Avèro Advisors

The Avero Blog

Think Tank

Avero's take on the Top 10 IT priorities for Cities and Counties in the US for 2019 according to Govtech Navigator

Our thoughts…

1. Cyber Security

Understandably, Cyber Security is at the very top given that several local governments have been under attack over the last several months (Atlanta, for example). However, Cyber Security means different things to different CIOs. Is it the latest and greatest firewall product? Is it an FTE dedicated to Cyber Security? A combination of both? Our take is that Cyber Security starts and ends with end users of any technology. If you look into the most recent attacks on any municipal IT infrastructure, it is an email that should not have been opened, a USB stick that should not have been inserted into the computer or any other general lack of security awareness that causes these breaches. Cyber Security should be part of a cohesive IT Strategy and should start with a Threat Asset Matrix analysis of all of your IT infrastructure.

2. Citizen Engagement/Experience

As citizens become more technology savvy and use customer self-service, social media based communications from their private sector services providers (banks, pharmacies, cable companies, etc.) they naturally demand more of the same from their governments. How practical is it for small cities and counties that don't have a dedicated PR/communications department to step it up on citizen engagement? The answer lies in automation and standardization across the organization. Start with a cohesive web site, decide on your social media approach (for example, do you open your posts to comments? If yes, do you respond to comments?) and implement citizen self-service portals for processes that are citizen focused such as permitting, licensing, utility bill payments, etc. An automated process is one less phone call to your already slammed call center!

3. Hire and Retain Competent IT Personnel

What is the ideal ratio for IT staff to overall staff? If we only stick to standard industry benchmarks, we don’t take into account the unique makeup of each municipal organization. Does the same ratio apply for a City with utilities to a City without utilities? Police and Fire? For IT to be “right sized”, IT functions need to be centralized. Helpdesk/Application Support Technicians need to be more customer focused.  Process improvement. Application optimization. Assisting IT customers in utilizing applications, better Network Administrators/Engineers need to anticipate risks and make adjustments to improve uptime. Again, a cohesive IT Strategy is what allows us to form and maintain a customized IT organization. Hiring and retention of “competent IT personnel” naturally follows.

4. Open Government/Transparency/Open Data

Citizen engagement and experience can take another form in what is commonly referred to as “Open Government” or “Transparency” or “Open Data.” Several examples of cities (the City of Albany, OR, for example) have opened up their books, budgets, and transactions to the public through the use of business intelligence platforms like Microsoft’s Power BI, Cognos, etc. The most significant point to note here is that open data and transparency are only possible when the data exists in a usable format to share. Also, real time or near real time data is more valuable than historical data. Given that, a City or a County with old financial systems (think green screens) and no way to report using modern tools. The first step in any open data initiative is the identification of shareable data. Second, is the implementation of a reporting engine that can read the data and present it in the form of easily modifiable graphics. All of this is nearly impossible if you don’t have a relatively modern ERP/financial solution. Remember, the goal is to provide additional services to your citizens without adding FTEs or otherwise spending time on manual report generation. The key to sustained transparency is sustained automation.

5. Disaster Recovery/Continuity of Operations

One of the most misunderstood aspects of IT strategy is Disaster Recovery. Many times, we see organizations whose DR plan is external hard drives stored in the primary data center! Nobody knows how recent the back up is, or if it is even recoverable. Disaster Recovery goes beyond back up hardware. For any DR plan to be effective, there needs to be a reliable strategy around DR policies, back up sites, a transparent chain of command, emergency communications (most telephones are now over the internet), etc. The critical question to answer: does the entire organization need to be 100% functional a few hours after the disaster?

6. Mobility/Mobile Applications

This seemingly ubiquitous term only a few years ago has somewhat disappeared from the “buzzword” lexicon lately. Alternatively, has it morphed into something else? We all expect to be able to run our lives using our mobile devices. Banking, healthcare, groceries, shopping, and travel booking, all happen on your phone or tablet. Why are government workers tied to their office desktops to get things done? Technologies such as HTML5 have enabled enterprise systems to go mobile without having to develop complicated mobile apps for each mobile operating system out there. Mobility is vital, and the key here is to define the process by which our workforce becomes more mobile.

7. Budget and Cost Control

A cornerstone of any large IT modernization project is how sound the financing is. While governments conceivably have endless funds, the reality is often disappointing. They either have already spent millions doing the wrong thing, or the leadership isn’t strong enough to sell the idea of capital spending to their respective legislative bodies. Rarely, we’ll find clients that have their financial A-game on (not just because they’re with Avero!). As with anything else, budget and cost control eventually depend on a robust IT strategy and your "funding philosophy." Are you open to Software as a Service (SaaS) offerings and to leveraging the Cloud?

8. Business Intelligence/Analytics

Once major enterprise systems are implemented (ERP, Land Management, etc.), City should invest in a robust Business Intelligence (BI) tool to provide historical, current, and predictive views of operations enabling users to analyze data from different perspectives to make better business decisions. BI solutions provide standard functions such as reporting, analytics, data mining, business performance management and benchmarking. BI solutions also provide role-based access to staff members to visualize operational data in real time and enable decision making based on multi-dimensional data. The key here is to identify key performance indicators and metrics that are useful for executive decision making using a single view of all City operations and assets.

9. Networking: Broadband and Connectivity

Of all the IT areas to focus on today, networking and network management rise to the top. With the advent of cloud computing, cloud storage, Software as a Service (SaaS), hosted Voice over IP (VoIP) and other services now available to municipalities, network management becomes a high priority in terms of skills, equipment and configuration. Additionally, the ever present threat of cyber attacks and breaches make it even more pertinent to have a solid networking infrastructure in place.

Adoption of fiber optic networking technology has the potential to provide significant positive economic development benefits to a City, enhance competition, reduce costs, improve telecommunications and internet services for the business community, and potentially even offer high-speed internet access (broadband) at reduced rates to residents.

At the least, continued development of fiber assets for City purposes are expected to reduce long-term telecommunications costs for the organization, enable enhanced connectivity and functionality in intelligent systems throughout the City, provide fast, reliable connectivity for telemetry monitoring of critical City utility infrastructure, and offer interconnectivity for data and service sharing between the City and other local government agencies. "Broadband" doesn't always have to be the delivery of high-speed internet services to homes.

10. Smarter Infrastructure/Internet of Things (IoT)

Another buzzword that seems to have died on the vine since "connected things" became a norm and something to be expected, is the "Internet of Things." For municipal agencies, "IoT" is around, even when it isn't clearly visible. Our traffic signals talk to each other, our electric meters talk to each other and relay critical information; we can control the flow of water using our SCADA systems. Transit buses run more efficiently and safely because of a plethora of sensors on the vehicles and within our road infrastructure. All of these are not just examples of IoT but also what is more commonly referred to as "Smart Infrastructure" today. If you are a City or a county that uses Smart Infrastructure, you may call yourself a Smart City! (More on what a Smart City actually means, here).