Four Simple Steps for Creating Your Public Safety IT Strategy

 

Most of us would nod our heads in agreement if someone said to us, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It applies to so many things we experience in life. Another great adage with a similar message is “build your well before you get thirsty.” These and other similar quotes speak to the value and power of planning and being thoughtful about influencing the future.

Within public safety IT circles, these quotes apply with much more dramatic consequences if done poorly, or not at all. Still, there are many state and local agencies and support organizations that are skipping the planning process or only applying scant attention to the needs of their networks; thinking instead, “if ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. That sentiment might have applied to your grandfather’s Ford, but in today’s fast-moving IT environment, that won’t work.

The good news is this – planning and developing a strategic plan for your public safety IT infrastructure is a relatively simple process, that doesn’t take a great deal of time or effort. Here are four simple steps that reflect best practices in many successful organizations.

  1. Keep your strategic plan for IT infrastructure simple and to the point. The best we’ve seen are 2-3 pages long with a timeline, specific information, including costs, and an owner’s name by each entry. This implies that each line item on your strategic plan should have an owner – someone who is accountable to ensure that the information and plan are accurate and relevant.
  2. Update your public safety IT infrastructure strategic plan quarterly. Align the effort with the budgeting process so that the plan informs the budget. Taking a few minutes to look at next year’s calendar will give you an opportunity to schedule four meetings, one per quarter, to help you get prepared for your budgeting effort.
  3. Have a current (and accurate) understanding of your current IT infrastructure. This means having an asset inventory of your network equipment, servers and technology infrastructure. If you haven’t done this yet, do it. If you have an asset inventory already, make sure it’s kept up to date. If you’re not sure how to do this, ask. There are many organizations and companies that can help.
  4. Publish your plan to at least one level above you and to your team of direct reports. Mushrooms and love letters age well in the dark, however, plans like this one don’t. Make sure, your public safety IT infrastructure strategic plan sees the light of day and is an actively reviewed document within the organization. Often, these plans can be the focus of criticism and disagreement if left to poor leadership. Don’t let that happen to you, publish the plan, allow input and comments and then work with the input you have to create the best possible outcome for your agency, and the public safety professionals you support.

Getting started is often the biggest challenge. An effective way to overcome the challenge is to take on the task of creating the IT asset inventory, if you haven’t already.

“You can’t get to where you want to go, if you don’t know where you are.”

This can be done with help of internal or external resources. Many times, it’s easier to contract with an outside organization that can do an objective assessment without fear of internal repercussions. When you do these inventories, be sure to collect as much information about each device on the network as possible. Including information about make, model and revision level of each device will become very helpful as you do your strategic plan. Also, don’t forget to include warranty and service information such as start and expiration dates, service level agreements and exclusions. At the end of this asset inventory, you should have a well-defined list of existing equipment, it’s condition and the support you can expect if something goes wrong.

With an asset inventory in hand, the next steps require more discipline than effort. If discipline isn’t something you excel in, think about bringing in an expert who can create the plan for you and take on the ownership of each item in your inventory. This is often an effective way to work with an industry partner who can keep you informed of technology innovation and trends while at the same time, doing a lot of the leg work in putting the plan together.

If you’re interest in seeing an example of a public safety IT infrastructure plan as described in this article, please give us a call at (303) 579-6571 or contact me a mlyons@athenanets.com.

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