Introducing new technology into an operational environment has many challenges. Who will manage the implementation? How should the project be organized? How do you estimate the overall level of effort? What do you do if problems are encountered? How will this new technology be accepted into the legacy work culture? What will the end state look like? How long will this technology last? How will it be supported and maintained? For those looking to upgrade their 911 infrastructure to Next Generation 911 (NG911) functionality, these are salient points to consider.
Don’t do it alone all at once
First and foremost, do not try to tackle this daunting task alone. Seek the assistance of an integration expert. Upgrading a technical platform is not as simple as shutting one system down and starting another. The design and capabilities of the NG911 migration must be compatible with other legacy technologies that will remain in operation. Additional compatibilities are required as new systems must be functionally usable and efficient in the operational environment. A system integrator is the boots on the ground project manager who ties all the parts together.
Don’t try to do it all as one giant task. This is a significantly large and complicated project, and attempting to do it all at once is akin to “drinking from a fire hose.” Break up the project into manageable discrete sub-tasks that are doable, manageable, and efficient. Your NG911 vendor will have contractual obligations that include tasks such as circuit installs, software installation and testing, training, and cutover support. Breaking up installation into manageable “bite-sized” chunks, allows for a phased implementation, adjusting for issues that may arise, and allowing the implementation to be adopted by the operating environment.
Use a phase approach and be flexible
Associated with the phased approach, underestimating or overestimating task duration is a common mistake made in project management. Your system integrator will engage with you and your technology support staff to identify task duration based upon level of effort, timed tasks such as equipment order and delivery, and estimates based upon previous similar tasks.
Make sure your implementation plan has flexibility built in. Every project that is undertaken has some form of conflict with unexpected and unanticipated events. Weather, illness, availability of equipment, supplies, and major emergencies often cause a project to falter off its rigid project plan’s timeline. As an extra precaution, build in some off ramps that anticipate unexpected delays and circumstances that could impact your efforts.
We in public safety tend to be traditionalists and we have a severe adversity to change. However, change management is critical to the success of any project, particularly when new technologies are introduced or operational practices are changed. Critical to cultural acceptances is buy-in from your people. Seek their input, facilitate their involvement, and perhaps most critical, train them well so that they accept the change and don’t see it as an obstacle.
Cultural acceptance and life cycle
Whenever a task is undertaken, the eventual goal needs to be defined and clearly understood by all parties involved. This should be part of your solicitation, your project plan, your training, and your ultimate operating procedures. A competent system integrator will help you refine your project vision and articulate its final goal.
Lastly, technologies have a “life cycle.” A life cycle is the anticipated long term use expectation of a given technology. CAD, RMS, radio, telephony, logging, and other Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) technologies have an expected useful life that is extended by maintenance, upgrades, support and end-of-life definition. The project plan does not end at the initial installation. It should also include maintenance, upgrade scheduling, on-line and phone support, and on-site maintenance if necessary. This must be clearly articulated in your contract.
Even the best Project Managers (PMs) encounter unanticipated events during the life cycle a project. In this community of practice, interruptions are our way of life. Emergencies are our business and if technology is to be implemented or changed out in our world, our project plans must be meticulous on the one hand and flexible on the other.