Managing assets and managing the service of those assets should be of the utmost importance and part of any agency or multi-agency Public Safety entity. In this case, assets are defined as “Communication” based assets or assets and equipment that are part of a Public Safety Communications Radio System. These assets include but are not limited to radio subscribers (Portable & Mobile Radios) and FNE (Fixed Network Equipment). Properly managing upwards of hundreds of millions of dollars of Mission Critical equipment is a task that should not be taken likely or without proper thought.
Of the literally thousands of agencies that own, operate and manage Public Safety Communications equipment, most are not employing adequate processes or methods to care for these valuable assets. With subscriber units exceeding $5,000.00 each and the ever-rising costs of infrastructure, these agencies cannot afford to use outdated methods to track, manage and maintain these vital assets. In most cases, agencies tend to try to maintain a simple spreadsheet or spreadsheets of assets by serial number with various other data. Over time, the worksheets tend to become a quagmire of disconnected cells and rows with mass amounts of redundant and erroneous data. Through the myriad of copying, pasting, emailing and plagiarizing the worksheets, the data becomes disconnected, duplicated and unusable at best and what started out as something slightly manageable, becomes unmanageable and a massive chore to maintain correctly.
Certainly, the initial intent of using a spreadsheet or the creation of a simplistic legacy database table to manage assets is a good idea and typically the most readily available and cost effective way to do so. However, long term, these tools are not acceptable when it comes to properly managing your Public Safety assets. Employees and processes come and go and quickly you’ll find that the “homegrown” database that an employee took upon their selves to create (and was a good idea at the time) has now left or is gone and nobody else knows or understands anything about it. By the same token, non-specific, cookie-cutter applications or applications that came from another agency that you were coerced to review and use for your needs, doesn’t necessarily foot the bill and will certainly go a long way of adding to the confusion and frustration in the long haul.
Having the proper software application to allow you to manage these Public Safety assets is at its core, the most important tool you can have in your tool box. This software should allow for administrative configuration of an Enterprise class solution with a solid proven database, design and user functionality. While these core things are most important, the solution should provide you with the ability to tailor the database to meet your specific needs easily and allow you to configure and adjust well into the future. The database by nature should not be static in design, but allow you to create user-defined fields and include radio centric profile configuration terminology. Your application/solution should have the ability to not only house basic information such as serial number, model number, agency, user or location, but should contain much more with regard to purchasing information (grants, warranty, etc.) as well as the ability to manage radio system ID configuration, programming template and/or radio profile. Another “must have” that should be part of your Radio Communications asset management solution is the ability to record the movement or changes that have been made (Example: user assignment, vehicle swap, status changes and radio id and configuration changes). The ability to manage the lifecycle movement and the configuration changes for subscribers and fixed network equipment are paramount to this solution and should be included. The ability to not only historically see any and all movement or changes to an asset as well as to see all current and relevant information is the basis for a solid solution.
For many agencies, the asset management role goes much further. Too add another layer to the complexities of Public Safety asset management, in many cases, agencies install, maintain and service most if not all of their equipment. The need to handle the changes and movement of the assets thru a robust work order and service management solution is vital. Not only would the tool need to be able to efficiently create and maintain work orders, it would need the ability to provide the functionality to move, swap and configure the equipment that is constantly in flux.
Of course, the service work order solution should allow the staff to manage the mass number of jobs and projects that are involved on a daily basis, but should at its core have the ability to increase shop efficiencies and create a more manageable workflow throughout the organization. While the day to day tasks and ongoing projects are recorded and tracked with this solution, there should be the ability to manage labor time and productivity as well as the ability to manage a non-serialized parts inventory. Many Public Safety communications shops are a “one-stop-shop” for the maintenance and support of all radio communications equipment. This means that they’ll usually be self-sufficient and that they will need to manage all parts and labor (services) within it. The software application should have the ability to infuse the parts and labor management easily into the work order system so that any and all service and consumable parts that were used during the repair or project are accounted for. At a management level, the solution should be able to provide pertinent and accurate reports or output of time management by agency or project and have a vast amount of standard reporting as well as user defined data query and output capability.
As we are in a different time and place now, we find that Public Safety radio organizations have the need to create billing for internal or external entities for services they provide. Whether individual subscriber charges, fixed network equipment charges or time and material service charges for these agencies, the software solution used will need to be able to support that. It’s not uncommon to have Public Safety radio shops creating time and material or flat rate billing invoices and delivering those through hard or soft copy.
As radio shops evolve and become more technically proficient, having the ability to capture data in other methods is warranted. The use of handheld mobile devices that contain your organizations assets is most appealing. With these devices and the right application, your staff could more easily manage and audit assets individually, in a group or by location. These devices can synchronize over wireless or cellular connections as well as be synchronized days later when you arrive back in the shop. Regardless of the method, there are services and asset management solutions that allow online or offline management of your equipment. No matter what solution you decide, the solution should record date, time and user of the changes made. This will give you proper accountability and a valid audit trail of all changes.
Finally, one of, if not the most important piece to any Radio Communications asset and service management solution, is the professional services associated with it. From the consultative process of pre-engineering the solution, to data acquisition and conversion, implementation, training and post installation support and maintenance, the vendor you choose should have a proven track record within the industry to fully implement and support your solution. Great care should be taken to fully work through all of your concerns and objectives with the supplier. A good vendor will have the expertise and staff to support all of your needs and once you’ve solidified the acquisition, you’ll be well on your way to properly managing your assets. The days of redundant, inefficient and erroneous data will be gone and the ability to properly make decisions based on sound, specific data will be most empowering and vital for your organization.
Hopefully, this article will entice you to think of your Radio Communications asset and service management needs a little deeper and persuade you to think of asset management as a priority and not an afterthought. There are solutions that fit these needs specifically and thru proper research and consultation, you too can make a more informed decision.
Kurt Abts is Vice President of Application Development of MCM Technology, LLC. – A Birmingham, AL based software and services provider that specializes in comprehensive Public Safety Radio – Asset & Work Order Management software solutions.