There is more to the right RMS than price.
RMS: Tips for Purchasing or Upgrading
By Kathy Marks
There are many things to consider when purchasing or updating a records management system. Conducting a needs analysis, looking at future needs to keep from having to replace the RMS system again in the near future, and choosing a system that can be updated, are among the most cost efficient ways to fill your RMS needs. Looking at other departments similar in size and service area and serving a similar type of population (rural v. urban) can be helpful because they may have already done a lot of this legwork.
Many companies who provide RMS systems can accommodate the needs of very small departments all the way to meeting the needs of complex, multi-unit metropolitan departments. It is important to shop for a system that accommodates the needs of your department, is affordable, and with acceptable ongoing costs. There is something out there for any size department with the budget they have available.
RMS for Any Department
Betsy McNutt from Sun Ridge Systems stated that Sun Ridge accommodates both large and small departments. They have prepackaged systems that are more affordable for small departments and also made-to-order customized systems designed for the needs of larger departments with multiple units. She said, “Contrary to popular thinking, a higher priced system does not IN ANY WAY guarantee a better product.”
Lynze Lenio of Spillman Technologies reported they currently serve more than 1,000 agencies in 35 states of varying sizes, needs, and budgets with their public safety software, including small rural areas, large metropolitan cities, and everything in between. They also specialize in combining the off-the-shelf simplicity desired by many small agencies with the customization and flexibility large agencies need.
McNutt suggested choosing a company that can provide references from other satisfied law enforcement customers and making sure the systems being reviewed are truly comparable. She advised having tech support available on a 24/365 basis and purchasers should consider asking that initial training by the vendor be part of the RMS package.
When Cost is a Major Factor
Crimestar operates in 46 states. Eric Sargent, Crimestar Sales Manager, said their program may not be for everyone because their market is not necessarily for the huge, multi-layer departments. They do offer an affordable program with two different versions, one of them for larger departments, that does the same thing as other information management systems.
Sargent said Crimestar is a unique, product-based program and it is consistent with every agency using it; Sargent termed it “unbreakable.” It is an Internet-based Windows program, making it affordable, and Crimestar encourages customers to download the program and use it free for 90 days. Small department and even multi-site departments such as college police find it has a simple learning curve.
Crimestar’s cost to customers is $3,000 for each license, $300 for unlimited tech support, and only $300 yearly for updates. Sargent said a department may get a grant for an initial setup and not realize they are going to be paying an industry-average 20 percent yearly fee for upgrading. Crimestar does this updating for 10 percent. He said their system works for 99 percent of those who try it and the bottom line is cost.
Sargent reported when he bought Crimestar himself in 1999 as a Massachusetts police chief, his choices ranged from Crimestar at $6,000 to $80,000 for other estimates. Many of their new customers are direct referrals from those using the system. He said all record management systems do the same with data and they are not for everyone, but offer a robust system with cost containment that does the same thing as the big names in RMS.
Cost and Simplicity
Lt. George W. Bacorn, Jr., Deputy Chief for the Denton (Md.) Police Department, commented they initially chose Crimestar for information management because of the cost combined with the ease of how the RMS worked. They found it produced quality police reports, was easy for officers to learn and use, and information retrieval was extremely easy, which allowed for conducting crime analysis.
They heard about Crimestar from a neighboring department and did research on their own. They switched from their prior system primarily due to the ease of use, data/information retrieval and customer support.
Bacorn said, “There really is no comparison between our old RMS and Crimestar because it isn’t Crimestar’s features that make it more usable, it is the company itself. If a customer needs the software to have a certain feature or perform a certain function, that function or feature is usually only an e-mail or phone call away as long as it is something that will be advantageous to most other customers and can be performed within the program’s operational boundaries. It is the Crimestar team that makes this system very usable.”
He said the software is so simple and easy to use there was very little to no learning curve, and the designer was a law enforcement officer and understands what police officers need in an RMS package. Bacorn said Crimestar also has a property module built into the RMS. It tracks not only evidence but stolen, recovered, lost / found and damaged property. They are using Crimestar’s Mobile Data along with Message Switch, which allows for computer dispatching of officers and also allows officers in the field to “self-dispatch” and conduct inquiries on internal (Crimestar) records along with MVA checks and wanted checks through state and federal databases.
Data Transfer Matters
Any new system or upgrade should be compatible with transferring data from the existing system and also interface with other law enforcement systems to share information. Unless you simply have never had old file information entered into the computer, having to manually transfer files will not be cost effective and will eat up valuable man hours.
Sargent said departments must make decisions about what to do with old information to make it searchable and whether or not they are willing or able to pay for the price of scanning old paper files or transferring other formats into their new system, as it can be quite expensive. He said state law mandates how long some paper files must be retained, so a “paperless” system is really a misnomer and an agency must decide whether to get rid of the hard copy files that can be discarded.
Price, Tech Support, Flexibility
McNutt stated that price, customer service, 24/365 tech support, and the flexibility of the system to communicate with other departments and with each part of itself are the most important areas to her customers. She added, “Different sections of the RMS system are more important for each unit and that is their primary interest. For the investigative unit, the case management is most important. For Dispatch it is CAD. So, there is really no concise agreement other than: They want an integrated system. That is supreme. Not a CAD system that does not ‘speak’ to the RMS system.”
McNutt explained that the bottom line for departments purchasing RMS systems is simple. “Bells and whistles look good, but if they are complicated to use, they won’t get used. What is most important is two-fold: a system that works and does what the agency needs it to do. It is as simple as that.”
McNutt stated Sun Ridge Systems makes onsite visits if requested to give departments an idea of what they might need in a system to give them an accurate quote. Her buyers are usually very familiar with records management systems because they are replacing a system that does not work for them and because of that, they have in mind what features they want.
Spillman also provides a complimentary onsite needs analysis to help agencies assess what modules, hardware and services are right for them. “We help facilitate visits to other agencies that are currently using Spillman software to allow potential customers to see how other agencies are using Spillman to work efficiently and keep their communities safe,” Lenio noted.
She explained that most of their customers have already moved away from pen-and-paper record keeping and are somewhat familiar with record management systems, but they try to customize services for each agency’s level of expertise. “In short, it all goes back to Spillman’s philosophy of offering cutting-edge software paired with industry-leading professional services. We stand by our customers every step of the way and make sure they feel confident in using their system—no matter what level of software expertise they have.”
Lenio stated that they provide continual assistance with any additional requests, projects, or problems customers encounter down the road. Since agencies can’t wait days or even hours to get their support needs met, assistance is available seven days a week, 24 hours a day, online, over the phone, and via e-mail.
She said many of their customers are looking for a vendor with a reliable history and Spillman’s 30 years in the industry with an exclusive focus on creating public safety software is important to them. She reported, “Perhaps the No. 1 thing customers are looking for, however, is integration. Many agencies choose Spillman because each of our more than 40 modules has been engineered for optimal integration.
Agencies using Spillman have a single database and a single point of data entry. This means once data is entered by a dispatcher, for example, it can be immediately accessed by field officers or jail personnel. Before entering a new record, a user is prompted to search the system to see if an existing record comes up, which helps eliminate duplicate entry. Spillman’s Involvements® link together related information, helping customers conduct thorough investigations and make informed decisions. Involvements® span all master tables and enable users to spot relationships between key pieces of information.”
Losing hard copy files due to flooding, storm damage or fire could be very damaging. In the information age, with much data only available by computer, without being duplicated in paper files, losing data can be catastrophic. Lenio stated that Spillman supports multiple options for backups. They have agencies using a wide variety of configurations from backup tapes to full high-availability disaster recovery (HADR).
SunGard Public Sector customers use local storage in the server room and they report in the past, customers have been reluctant to use data storage off site, but attitudes are beginning to change about that. Cloud storage can be very secure, although public safety officials still have some nervousness about security issues. Data is stored locally and also in off-site locations in some instances, using third-party storage.
Alan Biddle, Director of Development, and John Lowry, Director of Product Management for SunGard Public Sector (SunGard PS), stated their ONESolution is the next generation of the OSSI Public Safety Solution. While it is a different and more modern set of technology, existing customer will get ONESolution as an upgrade.
ONESolution does takes care of all the information management needs of a department: modules for the jail , CAD, mobile technology, RMS, evidence and many other departmental functions. The RMS section is very broad and has more modules than most competing products.
There is rarely ever any downtime required for upgrades and if so, it is minimal. SunGardPS’s pricing varies depending on how many officers will be using each module and how many modules are needed. They offer affordable pricing to small agencies. Mid to larger departments tend to use ONESolution because they tend to need more functionality than smaller departments. SunGardPS does still serve a number of smaller agencies.
Wyandotte Police Chief Dan Grant, member of the Southern Michigan Information Alliance, said their consortium allows them to interface with a whole group of law enforcement agencies in metropolitan Detroit, including municipalities and the Sheriff’s Department. It allows for a tremendous exchange of information from not only street officers, but investigative staff and helps in tracking criminals and the criminal element.
The Alliance uses SunGardPS’s system and as an existing customer, they receive standard software maintenance and each upgrade. Chief Grant has the highest praise for SunGardPS. All of their information management needs are served by the system, including their evidence barcoding and even the jail software, which generates an intake questionnaire about the prisoner’s history.
They use SunGard for all their information needs, from evidence to traffic tickets. Chief Grant stated, “An e-ticket can be issued by the officer, generated by the computer in the squad car, and the computer then transfers that ticket to the record management system at the courthouse. When the person’s driver’s license is scanned on a magnetic strip on the car’s computer, that information populates the information fields.”
Since the consortium is part of the same RMS group, a name search gives them information from all the area departments and really opens up the boundaries on searches. Each agency has a membership and a delegate at the consortium meetings. All of them share in financing the system, allowing each member to not only have access to any information any other member might possess, but to also take advantage of the cost savings of a shared system with SundgardPS.
After that initial step of determining the most important information management needs of a department, that department can ask for referrals from other departments and proposals from different vendors. Many RMS systems are available, and any size department can find a program that will meet their needs.
A lot of considerations come into play when choosing an RMS vendor because that is one of the more important purchases for an agency. Budget and demographics are often important factors. Price is important but cannot be the single driving force for this purchase. Customer service and reputation are very important. Companies who provide information management technology can be very helpful in finding solutions and may make innovations for one customer that can become part of the system for others.
Cutting-edge technology is changing the face of law enforcement and agencies such as the Southern Michigan Information Alliance are combining forces to make this happen. Printing an e-ticket from an in-car computer and transferring it to the courthouse would have sounded like science fiction only a few years ago.
Kathy Marks has been a child abuse investigator for 30 years. She teaches classes regarding domestic terrorism and is a previous contributor to
LAW and ORDER Magazine. She can be reached at email@example.com.