A majority (80%) of law enforcement professionals are concerned with recruiting, staffing, and employee retention. With police departments facing unprecedented staffing shortages, many are turning to technology or software solutions to help train or support staff, augment or streamline manual or laborious tasks, and even fill gaps in fleet deployment and servicing needs. And, instead of assigning laptops, tablets, or two-in-one computing devices for teams to share, more departments are deploying them to individual officers for greater productivity benefits.

In the field, an officer or first responder’s inability to access critical information/data or a computer that functions when and where they need it presents a dire outcome. It inhibits their ability to effectively perform the job whether they are conducting routine traffic stops or responding to emergency calls. More than a third (38%) of law enforcement professionals spend two to four hours per day on paperwork. The efficiency boost gained by digitizing these processes through features like autofill, dictation, voice-enabled command, and report standardization affords more time to spend building connections within the community while increasing productivity and accuracy.

When deployed strategically within a holistic technology ecosystem, mobile devices can boost efficiency and effectiveness, facilitating a streamlined experience for officers and IT teams alike. Let’s explore some key tips to consider to achieve optimal results.

Implement devices that stand up to mission critical demands

Not all devices are built to withstand the harsh environments that law enforcement or first responders are exposed to. We know from experience that consumer-grade devices — even those with protective cases — struggle to function (or stop working all together) when it’s too hot or cold, have limited readability and functionality when exposed to sunlight and moisture, and cannot keep up with long-term use without replacement power units.

When devices go out of commission, the IT team either has to repair the device themselves, send it out for repair, or purchase an entirely new device. This becomes costly. It also means a spare unit has to be readied for deployment, which is an inconvenience to already time-strapped teams. Think about it. If someone gave you a brand-new laptop right now, how long would it take you to back everything up, set up the new device, log in, and get back to work? During a response, the inability to strategize with peers in real time and receive and communicate information inhibits effectiveness. And, now, in addition to repair costs, productivity losses add up.

Public safety and other mission critical agencies should prioritize devices that best match the needs of their workforces and the people they serve. For those in the field, those on the go or in-vehicle, and those who need connectivity and computing power anywhere their duty takes them, rugged-built devices provide the best solution. Rugged devices minimize the need for consistent maintenance, as they are engineered with durability in mind, offering features from dust and water resistance, and optimized heat dispersion to glove and rain touch screens, and multiple-antenna configurations that allow for seamless connectivity.

For those responding to calls, the benefits of rugged devices are clear. But other employees within the department can also take advantage of the investment. For instance, a detective going back and forth between the office, or needing to take critical data with them on the go, can remove a rugged laptop from a docked office setting and mount it in a vehicle to continue the job at hand. Similarly, staff undergoing training can leverage these reliable devices in a connected classroom and take them to the field for simulated practice scenarios — all time-saving benefits that improve work continuity and support a better work experience.

Prioritize device modularity to drive value and lower TCO

It’s no secret that budget remains a concern for any government-funded or public sector agency. Because of these constraints, there can be a tendency to gravitate toward what appears to be (at face value) the lowest cost option based on sticker price. However, many will find that the return on investment isn’t realized over time with these lower-cost devices. In fact, there is something to be said for investing upfront in a device that will ultimately deliver cost-savings and lower total cost of ownership (TCO), thanks to longevity, durability, and reliability, coupled with improved productivity and reduced downtime.

Rugged devices with modular features are ideal for these situations and further lower TCO over time. Here’s why. They allow IT teams to future-proof their investments for years to come. For example, a department may deploy a base computing unit and, in one year, find themselves needing to implement new capabilities, such as a barcode scanner, to streamline daily workflows. Instead of having to start from scratch and replace tens or thousands of units, or buy external barcode scanners to configure and deploy, modular devices enable departments to “add on” this functionality over time via an expansion pack (xPAK). Not only does the core rugged unit last a lot longer than consumer-grade solutions, it can be updated with xPAKs as needed for years to come. The same can be said for other capabilities, whether it’s hot-swap or replaceable batteries, new storage or memory requirements, or even connectivity ports. This keeps computers in rotation, supports workflow needs, prevents IT teams from having to research and deploy new devices or solutions, and saves officers from having to learn a completely new device.

The TCO benefits of rugged devices span an entire department’s operation, so it's important to understand and explore these options fully before diving into any initial lowest-cost option purchase. While the sticker price is low, the equation shifts quickly upon factoring in future IT costs, productivity loss, and repair and replacement expenses. Agencies should collaborate with rugged solution providers to see what pricing and deployment options are available for devices. There may be different financing or SKU options that make deployment a lot easier and more cost effective.

Empower IT teams to monitor devices remotely

Public sector IT departments and teams range in size. For example, large police forces may have IT teams with subdivisions, while police departments in smaller towns can have as few as two IT personnel — and some may not have dedicated personnel at all. In the latter situations, there may be an IT director with an outsourced team or third-party organization supporting technology needs. One theme all departments have in common is that the pool of devices deployed exceeds the number of IT professionals. And, any IT team would benefit from services that get computing solutions and devices in the hands of users with the least disruption to their day-to-day work.

So, more than simply deploying computing technology, agencies must consider how that solution is managed, serviced, and supported. And, it’s important to seek out a technology partner who has the capabilities in place to augment and support IT needs and empower current staff. For example, is the troubleshooting and repair process managed by the agency’s IT department directly or by a third party? Does the department have asset management software to monitor device health, capture usage rates, and provide analytics on devices to inform performance and catch potential IT issues before they arise and take a worker out of commission? Does the technology partner offer services that help with consultation, engineering, deployment, or installation? And, can the technology partner provide solutions for IT consultation or staff augmentation, last-mile solution deployment, and data and device security? Can one technology partner provide multiple avenues for success?

These are all questions that departments should ask to support and empower IT. Gone are the days where IT workers are in a silo without the tools they need to augment, execute, or streamline tasks. By keeping these needs in mind, public sector agencies can set themselves up for success, while also leveraging expertise provided by their technology partner. As agencies across the nation are being pressured to digitally transform and modernize operations, these value-added services can be the difference between an effective, smooth technology deployment, or one that overwhelms IT teams and leaves workers buried in a mountain of pressure and strain.

Focus on technology that streamlines operations

While equipping public safety workers with mobile devices accompanied by critical software is mission critical, departments must also think about how this influx of devices will impact their IT workflows. Deploying rugged modular devices alongside the right asset management software for IT teams will ensure police officers, first responders, command staff, and others public safety professionals will get the most out of their devices to drive better productivity and increased efficiency.