Leaders in first response know information is powerful in fighting budget wars, managing daily operations, and protecting the department in lawsuits.
If you’re committed to this premise, then the challenge becomes how to collect and manage data during tough financial times. Recent U.S. census data indicates that state revenues have declined by an average of 31 percent since 2008. Furthermore, 63 percent of U.S. cities and 39 percent of counties are reducing their police and fire budgets. Times are tight, and unnecessary expenses must be curtailed or eliminated.
Fortunately for IT departments, technologies exist today that can help reduce costs, and improve service and security while doing so. We’re talking here about cloud computing. Instead of storing data and software for an application on a single computer or server, it’s stored on the Internet, so it can be accessed from any device with an Internet connection. Cloud computing is analogous to electricity: Most of us get our electricity when we need it from “The Grid”; we don’t store it in our garage.
Cloud computing is becoming increasingly popular with city and county government administrators because it provides a cost-effective alternative to operating a technology solution locally. For example, do fire department personnel need e-mail? Absolutely. Does running e-mail applications and servers support a fire department’s mission? Absolutely not. By turning to a cloud computing solution, departments can save money by reducing IT budgets and increase efficiency by allowing more flexibility in terms of access to the application. Additionally, software and security upgrades are handled more smoothly and with less expense than with a locally managed solution.
Security is a significant concern when it comes to data management. Every organization is duty-bound to protect the integrity of its data, and some technologies are inherently more secure than others.
So what would cloud computing look like for your department? At the heart of the matter is which software applications make the most sense, per dollar invested, to run online in a cloud environment versus running on a local network. For example, how about fire incident reports and records management for everything from occupancy inspections, hydrant flow-tests, apparatus maintenance, to training records? What are the daily operations that make the most sense to be managed online?
Take the next step and compare the key issues of managing these systems locally versus with a cloud computing option. For this exercise, I suggest keeping it simple and follow what Ben Franklin would do when making a decision. List all of the key points for something in one column and then do the same for the other item in a second column. In this comparison, you’ll have “local system” vs. “cloud-computing.”
The column titled “local” will include all of the costs associated with maintaining and securing the hardware, software, technical support, networks, data backup and anything else required for maintaining your data system locally. Under the “cloud computing” column, the typical costs will include a service fee, most likely based on a per-user rate, and the technical support may or may not be included.
In addition to the hard costs, there will be intangibles, such as the value of wireless 24/7 accessibility to your system. For instance, if we’re looking at a combo/volunteer fire department, what’s the “value” to the firefighters being able to complete incident reports from home with their families versus at the station?
If the cloud computing option makes it through this comparison, then it’s time to research the provider’s experience with relevant data management services, including their track record with up-time performance, security practices and procedures, backup/recovery processes, and what your options are for downloading your data for offline storage as a backup-backup plan? How good is the customer support? What happens if they go out of business?
All these are good questions because cloud computing is a growing trend and with all such growing trends, there are pretenders. You’ll hear about services such as “Webenabled” and “Web access,” which often prove to be poor comparisons to a 100 percent Web-based service operating as a true cloud computing model. Dave Adams is President and co-founder of Emergency Reporting, specialists in providing online fire, EMS and risk assessment records management and reporting services for fire and EMS agencies worldwide since 2003. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.