Decision-makers in public safety organizations are inundated with emails and sales pitches, espousing the latest technology innovations and solutions. In a pattern of shrinking budgets and staffing, technology solutions can offer some relief. Then again, a misguided solution or poor implementation could easily exacerbate existing issues. Before deciding on a new or emerging solution, executives should explore the problem, the existing processes, and the real cost of implementation. Once the decision is made, assembling the right project team is imperative to success.
Identifying the Problem
It is often easy for an executive to focus on the symptoms rather than the real cause of the issue. For example, will technology solutions designed to enhance community engagement improve police and community relations? It depends. First, executives should examine the existing relationship, the level of organizational commitment, and the culture of the agency. Persistent issues in any of those areas should be addressed before turning toward a technology solution. Before proceeding, leaders should understand if the proposed solution is improving the symptom or addressing the problem. Public safety executives must engage the members throughout the organization to uncover the core problem for which a solution is needed.
Fit with Existing Processes
A stand-alone solution may solve the problem, but how does it integrate with other required processes or solutions? Technology solutions should improve inefficient and ineffective organizational processes not escalate them. The net effect of a scheduling solution that enhances a supervisor’s ability to manage their shift but doubles the workload of the payroll clerk would likely be less efficient. An executive should form a team of functional area experts to examine the current state and future state of the processes touched by the proposed solution. The team must also include IT professionals and functional leads in other departments impacted by the potential process changes.
“Goals and objectives should have a prominence even in smaller applications. Without them, the project could experience more pain points, budget overruns, and dissatisfaction among members”
Determine the True Cost
Sales and marketing professionals often promote technology solutions with attractive cost scenarios. Yet, the feature-rich version witnessed in the demonstration could be twice the expense. In addition to the cost of the solution, what other costs exist? An organization can experience hidden expenses such as additional staff time for configuration, implementation, and training. Likewise, an existing vendor may charge for their work associated with the solution integration with their system. The organization may need to upgrade hardware or components for a solution to work as advertised. Ongoing maintenance and support costs may be written in the fine print of an exhaustive contract. For large projects, an organization may opt for outside assistance like a third-party consultant to assist in the selection, configuration, and implementation; or a specialty legal advisor to review technology contracts. Both resources may save the organization from hidden expenses, but their help will come at a cost as well. A public safety executive should leverage the knowledge and experience of their IT professionals and others to help determine costs associated with integration, implementation, hardware, and more.
Building the Project Team
The real work begins after the solution is chosen. The best technology solution for any organization will only be as effective as the configuration, implementation, training, and utilization. The project team may be the difference between success and failure. A leader must choose members carefully with an understanding of individual strengths, weaknesses, knowledge, skills, and abilities. At-large member engagement and change management should serve as additional functions of the project team. Therefore, all project team members need not be technology wizards. The ideal team might consist of some members strong in technology, while others are in-formal leaders strong in engagement and change management principles.
Project Goals and Objectives
The placement of project goals and objectives at the end of the article does not minimize the importance of them. The discussion of project goals and objectives should begin as early as the problem identification step and should be clearly defined before the project starts. The project team should seek input from all levels of the organization concerning the current process challenges and expectations of the technology solution. Once established, the goals (the what) and objectives (the how) should remain at the forefront of the implementation and should be communicated regularly in the change management strategy. Goals and objectives should have a prominence even in smaller applications. Without them, the project could experience more pain points, budget overruns, and dissatisfaction among members.
The steps outlined above should be commonplace and already established in high performing organizations. Yet, anyone reading this can recall a time or times in which essential steps were skipped in the process, and the results were poor. Likewise, following the steps does not guarantee an experience free of challenges, but it does increase the likelihood of overcoming challenges and experiencing success.