By Superintendent Richard Finn, Information Services, York Regional Police, Newmarket, Ontario, Canada, and Member of the IACP Communications and Technology Committee
lmost all police services today look for the advantages that technology can deliver as they strive to stretch limited human resources in the delivery of services to their communities. Indeed, citizens, themselves swamped in a neverending sea of consumer electronics that make communicating and obtaining information virtually instantaneous, assume that police organizations will utilize those same technologies to remain efficient and effective. Of course, the wealth of technology readily available to the consuming public is continuously renewed and advanced through profit and reinvestment, as its providers must ensure that they remain competitive. However, these options are not generally available to most police services. It is with citizens’ expectations in mind that police administrators must choose and deploy technology carefully, bearing in mind that it is likely to be in service for many years and that core systems such as police records management systems (RMSs) and computer-aided dispatch (CAD) systems play vital roles in the effective delivery of service.
The information- and intelligence-led policing models of today place an emphasis on delivering timely, organized, and relevant information to front-line officers that provides them with the means for carrying out more thorough investigations without having to leave their patrol zones. Importantly, it is also recognized today that police information systems share appropriate data with other police services and institutions at all levels of government. The ability to do so efficiently must be engineered into new information systems and considered at all stages of system design.
These technology upgrades would form the core of the greatest business process changes that any agency members would see in their careers, and there would be no area of the organization to which members could go to escape the effect of these changes.
In October 2004, with these considerations in mind, York Regional Police (YRP) commenced Project IMPACT, a project to renew its RMS and CAD software. York Region is one of the fastest-growing municipalities in Canada, with a population that increased 258 percent during the 20 years preceding 2006, to 950,674. During the same period, the YRP staff also grew from 504 to 1,651 members. The existing PRC RMS/CAD software had been in use since 1986 and had been closely tailored to the needs of the service over the years. In fact, literally thousands of custom programs had been written for reporting, inputting, or extracting information, but its flat data and old technology could no longer satisfy new demands, particularly those of interoperability and sharing.
An indicator of just how massive the coming changes would be was the change in how occurrence reporting would be handled. Through direct voice entry, officers dictated by telephone the details of occurrences to records clerks within information management. This system had worked well for many years but had consumed increasingly more time and human resources as the size of the service grew. The newly selected Versaterm software allowed mobile report entry for frontline officers; this fundamental change in business practice was to be just one of the many made possible by technological advancements since 1986.
The YRP realized early on that replacing these fundamental systems would entail not just a large-scale technological change but also an organizational cultural change on a scale the agency had never previously experienced. These technology upgrades would form the core of the greatest business process changes that any agency members would see in their careers, and there would be no area of the organization to which members could go to escape the effect of these changes. In addition, the agency decided to implement the new systems quickly, with a target of July 17, 2005, for the RMS and November 6, 2005, for the CAD system. The vendor estimated a schedule for an organization of this size of 12–18 months for the RMS and an additional 6–12 months for the CAD implementation. Clearly, the agency required a carefully crafted strategy to meet such aggressive timelines while ensuring that service delivery would not be unduly affected and risk would be mitigated.
Leadership and Communication
Even small amounts of change within a police organization can and do generate considerable uncertainty and trepidation. This is most certainly the case where the changes are as fundamental as that of major systems renewal. It must be remembered that staff members whose performance is inherently tied to the organization’s information systems may at times experience feelings of insecurity and inadequacy. Senior managers must therefore create a supportive atmosphere that encourages staff to embrace change.
Recognizing the need to promote change, Chief Armand La Barge fostered from the outset a very positive atmosphere of acceptance of change; he was able to communicate a vision that embraced technology through both personal interactions with staff and also through existing internal-communication conduits such as the department’s E-Parade system. This early leadership interaction, supported by both deputy chiefs, was crucial in setting a tone within the organization that helped to ensure that members understood the role that new technology was expected to play and that the organization was committed to helping every member use it successfully.
The agency fostered communication to prepare members for the changes, challenges, and opportunities that accompany the introduction of new major systems. A newsletter was developed and published regularly on the agency’s intranet where members were encouraged to ask questions and make suggestions through an online information board. One concern agency members had was that the changes might result in job loss—which was never the case. Such impressions demonstrate the need to address issues promptly and in conjunction with members’ labor organization, where appropriate. Rumors and misinformation simply cause unnecessary resistance to change; therefore, the benefits of making accurate information widely available cannot be overstated.
Although it is important not to “oversell” new systems, the ability of leadership at the executive-command team level to embrace change is a critical factor for success.
The YRP decided to hire a project manager dedicated exclusively to facilitating implementation without affecting the daily operations of the service’s information technology (IT) department. The agency entered into an arrangement with the Regional Municipality of York to acquire the services of Bernadette Searle, an experienced IT project manager who was assigned at the time to the region’s emergency medical services department.
The agency then formed a steering committee, consisting of the deputy chief of administration (Eric Jolliffe), the superintendent of information services (the author), the manager of information technology (Ron Huber), and the project manager. Meeting almost every day, this deliberately compact group was empowered to make decisions and to do so quickly. Its makeup reflected the necessary administrative, operational, and technical expertise from within the service, and it also benefited from the non-police-related experience and perspective of its project manager.
The Project Team
The project team was designed to grow and shrink dynamically in keeping with the requirements of each project phase, but at its core was a permanent staff of 13 members. In addition to the project manager, it consisted of two database administrators, two business analysts, two application programmers, two training liaisons, and four police officers, but at various times the number of agency members actively involved in the team exceeded 30. The importance of selecting staff cannot be overemphasized; as a result, agency leaders hand-picked the core members for their abilities and especially their dedication. Only with exceptional personal dedication can an agency accomplish a project of this scale in such a short period of time.
By centrally locating the project team and housing it in the YRP facility in which team members could receive much of their training, the team as well as other agency staff involved in focus groups, solution evaluation, and training saved a great deal of time that would otherwise have been lost to travel.
Even for an agency exceeding 1,600 members, the project team represented a significant human resource commitment. Its size and quality also reflected the determination of the organization to ensure success.
Business Process Evaluation
In the initial phase of the project, the team conducted research to ensure that they understood all the current practices that the new products were designed to either replace or streamline. This required the team to familiarize itself with the new product and then test it for use in the local environment. It was interesting to discover that although other agencies in Ontario and indeed throughout Canada were already using the same CAD/RMS applications, the implementation of its features varied, sometimes significantly, from site to site. The YRP team combined internal subject matter experts with focus groups to test proposed solutions. The team kept meticulous records of these activities and then analyzed the results to ensure that the vendor customized the new product, where necessary, to meet the agency’s particular needs. Many of the decisions the steering committee had to make resulted from information obtained during these test sessions; such information was usually related to the adjustment of business processes. The agency took a relatively conservative approach toward business process change due to the general overall scale of change inherent in the undertaking. Although the agency could have viewed this occasion as an opportunity to make radical business process changes, such changes would surely have increased the likelihood of delays and created unnecessary confusion.
The agency performed this thorough and time-consuming process of course twice, once for the RMS and then again for the CAD system. At the same time, the vendor introduced several other software packages and wrote numerous interfaces to replace those that had previously been implemented as part of the 20-year-old legacy application’s in-house evolution. The construction of two major interfaces was anticipated: one to PeopleSoft, the YRP’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, and the other to the search engine designed to store and recover legacy RMS data. However, the scope of this parallel development turned out to be quite significant and considerably more involved than had been expected at the outset.
The project team faced a demanding task in “learning” the new software. Team members had to acquire sufficient knowledge to be able to assess the capabilities of the package accurately, appreciate the advantages or disadvantages of its implementation options, and prepare appropriate teaching documentation. The team has found that reassessing these decisions after implementation is advantageous to ensure maximum usability of the systems; as a result, this “tweaking” has continued since the system went live.
Unfortunately, it is easy to overlook the impact of training on overall success. Adequate training, an essential part of implementing any new technology, is an organization’s largest single commitment to ensuring the realization of the full value of a new investment in technology. Preparing instructional material, developing a teaching curriculum, and delivering this training in the classroom requires a significant outlay of staff time, material resources, and facility space. For this project, the team designated a combination of subject matter experts, technical trainers, and general training staff to prepare material and to train the “go-to” staff, who were selected from each unit and service area for their ability to understand the new technology and to coach their peers.
The go-to staff members played an important role on both “go-live” dates and in the days immediately thereafter. This held particularly true for the implementation of the CAD system, at which time they were able to render assistance quickly to agency staff experiencing problems as they attempted to log onto the live mobile interface for the first time. Although the agency had established a help line, available both by landline telephone and on a radio talk group set aside especially for this purpose, it was sometimes worthwhile to have a competent user nearby to help. It would have been very difficult for the four project team specialist officers to provide hands-on assistance to the almost 200 mobile workstation–equipped patrol units spread across the York Region’s 623 square miles. Some of the go-to members were also employed as classroom teachers just prior to going live, again taking pressure off the project team members at a critical juncture.
The YRP expended a great deal of time and other resources on the production of training packages, many of which were specifically customized for the particular duties of agency members. In this way, members were able to focus on the material most affecting their specific duties when the new systems went live. The project team also produced manuals in both a large, easy-to-read format and in a smaller, more portable version for use in the field; the smaller version was accompanied by a quick-reference card. The team decided to produce all these materials in color to enhance their readability and in editions specifically for either the RMS or the CAD system. Manuals were also published online and have since been made available to other services engaged in similar Versadex implementations.
Training 1,600 members on multiple occasions throughout a single year can both be expensive and lead to shift coverage issues. As an additional consideration, it is not feasible to train staff on software packages too far in advance of deployment, as the staff’s ability to retain this knowledge is likely to be low without opportunities to use it; therefore, timing must also be taken into account when determining the quantity of training staff will receive. The agency designed almost all training to be hands-on and trained staff members using the applications running on a development server. Lessons concluded with a quiz that was electronically recorded to provide useful feedback to both students and instructors. Many members required training on three or more software packages (for example, uniform patrol officers required RMS, CAD, and mobile report entry classes), whereas others required only a minimal amount of RMS training. In 2005, the agency provided a total of 438 classroom sessions of various sizes, delivering instruction to 3,175 students. Keeping track of classroom timetables was in itself virtually a full-time job, but by the end of the project, almost no overtime had been incurred, nor had frontline service delivery been significantly affected. The agency posted class availability on the intranet, and it was the responsibility of shift supervisors to ensure that all members received the appropriate types of training in their particular assignment.
The commitment to excellence through training continues today, and the addition of new staff members, staff role changes, and technological advancements since the system went live have required the training of an additional 1,375 students on various aspects of the systems in 190 classroom sessions.
The System Goes Live
Considerable planning went into the go-live dates of both applications. The switch to the new RMS was less dramatic and virtually flawless. Information management personnel had to operate both the new and the old systems for several months, but they appeared to switch effortlessly between them. The complement of each platoon increased during the first three or four shifts, and implementation project team members specializing in the RMS provided assistance. In reality, operating two RMSs simultaneously greatly added to the information management personnel workload and led to backlogs that later required considerable work to clear.
The CAD activation was, of course, a far more critical operation, requiring considerable contingency planning. The team supplied every involved member with an operational plan, and recovery and reversion routines were implemented and practiced prior to activation. The initial attempt at startup did in fact fail, although success was achieved shortly thereafter. Despite comprehensive planning, things can and do go wrong on such occasions, and any agency attempting such a transition must plan thoroughly for such events.
The End in Sight?
Both systems were operational by November 2005, and the implementation project officially ended early in 2006, to be replaced by a smaller business continuity unit. Otherwise, little has changed except for the scale of operations. Major technological projects benefit from the development of good business practice and the growth of mutual trust and cooperation with the vendor, which the agency was able to achieve despite seemingly impossible timelines. Project IMPACT has been recognized as a remarkable success, and it was completed in a time frame that even the vendor’s project manager, Jean Aube, thought unfeasible:
No question, this is the most timeline-aggressive project I have ever been involved with [Aube has been with Versaterm for 20 years]. One of the key reasons the time targets were met is the willingness of YRP to resource the project adequately; there are other factors, of course, but if YRP management had dug in and decided to do the project “on the cheap,” without adjusting both resources and expectations, it could have been a disaster. . . . In this case, the results of your decision are there for you to judge—from my perspective, a definite success.
In 2006, the project team received the Ontario Women in Law Enforcement Team Endeavours Award, and the steering committee received the Leadership Excellence Award from the Canadian Project Excellence Awards and Conference, which also presented Bernadette Searle with its Outstanding Project Manager Award.
The YRP’s new RMS and CAD systems have now been operational for over a year with excellent organizational acceptance and high reliability. Many users can now appreciate the true power of a modern RMS to provide more information independently than ever before. Officers have access to the latest mapping, automatic vehicle location information, and in-car mug shots along with new developments such as e-ticketing, voice response technology, and easy access to incident reports not only in the native RMS but also resident in the RMSs of other police departments via a new interface known as a police information portal (PIP).
Many factors contributed to the success of the YRP systems upgrade project, including not only strong leadership and the communication of a clear vision but also superior dedication and planning on behalf of the implementation steering committee and project team, who were able to obtain the enthusiastic participation of the vast majority of agency staff members.■