While a small city, Dawsonville gets a lot of tourist attention because of the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame Museum and The Mountain Moonshine Festival. That means a lot of people are checking out its website, both citizens and tourists alike. Since tourism drives economic growth, Mayor James Grogan was frustrated about the city’s old, outdated website that, as he puts it, was not “alive and active.”
More importantly, Mayor Grogan saw what happened to the City of Ringgold three years ago with its devastating tornado. Once assured that everyone’s okay, a city needs to immediately get back up and running. By storing documents on paper and floppy disks onsite, Mayor Grogan realized he had no real offsite data storage as part of a disaster recovery plan.
To solve these problems, and a lot more, Mayor Grogan reached out to GMA and was “blown away” by its IT in a Box program. Powered by Sophicity, the City of Dawsonsville not only received a new website and offsite storage for data backup but they also received a highly available and dependable email system, eliminated some expensive hardware and moved most of the city’s data into the cloud to reduce overall costs, and received 7 days a week helpdesk support.
In this interview, Mayor Grogan talks about how even small cities can benefit from large-city technology, how Sophicity solved his IT problems while providing a personalized touch, and that cities shouldn’t be intimidated about reaching out to GMA to solve their technology needs.
What made you decide to take a fresh look at the city’s information technology?
First, we were concerned about the look and feel of the website. It was several years old, hadn’t been updated in years, featured outdated pictures, and lacked vitality. Second, after the tornado that hit Ringgold three years ago, we realized our city was vulnerable if we had a similar disaster. All of our records were on paper or floppy disks stored on site. If those records were lost, blown away, or burned in a fire, we’d be totally devastated. We needed to have our records stored offsite so that if something happened to our city, we could recover our data.
How did you make the case to prioritize modernizing the city's IT?
Our city clerk, Bonnie Warne, attended a GMA conference in June 2013 and came back with some information about GMA’s IT in a Box service. We decided to have Sophicity, the company that delivers the service, visit our city and talk to us about it. We were blown away with how the program worked. After our meeting with Sophicity, we presented the information to our city council and had Sophicity speak to them about the program. Everyone bought into it and thought IT in a Box would be a great thing for us.
A critical selling point was the help we’d get with our website. We know that people check out our city to learn about the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame Museum, The Mountain Moonshine Festival, and other important tourist attractions. When they looked at our website, it was just blah and terrible. When I go to a website and there’s nothing happening there, I’m not going to go back and I’m definitely not going to go visit the city. It was critical for us to get a website that was active and changed on a daily basis to help with tourism.
How has your new website improved the way you interact with citizens?
We offer more information on our new website for citizens about different departments and what they do within the city. We give citizens a brief summary and picture of the people who work for the city so that they know who they are. It’s good for them to see the person’s face and know who they’re talking to. We also send out a print newsletter every month with our water bill, and we plan to introduce that newsletter onto the website to eliminate the newsletter mailing and paper costs. Instead, we can just post the newsletter to our website. Finally, we can post events in a timely fashion, such as an event happening tomorrow if needed. We like to post events onto the website that we’ve got coming up over the next few days to give people time to prepare and plan. Even if they don’t participate in an event, at least they know what’s going on and when we’re doing it.
What other results did you see from IT in a Box?
Sophicity came in and looked at where we were and assessed what needed to be done. After our first year, they made sure all of our computers were running on the same version of Windows and we combined two servers into one. We can now scan and save documents into the cloud, and that gives us the offsite storage of our records that we had been missing for disaster recovery.
While that was important, one of the biggest things I like is the quarterly meetings with Sophicity where we look at our results to date and see where we need to go in the next three months. Those face-to-face meetings made us realize that Sophicity cared about our city and the people working there. We talked with them about what we wanted and they’d go back and work out what we needed to do to achieve it. And it’s face to face, not over the phone or by computer. We can look the people in the eye who are doing the work for us. And when Sophicity tells us they’re going to do something, it gets done.
For other cities in similar situations, what advice would you give them about addressing their information technology issues?
You’re doing a disservice to citizens if you don’t check out these kinds of technology solutions. We figured if GMA vouched for IT in a Box, then it’s probably good for my city. While we don’t do a lot of the things that bigger cities do, we did need the technology that GMA offered us and so we took advantage of it. Any other city that has IT in a Box available to them through GMA should investigate it.
If you don’t know much about technology, it doesn’t make any difference. I’m probably less educated than most people about technology, but that doesn’t matter. The idea is to put yourself in contact with those who do. GMA, Sophicity, and the City of Dawsonville are partners. It’s a family and we all work together to make each other better. I encourage any small city to explore what’s available to them through GMA such as IT in a Box.
The great thing about Sophicity is that they don’t make you feel stupid in any way. I don’t care how dumb a question I ask, they answer it and make me knowledgeable about technology. I learned a lot during the process of working with them. Sure, technology can be intimidating. People start throwing out acronyms and you’re just sitting there not knowing what they’re talking about. But over time and with patience and effort on Sophicity’s part, I came to understand the things they were talking about. Now it’s not an issue. Don’t let your fear of technology keep you from investigating and considering IT in a Box.