The software suggestion box

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...

Customers are invited to go a step further with voicing their opinions on needed software enhancements. Says Carrie Brown, Spillman’s Marketing Communications Supervisor: “Customers can vote online for each product enhancement during scheduled periods, and learn more about the voting process. Customer agencies are assigned a number of votes to use each year.”

The company’s Research & Design Department reviews and categorizes submitted enhancements at the start of each new year, then places them on a ballot for the first round of annual online voting, called the “Long” List. The goal of this list is to reduce the ballot from nearly 200 to approximately 50 enhancements, with four to seven in each of the company’s 10 primary categories, Brown explained.

The recommended software enhancements that receive the most votes go on to the second ballot, called the Short or “Gold” List. “This second round of voting determines which enhancements will be added to Spillman’s RMS product suite,” Brown said.

One of the most recent new products that has resulted from customer suggestions is Spillman Touch™, an application for mobile devices, including the iPad, that allows a user to access records and images, search for data, view dispatch information, and receive call assignments. The product is expected to be released at the close of this year’s first quarter.

Special requests granted -- for a price

When does a customer suggestion for a software enhancement become something much bigger? This is an issue faced by all RMS software makers. And it usually involves more money from the customer.

Intergraph’s Steve Marz says his company’s software is highly configurable. “We do an implementation program for every customer, and determine how much customization the customer needs and can afford,” Marz said. “There are times when somebody has to have something (an improvement) that nobody else is interested in. When this happens, we will build it for an extra cost, but we will probably fold it into the core product because it becomes a maintenance problem otherwise,” Marz added.

Ditto for the other RMS software vendors mentioned above.

Modules that are custom built at one customer’s request typically will cost that customer extra money.  “But it has to be a different type of capability,” said Marz on behalf of the Intergraph products.

A very similar customer feedback process is applied to Computer-Aided Dispatch systems for these and most other public safety records management software providers.

Software upgrades among most vendors are usually part of a maintenance contract that is sold separately from the software’s purchase. And some vendors charge for implementation of these upgrades as well as for entirely new modules.

Improvements hinge on level of customer interest, future plans

Crown Pointe Technologies, which offers Academy, In-Service Training Management, FTO and PTO Field Training, and other public safety software, takes a slightly different approach to soliciting and implementing customer feedback in its products. A recommended software improvement simply has to make sense, according to Charles Lowry, Crown Pointe’s president and CEO.

The number of customers who would be interested in seeing a suggested improvement implemented is a key factor that must be considered.

“We check with our best customers who use the software extensively,” Lowry explained. “And we ask if a proposed improvement would add value to their current operation.”

Finally, Crown Pointe Technologies wants to know how big of a need  a suggested new capability for its training software will meet for a customer’s future plans.

One feature customers asked Crown Pointe to add to its Equipment Management Module is the ability to track a history of firearms and vehicles issued to officers and equipment issued to vehicles. For example, in the company’s firearms/equipment/vehicle management module, users can now click on an icon and see all the firearms issued to any one officer or to a vehicle.

The software’s Document Management module began merely with a feature to document training officers’ performance reviews. Now, it can control images, PowerPoint presentations, video clips on officers’ field activities, and provide external links to websites.

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