We all recall the retail business mantra “the customer is always right.” Well, while this may not always be true, the customer today has a huge voice in how law enforcement products are designed. Software is a prime example of this trend, and records management systems (RMS) in particular are now a reflection of carefully sifted customer feedback on a product’s feature set and functionality.
Of course, feedback can be a double-edged sword---more suggestions, ranging from sensible to impractical, for product improvement than can ever be accommodated, contrasted by the need of vendors to adopt those suggestions that will benefit all software users. Striking this balance makes the effort to continually improve RMS software a steady work in progress.
Meanwhile, many suggestions for new RMS software capabilities make sound sense.
Not just RMS
That’s what Crimestar Corp., which offers RMS, CAD and mobile data communications software systems for predominantly small to mid-size police departments, discovered when customers suggested, for example, that a Vehicle/Fleet Maintenance module be built into the company’s RMS system.
“It was always my view that there are many vehicle maintenance programs out there, some of which are free, so why should we re-invent the wheel by adding it to Crimestar?” mused company president Alec Gagne, who also is a former police officer. But he soon heard from customers why he should change his thinking.
“ Most customers wanted the RMS system to be a complete department information management tool and not just an RMS (program),” Gagne continued. “They did not like the idea of having a separate program to keep track of vehicle maintenance issues. That’s why we have capabilities in Crimestar RMS like Vehicle Maintenance, Key Control and Department Asset Inventory.”
At first glance, these features may not seem directly relevant to law enforcement records management. However, Gagne asserts, “Customers wanted them included in the RMS rather than using a separate program for those specific tasks.”
This kind of one-stop shopping approach to RMS software is particularly appealing to small police departments, argues Eric Sargent, a former police chief and Crimestar’s National Sales Manager. “Departments cannot get overburdened with too many modules (in an RMS program or as entirely individual offerings),” Sargent said.
Most of the suggestions Crimestar receives for its software are not for new modules, but for tweaks to existing ones. Unless there is an interface requested by a customer, Crimestar does not charge for new software improvements. The company’s annual RMS System support charge of $300 includes all updates and unlimited technical support.
A more formal response to the RMS “suggestion box” is taken at New World Systems. According to Mark Prevost, the firm’s vice president of marketing, a highly structured software improvement suggestion process is the foundation for much of New World’s RMS software functionality and modules that are built.
Software Partially Built, Then ‘Show-and-Tell’
“We use a process called Agile Development, where we take suggestions from groups of customers to make sure we understand what their vision is,” Prevost explained. “We build part of the software with newly recommended capabilities, then pause to do a show-and-tell (with customers) before finalizing the solution.”
The best specific example of this process, Prevost continued, is a module in New World’s RMS software called Decision Support. The rationale behind the module is that because there is so much data flowing into numerous records there has been no effective way to convert the data into what Prevost calls “actionable intelligence.”