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Better Planning Means Better IT Investment

Written by Stephenie Slahor

Better planning, budgeting and forecasting can mean a world of difference in your agency, if you’re making the right information technology (IT) investments. In this economy, it is wise to research the impact of cost controls and budget cuts. Such analysis, management and decision-making help achieve the best return on your agency’s IT investments while getting a reliable IT system that meets the agency’s needs.

Begin by working with the right people. Competitive bidding must be just that—competitive. See exactly what is being offered and how it compares to other bidders’ proposals. Those are your right “outside” people, but also consider the right “inside” people in your agency. You want input, coordination and understanding from those who do not suffer from organizational “resistance” to change. You also want those whose IT knowledge (and willingness to learn) is stellar.

Technology is a vital part of public safety and working with the right people will help you plan better. Your agency’s IT investment is made to help close a technology gap, but not only should you focus on the money that will be spent, but also the “culture” of your agency. Cost containment is fi ne, but you are the money manager and you must look at performance, too. Just as a business analyzes its profi tability, you have to analyze performance data so that you can review what has happened, forecast where things are headed and contribute to the decisions that will adjust the course being taken.

IT helps you dig for information and that can assist you in both good and bad economic times. Even if your agency is not at its previous spending levels, you can manage the recession and cutbacks if you use your data coupled with planning and forecasting. For that, you need quick access to data through the necessary IT and software. That allows data to remain high-quality and useable and permits decision making based on the best knowledge.

Good IT lets you move away from manual entries and time-consuming methods of performance reporting to highlyautomated processes that give your agency’s senior leaders the information they need for forecasting, operations analysis and budget decisions.

Your agency should have an IT strategy and the budget, time, people and methods for its implementation so that there are shared understandings and communications among the finance, operations and IT sections of your agency and/ or municipality. Launch an integrated IT solution that can drive your planning and shift your work from mere data gathering to full and relevant data analysis.

When selecting vendors for IT, know whether what you are getting is what has been demonstrated to you. Be fully informed and well versed in what is available and what “package” is being offered to your agency. You don’t want surprises! Walk through all the end-use and technology requirements that are anticipated. Research potential vendors, attend conferences or conventions that present a variety of exhibitors selling what you need and then rate the vendors.

Comments from your peers in other agencies can also be helpful. Be focused. Know your data and reporting goals and select what best matches your needs. While “gut feel” decision-making sometimes works in other situations, it won’t work here. You want an IT system that gets your raw data into its most useable form for reports, forecasts, planning and allocation of resources decisions.

When an IT system has been selected, have a core team attend the vendor’s training sessions. Limited experience in the system can hamper its full effectiveness so be sure the key people and end users are trained and that an informationdriven “culture” is formed to support the capabilities for the insight and action that can result from better analysis. 

Stephenie Slahor, Ph.D., J.D., writes in the fields of law enforcement and security. She can be reached at drss12@msn.com.

Published in Law and Order, Jul 2011

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