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CitySmart Blog

Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Tim Verras, Director of Marketing and Customer Experience
The City of Pittsburgh is the first American city to release an application that submits requests and complaints to the city’s government via the popular iPhone. This seems to be the next logical step in eGov services and will allow unprecedented communication between citizen and city officials. Dubbed iBurgh, the application ties into the city’s 311 system where citizen can enter information about potholes, vandalism, and other complaints. Not only should the application increase 311 requests, it should also help to reduce costs as less physical calls and letters will need to be processed by employees. This is another example of cities looking for smart, innovative ways to help citizens and reduce costs at the same time.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Dave Mims, President
The looming retirement of the Baby Boomer Generation is a concern on the horizon for municipal IT managers. Staff with decades of experience in the technologies and processes crucial to the municipality’s operations will be handing over positions to middle or entry level employees. The question for IT managers becomes: How do I manage the transition? Choosing the right path can mean the difference between a well-educated staff that benefits from the learning of its elders versus one that is forever reinventing the wheel. Before this problem can be addressed, it would be beneficial to understand the generational dynamics at play as Boomers leave the workplace to coming generations.
The Generation Gaps
There are three main generations present in the modern workplace – the Baby Boomers, Generation-X and Generation-Y. We’ll take a brief look at each generation’s traits to better understand the social dynamic at play when an IT manager begins planning the transition. It’s important to note that we’ll be speaking very generally about each generation; any given individual will display traits that do not fit these generalizations. However, these generational descriptions are backed by years of studies and sociological research and have been shown to affect both the cultural and business climates in which they come into play.

According to preeminent generational scholars William Strauss and Neil Howe, the Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1960, are 76 million strong and the largest generation in the history of the United States. Boomers were brought up in the post-war prosperity of the Eisenhower era which placed a strong emphasis on teamwork and highly codified social norms as a way to maintain the “American way of life” in the face of the McCarthy-era threat of Communist intervention. These children grew up as Mouseketeers, watched television instead of the radio, and were raised during the worries of the Korean War and the early Cold War. As they grew, the Boomers retained their ethic of power and solidarity through teamwork but refocused it on what they felt were the overly conservative societal rules of the generations before them. In this sense, Boomers viewed themselves as agents of social change and out of this shift in thinking arose the hippie and civil rights movements. As the Boomers grew into their thirties and watched America change, many traded in their VW Minibus for a traditional family, a desk job and a home in the suburbs. And it is here through their lens of social change and teamwork that they have spent the last 30 years transforming how American business operates, moving from Industrial Revolution-era large corporations to smaller, more nimble companies as seen in the rag-tag, upstart nature of early Silicon Valley.

Coming after the Boomers is Generation-X, who were born between 1961 and 1980 and number around 52 million. These children were raised in an era of great uncertainty, where a post-Watergate America lost faith in the Presidency, Vietnam veterans attempted to reintegrate into a society that seemed to shun them, the Cold War began to come to a close, and AIDS had parents and educators scared for their children. As gender roles loosened and the economy slowed, many Gen-X children had two full-time working parents and were likely raised by a combination of daycare, latch key programs and other family members. Thus many children were left to their own devices for increasing amounts of time and quickly learned a strong self-survival instinct. Gen-X was also the first generation to grow up during the Computer Age, as technologies developed during WWII and the NASA space programs began to make their way into the public sector with the help of Boomer start-ups like Microsoft and Apple. Increased availability of technology combined with lessened supervision saw many Gen-X teens turn towards computer technology as a way to entertain and inform. They embraced pinball and video games, built home computers, and experimented with completely new forms of instrument-less music like electronica and hip-hop – all arts that stressed individual interaction. In short, Gen-X adopted an experimental, do-it-yourself ethos where trial and error trumped social consensus or the instruction manual. In business, this ethos manifested itself in the DotCom Boom of the 90’s, where disruptive technologies and brash start-up companies became the norm.

Generation-Y, born from 1981 to 1996, grew up in an era that saw the country reevaluating its values and role in the world. The DotCom bubble had burst, the nation reeled from the 9-11 terrorist attacks, and families with 50% divorce rates were the norm. In school, the Boomers were in charge and reinvented the education system to be more team and reward focused while post-Columbine paranoia led to clampdowns on the freedoms of previous generations. As such, kids were graded on how well they worked with others and everyone got a trophy at the end of the day, but they were also closely monitored for aberrant behavior. Constantly ferried around between day care, different sets of parents and school, Gen-Y came to rely on technology for building and networking with social cliques, particularly after the widespread adoption of home internet. Visual forms of communication ruled the day, enabling instant gratification and community building on a global scale through email, instant messaging, file sharing, chat rooms, and web-enabled video games. As Gen-Y numbers grow in the workforce, they come to it with expectations of connectivity and instant communication, free access to information, reward for effort, and close monitoring by superiors.

Managing the Transition

Clearly, IT managers have a complex corridor to navigate when managing the transition from the Boomer workforce, as each generation arrives with a unique and sometimes conflicting set of values. With careful planning the transition can avoid chaos, bringing innovation and energy into the workplace and allowing IT management to face the future with confidence. There are number of ways to manage the change:

Knowledge Transfer
A municipality can add a great deal of efficiency if its newer employees benefit from the learning of their elders. In the modern workplace, there are two ways to ensure a smooth transition of knowledge: 
  • Mentoring - Set up a mentoring program where the soon-to-be-retiree works closely with new employees, teaching the ins-and-outs of the job and slowly transitioning job functions until the new workers are self-sufficient. Mentors need to teach more than “how-to” procedures, focusing also on life/business skills training, introductions to key contacts, project histories, and future planning; anything to help new employees better understand and be efficient at their job.
  • Documentation – Set up wikis to capture procedural and historical information so that it can easily be managed and searched for years to come. A document management system will allow the mountains of documents collected over a lifetime of work to be freed from file cabinets, local hard drives, and email archives for use as education material and templates. Physical documents should be digitized for easy entry into the management system. Finally, set up a contact relationship management system (or CRM) to collect information on the long list of valuable contacts that the retiree has spent years nurturing.
Create Attractive Jobs
As times change, so do job expectations. Newer generations have watched their parents’ pensions, retirement plans, and even job security die on the vine after 20 years of working for the same organization. As a result, where the average single job span of Boomers is 15-20 years, for Gen-Y it can be as low as 3-5 years. Newer workers are more apt to view themselves like free agents on a sports team instead of ardent supporters of a single organization. Thus, when planning for the future, newer generations prefer shorter term rewards instead of waiting for retirement. Gen-X will want amenities that stress individuality such as flex hours, work-from-home programs, and more vacation time, while Gen-Y looks for unencumbered access to information, comped internet and mobile phone bills, and an informal but communal office atmosphere. As such perks become more prevalent in the private sector, municipal governments need to adapt in order to stay competitive for top tech talent.

Consolidation and Outsourcing

With nearly 75 million Baby Boomers and only 52 million in Generation X, there aren’t enough potential employees to fill positions vacated by retirees. Yet, this gap may represent a great opportunity for a municipality to solve the problem by modernizing the IT environment. Instead of staffing a new position, consider investing in technologies that add efficiency and automation, allowing job roles to be consolidated.


In Walden, Henry David Thoreau wrote, “Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new.” As the Baby Boomers begin retiring to the cruise ships and country ponds of the world, it falls on IT management to effectively manage the transition by staying in tune with these ‘new fashions.’ Each employee will use a mix of mentoring, self-learning, and peer socialization to prepare for the job, and organizations that provide multiple ways to facilitate these will handle the change well. Also, if municipalities are able to attract top young talent with innovative job offers, they will be able to better compete in the current ‘free agent’ business environment. Lastly, the exodus of Boomer employees frees up IT managers to experiment with new technologies, transforming the municipality into a lean, connected, and wise organization ready to face a whole new set of challenges.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Dave Mims, President
Woosh! That’s the sound of Sophicity running all over the map as we meet with cities across the Southeast. Most recently, Kevin Howarth and I went to sunny Orlando for the Florida League of Cities 83rd Annual Conference. It was the perfect way to meet with city leaders and decision makers to learn what’s on their minds and I congratulate FLC for putting on a great conference.

As we move into the second half of the year, the cities we spoke with seem to be echoing what we’ve been hearing all along: How can we get our hands around IT costs? It’s a question we’ve been working really hard on at Sophicity and we've come up with a number of great ways to help. Curious? Drop me a note or give me a call so we can chat about it.

While we didn’t get a chance to visit Epcot for a ride around the world, we did enjoy the beautiful weather and great food. And congratulations to City of Crestview, Fla. Councilman Charles Baugh for winning our drawing! We hope he enjoys a nice steak dinner with his family at Outback ! Charles, we suggest the Bloomin' Onion.

Friday, August 14, 2009
Jeramie Mercker, Director of Technology
A few months ago, I wrote about a new initiative of the federal government, Data.gov.  This is an interesting project as it aims to provide a wealth of public information online in a variety of formats for free. When I originally checked out the site, there were only a handful (around 40) of types of data available but now the government has greatly expanded the site with more data and better tools. Of particular interest is the recent release by the FBI of the 2007 Crime Statistics. They offer it in a number of different formats, including ones that can be overlayed on Google Maps to get a visual representation of the data. While the government has made this information public for a long time, never has it been more accessible and easier to dig in and find interesting new ways to use it. I'll certainly be keeping on eye on this one...
Monday, August 10, 2009
Kevin Howarth, Director of Business Development
Trends are working against a city’s information technology infrastructure even if the city does nothing or keeps to the status quo. But taking advantage of flat monthly operational-cost IT services means the following:

  1. Lower, affordable, monthly costs for exactly what is needed. Pay monthly for needed hardware, software, and services. IT is scalable – add or subtract users as necessary, and the cost is adjusted on the fly.

  2. Clear, transparent ROI. Information technology has matured into a transparent reportable investment. A cost analysis of the money spent for traditional hardware, software, and services can be outlined and compared against a flat monthly operational-cost model. When this cost analysis is performed, many cities often uncover an opportunity for instant cost savings.

  3. Included, no-cost hardware and software upgrades. With “pay as you go” IT service models, there is no longer any worry about upgrading hardware or software. With a city’s monthly costs, all upgrades are included.

  4. Minimized risk of data loss and security breaches. With an IT environment that is monitored and maintained with consistent, upgraded, quality hardware, software, and services at a monthly cost, the burden of data retention, security, and maintenance falls upon the service provider. Recovering from theft or a disaster can be much quicker and more cost effective for the city.
Friday, August 7, 2009
Allen Koronkowski, Practice Manager: Projects
I’ve been writing a lot about Twitter lately, especially when it comes to how its being used in the government sector. As many of you may know, Twitter (along with Facebook and Myspace) was attacked last night by a Denial of Service attack originating in the country of Georgia. When I heard this, I began to think about how that could impact the efforts of New York and LA, which are starting to use Twitter for important roles within the operations. As a response to this GovTech has a great article about why governments might want to put some serious thought before using Twitter. What if it goes down? What if it gets hacked? All of these questions need to be firmly grasped before any Twitter project starts. If you’re thinking of using Twitter, I suggest you give the article a read.
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Tim Verras, Director of Marketing and Customer Experience
The FCC today hosted a talk about the future of E-Gov and Civic Engagement. Among the things discussed in the fruitful talk were:
  • Key new technologies for government operations?
  • How government operations could change if there were universal broadband?
  • How can access to broadband amplify the goals of open and accessible government (increasing public awareness and participation in government)?
  • What are new uses of broadband that would further open government and civic participation?
  • How do new media, including social networking tools, advance civic participation, and are there limitations or concerns associated with such use?
  • How can broadband infrastructure and services improve citizen access to local and national news, information, dialogue with government and other citizens, transactional efficiency, and participation in governance?
  • Does access to broadband increase the ability of the average citizen to make her voice heard by the government and other citizens, and if so, how can this be advanced?
  • What are the benefits of video streaming or video conferencing of government meetings to enable participation by those who cannot attend a meeting in person (because of distance, cost, disability, illness, and the like)?
  • Are there other applications of broadband technology that can improve civic participation and how can they be encouraged?
While the meeting has already passed, you can grab a recorded version.
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
Tim Verras, Director of Marketing and Customer Experience
As you know, at Sophicity we’re all about helping municipal governments manage their IT infrastructure in a way that’s cost effective, responsible, and transparent. We’re always trying to cook up new ways to ensure our customers get the most from their technology and it’s something we try to take to our personal lives as well. One great example is our very own Allen Koronkowski (Practice Manager: Projects). You may know him as a frequent writer on this blog, but to many in the Atlanta-area, he’s simply known as Mr. K, The Cookieman.

It all started when Allen wanted to teach his kids fiscal responsibly and the rules of business. Instead of giving them a lecture, he created a cookie company and let them learn firsthand how to run a business in a responsible manner. They set up shop at the Marietta Square Farmer’s Market on the weekends and sold delicious cookies based on their secret family recipe. His sons each had shares in the company and were allowed some measure of decision making power in its operation. The end result? Not only did his kids learn the ropes but his cookies are quickly becoming all the rage. So much so, in fact, that the Marietta Daily Journal just wrote an article about him! He’s a great project manager, a great dad and we’re happy to have him heading up our consulting practice. Now if we could only get him to start giving us free cookies…

Friday, July 31, 2009
Tim Verras, Director of Marketing and Customer Experience
This one hits close to home for me – quite literally. GovTech is reporting that Oakland County, Mi. has cut $600k from its IT budget this year simply by soliciting cost cutting suggestions from its employees via an internal blog administered by the county’s CIO. Oakland County, just north of Detroit’s West side, is perhaps the most active county in Michigan and, more importantly, is where I lived for a number of years. When the economy gets tough, this is exactly the kind of innovative thinking I like to see. Employees are the ones in the trenches doing the work and so it’s no surprise that they often have incredibly simple yet effective ideas on gaining efficiency. If your municipality is facing looming budget cuts, this might be a great way to tap into the brain power of your employees.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Jeramie Mercker, Director of Technology
The Federal Government IT sector was sent scrambling this week when the Washington Post broke the news of a report given to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that peer-to-peer file sharing software installed on sensitive government computers by employees, was responsible for inadvertently releasing vast amounts of data into the public. It was identified as a major problem at all levels of the government including the FBI. This is another red flag for cities, which deal with sensitive data like police records and evidence files. Have a discussion with IT staff or vendors about locking down such file sharing applications on the network to prevent this data from going public. One more reason to have strong IT policies in place throughout the organization.
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