MCP Insights

Four Tips to Avoid a Failed Public Safety IT Project

Posted on March 3, 2017 by Bob Scott

This post is part one in a four-part series of posts on avoiding a derailed public safety IT project.

If you’ve been involved in a public safety system procurement in your career, you know that the process is anything but simple. Public safety system procurements are complicated undertakings that are time-consuming, risky, and often under-resourced by the agency completing the upgrade.

According to a study released by the Standish Group in 2014 published in Governing Magazine, the success rate for public sector IT projects is a mere 39%. That’s a big problem.

What can public safety agencies do to increase their success rate? We recently shared some ideas during a Mission Critical Partners (MCP) webinar (listen to it on-demand here). To help you succeed, we’ve included some of the takeaways and best practices in this article.

Because of the complexity associated with this process, we will cover these tips in a four-part series that provides a step-by-step overview of what’s important leading up to an implementation.

Read on for best practices that will increase your success in the needs assessment and develop requirements phase of your project.

These needs assessment/requirements phase best practices are:

1. Define your objectives up-front.

How many major projects have you been a part of in your career without a project charter? This is seldom done despite being one of the most critical project elements. The purpose of developing a charter is to define what your agency is trying to accomplish as well as defining:

  • What’s included in the project scope and what’s not
  • The core project team members based on key positions
  • Rules of engagement
  • A budget and how much you have to spend
  • A schedule
  • What you consider project success. Your project can be on budget and on schedule, but without key success factors, you can still be on a path for derailment.

Kicking off a project without a charter is a risky endeavor. The charter protects all of the stakeholders involved ranging from the management team to ancillary employees that aren’t directly involved, but are impacted by its success or failure.

2. Assess your business need and define your project requirements.

You don’t know what you don’t know. This is the essence of what you’re trying to uncover when you’re completing the needs assessment process. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What are the strengths of your system today? What are its weaknesses?
  • What are the “must-haves” and/or “core-needs” of the new system?
  • How is the system used within your operation? A lot of agencies have robust systems that offer innovative features, yet they have limited operational capacity to take advantage of these functional capabilities. Rethink if you really need to include, and pay, for these features moving forward.

MCP recommends partnering with a third-party for the needs assessment stage in order to obtain the most objective point-of-view possible.

Without a third party, it can also be challenging to determine what operational issues exist that technology cannot solve. (Read more about our technology procurement and implementation services.)

In addition to a third party, a cross-section of users, supervisors, management, and system administrators should be involved. Whatever you do, avoid having one person or a small group define your needs for a system that plays such an important role in defining your agency’s future.

3. Look further than where you are and towards where you want to be.

Implementing new technology extends far beyond a specific technology solution. You need to be well-positioned from every angle to accommodate your change.  Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is your network infrastructure and connectivity up to par?
  • Will you need new servers or other new hardware?
  • Is your team capable of undertaking the transition and implementing the new solution?

Once your selected vendor hits the ground running, having the right team assembled will make your transition much quicker and trouble-free. Plan for your needs from a budget and staffing standpoint today and for the long-term to guarantee the success of your technology investment throughout its lifecycle.

4. Do the heavy lifting with your system requirements upfront.

If you do not take the time to carefully define what you want with a system, you’ll struggle during the testing phase. Every element of your new system should pass a rigorous testing process. Some ways we suggest you research:

  • Complete site visits to nearby jurisdictions who have recently implemented similar technology
  • Visit trade shows and industry conferences to see the options available by today’s technology vendors
  • Do your homework online to see what vendor offerings are available
  • Consider hosting vendor industry days where you invite vendors to demo their solutions


These are just some tips that will help you nail the needs assessment and system requirements phase, setting you up for future success with your request for proposal and implementation process down the line. Stay tuned for future posts on what you should include in your RFP, how to evaluate the vendors that responded and what’s critical to the vendor selection process and best and final offer (BAFO) proposals.


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