By Erik Eckel, Louisville Geek Managing Partner

County administrators battle a complex blend of challenges. In addition to managing the same accounting, human resources and operations responsibilities as other organizations, counties must also address funding, service and technology issues unique to local government. The pace of technology innovation and change complicate the process, a combination that often causes counties to fall behind.

The consequences of letting technology priorities slide can prove significant. Media reports regularly publicize local government departments having to pay ransom to recover from hacker attacks, and many run the risk of losing data because disaster planning routines are insufficient. Still others suffer service inefficiencies due to outdated Websites.

Here are three steps your county can take to avoid these common technology mistakes and help ensure operations run smoothly.

1) Schedule a Security Assessment

Underestimating the importance of security initiatives is likely the single most-pressing problem counties must address in the next year. Ransomware attacks, in which an organization’s systems data is encrypted and held ransom until payment is made to a hacker, generated headlines again earlier this year when government offices, health care systems and businesses all became victims in world-wide outbreaks.

A security assessment identifies vulnerabilities and enables implementing a roadmap to address deficiencies. Security reviews need not break the bank nor require months to complete. Properly structured, security assessments prove an invaluable step revealing threats, protecting data, confirming proper internal controls and ensuring regulatory compliance.

In the interim, every county office should leverage, at a minimum, three best-practice protections.

First, local offices should deploy an industry-leading and centrally managed antivirus application. The protective software should be installed on all systems throughout the entire organization. Manually managing malware threats within county offices, which are already pressed for time and resources, is a losing proposition. While no single antivirus solution protects against every threat, centrally managed tools help ensure antimalware protections remain current and alert administrators at the first sign of trouble.

Second, county departments should filter inbound email. Email is the primary source of hacker attacks and malware infections. By removing as many inbound threats as possible, and reducing spam, before these messages hit county email servers and users’ mailboxes is imperative.

Third, local offices should activate automated network security services. Deploying network perimeter-based automated security services, such as the Comprehensive Gateway Security Suite on SonicWall products, helps protects county offices from intrusions and actively scans inbound and outbound network traffic for potential threats, automatically discarding potentially dangerous traffic to help prevent unauthorized access, compromised data and malware infections.

2) Regularly Test Disaster Plans

Counties often invest time and effort drafting solid disaster plans but less frequently test those disaster plans. Only by regularly testing disaster plans can counties ensure local server backups are completing properly, collect all required data and permit proper service restoration.

The time to learn a critical server backup is malfunctioning or didn’t collect required information is not when the server has failed and the system is being recovered. If your county office doesn’t possess the personnel to test its disaster plan at least quarterly, consider contracting an outside technology partner. In addition to testing backup, service restoration and failover operations, technology providers can supplement county staff and even implement 24×7 monitoring of critical systems to help ensure unplanned outages don’t spiral into larger disasters.

3)Maintain a Regularly Updated County Services Website

A department’s Website can prove a compelling Internet presence that assists constituents by answering frequently asked questions and delivering commonly required information. Or, a site can be a static directory citizens bypass when requiring county services.

By building and maintaining a well-organized Website that’s frequently updated with local news, department information and public service guidance, offices can anticipate citizens’ needs and optimize service efficiencies, as capable sites reduce call volume and enhance service delivery.

Help Is Available

Counties need not be technology or Web experts to address these issues. GSA-approved IT consultancy Louisville Geek, in partnership with KACo, recently launched a special site to assist Kentucky counties. Visit www.kacogeek.com to learn how your local office can receive free technical consultation and better address all these technology challenges.

About the Author:

Erik Eckel is a managing partner for information technology consultancy Louisville Geek, which provides a wide range of professional technical services to government offices, nonprofit organizations and businesses. He earned a BA from the University of Louisville and Microsoft Engineer accreditation from Sullivan University. He authors a weekly technology column for TechRepublic and has authored and edited more than 100 technology books.