By: Brendan O’Brien
Given the number of two-way radio options on the market, it’s no surprise many vendors are working to develop comprehensive, all-encompassing emergency communications solutions. And while the prospect of having one provider supply all of your agency’s telephony, radio, and data collection technology might sound like a great idea, it’s imperative to understand how this choice will impact your agency in the long run.
Before you commit to any one solution provider, make sure your vendor addresses how they plan to account for, and handle, the following three issues.
Some solutions work great with other products from the same vendor, but don’t play nearly as well with systems from others. This factor alone could pose a problem as today’s emergency services agencies no longer operate on closed-loop systems.
Depending on the incident or event, agencies may need to facilitate communications across various functions, disciplines and operating levels. Consequently, having a communications system that supports cross-agency information sharing, interoperability and integration should be non-negotiable. And while “interoperability” is a favorite buzzword in the sales brochure for public safety solutions for this reason, it’s definitely not a term that’s created equally across all vendor solutions. Be sure to fully evaluate any solution’s ability to technically work with other systems you have and aren’t ready to abandon. Talk to other agencies that have deployed and integrated the solution with other systems to understand how big the lift will really be for it to work the way you’re intending. This is especially true if a forklift upgrade of all your systems to a single vendor platform isn’t in your near-term plans.
Another problem with vendor-lock is the rapidly changing pace of public safety technology. While your current solution may be leading edge today, will it support the demands of tomorrow? With the rise of Next Generation 9-1-1, digital technology, and FirstNet, can you be sure your communications solutions will continue to integrate with newer platforms and support connectivity throughout the next decade? If not, it’s time to consider other options.
After all, with all the budgeting hurdles, procurement hoops, and scheduling hassles your agency may have endured to secure this new solution, the last thing you’ll want is to do it again in just a few years.
Plain and simple: It’s paramount to know how long your vendor will support your solution. Besides knowing where the system and related equipment is in its lifecycle, you should also ascertain your vendor’s plans for system maintenance and upgrades. Ask for a guarantee that clearly spells out how your system will be maintained and supported. Documentation should include information about system warranties, preventative maintenance and repair services, parts availability, updates and upgrade handling, technical support and projected lease or ownership costs.
Although it may be tempting to go with a vendor that can supply you with all the items on your wish list in a single platform, that choice could lead to lengthy and expensive headaches down the road. This is especially true if your agency needs to replace a single component of the solution in the future. You should always examine how your vendor’s seemingly comprehensive system will support your agency’s current needs, as well as its capacity for future growth and change.
Looking ahead, whichever vendor you choose, make sure they are committed to providing you with manufacturer-agnostic solutions based on open standards that will help improve operations without painting you into a technology corner. After all, emergency communications tools should be customizable and configurable to suit your agency’s needs—not your vendor’s.