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Shrinking budgets spur creativity in public safety IT

Nancy Gohring | March 15, 2012
Shrinking budgets have driven many public safety organizations to focus on wringing value out of existing IT implementations and take a close look at whether new technologies actually make sense.

Shrinking budgets have driven many public safety organizations to focus on wringing value out of existing IT implementations and take a close look at whether new technologies actually make sense.

"The more we spend on ICT, the less efficient we become," said Simon Parr, chief constable for Cambridgeshire Police in England. He spoke Wednesday during the Public Safety Symposium hosted by Microsoft at its Redmond, Washington, headquarters.

As an example, he referred to an investment in his department to digitize recordings. "It's just a different version of electronic paper because it will just get typed out," he said. The recordings are sent away to someone who transcribes them. "Why not just write it down in the first place? When I used to do that, they were immediately ready," he said. Now, he has to wait for the transcription before he can review the contents of the recording.

Organizations like his have to now think very carefully about implementing such technologies because their budgets are under pressure. "The economic reality around the world is austerity. There's no money to spend on new technologies," he said.

He's been charged with cutting £20 million (US$31 million) from his budget and has pledged not to cut any constables in the process. That means he has to figure out how to help them work smarter, not harder, and how to make existing investments pay off, he said.

Vendors have a role to play in this process, he said. The role of the industry is to "stop selling us things you know we don't need," he said.

Because of budget pressure, he can afford only to spend money on IT if it maximizes the spending he's already made, he said. That means vendors can either get a little money out of him to help do that, or they'll get no money from him at all, he said. "I will spend more with you but only when I've driven out every penny of what I've already paid you," he said.

He's not alone. While in past years, public safety organizations built two or three year IT planning windows, now those windows are five to seven years out, said Jeff Vining, an analyst with Gartner. "It's rationalizing the existing portfolio, using what you have," he said.

One way Parr suggests that vendors can help him make better use of existing investments is to integrate existing products. He envisions a better way to use existing Microsoft products he already uses including Bing Maps, Exchange, Outlook, Dynamics, Sharepoint and Windows mobile devices. "What I've started to do is look at all of this and say, let's see what we can do with it," he said.

 

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