CAC Contribution: Fiscal Discipline & Accountability
By Tom Bartels
How often are you told “no” when you need to purchase new radios and communications equipment? Has it become increasingly difficult to explain the purchase of every radio? How can you make your life easier when it comes to justifying these purchases? One contributing factor that could make your life easier is simply being a good steward of the assets you already have under your control.
In today’s environment, where budgets are tight and funding requests are unending, having a solid track record of managing and maintaining your communications assets will give you an advantage in the battle for those elusive dollars. Most effective leaders and managers tend to show favor toward those who act responsibly, demonstrate discipline and have a history of being efficient managers of limited resources.
We can all agree effective, clear, uninterrupted communication is likely the most critical factor in the world of public safety. There is no argument that the radio can be the lifeline for emergency responders and citizens; that radios preserve and save lives; that a properly functioning communications network is literally the difference between calm and chaos, good outcomes and catastrophe, or life and death. If you cannot communicate, everything breaks down from that point forward and nothing else really matters.
Your agency has invested millions of dollars in radios and fixed network equipment (FNE). How do you ensure that you are being a good steward of your agency’s investment? How do you pass the upcoming audit (with flying colors)? How do you make it easy on yourself to justify that next funding request for that new cache of radios that you desperately need? The answer lies in utilizing an effective asset management solution. I see it day-in and day-out. Managers do not know where their asset are; what the status of a specific radio or repeater may be; when the last time a portable was serviced; what mobile radio or MDT has been assigned which vehicle. The managers that cannot answer these simple questions are the guys that generally have a difficult time when it comes to securing additional equipment funding – only because the perception is they are not properly managing what they already have under their purview. Hence for the financial aspect alone (not to mention the critical role these assets play), managing several million dollars worth of mission critical communications equipment is a task that should not be taken lightly.
Granted, most agencies do employ some level of asset ‘tracking’ or management. In most cases, agencies tend to try to maintain one or more spreadsheets of assets by serial number with various other data. Over time, the worksheets become a quagmire of disconnected cells and rows with mass amounts of redundant and erroneous data. Through the myriad of copying, pasting, emailing and plagiarizing the worksheets, the data becomes disjointed, duplicated and unusable, and what started out as something slightly manageable, becomes unmanageable and a massive chore to attempt to maintain.
Certainly, the initial intent of using a spreadsheet or the creation of a simplistic “homegrown” database to manage assets is a good idea, and is typically the most readily available and cost-effective way to do so. However over the long term, these tools are not acceptable when it comes to properly managing your assets. Employees come and go, and quickly you’ll find that the “homegrown” database that an employee took upon himself to create (which was a good idea at the time) becomes obsolete when the creator is gone, and no one else has the knowledge to maintain it. By the same token, non-specific, cookie-cutter applications or large, generic enterprise solutions that may have been force-fed into your operation may lack the functionality you need, which only leads to frustration and non-compliance.
In order to be a good steward of your agency’s investment, it is imperative that you have the proper tools to do so. An effective platform should allow for administrative configuration of an enterprise-class solution with a solid back-end database, design and user functionality. While these core attributes are most important, the solution should provide you with the ability to tailor the database to meet your specific needs and allow you to configure and make adjustments as conditions in your shop change. The database should not be static in design, but should allow you to create user-defined fields and include radio-centric profile configuration terminology. Your solution should have the ability to not only house standard information such as serial number, model number, agency, user or location, but should contain much more (purchasing information, grants, warranties, PM, etc.), as well as the ability to manage radio system ID configuration, programming template and/or radio profile. Another “must have” is the ability to record movement or changes that have been made (e.g., user or agency assignment, vehicle swap, status changes, radio id and configuration changes). The ability to manage the lifecycle movement (from cradle to grave) and the configuration changes for subscribers and FNE are of paramount importance.
For those organizations that have the added responsibility of installing, maintaining, and servicing their own equipment, the need for a robust work order and service management solution must be considered. Such a solution should allow the management of multiple jobs and projects, and at its core should have the ability to increase shop efficiencies and create a more manageable workflow throughout the organization.
So, be diligent in your search to find the right asset management tool that best fits your shop’s needs, workflow, personnel and budget. Find the solution that will make you and your staff accountable and will provide the discipline you want to make the next budget request easier than the last.
Tom Bartels, President & CEO of MCM Technology, is a member of APCO International and has served on the Commercial Advisory Council for the past five years. He is also a member of The Radio Club of America.