Over my career, I have been exposed to hundreds, if not thousands, of public safety departments. Each has its own nuances, but overall the mission is the same. However, the thought processes of how and what software to use varies dramatically. Some departments select software based on what others are using in their area, some will use a formal process, and others will use a combination of methods to find what they believe will work best for them.
Regardless of method you use to select a solution, one major factor I do not find many agencies considering, is the total cost of ownership. Your annual license and support is just one of the equations in the true cost of your system over its life expectancy. It will surprise you, once you take the following into consideration, what your software solution will truly cost your agency, even if it was purchased through a grant.
With any new software, there will be additional soft and hard costs to implement the system. Many departments do a fair job of recognizing and planning for these costs. However, the year over year cost is what I will be focusing on.
Ongoing Training – how many hours must you dedicate to this? I recently came game across a budget for a department who spent an unusual amount of money for ongoing software training. After doing some research, I found this to be common practice for a number of agencies, even though it was not a budgeted item.
Additional IT Resources – typically, with tightened budgets, IT resources are at a premium. If the software you select places a burden on your IT resources, you may have additional internal or third-party costs that have not been budgeted.
Interface Support and Maintenance - like many agencies, your department may need interfaces to state, federal, and other solutions already in place. What will be the cost to update and support these interfaces? How much of your staff time will be involved?
Data Management – what tools or services does your software vendor provide for maintenance tables, data integrity, and data back-ups? Do you have the manpower and/or budget if these data management process are labor intensive?
Hardware and Required Third Party Software – again, many agencies are good to plan and budget for this in the initialization of a new software solution. However, depending on your software provider, they may require ongoing hardware and 3rd party software upgrades that are very costly.
Software Version Upgrades – is there a cost from your vendor for their latest software release? If so, how often do they provide them and what will be the financial impact to your agency?
Ease of Use – how many hours are spent each day from end users trying to fumble through the software, connecting to required applications, and syncing systems?
Etc., Etc., etc….
Overall, I am shocked at the amount of time and resources that agencies spend in keeping their software solutions afloat. Shouldn’t your software be an operational support tool? It is not uncommon, especially in larger departments, to have 2 or 3 people dedicated full-time to maintain their public safety software system. Wouldn’t those resources be better spent elsewhere, like their field of expertise?
Now ask yourself; do we own our software or does it own us?