How to conduct a needs assessment before purchasing evidence management software
Follow this simple three-step process before procurement
Picking evidence management software can feel overwhelming for even the most experienced agency. More features, more options and more vendors will always lead to more confusion during the procurement process. Picking the wrong software can lead to internal integration issues, complaints from officers and evidence staff, and loss of productivity. More importantly, picking the wrong software can lead to a case being dismissed or even civil lawsuits against your agency.
The easiest way to reduce these risks during the procurement process is to create a simple needs assessment worksheet tailored to your agency.
Below is a three-step process for creating a needs assessment before purchasing any evidence management system.
1. Assess your agency’s likes and dislikes
Each police agency is different. What works for one agency, may not work for another. Even agencies within the same jurisdiction operate differently and have different priorities in fighting crime. The first step in creating your needs assessment is to analyze your agency’s specific likes and dislikes about your current system.
Making a list of your agency's likes and dislikes is often overlooked during the procurement process. If your agency likes a feature from its current evidence management software, make a note of that feature and the reasons why you like it. If your agency dislikes a feature, make sure you note the reasons why.
Technology is supposed to make things easier, faster and more efficient. There is nothing more frustrating to front-line users than purchasing a new system only to experience the same problems as their old system.
2. Assess your agency’s musts and wants
The second step is to identify all your agency’s musts and wants. Start by identifying all the must-have features your agency needs. These must-haves are not optional. Multi-users, RMS integration and ease of use are often found on an agency’s must-have list. You will want to take your time on this step. Make sure you speak with the workers who are most affected by the new system and don’t forget to talk with your IT division.
After you identify all the must-haves from your agency, now it is time to have a little fun. Make a list of all features you want from a system. Fully customizable fields, colored graphs and charts, report extraction and multi-agencies capabilities may be on your list. This list should include everything that is optional but preferred.
3. Assess your vendor and product minimum standard
The third step is the most important and where even the most experienced police agencies make mistakes.
Every police evidence software, no matter the vendor, should have the following features. If your vendor is missing any of these items, consider it a red flag and ask your vendor additional questions:
Security: Your software must be secure from unauthorized users from both inside and outside your agency. Security is especially important with cloud-based and hybrid evidence management systems. If your state requires CJIS compliance – most states do – then make sure you pick software that reaches those standards. There should be some level of encryption and password protection.
Ease-of-use and time saving: Your evidence management system should be intuitive for front-line workers. Officers and evidence staff should not have to spend a lot of time learning new software. Excessive training can lead to the loss of valuable man-hours and frustration.
Accessible: Evidence management software has progressed rapidly over the last few years. Even the most basic software should allow your staff to access and manage evidence from various locations. Single-point or single-location evidence management systems are no longer industry standard.
Scalable: Your evidence management software should grow alongside your agency. As rules of evidence requirements change and the length of time that agencies have to hold onto evidence lengthens, picking software that incorporates these requirements is a must. As a rule of thumb, pick a software that can meet your agency’s needs for at least the next five to 10 years.
Customizable: Since every agency’s needs are different, choose a software program that is either fully customizable or semi-customizable. These customizable features should get you close to where your agency needs its software to be.
Integrity: Your evidence management software must be able to record the following data:
- Check-in/check-out location.
- Who checked out the evidence.
- Who returned the evidence.
- If moved while in evidence, who moved it?
- Who destroyed it?
Your program should be able to meet or exceed your state's required chain-of-custody requirements.
On-going support: Your vendor should offer ongoing support and training when needed. You should never feel abandoned by your vendor, especially during the integration phase. If your vendor does not offer support, you should avoid purchasing that software.
Picking the right evidence management software for your agency does not have to be overwhelming. Take the time to complete an agency-specific needs assessment before making your purchase. You will want to list all your agency’s wants, needs and requirements and list the minimum requirements set by the industry. Ask the vendor questions and always ask for references.