This article is posted with permission from Sophicity’s CitySmart blog and shares non-technical, municipal-relevant insights about critical technology issues, focusing on how technology reduces costs, helps better serve citizens, and lessens cybersecurity risks. Sophicity is solely responsible for the article’s content.
There’s a big difference between IT partnering and IT reacting. Think about it this way. Suppose you notice a problem with your car’s brakes. You take it to a repair shop and tell the repairperson you think your brakes might need replacing. They nod, tell you it definitely sounds like your brakes are bad, and give you a vague estimate of the time and cost for repair.
Why does that response seem uncomfortable to you? Because the repairperson simply listened to you describe the problem, seemed to magically know what was wrong, and did not seem curious about investigating further or offering objective insights.
While you might not accept that kind of behavior with your car repairperson, many towns and cities accept this kind of behavior with their IT support vendor who may:
- Rely heavily on your non-technical description of an IT problem.
- Seem too confident about knowing the answer immediately.
- “Fix” problems without any further explanation or analysis.
These are not partners. An IT partnership involves qualities that dig deep into your technology challenges, and these qualities are important for IT engineers to have when helping towns and cities. Those qualities include:
1. An ability to assess.
While explaining your technology problem is important, you need an IT partner who digs into your environment after listening to you. Many tools, processes, and best practices exist to objectively and independently assess technology problems. For example, an IT partner will:
- Scan and analyze your systems for cybersecurity vulnerabilities.
- Identify risks preventing successful data backup and disaster recovery.
- Inventory hardware and software to examine usefulness, quality, and age.
Assessing is a form of discovery where IT partners make an independent analysis of your systems to confirm existing problems, correct false assumptions about the root cause of other problems, and even uncover new problems. Without such discovery, your IT support vendor is not doing their job.
2. An ability to plan around your priorities and align with your needs.
An independent assessment of your systems and technology challenges is useful. But a true IT partner doesn’t make a to-do list by themselves and start addressing problems without staying aligned with you. Assessments uncover many issues, but an IT partner will plan out work with you by aligning with your priorities.
For example, a reactive IT vendor may just want to start replacing servers and tackling big projects. But you may have printer issues that nag employees every day. An IT partner will meet with you, understand that the printer issues are a priority, and seek to address those issues as soon as possible.
3. Clear, objective recommendations.
IT partners base recommendations on your priorities and their independent assessment of your systems. Recommendations should be vendor-agnostic and aimed to help you improve productivity, save money, and/or achieve specific goals.
Some IT vendors act as biased resellers of hardware, software, and equipment, and their recommendations will “mysteriously” involve urging you to purchase those products—even if they don’t fit an immediate need. An IT partner should provide objective recommendations that seek out the best solution for the lowest cost—regardless of what company makes the product.
4. Experience with municipalities.
This experience may be harder to find among IT vendors, but it’s another sign of the right IT partner for your municipality. Let’s face it. Municipalities operate much differently than large companies, small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), and nonprofits. Normally, IT is used by businesses to increase revenue and productivity so that they can be more competitive—and many vendors think about IT with that mindset even when talking to towns and cities.
Instead, towns and cities focus on serving residents, keeping the public safe, protecting government records, and spearheading initiatives that improve and develop the economy. IT must serve those needs—from ensuring that police departments run smoothly to equipping city council meetings with technology—and align technology solutions with municipal budgets, operations, and workflows. A municipal-experienced IT partner will be versed in municipal software for various departments, the nuances of how each of your departments work, and processes such as responding to open records requests.
5. Ongoing, proactive project management and periodic checkups.
Reactive IT support will only fight fires. Inevitably, fires will recur because root causes are not addressed. Instead, IT partners provide ongoing, proactive project management that includes a variety of activities such as:
- Monitoring and alerting of your technology systems for issues
- Continually patching your software to keep you secure
- Regular training to keep you and municipal staff on guard and alert
- Real-time monitoring of your data backups and periodic data backup testing
- Assistance processing Open Records Requests and enforcing records retention policies
IT is not a fire to put out. It’s an essential part of your operations that needs proactive, ongoing oversight by IT partners who are protecting you from cyberattacks, permanent data loss, and other disruptions to operations. IT partners will also periodically check up on you and meet to discuss how priorities and needs have changed.
Do you have an IT partner? Or an IT “reactor”? Because IT today is so crucial to municipal operations, towns and cities are shifting more and more toward hiring IT partners who ensure technology runs smoothly and protects them from threats.