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10 Things The Chief Should Know...About Information Technology
Written by Brad Brewer
In the past, only ruggedized clamshell notebooks would be considered for law enforcement use. Today, handheld devices such as a BlackBerry can receive dispatch tickets to query both people and vehicles. Even non-ruggedized Apple iPads and iPhones are forming the basis for some agencies' mobile computing solutions rather than the newer ruggedized solutions that are available. In these times, a chief must make the right choices when looking at technology.
1) Business Process Review
When considering a mobile computing project or any IT upgrade, there is always someone in Finance or Accounting who is going to ask questions like, "What is this going to cost? Why is it more efficient? How much more efficient is it? Is this going to save us money in other places?" A chief should always consider a complete review of the agency's business processes to determine if technology will remove redundancies that have been in place simply because "That's the way we have always done it."
Something as simple as electronic ticketing has been embraced by many agencies that have now seen the entire project costs recovered through an increase in productivity and a decrease in lost revenue due to spoiled handwritten tickets.
Special attention should be given to processes that take officers off the road and keep them in the office. Chiefs need to ask, "Does our mobile reporting software allow the officers to write the report from the vehicle?" Does the officer writing the report have to duplicate any previously keyed-in information by the 9-1-1 dispatcher? Or is the system a true "One time data entry system?" The officer should then be able to send that report wirelessly through commercial cellular networks or an agency's own private data radio network.
2) Micro-Management Kills Productivity
The right project team is the key to any large-scale procurement or upgrade of mobile computing systems. The project team will require an executive champion (chief) to show support all the way up the chain of command. This project team needs complete autonomy while getting clear written direction from management as to objectives, scope, budgets, timelines and goal. Rank plays a role in any project team, but the inclusion of front line officers is a must for any successful project. The management of change and front end user expectations is critical.
Upgrades or process changes cannot be seen as directives from above; rather, they should be driven from the lowest levels especially among the largest peer group of front line staff. IT support staff is also needed to complete the team, but at no time should a civilian IT person have the ability to recommend a system over a group of front line users. IT staff are there to set the technical specifications as required by the front line officers who use the product. Chiefs must recognize this distinct difference and ensure front-line operational requirements are paramount.
3) Product Selection and Evaluations
In some government agencies, single sourcing new products is not an option. All new purchases must be put out to Request for Proposal (RFP). If purchasing rules permit, then a fully operational testing and selection process is not only valid but mandatory. It is not good enough to see a system or upgrade working elsewhere. It has to work at your site.
A chief must ensure that his department's resident experts are given complete autonomy to review business processes. The results of that review combined with front-line user input will provide insight into exactly what is required. Then look around at what other agencies are using.
Site visits are a great way to see if a system might have applicability for your operations. These site visits will require your users from all levels to spend time with the hosting site's users and essentially work in the system to get a sense of whether or not the system will really work back at your agency.
The evaluation process must include direct reference to the written technical and performance specifications to ensure the "system" under consideration is either "to specification" or "not to specification." Only after each of these sections have had a true "real-time" evaluation can they can come back and provide honest feedback as to how this system may or may not work. A closed-door project team debriefing is mandatory after each site visit.
4) The Politics of Financial
Today's chief is well aware of the politics around budgets, financing and purchasing. Ensuring all these departments are kept in the loop at all stages of the IT project is a best practice, not to mention a major grief saver. This is to ensure all aspects of the projects are looked after especially in areas that are unique to these departments. Project success depends on staying within budget and who better to keep tabs on this but the very experts in the field. Often overlooked is the need to bring the representatives of these departments onside when asking for extra funding.
If your agency's project funding has to be approved by a city council or legislature of elected officials, consider the same marketing approach before the approval process occurs. Those who have project "buy-in" are more likely to approve the project.
Consider all costs involved in upgrading or rolling out new software or hardware. The initial fixed costs or one-time costs are sometimes more obvious than the operating or recurring costs. This is where professional financial support will benefit the project immensely.
5) Creative Funding
Chiefs are looking for any possible way to secure project funding. Agencies need to know where and how to access the funds available to them. Motorola has taken the unique step of trying to demystify the entire process by creating their own website for this (www.Motorola.com/govgrants). Motorola's idea is to help chiefs sort through the red tape and capitalize on what others have already done.
Some big departments may have dedicated grant writers, but most don't, and it is not something that should be done off the side of one's desk. This Motorola grant site is one-stop shopping for information, providing such things as timelines, application dates, case studies, blogs, articles, grant summaries, contacts, government links and help guides.
The goal is to get the right stuff, and then set it up right. This is one area the chief must concede to the subject matter experts within the agency. Hardware selection and setup must be driven from the front line user as opposed to the IT manager or police executive who thinks he / she knows how it is going to be used in the field.
Law enforcement computing solutions can be broken down into the following sub-categories: consumer grade, semi-ruggedized and ruggedized. There is a big difference in ruggedness, especially when the user is a cop. In many agencies, the police vehicle and laptop is used 24/7. It is estimated that in one year of police patrol duty, the average laptop gets the equivalent of three to five years of normal consumer use. This is important when trying to decide what to buy and whether a laptop or in-vehicle mounted computer is the way to go.
Panasonic has taken the unique step to provide a formula showing Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) on their website (www.panasonic.com/business). This allows a chief or project manager to account for all costs when comparing more expensive ruggedized hardware versus non-ruggedized hardware.
7) Land Mobile Radio Project 25
Mobile Video and Land Mobile Radio (LMR) Project 25 are probably two of the most discussed and critical IT projects in Public Safety. Re-banding of the radio spectrum in the U.S. is well underway and being hotly debated. The FCC has allocated 12 MHz of 700-MHz band spectrum for Public Safety mission-critical voice services and 10 MHz of 700-MHz band spectrum to be used to build a nationwide interoperable wireless broadband network for Public Safety.
The major national Public Safety organizations, leading local, county, and state government organizations, and many major industry companies are united in their efforts to convince Congress to allocate an additional 10 MHz of spectrum. This is known as the D Block and it is necessary to have the bandwidth to deliver robust and reliable wireless broadband services nationwide.
Along with a chief keeping up on this national movement, understanding what APCO 25 compliance means should also be paramount in any chief's mind. Chiefs have to be current on exactly what ramifications there are with the P25 standard.
8) Training, the Silent Project Killer
Chiefs should allow their project team to set up their training plan without interference. Yes, overtime costs associated to training are a concern of management, but in any large-scale project those costs should be predicted. Training is probably one of the most often overlooked and under-funded parts of any mobile computing project because of its sheer size.
Scheduling logistics of a large agency is a daunting task. Bringing in outside trainers can be expensive and sometimes delivers the wrong message to the front line staff. So a chief needs to let the project manager weigh the differences between outside professional trainers and in-house officers selected for a "Train the Trainers" program. Most often, training the front line officers to deliver the material is best because acceptance is far greater when it is peer to peer.
Choose your trainers wisely. Usually informal leaders among the front line staff are best. They need to have both the skills to provide the training, but as well they need "street cred" from the officers about to learn a new way of doing things. If you train too early, the first officers trained can forget the information by the time the new system is up and running. This either kills the project or means you have to re-train.
9) Scope Creep Kills!
While not being seen to micromanage the project team, a chief must ensure a complete solution is actually achieved. In small agencies, the chief may actually end up being the project manager, while in the larger agencies, a chief can be completely hands off. The most common reason for most police computing projects is to transition toward a paperless business process that is more efficient.
If it's a mobile computing project with laptops in the vehicles, what is the ultimate goal of the project? What is the scope of that project? If true mobile report entry is the goal that means the officers rarely leave their assigned patrol area for report writing unless specifically required. This allows for higher visibility and quicker response times to priority calls-for-service. Is the scope of this project clearly defined? Or is it loose and vague?
10) Post-Implementation Review
A chief must also ensure success is measured. The best way to measure your success is through a structured Post-Implementation Review. This Review occurs typically three months after the close of a project. You should be able to describe the project's purpose, participants, process, and your project team involvement in the Review.
This Review has two key purposes. First, to determine if the business benefits and objectives of the project were met. Second, to determine if appropriate methodology, standards, and processes were followed, and what lessons can be learned to improve future project performance.
The chief must be careful to ensure the manner in which the review is conducted does not turn off people and discourage future participation by front line staff or employees who typically would not be involved in such a large project. It is usually best to stick with the Comment-Suggestion-Recommendation format. This allows the issue to be identified, suggestions made, and then a recommendation for future projects documented.
One of the most important things a chief can do is market the success of the project. Throughout the project, departmental communication should be frequent. After completing the rollout, the successes should be highlighted within your agency. Command staff commendations for the project team go a long way in reinforcing the agency's commitment to its people. Formal recognition for a job well done always boosts morale.
Sergeant Brad Brewer is a 22-year member of the Vancouver Police Department. He sits on the Ford Police Advisory Board and regularly gives presentations at law enforcement conferences on mobile computing, wireless technology and police vehicle ergonomics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in Law and Order, Jul 2012
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