Photo courtesy Bob Galvin
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Before your agency purchases a new records management system (RMS), know that the software’s initial price tag isn’t the total cost of owning and using it. “You’re going to have to audit your own agency,” urges Lt. Jeff Spence of the Gahanna (Ohio) Division of Police. “The vetting process is very important. Get your agency’s smart people involved. Get input from property room people, dispatch, patrol officers in the field, supervisors, and records staff who have to process reports,” Spence says. “And hold the vendor accountable by making sure that what you’re buying is what you’re actually getting.” Otherwise, you’ll end up spending a lot more money and time than you intended.
Ask Hard Questions
Note: There’s a wide field of software vendors offering varying RMS packages and pricing. Also, RMS is one component of a solution that eventually may need to integrate computer-aided dispatch and mobile communications systems as well. These typically are priced separately.
Before you start combing through RMS vendors, their software and pricing, and inviting online and/or in-person sales presentations, it’s best to follow Spence’s advice about determining just what you need the software to do. Perform a thorough needs analysis. What capabilities must the software have? Who will use it? What will the software do for us, and what benefits can we expect? What will the cost savings and productivity efficiencies be? What’s our budget? Do we have proper IT support for the software once installed? What will maintenance and support cost, and are updates included? Are all of the modules we will need included in the initial purchase price or will some of them cost extra?
True costs are often more complex than they might at first seem. Chief David Seastrand of the New London (N.H.) PD (NLPD) tested an RMS software program that the state offered through a third-party vendor. A free trial copy of the software was provided to every law enforcement agency.
“We started looking at the program,” Seastrand says, “and asked what the additional cost would be to keep the system in place and to add computers to it, and what support and maintenance would cost. Then the cost quickly jumped into a price range that our department could not afford.”
Because the NLPD serves as a regional dispatch center for six other surrounding police agencies, it wanted to make sure these agencies could use the software too. After they observed the software work and the benefits they could derive from it, all the agencies decided to purchase their own Crimestar licenses. “It’s [the RMS software] developed into a great, large database,” Seastrand says. “All of our agencies share the software’s master name and vehicle indexes. The database has grown exponentially, and the agencies are sharing their own databases with us.”
Crimestar’s offer of a free 90-day trial, which is rare among RMS vendors, helped persuade them to buy the software. “That trial period allowed me to give the software to everyone and ask them to try finding problems with it,” Seastrand says. “It worked great.”
Adaptability, Integration: Essential
The Gahanna (Ohio) PD (GPD) knew that after suffering with its prior disparate and dysfunctional RMS, introducing a new RMS package wouldn’t be exactly turnkey. “You’re not only managing a change in your RMS technology, but a change within your agency,” Spence says.
Example: Whenever officers had to create and file a report under the old RMS system, they had to drive to the downtown police headquarters to do it. The TriTech solution enabled officers to handle this task in their patrol units.
Another advantage that GPD sees with its new RMS is its integration with the state public safety database. This means NCIC queries now are linked to the database. Also, the Ohio State Crash Report Form must be used by all Ohio police departments, which required that TriTech work with Gahanna to ensure that its RMS software would capture the needed information and put it in the right crash form format according to state guidelines. So far, these improvements have worked smoothly.
“We didn’t have a lot of dollars to spend [when the new RMS program was purchased] because we knew we needed to devote some of our budget toward the infrastructure needs—servers, equipment in the patrol cars, networking, and training,” Spence says.
The Crawford County (Ohio) Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) took a much different approach to selecting its RMS vendor. It devised a “request for quote” (RFQ) instead of using the typical request for proposal (RFP). Says Major Mike Castor, “We gave interested vendors the guidelines of what the program had to comply with and told the vendors to show us what their software would do and to give us a price on it.”
CCSO required that the database for its new software:
- Operate on its existing hardware and updated operating systems (servers);
- Be fully open, not proprietary; and
- Be compatible with the new 911 standard, as well as with other open database programs.
Still another mandate was that the RMS vendor be a sole-source provider for all portions of the total RMS Program System. “We did not want any finger pointing,” Castor says. “You need some foresight about where the RMS is going so you can grow with it. You don’t want to have to replace the system in five years.”
CCSO ultimately chose Alert Public Safety Solutions (Alert PSS) because it felt this choice would meet its desire for a countywide RMS system. As it turns out, the county’s fire department, which the CCSO was going to start dispatching, also was seeking a new dispatch system. So, before the RMS program was purchased, it was agreed that they’d cover the software’s cost for the law enforcement records management and the fire department would cover the fire records management. The dispatching cost and all other portions of the software program, which would be jointly used and shared, would be split between these two agencies.
RMS maintenance and support costs add up. So CCSO dictated terms as part of its RFQ. Specifically, it wanted the selected vendor to provide a guaranteed maintenance cost agreement covering the first five years, including a one-year complete warranty at no cost. They looked forward: “We also wanted an escalator agreement that after the five-year annual maintenance contract agreement expired, that this cost would not exceed a certain percentage each year (such as 3% a year) after that,” Castor says. Smart.
Lower Costs, Better Support
The Alstead (N.H.) Police Department is small, serving 2,000 residents. For years, it owned RMS software with a maintenance and support cost of $2,200 a year. This ultimately was unsustainable. According to Chief Marcello D’Allessandro, the department adopted the Crimestar RMS program and now pays only $300 a year for maintenance and support.
Functionality has improved even as cost plummeted. “With our last software program, we didn’t have the ability to put mug shots in with our reports,” D’Allessandro says. “That was extra. Now, with Crimestar, it’s part of the package. … If somebody wants a copy of a report, you can convert it to a PDF and e-mail it to him. We could not do this with our former program.”
Final thoughts: Learn from the experience of agencies around you. Plan for time to train your officers and dispatchers on the RMS software you chose. Ensure that your vendor is empowered and active in all aspects of the installation. “Remember,” Spence says, “you’re getting into a long-term marriage with your RMS vendor. Be sure you choose your partner wisely.”
Advice from the IACP
The vagaries of RMS software selection is so concerning that the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) offers some guidance in a document called the IACP/COPS Technology Technical Assistance Program.
Among the checklist items to consider, the report says, are:
· Training – Is training on the software needed? Ask vendors if this is included in the purchase price or extra. And what will the training comprise?
· Hardware – Items such as mobile data computers for patrol cars and workstations will probably be necessary. This is another cost that should be considered as part of your needs analysis before soliciting bids for RMS systems.
· Networking – Before your RMS program is set up, determine if there are any IT issues that will require extra funding. Aspects such as whether or not your jurisdiction uses commercially provided wireless networks are key. Also, do you have an internal network set up to run the RMS system? If it’s already in place, will it need to be expanded later?
· Software Maintenance – Once your RMS software is installed, it must be maintained and updated. So, plan on spending between 10 and 25 percent of the software’s original cost for maintenance. Ask your vendor what level of maintenance you can expect from your software, and if it includes free upgrades.
· Software Upgrades Not Part of Your RMS Upgrades – Your agency probably will need to run unrelated software on the RMS program, or it will be tied to it. Ask your RMS vendor if changes like this one will affect the RMS program in any way.
· Maintaining Hardware – Consider getting hardware, such as servers, for your RMS, unless the vendor provides this as part of a maintenance agreement.
· Network Expense – Factor in networking costs. No doubt, your law enforcement agency will need to connect its internal network to state crime information data bases and to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC).