Five things you need to know about keeping your officers connected

Dispatch, this is car 476. I've got a pursuit in progress and need to run a license plate but the darn computer is down.

One of the most frustrating experiences for an officer is to lose access to critical information while on the job due to a dropped network signal. Issues around mobile connectivity can be an all too familiar scenario for today's public safety officers out in the field. No longer is access to data in the field a perk; it's become a mission-critical necessity. And as the number of police officers in the field grows, so too does the need to wirelessly transmit incident reports, access license plate information and manage time sheets from the vehicle. Mobile technology empowers agencies to increase productivity, officer morale and community safety.

The availability of wireless technologies and tools to support mobile workers has created a plethora of choices for network administrators and IT managers who must carefully deliberate over the best applications to use. But, with seemingly endless choices comes the unenviable task of figuring out how to integrate these data transfer technologies so they work together. How the networks and applications interact must ultimately cause no disruption to the end-user and require minimal ongoing management.

Agencies commonly use a combination of software to perform dispatch processes, records management and vehicle location. These applications are coupled with private wireless networks, public cellular networks, laptops, mobile handsets and more. Configuring all of these elements to work together as a cohesive system is a constant challenge that requires IT managers to incur programming costs, not to mention the potential integration woes.

Despite all of these choices, mobile users experience dropped network connectivity as they pass through tunnels or under bridges and must manually reconnect to the network or select an alternative network depending on their location. With all of these choices, officers are still left with gaps in the data they are receiving or sending. Additionally, IT managers are forced to layer security applications on top of already disparate systems to ensure personal information is safe as it travels across the wireless network. These issues force agencies to limit the number of new tools they implement, such as a new GPS application — which currently has no standard data protocol — as they only add complexity to an already difficult task.

Middleware, the layer of software between an application and the network, is one way to attack this problem, but middleware solutions aren't always intuitive. These solutions often do not have the flexibility of a plug-and-play solution and may still require additional programming to connect and communicate with various networks. Middleware provides a good foundation, but what agencies need is more. Agencies now can create a seamless multi-jurisdiction, multi-network, multi-protocol and multi-application communications blanket by leveraging connectionware.

Connectionware, which can be thought of as Middleware 2.0, extends beyond traditional middleware by connecting data sources and focusing on mobile data interoperability. It is an integrated component that translates, transfers and ties together data as it travels between applications and the network. Connectionware translates the languages of each application and network and creates a seamless conversation, with the added value of interpretation, so that each party understands what is being communicated.

Ultimately, configuring multiple wireless networks and wireless applications need not be an insurmountable task. Here are five things that must be considered when building a mobile network.

Security, security, security
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