Anyone who has ever been around the process of purchasing software or technology services has heard the software acquisition horror stories. They go something like this:
- After X months/years of study
- After handing over X thousand/hundred-thousand dollars to consultants
- After X months/years of an RFP process
- After X months/years of implementation effort
- After spending X thousand/hundred-thousand/million dollars
- The We-Thought-It-Was-A-Good-Idea-At-The-Time software is scrapped.
Not a happy ending. No matter the amount of time or dollars, that ending hurts. The 2009 CHAOS study found that there has been a marked decrease in project success rates, with 68% of all projects failing to be “delivered on time, on budget, with required features and functions".
So what happens? It all starts out with the best of intentions and then something goes horribly wrong. Even if it does not end in a Techno-Mulligan (a do-over for you non-golfers) or an IT equivalent of the French Revolution, there are other levels of semi-failure available depending on how poorly the solution meets user needs in the end, how little it gets used, or how much extra time and money it took. So what can you do to make sure your project has a happy ending?
I had the pleasure to interview David Roberts last week. Dave is the Senior Program Manager of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) Technology Center. He has served as Principal of Global Justice Consulting and Director of the Justice & Public Safety Practice-Global Public Sector, for Unisys Corporation. Dave also spent 17 years as Deputy Executive Director of SEARCH, The National Consortium for Justice Information and Statistics. He is a frequent speaker on justice information technology and integrated/joined-up justice both in the United States and abroad, and a published author. Dave holds graduate degrees in criminal justice from the State University of New York at Albany and Oklahoma City University. We talked about how to have happy endings when it comes to software projects in public safety.
The first question for Dave was - what kinds of software applications can make the biggest impact in public safety?
“The high volume, high business value solutions” Dave said. One law enforcement example Dave talked about is software and solutions that will help officers in the field get positive identification of people they are talking to. “Any time you can put in the hands of officers technology that allows them to immediately establish or verify identify, that is crucial” Dave said. Getting timely, accurate, and complete information in the field, especially location-based services through mobile and multi-functional devices (like Smartphones), is another high impact solution Dave likes.
Dave pointed out that to understand which operations are high volume and high value you have to measure things. It all starts with good performance measurement and management (PMM), no matter what public safety agency you are with or what department. If you have effective PMM going you can identify the high volume/high value operations and where a little sprinkle (or a heavy dose) of technology may be able to improve outcomes. This will also help you discover what kind of ROI a solution might bring to the table.
Another key for happy endings is to start with a clear idea of the operational needs or requirements involved. Software solutions are tools, they support the operational mission. Don’t become the pawn of technology or chase “shiny things”. Technology supports the business practices and policies that are in place (are they good ones?) – understand what technology can and cannot do for you. There is no software in the world that can fix poor operational practices. Look at your operational priorities and requirements and you will find the value and the problems that need solving.
Dave also pointed out that there are two justice systems – one that moves people and cases, and one that moves data and information. This may apply to any public safety agency. One system carries out the operation mission while the other supports the mission and informed decision making by moving data and information. I’ve heard it said that data and information drive emergency response. It drives more than that. But the key here is to have a strategic plan for your agency and a strategic plan for IT support of that plan.
So you can increase the likelihood of a happy ending if you can answer at least these questions:
- What is the problem you want to solve and why – what is the outcome you want?
- How are you going to measure it?
- What is the estimated ROI?
- What are the priorities?
A couple more tips include:
- Break larger projects into small chunks (you might break down a multi-year project into 3 month development or delivery cycles)
- Make sure you have the right mix of people with Project Management, IT Management, and Operational knowledge and experience.
One resource law enforcement agencies can tap for help is the IACP Technology Center which is designed to function as a comprehensive resource for law enforcement agencies and IACP Members in planning, implementing and managing technology to a) improve public and officer safety, and homeland security, b) enhance the effectiveness of operations and the efficient use of resources, and c) support and encourage the professional development of law enforcement personnel, public safety agencies and IACP Members.
Technology programs addressed by the Center are broadly arrayed, ranging from Automated License Plate Readers (ALPR), in-car cameras, and biometric identification technologies to national information sharing initiatives such as the National Data Exchange (N-DEx) program and the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative (NSI). In each program area, the Technology Center provides technical insight and expertise, rigorous analytic and research capabilities, and practical experience and operational support to ensure that technologies are effectively implemented and managed, and that they meet the day-to-day needs of law enforcement practitioners.
You can contact Dave at is firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have a software acquisition story to share, happy ending or not, I would love to hear about it.
Hope this helps.
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