Four ways IT leaders can disrupt public safety with new tech
Most industries, from education to manufacturing, are inundated with technical solutions. But there's one space you'd be surprised is still firmly in the 20th century: public safety. That's right, your cops and EMTs are running software that was cutting edge in the early 2000s. This means a few things for the IT industry.
First, it means these groups are facing a massive and necessary upgrade cycle. That translates into a significant opportunity for those interested in the first responder market.
At last count, there were about 18,000 police stations and 6,000 hospitals in the U.S. alone. Each of these installations consists of thousands of terminals, servers, and mobile devices. Most police cars have mobile computers in the dash, and EMTs run laptops or tablets with a UI/UX that came straight out of the greenscreen era. It's not pretty.
And it's dangerous. In many cases, police triage calls and avoid arrests to prioritize their patrol times. For example, police we interviewed would rather not arrest nonviolent but potentially dangerous suspects because each arrest, documented on a system from the early 2000s, required four hours of work. In other words, policing wasn't being done because the software was too slow.
What Does the Industry Need?
Public safety sat out the last round of upgrades to stay safe. The tools they used worked "good enough," so there was no reason to rip out a rugged laptop or add a new server. Further, most police departments and other first responders don't have a dedicated IT department. This made upgrading akin to walking a tightrope: sometimes you made it across, but more often than not, you ended up with a broken system that kept your cars and trucks off the road. A single failed update could sink an entire precinct.
But "good enough" isn't enough when it comes to public safety. Here are four ways you can help the industry find success through tech disruption.
Help them embrace the cloud (even in a slow and steady way). The future of IT in public safety is cloud-based. The current client-server model used by most first responders is dangerous and ready to topple. Status quo is forcing most managers to upgrade already broken hardware and software in an unending cycle. This means most hardware is on its last legs before the next planned upgrade.
However, with a cloud solution, public safety managers don't have to worry about real upgrades. In fact, they may be able to squeeze a few more years out of old terminal hardware as long as they understand the limitations. Modern hardware can send GPS coordinates back to base, record every interaction, and easily manage office dispatching. An old tablet or two kicking around in that mix isn't ideal, but it's possible, and this slow and steady upgrade to the cloud is a way to save money over the long run.
Help them use what the officers already have. Most officers and EMTs carry powerful computers in their pockets. Uber drivers can pick up hundreds of passengers a day, yet officers can basically only use their phones for YouTube while on break. Why not use their own tools to enable messaging, notifications and mapping? This reduces the overall costs for managers as they upgrade. Cloud solutions and lightweight apps can turn any officer into a single-person dispatch system. Also, security is so tight on these devices that there is no reason to think twice about connecting.
Help them understand the cost and opportunity of upgrading. Upgrading a public safety organization's IT systems can save employees time and money. First responders using newer hardware and software are more efficient and more likely to do the right thing regarding process management and decision making. In short, it controls the chaos most first responders face daily. Thanks to advances in cloud technology and commodity hardware, the cost vs. opportunity for most managers becomes far more interesting and affordable than ever before.
Help them just do it. As an IT professional, your insight and experience are essential in helping these thousands of precincts and hospitals make their decisions. It's well worth your time to make your mark in public safety. Why? Because when you help the officer or EMT on the streets, you're not only improving their lives but also fixing the problems plaguing citizens nationwide. Tech upgrades are scary for them, but with your guidance, it doesn't have to be.
Peter Quintas is the CEO and co-founder of SOMA Global, responsible for driving product and platform development, defining business goals and executing through growth, and for general operational and financial health. Over the past 20 years, Peter has held executive and CTO positions in several technology companies such as Nomi, InterAct Public Safety Systems and True Systems. His experience and expertise has been focused on high-growth businesses in enterprise software and launching innovative technology solutions.