10/25/2012

5 mistakes to avoid when choosing a software provider

By Madeleine Roe
Special Contributor to PoliceOne

Researching vendors to fit your agency’s public safety software needs can be a daunting task.

You need a system that fits your budget without sacrificing your agency’s ability to serve the community safely and efficiently. In addition, you may be feeling the pressure to find a system that will meet your agency’s needs not just today, but also decades down the road.

Fortunately, you can save time, money, and your sanity by learning how to avoid five mistakes agencies commonly make when choosing a public safety software vendor.

Mistake #1: Failing to purchase a flexible, fully integrated software system that can be tailored to meet your agency’s needs
Knowing that a software vendor understands what you are looking for and has something to fit your agency’s specific — and potentially changing — needs is vital. Does the software enable you to customize the system through a variety of modules, system parameters, and interfaces? Does your vendor offer one fully integrated system, or will you need to rely on multiple vendors for components that may or may not communicate well with each other?

Plainsboro Police Department Chief Guy Armour knows how valuable having a fully integrated system can be, especially if it saves money in the long run. His department went through several different public safety software vendors that offered a lower up-front price tag but required expensive interfaces to connect disparate system components. The result was time and money wasted by testing different systems that simply didn’t work.

The department recently opted for a public safety software system that required a bigger initial investment but offered everything his agency needed in one integrated system.

Armour said that the agency will save money in the long run on redundant hardware expenses plus licensing, maintenance, and administration costs for multiple databases. In addition, the system allows the agency to decide which components and modules they need now, while giving it the ability to add additional components as the agency grows.
“Right off the bat, we are saving a lot monetarily going with one vendor,” he said.

Money isn’t the only thing that can be saved by choosing one vendor. Multiple vendors can also mean confusion about who is responsible should a problem come up.

“When we have technological issues, we’ll be saving time because we know the solution will be to call one maintenance number to fix any type of problem that may arise,” Armour said

Mistake #2: Not understanding the vendor’s upgrade process
The first step in understanding an upgrade process is to ask your vendor if upgrades and enhancements are included in the cost of the software package. Even if patches and upgrades to the current version are included at no additional cost, many software companies neglect to mention that customers will be charged for future versions of the software.

The world of public safety software is constantly changing and advancing. If your agency is required to pay for software upgrades, you could find yourself straining the budget to stay on the cutting edge of technology, or even worse, stuck with an older version that’s no longer supported.

Mistake #3: Investing in a software system but not receiving the training needed to use it effectively
If your agency is going to get the full value from its software system, personnel need to be trained on how to use it efficiently. Make sure to ask your vendor if it offers onsite training to get all users up to speed on the system.  Ideally, a vendor should also provide opportunities for ongoing training, such as classes for new employees and refresher sessions to ensure that existing personnel are using the software as efficiently as possible.

Lastly, don’t forget about customer support. How accessible is help?  From online resources to live help over the phone, you should have access to a level of customer support that meets your agency’s needs.

Mistake #4: Purchasing software only to have the vendor go out of business or discontinue the product line
Evaluating company stability is important if you are looking for a vendor you can rely on for years, if not decades. One way to evaluate a vendor’s stability is to look at its customer base. Ask vendors how many of their customers have been with them for 10, 15, 20, or even 25 years. A high rate of customer turnover often signals dissatisfaction with the product, whereas long-term customers are a sign that agencies are happy with the software and services offered. 

You should also ask if a vendor exclusively produces public safety software. By choosing a vendor that focuses solely on public safety software, you can be confident that the company is dedicating 100 percent of its resources to creating innovative and reliable products that your agency can use.

You should also ask how many versions mature a vendor’s software is, which can speak to its reliability and stability. It is also an indicator of how invested the vendor is in its product.  The more mature a product is, the more time and money a company has put into testing and developing it.

Mistake #5: Implementing a software system that does not allow you to share data within your agency or between jurisdictions
The Provo Police Department in Utah recently joined a consolidated software system that allows it to easily share data with 20 other agencies in its county. Sgt. Brandon Post said that the shared information allows the agency to analyze a wide range of data to stay ahead of criminals and crime trends.

“Criminals don’t have jurisdictional boundaries, so we have to work together to catch them,” he said.
Like the Provo Police Department, an increasing number of public safety agencies find the ability to share data between agencies critical to day-to-day operations. When considering various public safety vendors, you may want to ask yourself if there are personnel in the field who may be affected by not having access to real-time data from other jurisdictions on locations, warrants, investigations, and potentially dangerous individuals.

Being able to securely send and receive data between agencies has the ability to transform public safety tactics from reactionary to more proactive, intelligence-based policing, which increases efficiency and productivity.

At the end of the day, just remember that choosing a public safety software vendor is a difficult task, and your agency should take the time to find one that fits its specific needs.  Keeping these five things in mind and asking the right questions will help you avoid costly mistakes while ensuring that your agency gets the best public safety software system for its investment.


About the Author
Madeleine Roe is the Marketing Writer at Spillman Technologies. She can be contacted at mroe@spillman.com.

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