Feb 13 2024

First Responders Can Audit Their Digital Footprint to Set Priorities

Manual processes linger at many public safety agencies, creating inefficiencies.

Public safety agencies would benefit enormously from a digital audit.

One goal of such an audit would be to determine which analog (or manual) processes could benefit from digitalization. In so doing, public safety agencies should analyze how to capitalize on their existing application footprint.

For example, many police departments have physical inventory – case files, photos, other evidence – in boxes around their offices, much of it requiring manual shipping for reference. But an agency could digitize that inventory and make it accessible to other locations online. Likewise, many city agencies maintain fleet maintenance in their garages with whiteboards that list the mileage of a vehicle to indicate when it’s due for an oil change. Adopting a digital process would make that information accessible outside of the garage.

In addition, public safety agencies that have resources like Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace may not be fully harnessing their available cloud power.

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Share Information by Digitalizing Manual Processes

In my experience, I’ve seen many digital services go underused. Public safety agencies with access to cloud platforms such as Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud or Amazon Web Services are not using them to their maximum extent. Officials can put these existing investments to work to accomplish significant tasks.

In the public sector, we have seen enormous advances in the digitalization of citizen services. Municipal residents can now apply for permits or pay taxes online instead of walking into an office or mailing in a paper form. This sort of advancement constitutes basic digital transformation. Digitalization of a previously manual task allows the citizen to do what he or she needs to do relatively quickly, at any time or any place, simply by accessing a computer.

Similarly, public safety agencies could provide enormous benefits to their workers by digitizing more information. Once information is scanned or keyed in, it should be available throughout the system. Employees can access that information securely, from anywhere. Authorized individuals can search inventory or check the status of fleet management tasks — or even file timecards. Many agencies still use a paper card process to track hours or vacation time. HR officials should digitalize those manual processes.

For example, a Microsoft shop could track inventory in Microsoft Lists. The process could start with a simple spreadsheet that identifies assets by location. Microsoft Lists could track that workplace information on SharePoint. Then, as needed, officials could share Microsoft Lists through Microsoft Teams. If an agency lacks in-house expertise on how to best customize the apps to these ends, a trusted service provider could help set up and track the tasks.

All of this could be done without additional software costs to an agency by making the most of existing platforms and tailoring them to these purposes.

DISCOVER: How mission-critical operations centers improve public safety.

Free Up Digital Storage by Determining Retention Status

A digital audit also could reveal existing digital processes and how they may be improved or augmented. This in turn can help agencies plan ahead and more accurately estimate their digital storage requirements.

Many police departments store video, and nothing eats up storage like video. Agencies may categorize it and then store it for a certain amount of time. Video that is categorized correctly could potentially go straight into cold storage. Perhaps agencies could delete video that has been determined to have no retention value.

While digital storage costs can be significant, agencies can save money and plan ahead by taking a hard look at how they are managing video and what they may require for future video operations. Public safety agencies may possess an overwhelming amount of video data, and they may not know what is contained in every video.

Officials may be hesitant to delete video because they are unsure of its value. Clear rules of retention for video files can go a long way toward clearing backlogs. Within the next decade, every city likely will have a digital archivist with responsibilities for making determinations on what to keep and what to delete. Public service agencies can assign these collateral responsibilities to appropriate officials in the meantime.

A digital audit could provide insights into how to best handle law enforcement video and its disposition.

This article is part of StateTech’s CITizen blog series.


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