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Local governments stay vigilant to cyber threats when acquiring technology


Technology in cities and counties may be vulnerable to hackers and malicious actors. That’s why local government administrators need to stay on guard, says Jason W. Mitchell, who is director of Baltimore’s Department of Public Works.

“Hackers are trying to steal data from government agencies, which have highly valuable and confidential information.” He adds that local jurisdictions tend to work with low-end technology systems. “Generally, these systems are not protected with the latest security tools. Therefore, it is important to buy systems that are highly secure against malicious or hostile programs.” Mitchell previously served as Oakland, Calif.’s assistant city administrator.

In Mitchell’s community, Baltimore City Information Technology (BCIT) is the central agency that does the procurement for city of Baltimore agencies and departments. BCIT is made up of 182 IT professionals. It delivers a variety of different technology and services to both internal and external customers. These include classic IT services, such as computer support, enterprise applications, and creating and supporting data networks. The department operates a service center and 3-1-1 Call Center. BCIT works to provide sustainable infrastructure and technology to support and enhance city departments, communities, businesses and mayoral goals.

Mitchell says bad players can generate cybersecurity threats both externally and internally. He urges governments to adopt a few best practices when acquiring new technology. “Apart from buying cutting-edge technology systems, which may block or prevent external cyber-attacks, there’s a need to train internal staff about best practices when using desktops, laptops and tablets.” He advocates relying on daily-use systems, such as multifactor authentication and data encryption. He notes that these tools employ security profiles that show which staffers can access what data. These security features also enable the creation of system-auditing logs for critical systems. Mitchell also believes employees should undergo regular training sessions that cover cyber-security, data-security and how to manage emails.

The tech-buying team in a local government agency should include staffers with a variety of skills, Mitchell tells Co-op Solutions. “Team members should be equipped and knowledgeable about the latest technology. They should be aware about tools to resist and deal with cyber threats and ransomware attacks. The tech-buying team should understand the current trend to move applications to the cloud; team members need a sound knowledge of cloud technology.” In addition, Mitchell says tech buyers should be able to do cost-benefit analyses that compare the advantages of having a government’s IT setup on-site versus applications in the cloud.

Recruiting and retaining quality technology talent remain important tasks in the public sector, Mitchell says. “For government agencies, it is becoming difficult to hire competent skilled labor as the salaries are not compatible with outside organizations. Therefore, retention is a big problem.”

Mitchell says he’s been seeing many agencies starting to move in the direction of cloud-based technology. Because of governments’ growing interest in cloud applications, he predicts an increasing demand for infrastructure that is based on cloud computing technology.

Baltimore’s city government has been upgrading its technology in 2022, Mitchell says. “The old financial, HR and payroll system has been upgraded to a new setup, Workday.” Workday is a cloud-based software vendor that specializes in human capital management and financial management applications.

Mitchell confirms that cooperative contracts can potentially save time and streamline the process for governments when they buy infrastructure and technology products and services. “A lot of time is spent on procurement for every agency in the city of Baltimore. If there are standard contracts established, then all the groundwork is done and tested. This strategy reduces purchasing timelines. Also, the prices are lower for bulk orders, and all parties can benefit.”

Michael Keating is senior editor for American City & County. Contact him at [email protected].





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