Estimated reading time: 17 minute(s)
By: Kevin Eckhardt
Like boarding a roller-coaster, upgrading your communication center can be equally thrilling and nerve-wracking. Just when you think you’ve finally overcome funding and approval hurdles—you realize the real ride is only beginning.
Despite anticipating this moment for months, there is nothing like holding your breath as your project inches closer to completion. And while Tylenol and Tums are on the menu at every call-taking and dispatch center in the country—you shouldn’t have to order industrial size bottles, to make it through the migration and implementation phase.
Like any project, meticulous planning and consistent communication are the keys to a seamless transition. In the spirit of helping you transform plans into action, here are five simple strategies to keep your team on task and your project pain-free.
Define Clear Objectives
Establishing realistic goals from the beginning will help you avoid added stress. By the time your project starts, you should be clear on how the system will adapt to your current and future needs.
Will your new console and CAD system have the capacity to handle upcoming enhancements such as Next-Gen 9-1-1, real-time reporting, regional data-sharing, and FirstNet capabilities? If not, consider how upgrading these systems at once may save time and money, as opposed to multiple implementations and staff displacements. Conversely, if the budget isn’t there to complete all of your upgrades, look for a communications vendor that supports modular or stepped integration.
Likewise, now is also the time to think about accessibility and lighting modifications. Often you can subsidize this work with strategic sources of funding. For example, if you are making any structural improvements to the facility, check with your municipality on the availability of internal maintenance crews to complete tasks such as painting or flooring refreshments while the room is free of personnel.
Ideally, your agency should discuss these elements before inking any proposals. However, if you realize you’ve forgotten something, altering plans in the early stages will help you avoid friction and stumbling blocks in the future.
Communicate Early and Often
Regular meetings with both agency committees and vendors are a must for confirming everyone is on the same page. As communication professionals, this step may seem obvious, but it’s often overlooked amid the dust and disorder.
Multiple work crews drilling and stringing wires in all directions can wreak havoc on scheduled conversations. Nevertheless, making time to gather contractors, equipment vendors, and agency leaders at the same table, is critical to ensuring continual movement and overall project cohesion. As the project progresses, dependencies, deliveries, and scope modifications should all be revisited and discussed to prevent unwelcome surprises.
Above all, remember to designate one internal manager to communicate with vendors, synchronize trades, oversee timelines, and report on targeted progress.
Allow Flexible Scheduling
Coordinating time to complete work in unison while minimizing disruption requires precision organizational skills. But what happens when inclement weather and shipment delays upend your strategy? Of course, in a perfect world, this would never happen. Unfortunately, plans change more often than not. If you want to escape with your sanity, you’ll have to be ready to navigate the dips.
Developing a schedule with built-in flexibility ensures each trade has time to complete tasks and provides a buffer to compensate for delays or dependencies. If you’d like even more control, consider downloading a free program like Google Sheets or a trial version of your favorite project management software. Using tools like these will enable you to view an instant snapshot of your progress and help map out your strategy from onset to completion.
Minimize Risks and Challenges
Before setting up interim operations, make sure your backup center accounts for mission critical operations and addresses employee needs. While space may play a role, keep in mind both temperature and maneuverability can impact your team’s ability to work effectively. In the same respect, excessive heat or circuit usage may contribute to equipment losses and unexpected downtimes.
In mapping out your schedule, consider how work interruptions or power failures will affect systems-specific migrations, such as ANI/ALI data, CAD records, paging plans, or unit identifiers. As a failsafe, make sure your staff is aware of your agency’s backup plans for these systems.
Equally important, if you are relocating older equipment to the backup, understand there is a good chance these components may break due to their age.
In hindsight, it may be wiser to install the newer equipment at the temporary location. Doing this accomplishes two tasks. First, you will have time to test each system completely before taking anything offline, and second, your staff can learn to work with the new programs outside of live operations. Not to mention, moving cloud and computer-based technology requires fewer hands. Plus, it’s easier to bring on and offline.
Test, Implement and Improve
When switchover day arrives, consider migrating one workstation at a time. Conduct stress tests on data and power redundancies, checking components one by one to ensure operational continuity. Essential functionalities such as radio correspondence, CAD data, 9-1-1 voice, and location verifications should also be vetted before giving technicians the green light to leave.
Bear in mind, that user interfaces and screen configurations, might not be perfect at this point. Adjusting these elements will require some trial and error before you settle on a permanent setup. Your solution provider should be happy to make any accommodations to help ensure a seamless transition. Before conducting the final walkthrough, make sure your vendor is clear about continued expectations.
After the execution phase, it’s time to take a breath and admire your work. Well, at least until the next emergency. Moving forward, remember to keep track of warranties and expiration dates. Establishing an ongoing relationship with a trusted solution provider will help ensure your dispatch center stays mission-ready and future-proof.
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