Police case management in the digital age has never been more important. But it’s also a significant pain point for an agency when it comes to development, implementation and maintenance. In this post, we’ll take a look at the six biggest IT hurdles to case management software and how departments can overcome them with a cloud-based solution.
Every day, law enforcement agencies are challenged to fight more crime with dwindling resources and manage more cases with exponential volumes of data. Because of this, more police departments are turning to some kind of technology solution to keep track of investigative case files and store digital evidence.
Although many RMS systems offer highly sophisticated CAD and incident reporting capabilities, they are seldom used to manage complex investigations such as homicides, terrorism investigations or serious internal affairs matters. They typically lack the specialized functionality and workflows that are required for detectives who need to conduct long term sophisticated investigations.
Many agencies who run these types of investigations are struggling to find the right solution. Some have moved away from paper-only to store case files in homegrown case management systems (CMS). But these systems are limited when it comes to functionality, security and information-sharing, and they can quickly become outdated since there is no formal process for upgrades. As a result, many departments end up stringing together multiple, disparate systems, leaving a solution that ultimately leads to headaches and risk of data breaches.
This much is clear: homegrown CMS is not enough anymore. Departments are saying goodbye to legacy solutions and shifting to comprehensive case management software. But they’re also discovering that such a shift comes with a few wrinkles. Here are the 6 most common and what to do about them.
Top 6 Case Management IT Problems
Case management systems were traditionally custom-built from the ground up. This model, while beneficial for very large law enforcement agencies with specific and comprehensive needs, causes a suite of headaches for smaller or medium-sized departments.
High Development Costs
Custom software is expensive.
From purchasing server hardware, hiring developers and report writers and other implementation expenses to maintenance and operating system costs, a project as big as building out a custom case management solution is just not feasible for many agencies.
Though technology procurement is improving in the public sector, financial resources are still thin. The cost of software is a major roadblock that prevents many agencies from accessing the benefits of case management, leaving them with homegrown or cobbled together solutions.
Project Development & Implementation Time
Another significant roadblock of custom case management is the time it takes to develop and implement the software. Case management systems with custom workflows can take upwards of two years to develop and still may not meet all requirements.
You have to write technical specifications that accurately describe every single requirement the system must meet. Then publish the bid and review proposals. Then hire a software team that meet your needs and can manage the project. Along the way, security requirements have to be designed and incorporated into the solution to meet CJIS standards. Then the software needs to be tested (and often re-designed and re-tested, sometimes at the expense of the agency) before deploying the system into production.
All in all, this is a big undertaking that most agencies just don’t have the resources or time to support. Plus, there’s no guarantee that in the end you will have a perfectly customized system that your investigators will embrace, or that will be easily upgraded and supported.
After all of that time, money and effort, the case management system still might not do everything you need it to, leading you back to new development or enhancement projects. Or, if new needs, improvements or incompatible technology pop up – as they usually do – you have to go back to square one to update or replace the system.
This is because custom software is, to some extent, locked into the technology of the point in time it’s built. Software that’s cutting edge today can seem like a relic just five or ten years down the road if it’s not frequently upgraded. Since these types of solutions are often stored on-premise, upgrades cannot happen easily. Someone has to physically come onsite and perform the work, and since many agencies don’t have qualified systems engineers and developers on staff, this usually means new maintenance and upgrade purchases from vendors are required.
Custom software that’s not web-based typically needs to be installed on every machine it runs on. Every desktop and device in and out of the station house will need to install the software, updates and patches, which means it’s up to individual users to execute any updates they have access to. If they don’t, they miss out on additional functionality and leave the system vulnerable to security threats.
Accessibility & Security
Police department IT managers have to answer a number of questions when considering custom software development. Where will the software live? How much is the hardware, and where will we store it onsite? If we use the cloud, is it stored properly and CJIS compliant?
Security is naturally a top concern for law enforcement. The software must be well developed with accessibility and security concerns in mind, otherwise they will turn into daily IT headaches for police departments. We have all seen the ransomware attacks that have affected government agencies, including many police departments, across the nation. These are not only embarrassing situations but they can severely compromise major investigations and prosecutions.
Custom software can become complex for end users. Getting an entire department up and running with a new software solution – and without user manuals or a knowledge base since it’s custom-built – will take time and training. In addition to the year or more it takes to develop, you still have to wait until your department is comfortable using the software correctly before you capture any return on the investment.
How Cloud-based Case Management can Help
Today, custom case management software is not the optimal solution for most small or medium-sized agencies. Cloud-based software as a service (SaaS) models – which have become the preferred standard in most other sectors – are now vetted in the law enforcement space. These solutions can overcome many of the aforementioned issues.
Software as a service case management offerings save agencies a lot of money. There are often relatively low initial set up fees, developer costs or equipment to buy or install. So, no IT overhead. Also, you pay a fixed, subscription cost, which includes maintenance and upgrades. So, it’s easier to budget for and less expensive upfront (because you don’t need equipment or programmers).
SaaS solutions require very little time to “set up.” Your agency doesn’t have to worry about the development timeline. “Implementing” the software means logging in and administering your agency’s account. After you select a vendor and go through a brief verification process, you can be up and running with your system in days rather than months or years.
When you sign up for a cloud-based, SaaS case management subscription, you’re buying a product that will keep pace with technology. As updates and new features become available, your agency – every user and device – will receive them automatically with very little downtime or interruption to your day-to-day processes.
SaaS software doesn’t have to be “installed.” It’s browser-based, meaning a user only needs to log into a secure online portal for access. This also ensures that the software is consistent and fully-functioning across the agency regardless of the device it’s being used on. Secure multi-factor authentication can be achieved using the devices your personnel already own.
When the software vendor releases an update, every single user will automatically receive the new functionality. The next time they log in, they will see the update – without having to execute any changes themselves.
Improved Accessibility & Security
The cloud and browser-based nature of the SaaS model allows users access the software 24/7 on any authorized device (desktop or mobile).
Equally important, it also improves the security of the software. The rise of the government cloud with strict requirements to meet CJIS and FedRamp standards has provided more security, reliability and accessibility than most police departments could ever afford to provide on their own.
The old school thoughts dictated that an on-premise solution was somehow more secure since the server is physically in your possession in a secure facility. However, as too many have learned the hard way, hackers don’t care about physical locations, and by the time their electronic intrusion is discovered, it’s often too late, leaving disaster recovery as the only remedy.
Training a department to use a cloud-based solution is simpler than with a custom solution. The SaaS solution likely comes with technical support, a user forum and a knowledgebase, so any questions can be addressed in near real-time. But the user themselves often times need little outside interaction to find an answer. Many studies have shown that end users prefer to have self-help options, such as a searchable knowledge base, prior to relying on tech support.
The Case for SaaS Case Management
With a SaaS solution, you may wind up with features that you don’t necessarily need. Or, you won’t get certain highly customized features that a custom solution might have. However, with today’s highly configurable systems and interfaces, the experience can still present a custom feel to the software.
Also, many technology companies host user forums and seek input as to what upgrades the user base would like to see. If you have a good suggestion for a new feature or function, the software developers can include it in a future upgrade.
If you’re a very large agency, a custom enterprise solution still might be the right choice for you. You might be able to support the high costs, and the development time can pay off in the end – so you have exactly what you need. But many SaaS providers can still save you money by building a dedicated instance for you, using their software as a platform and customizing it specifically to your requirements. The software can then be individually maintained and enhanced to keep pace with your agency’s needs.
If you suffer from any of the IT headaches above, it might be time to consider a SaaS case management offering.
Give your agency the tools it needs to manage cases without IT headaches or the massive price tag – with ShotSpotter Investigate.
About the Author: Michael Cunningham has more than 27 years of experience with the New York City Police Department and achieved the rank of Detective First Grade. He is now part of the ShotSpotter Investigate case management team and stays active in the industry instructing courses in forensics and response to terrorist incidents.