking at pure cost, but rather: what is the best choice to meet our needs? If that means an open source software product then great just don’t skimp on the analysis because of the nice free price tag. As my grandpa always says, there’s no such thing as a free puppy.
Friday, February 5, 2010
Tim Verras, Director of Marketing and Customer Experience
The Editor of Governing, Alan Ehrenhalt, is leaving the publication after 22 years and his final column is an elegant look at the locus of innovation at the state and local government level. Traditionally, he argues, innovation has taken place at the state level, where governors have made sweeping policy changes that lead to true change in their state. However, with many states currently facing massive budget shortfalls and crippling pension costs, the locus of innovation has shifted to city government, where many are using their budget problems as a reason for change instead of a detriment to it.
Ehrenhalt doesn’t delve too deeply into how the cities are doing this but I think it’s largely due to many of them embracing technology as a way out of the rabbit hole. Many are implementing open data initiatives, IT consolidation plans, and plans for crowdsourcing budgets. Sure, many cities are still facing budget problems, but they seem more willing to spend the money to overhaul their infrastructure than the states are. Like all things, the center of innovation will shift back and forth between state and local government over the next decade (and Ehrenhalt provides plenty of examples), but here at Sophicity we’re going to do what we can to make sure that the cities continue to innovate, cut costs, and modernize their operations. At any rate, the column is a great look into what drives innovation at the non-federal government level from a man who’s been keeping his astute eyes on it for some time.
Thursday, February 4, 2010
Jeramie Mercker, Director of Technology
We’ve discussed a number of cities and states that are moving to open data initiatives, so this is nothing new, but now a number of cities in Colorado are jumping on board. What’s interesting here however, is that instead of an individual entity doing it, like a city or state, here we have a co-op of cities all working together to share data. Seeing as cities tend to be protective of their data, this is an interesting move and one that I hope we see more of. The benefits here are great, from more accurate GIS to integrated crime fighting databases, this should help cities look at themselves less as islands and more as part of a community at large, working for the better of the citizens. Let us know if your city is looking into an open data initiative, we’re all ways curious to see how they pan out.
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Allen Koronkowski, Practice Manager: Projects
I’ve mentioned more than few times how important planning is to making sure an IT project stays on track. Need further proof, take a look at this article from Stateline that states that a staggering 85% of government IT projects come in over budget, over time or both. We’ve gone over a few horror stories here in the past, so I won’t dig them up, but some of the numbers quoted in the article are mind-blowing. California’s state court system project, for instance, went from $240 million to over $1billion, due in large part to mismanagement. If your city is about to implement a big budget IT project (whatever big means for your government), careful planning, management and vendor selection are incredibly important to making sure that you’re in that upper 15% of success stories. Whether you tap internal knowledge, outside help, or both, take the time to lay out a plan and a budget and do whatever it takes to stick to it.
Friday, January 29, 2010
Dave Mims, President
Atlantic City, NJ recently had an audit done which uncovered that the city was being charge far too much by its completely outsourced IT vendor. This is further proof that for larger cities, a hybrid approach may be the best way of both keeping costs low and ensuring good service. With internal employees keeping in lockstep with your vendor, both parties can work to utilize their strengths to the table – internal employees will always have more institutional knowledge and vendors can bring a lot of technical resources. Of course, you’ll also need to find a vendor that is willing to work with you on such a model, which is why we always suggest vetting any vendor thoroughly (including us!) before singing on. Hybrid models work because they create a good system of check and balances that help city and vendor alike.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Allen Koronkowski, Practice Manager: Projects
Portland recently switched to a new accounting system and now there are reports that things are going a bit rough. This in and of itself isn’t much of a big surprise as any project this large is bound to have a few hiccups. More interesting is a look at the reasons. While some of the faults in the system could be attributed to bugs and errors, many of the problems are caused by employee error, or more specifically, a lack of adequate training. This is a good lesson to show that such huge projects need to be 360 degree affairs, from the technology implementation to the end user training. Even the best coded system is worthless if your staff can’t use it. If you’re planning a huge new technology overhaul, be sure to plan for plenty of end user training and communication. It can make a world of difference.
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