Future-proofing your investment: 3 questions to ask when purchasing law enforcement mobile software

Don’t waste precious funds buying software that doesn’t align with the direction of the industry

By James Careless, P1 Contributor

As mobile policing continues to transform the way cops communicate, police chiefs nationwide are seeing the efficiencies of mobile devices within their agencies. They know that smartphones and tablets enabled by the right police-centric software can help officers do their jobs more accurately, efficiently and safely, all of which contribute to increased police performance, officer morale and community satisfaction.

However, these same chiefs are cash-conscious. They need to get maximum value out of every technology dollar they spend. This pressure translates down to procurement officers as an imperative not just to purchase tech at the best price, but with an eye to the future. If the law enforcement software they’ve purchased is unable to keep up with evolving departmental demands and tech trends, then this is money unwisely spent – and the chief will know it!

In today’s tight money world, it isn’t enough for mobile software to work properly for a police department.
In today’s tight money world, it isn’t enough for mobile software to work properly for a police department. (Photo/PoliceOne)

Here are three questions every procurement officer needs to ask and answer to ensure that the software they are buying is as “future-proof” as possible.

1. Is the software “future-proofed?”

Future-proofing law enforcement mobile software requires procurement officers to stay current with trends, while acknowledging future developments and incorporating those potential advances into strategic planning. 

FirstNet – the first high-speed, nationwide wireless broadband network dedicated to public safety – is powering the current mobile revolution in law enforcement, enabling mobile-first devices as an officer’s primary piece of hardware. Mobile devices will soon replace in-car laptops as an officer’s primary tool due to their capabilities, price, mobility and trends in software development. When procurement officers invest in mobile solutions, they are aligning an agency with the direction of the industry.

When law enforcement agencies purchase mobile devices for officers, the agency typically decides it is either an “Android shop” or an “iOS shop.” Ideally, an agency would purchase both Android and iOS devices so that officers can select the mobile device they prefer. However, not every software program you’ll want to buy works on both Android and iOS. It’s important to realize that the device platform you choose may reduce your choices later. A savvy procurement officer knows that investing in dual-platform software that works on both Android AND iOS keeps your infrastructure flexible and allows you to provide officers with the same level of device choice they are used to having when off-duty.

Future-proof also refers to hardware platforms. For example, investing in a digital evidence management platform that has an open API network is critical in order to allow multiple devices to communicate and exchange data with each other, as well as providing a plug and play option for other components. All procurement officers should be aware (and wary) of proprietary roadblocks implemented by vendors that are designed to restrict flexibility and growth.

  • Top tip: Will a proposed mobile software vendor invest the money and time to keep up with whatever hardware gains mass appeal, or hope that their clients will be content with what is current now? Before making a recommendation to the chief, a procurement officer needs to know.

2. How well does the software fit into our department’s existing infrastructure?

In today’s networked world, no software suite is an island. It must be able to be accessed easily over a police department’s communications networks (wired and wireless), and work seamlessly with the department’s full software portfolio.

When assessing mobile software options, a procurement officer needs to see if the product in question can “play well” with other software applications. If not, adding this software to the department could be a source of administrative grief and officer frustration.

Finally, the software needs to be secure; both to protect the data associated with its direct usage, and indirectly to deter data breaches in the department’s overall database. The last thing a department needs is for a new piece of weakly defended software to open their system up to hackers.

  • Top tip: Ask software salespeople to provide references from other departments using their product. This information should include email addresses and phone numbers so that these references can be contacted for honest opinions directly.

3. What can the software contribute to cost savings and revenue generation?

In today’s tight money world, it isn’t enough for mobile software to work properly for a police department. It should also contribute to the bottom line; both by saving officers time and adding to revenues if possible.

eCitations serve as a good example of mobile software done right, where one purchase offers maximum functionality. A smartphone and/or tablet-based eCitation software solution provides the capability for calling, texting, taking photos, recording video (some agency’s even use devices as their body cams), audio recording, searching the internet for research, and using Google Maps for directions and layouts. Such software also uses optical scanning, rather than manual input, which is proven to reduce time spent at traffic stops by 50 percent. Meanwhile, jurisdictions don’t lose revenues associated with legitimate prosecutions using this software, due to errors in manually inputted data that invalidates traffic tickets and citations. Plus it means one less piece of hardware an agency has to purchase and one less piece of equipment an officer has to carry.

  • Top tip: Mobile software should be sold and supported with clearly stated fees. Be wary of variable costs (a common one is data storage) as the last thing the chief needs is surprise expenditures that aren’t accounted for in the budget!

The bottom line

If a procurement officer takes the time to answer the above three questions when evaluating mobile software for law enforcement, they stand a much better chance of purchasing products that are truly future-proof.

Not only will this save their department time and money in the years to come, but it will also improve the departmental workflow and its level of service to the tax-paying public.

About the Author
James Careless writes on law enforcement and technology topics.

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