Treading the Waters of Mobility
Mobility, especially in public safety environments, is a heavy concept these days…with many permutations. Every law enforcement magazine includes articles about mobility – its importance, and how organizations are using mobility to improve efficiencies or effectiveness. The overarching goal of mobility is greater community service, while the objectives are enhanced data access, faster and more accurate incident documentation, and greater intelligence-led decision-making. It must be good then, right?
Take a moment to consider the scope of mobility. Cell phones, tablets, laptops and devices that blur the lines can use Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, cellular, microwave, satellite, copper, and/or fibre to access the Internet, a “cloud,” an intranet, a network, other mobile devices. There are so many options.
The more “police-centric” these devices are, the greater the cost because they are ruggedized to survive time with patrol officers in various climates and rougher than normal treatment. And don’t forget, the devices and the system must compatible and secure enough to access to federal, state, and local data systems.
Because there are so many different types of products, services, software and integration methods, putting together a viable mobile solution that can handle a law enforcement environment is not simple. The widespread adoption of consumer mobility solutions adds to the confusion because everyone in your agency believes they are a mobility expert. This complex environment can be frustrating for IT professionals trying to implement responsible mobile solutions…but frustrating does not equate to impossible.
When I was a rookie police officer, my Field Training Officer was very clear about how to handle a call for service: know where you are, know where you are going, know the type of call you are responding to, and know the safest route to get you there (so you don’t become a part of the problem). This advice is just as important in technology implementations as it is when responding to a domestic violence call.
Before you start your mobility project, know your current environment and your budget. Understanding your environment is critical to understanding what you need (and what you can afford) to take your organization to the next level.
Next, visualize the end result. It might take time, but knowing what you want will help fight the temptation to follow expensive rabbit trails.
Then, learn about the technology you will need to achieve your mobility goals. This can be a “trees for the forest” problem, confusing individual systems with the overall mobility solution your organization desires.
And finally, find trustworthy consultants and cultivate internal experts to determine the safest path to achieve your mobility goals. Technology missteps can render a project defunct all too soon. Media coverage is rife with tales of government agencies attempting to achieve what appears to be a straightforward technology, only to flounder and waste valuable resources.
Mobility is a word full of potential and promise, and mobility technologies can be significant force multipliers in public safety organizations. We can learn a lot about practical project management from field experience.
Acting Deputy Chief
Westminster Police Department, Orange County, Calif.