Steps for a successful mobile computing technology rollout
It is vital to ensure a smooth, orderly transition when rolling out new mobile computers in a police department
By James Careless
Whether installed in vehicles or used in the field, mobile computers (ruggedized laptops and tablets) are a boon to modern police work.
These devices allow officers to access everything dispatch has to offer in terms of assignments, situational awareness and records management. Mobile computers also allow field officers to write reports and other documents; reducing time spent driving to and from the station.
This said it is vital for police departments to deploy new mobile computers in a way that minimizes disruption to field officers and does not impair their ability to do their jobs in any way. Here's how to do it.
Find out what officers need
Mobile computers are meant to help police officers do their jobs more effectively and easily. So, before any procurement decisions are made, it is vital to find out what your department’s mobile computing needs are, and tailor your purchases in line with those needs.
Once the procurement department knows what officers need, this list should be checked with the IT department to determine priorities and what is/isn’t possible within the available budget. This assessment should then be checked with the officers/users to ensure that:
- The key points have been covered;
- Any changes made by IT to the procurement still serve the users’ needs.
Note: Any inducements from vendors to buy their products before the users’ needs have been collected/assessed should be politely but firmly deferred. This includes “bargains” that put price ahead of function. Police equipment has to be used for years before being replaced, so it is vital to buy the right equipment for the long haul.
Check the spec
The completed mobile computing needs assessment is used to develop a specification (spec) that can be sent to mobile computer vendors to solicit bids. But before this is done, check the spec against the department’s operational realities.
This entails finding out what space and power are available in departmental vehicles to mount new mobile computers to determine the parameters the new mobile computers will have to live within. The vehicle maintenance department should be consulted as well because they will have intimate knowledge of these limits. (The new machines should be fully compatible with the department's existing software and computer systems/networks.)
Contact the vendors
Once the spec has been verified and the budget has been confirmed, it is time to send the detailed specification to mobile computer vendors.
Ask these vendors about their after-sales support for the installation, troubleshooting and servicing of their mobile computers. Do they offer 24/7 support, including sending technicians to your department to provide help? Do they offer training for new users and IT staff? Do they have references from similar deployments (who should be contacted and checked)? These points should guide your decision – and price should not be the ultimate deciding factor.
Plan a phased rollout
When it is time to install the new mobile computers, take a phased approach; one where some cars get new machines, while others stay with their legacy systems. This will allow problems to arise – because there are always problems when implementing new equipment – and be remedied without compromising departmental efficiency and officer safety.
Map out this phased approach using project management software, with tangible benchmarks based on system performance and reliability built into the plan. Your mobile computer vendor should be able to help establish these benchmarks and offer assistance if there is trouble achieving any of them during the rollout.
At the end of the day, it is more important to achieve performance benchmarks than stick to the schedule.
There should be enough time, when rolling out new mobile computers, to allow for an orderly, calm transition between old and new systems. Don’t rush; even though the brass and their political masters may be demanding quick action to score points with the public. Too much is riding on police mobile computers to get things wrong!
About the author
James Careless is a freelance writer with extensive experience covering law enforcement topics.