With Covid-19 negatively impacting Public Safety budgets for the next 2 to 4 years, it is critical that current software applications are fully utilized and implemented. While application software utilization has always been important, it is becoming critical that all of the capabilities of CAD, Mobile, RMS, Fire, EMS, Jail and other Public Safety applications are fully utilized. More often than not, agencies are using less than 50 percent of the features and functions built into the applications, and staff training on these applications is put on the back burner. Covid-19 has exposed numerous shortcomings in both process and workflow processes within departments, especially in areas that previously had sufficient staffing but now are short-staffed because of the virus. This staff shortcoming coupled with the increased hours needed to react to recent demonstrations and violence has caught many departments off-guard and struggling to meet normal day-to-day public demand.
The good news is that increasing process and workflow efficiencies through better application utilization. is an achievable goal. Not only can application utilization improve process and workflow, it can eliminate redundant tasks and reduce workload. Failing to fully utilize applications, on the other hand can lead to inefficiencies for in-house and field staff; result in endangerment of field personnel, limit management’s access to current and up-to-date information needed to make informed tactical and personnel decisions, and negatively affect budgets.
There are a number of factors that play a role in how application software is utilized including:
Application Knowledge and Live Implementation Environment
- Has staff been adequately trained on all application modules?
- Has staff been trained to proficiency?
- Has the staff embraced the application specific processes and workflows, or are they resistant to it?
- Has the organization implemented processes and workflows that work with the application flow?
- Is there a culture of ensuring quality data that is timely, accurate, relevant, objective and comprehensive?
- Is there a formal quality assurance/quality improvement process in place to ensure consistency and accuracy of data/information?
- Is there a crime analysis initiative with specific objectives to improve the collection of data that identifies trends, patterns, methods of operation and solvability factors?
- Are applications utilized to provide actionable information to management and in-house/field personnel?
- Is there an ongoing training initiative to bring all staff to the appropriate level of proficiency on all relevant application modules?
- Is the internal network fast, reliable and secure?
- Is the mobile network fast, reliable and secure?
- Are the applications at the latest release level published by the vendor?
- Are the workstations and mobile devices adequate to run the applications at optimum?
- Is there a long-term plan to keep workstations and mobile devices upgraded for optimum operation?
Improving Application Utilization
First and foremost a detailed assessment of the current state of application utilization has to be undertaken. While this sounds simple, it requires due diligence and an accurate assessment of how field personnel, in-house personnel and management are utilizing the applications. A current assessment should include the following:
- Is the data being collected in a timely, accurate, relevant, objective, comprehensive and actionable fashion?
- What is the time gap between the time information is collected in the field to the time it reaches in-house personnel and management?
- Are the time gaps acceptable for the various applications and situations?
- Is the information reliable as to provide management with information that can be acted upon immediately, or is the data stale and only useful for historical and statistical reporting?
- Do current processes and workflows adhere to agency expectation and policies/procedures?
- Is information flowing seamlessly between all of the applications such as CAD to mobile to RMS to Jail to Fire/EMS, etc. or are there duplicate data entry and manual processes that staff need to perform?
- Are report approval processes seamless and adequate to move reports quickly from CAD to mobile to RMS to dashboards, so that management can act on the information proactively?
- Are there any manual processes or workflows that have not been automated?
Once a current assessment has been completed, then an action plan can be developed to improve processes and workflows. Future planning should include the following:
- Identification of goals to be achieved with the plan and development of associated measurement criteria and implementation timelines
- Review of training programs that include initial training and ongoing/refresher training with curriculums, training videos and testing procedures that measure knowledge and proficiency, not just attendance.
- Assessment of all the technical aspects of the work environment, including workstations and mobile devices having the latest operating and application software installed, with the latest map updates.
- Development of a network stress test with IT to ensure that the network is providing adequate response times for the various applications including: CAD, mapping, field reporting, state/NCIC, body camera video feeds, automated license plate readers, etc.
- Conducting an assessment with department leads to review the current operational environment and identify process and workflow improvements that can be immediately implemented as well as ones that will need additional training or application change orders to accomplish.
- Developing a plan that includes a gap analysis of the current system utilization and compares it to existing features and functions of the applications to determine what changes can be implemented
- Identifying application functions that will improve agency operations and effectiveness, based on the gap analysis requirements verses features and functions not available through current applications.
- Creating operational plan that includes immediate, medium term and long-term initiatives.
Ongoing Departmental Practices
Below are recommend practices to keep applications current and fully utilized:
Monitor application software proficiency and utilization within the various departments:
- Define goals for the effective utilization of each application such as CAD, mobile, mapping, RMS, Jail, Fire/EMS, body worn cameras, dashboards, data analysis with graphs, reporting, etc.
- Measure each application’s effectiveness throughout the organization, including a review of the applications effectiveness and utilization on an annual basis.
- Develop an annual assessment document that provides recommendations and remedial actions to be taken to improve any deficiencies uncovered.
- Determine what application features and functions have not been implemented and determine their applicability to the agency, then develop a plan to remedy the situation.
- Work with each application vendor and/or consultant, to incorporate new or existing features/functions currently not utilized into the processes and workflows of the organization.
Maintain user proficiency in the use of the various applications:
- Develop new and ongoing application software training curriculums with video training courses. After the initial training curriculums are developed, they should be revisited annually to make any relevant changes based on new processes and workflows or new features and functions released by the application vendors.
- Train new and existing personnel through initial and on-going/remedial training programs, with proficiency testing to measure effectiveness and thoroughness of the training program. Annual refresher training with proficiency exams and remedial training could be implemented.
- Monitor application utilization and adherence to policies and procedures, assuming policies and procedures are up-to-date including an annual review of application utilization with an assessment and recommendations on how to improve processes and workflows.
- Develop internal department-centric user manuals and make them available online from a web portal or through the application itself. Manuals should be reviewed and updated on an annual basis, or whenever a new application release is installed.
Stay current with software updates and hardware upgrades:
- Ensure that application software is updated on a timely basis, typically shortly after an application vendor releases a new major software update. Work with each application vendor to determine their software release schedule and plan upgrades accordingly.
- Conduct a thorough review of all new application software releases/updates to fully understand the new features and functions being released and how they could be utilized within the organization. Develop a plan to incorporate features and functions with the most impact on the organization.
- Ensure that operating system, server and database software is kept current. An annual review of all operating systems, server and database software should be conducted and upgrades scheduled based on vendor’s release schedule.
- With today’s everchanging technology landscape, workstations and mobile devices should be replaced on a 3 to 5-year schedule, to ensure that end-users have equipment that provides response times in-line with the application requirements. Conduct a biennial audit of workstations and mobile devices to determine response times and throughput for each application.
- Monitor network performance and cellular connectivity performance to ensure response times and throughput is in-line with application requirements. Automated network monitoring software is available to ensure reliable and consistent network response time and throughput is achieved.
- Monitor firewalls and security breaches to ensure no un-authorized access or hacking is occurring. Develop a cyber-security plan to mitigate security breaches or hacker attacks. Implement an automated security breach monitoring program and conduct an annual or bi-annual independent security review to determine vulnerabilities and/or hacker attempts that might have been missed by the automated software, or in-house IT staff.
Maximizing application software utilization requires pro-active system management on an on-going basis. In our current pandemic environment budgetary and personnel constraints are having a significant impact on public safety agencies. We have witnessed first-hand the efficiency gains and staff morale improvements when application software is fully utilized. We have also witnessed the struggle to keep up with antiquated and manual processes/workflows that are inefficient and outdated, and that require additional personnel to maintain. Since manpower is the number one budget item for most agencies, the utilization of resources is probably the most effective way to mitigate budgets and provide the services expected by the public. Winbourne has conducted hundreds of assessments across the United States as well as globally, helping agencies improve both operational efficiencies and management oversight. We are dedicated to serving agencies in the pursuit of process and workflow improvements with the aim of reducing workloads and improving morale, while managing budgets. For more information, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.