Why Switching Software is So Difficult, and How to Make It Easier

There are plenty of reasons a public safety organization may wish to switch software systems. Current tools may be too old or expensive to continue nominally enhancing operations; the system may not be set up to be able to see data across multiple datasets; the organization may wish to use something capable of better interplay across various systems; or it could simply be that the current solution, while modern, fails to live up to the promises salespeople offered to that organization.

However, while the benefits (and needs) might be apparent, making a vendor change is never as easy as deciding to switch—particularly in the public safety industry. How hard would it be for your organization to change the “simple” email program employees use for internal communication? What about the scheduling software managers use to ensure people are there for day-to-day tasks? The effort and expense you’re imagining only grows as the complexity of the solution and the organization’s dependency on it do—making big moves an intimidating prospect. Change management is difficult, but with budget challenges and demands for more accountability, sometimes the only way to gain efficiencies is to leverage technology that can serve as a force multiplier.

The challenges to changing systems

If you are evaluating your existing software and provider, the challenges to migrating to a new system are likely familiar.

Budgets and approval

This challenge in particular can be anticipated by anyone in the public safety sphere: getting someone—anyone—to open the purse strings. And, of course, you can’t justify a purchase if the money isn’t there at all, making basic budgetary concerns a major roadblock for some organizations. It’s a fair bet that the budget will be top of mind prior to a software change.

While the cost of a new software system is always a concern, it is much more difficult when the ones watching the budget can point to an existing line item and say, “Aren’t we already paying for that functionality?” When a less-than-ideal solution is already in place, it can often be an uphill battle. You will need to explain (often in depth) why the current solution is inadequate, why your organizational needs exceed its capabilities, and how the new solution is better and justifies any added costs—often a heavy lift for time-strapped leaders. However, grants and other support services may be a big help in getting the work done. Additionally, solutions that create seamless processes and eliminate inefficiencies often save enough money and time to pay for themselves over time.

Vetting and security

Modern cyberattacks are more deceptive and intrusive than ever, and security is a pressing issue for public safety organizations dealing with sensitive information or providing critical services. When you buy into a software ecosystem, you are ultimately buying into a series of subproducts (those used by the primary vendor to make the software you purchased), and each link in this software supply chain can become a security threat.

A breach can be extremely costly, both in time and money, so security should be a top consideration when proposing a switch. The amount of time needed to vet the security of a particular solution could potentially delay your approval well beyond when you had hoped. You may be able to do some of this work proactively by choosing software systems that are approved for government use (such as those with FedRAMP authorization).

Downtime (in all its flavors)

Training. Setup. Integrating with current systems. Unexpected bugs and lack of interplay from those systems. These setbacks can really get in the way of your agency’s ability to perform its day-to-day tasks—a real concern, as most agencies in the public safety industry provide year-round, 24/7 services (or otherwise require constant uptime). A correctional facility doesn’t stop housing inmates when visiting hours stop.

If security is a clear concern for most agencies, this issue is typically not. Unless you have a day-to-day relationship with technology on the back end, you can be forgiven for assuming it just works on the front. That said, it is in your interest to calculate just how much downtime your agency can handle, and to select a partner that understands the nuances in public safety and will assist with the transition.

Buy-in and culture

The fact is, initially there are going to be a number of people who simply prefer using the old system—so implementation guided by a team of experts is critical to success. Be sure to consider how user friendly the software is, as well as how prepared your organization is to adopt it, because buy-in at all levels will increase the likelihood of a smooth transition. Also be sure to consider the longevity of the solution and its ability to scale with your agency.

Selecting software with the best chance of success

To be clear, a software upgrade or rollover does not need to be all doom and gloom. In fact, modern, cloud-based systems are designed to make the process significantly easier. But these challenges mean it is extremely important to choose the right solution for your needs.

Before you even begin writing a proposal, consider these additional tips to be certain your efforts are directed at a software system that will serve your organization and eliminate the need for another transition after only a few years.

Tip 1: Make sure you’re working with the right people

Cloud-based delivery models have enabled companies to support “futureproof” solutions. Updates—including those that totally rework the system or the way it interfaces—are possible at any time. Of course, “futureproofing” your software solution only works if the company making it offers a modular product that can evolve with you. Plus, they need to be dedicated to best practices around software development and innovation. Read more about evaluating software providers to make sure you’ll be working with one you can trust.

Tip 2: Check within your industry

Calling related organizations can give great perspective on how people in your field work and the tools they use to complete the tasks. Likewise, make sure to check industry sources, such as trade magazines—which can be extremely useful for sourcing vendors and getting relatively unfettered opinions on how they work in the field. For an even closer view, you might consider following or joining online forums or subreddits related to public safety IT.

Tip 3: Give weight to industry-made

There are more than a few organizations out there using retrofitted general tools, or even tools from other industries: a police station using a hacked-together retail scheduling tool to schedule officer training, for example. However, a lot of companies move away from generalized computer systems (even newer ones) because they don’t fill the niche needs of efficiency-minded public safety organizations.

Any solution on your list should ultimately be dedicated to serving the public safety world. With the sheer number of specialized needs for public safety organizations (even for “small” tasks), tools that work for a generalized user base are rarely worth consideration.

For more on choosing the right software and all the considerations public safety organizations should be thinking through, check out our Fundamental Guide to Buying Online Training Software for Public Safety.

Posted on Feb 25, 2021