Expert Interview: The Cloud
July 13, 2021 by
It’s natural for those in the public safety space to be curious about how cloud technology will change their agencies and even their individual roles.
Everyone from decision-makers to end users wants to know what utilizing cloud technology means for agencies and what benefits they can expect from this technology. Learn what cloud technology means for the future of public safety agencies in this expert interview with Tyler Technologies’ Vice President of Cloud Strategy and Operations Russell Gainford.
Q: Like many industries, public safety has seen a lot of technology changes over the years. Technology has certainly come a long way from pen and paper to the rudimentary systems of the late 70s and early 80s.
Walk us through the evolution of public safety technology as more agencies move to cloud technology.
A: The first computer systems used in public safety agencies were largely mainframe software solutions. As technology progressed, the industry looked at moving staff towards personal computers. The PC revolution began to open up new possibilities for taking laptops, work computers, and personal computers back to the field to use them in ways agencies never had before.
The next major milestones of innovation was the rapid broadening of the internet. This opened up the ability to access content from anywhere. This really helped connect dispatchers to first responders, which helped increase safety within communities. It also reduced the cost of ownership for IT departments and allowed jurisdictions to use multiple applications within a web browser. At this point, training costs went down and access to these systems was granted to more staff across a jurisdiction.
Like anything, technology progressed further, and one of the really exciting things we’ve seen recently is the advent of mobility devices like Androids and iPhones. Most of these devices are more powerful than the laptops used even five to six years ago.
With these devices, first responders have more freedom to get information on the go — even outside of the patrol vehicle. This is a huge shift seeing as for many years, the information received on the in-unit mobile data terminals was only available if the first responder was in the vehicle.
As anyone in public safety knows, first responders do not spend the entirety of their shift in a vehicle. Mobility devices help ensure that information is received by first responders no matter where they are — which means they could be in the middle of interviewing someone, writing out a citation, or in pursuit, but they’ll still receive vital information.
This information also helps command staff have immediate access to all activity happening at any given time and is accessible from anywhere — even when they’re off shift.
Situational awareness improves for everyone, even the telecommunicators that send first responders out on a call for service. These tools enable everyone to see exactly where first responders are because the mobile devices are on their person, not just fixed to a patrol vehicle.
Mobility has really opened the doors for first responders to get information in context real time. The cloud only accelerates availability and real-time access. Now agencies can have secure access outside of their VPN networks, bridging their technology, and allowing them to see information as soon as it is entered by a co-worker.
Q: When it comes to change, people can be fearful. How can you ease some of the possible hesitancy an agency might have about moving to the cloud?
A: At the end of the day, almost everything public safety agencies do is really about mission-critical operations, right?
I've worked in most areas of the public sector at this point in my career outside of federal. I remember getting asked about the push to move to private clouds back in 2007 when I focused more on work management systems. Permitting and licensing was pretty much a de facto option by 2012. Human capital management has gradually adopted the cloud over the last five years, and public safety is starting to turn.
So why haven't they turned already? It's the criticality of the system being used.
If you have a work order system for your public works department and it's down or something interrupts service, you’re able to use workarounds such as writing something down and entering it by hand later when service is restored. If you have a 911 system that drops, people's lives can be in danger.
I'd say in public safety, we require proven, mission-critical systems. As systems in the cloud continue to mature and prove they are more secure and reliable than single-location, on-premise solutions, the majority of organizations will begin to switch. They will do so when their procurement or hardware renewal cycles provide them the opportunity. As far as the people involved and fearing change, it's more about how important the system is that they're using. Public safety personnel are all very dedicated to keeping communities safe, and many times, they defer to use tried and true systems that they know will work when it matters most.
Q: What are the business drivers for cloud adoption?
A: From a business or operations perspective, agencies are considering moving to the cloud due to their reliance on and expense of managing their own data centers and equipment. These jurisdictions have an immense cost and responsibility to manage data centers themselves. They also find themselves managing software that, in many cases, they're not the experts on.
You have IT systems, and you have one to three people in IT managing five or six systems. It's hard to have that subject-matter expertise across all the other things these people are doing. The fact that you can move to the cloud and have industry experts who know the software inside and out of the systems you're using — and they can manage it for you — it's a very compelling option. It also reduces your dependency on expanding your data centers.
Cybersecurity is also a big driver. You've got these jurisdictions across the country that are getting hit with mass cyberattacks, and they’re hard to protect against. Agencies are protecting themselves by allowing experts to manage their security, which is a very compelling factor.
Q: How will agencies and communities benefit from cloud technology?
A: Cloud technology allows for agencies to focus on their business processes and less on the IT administration. Costs shift from ongoing software and hardware upgrading, to scalable operational expenses based on consumption. They can also leverage information with nearby jurisdictions and find that cloud products can be updated and installed more quickly with new features and functionality added.
When it comes to benefits for the community, I’d say that you’d have a more resilient environment. First responders are going to be available when they're needed and called upon. They're also able to get accurate information from other cloud services that allow them to be located quicker, communicated with in real time, as opposed to systems of the past that were very isolated in their own data centers and network.
Q: What should agencies look for when selecting a vendor that offers cloud-based public safety solutions?
A: The key to looking at public safety software vendors that offer cloud-based solutions comes down to experience in the industry. Agencies need a partner with a lot of domain expertise and a proven ability to meet federal and state-level standards.
Working with a tried-and-true vendor with references you can point to is a good partner. With Tyler, you’re going to get better functionality and a better overall product. You're going to get more expertise. You're going to get better support. You're going to get better client success. Plus, with Tyler’s evergreen commitment, agencies move to our new solutions as they’re created at no extra charge.