Magazine Article | September 16, 2013

Find Your Data Collection Sales Niche In The Public Safety Market

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By Jay McCall

Discover the secrets to winning new business opportunities in this burgeoning market.

One of the best ways VARs, systems integrators, and ISVs can grow their businesses is by expanding into new markets. One market that’s gone high tech over the last several years and is worth considering is public safety. With more and more police departments and municipalities equipping police officers, investigators, and parking lot attendants with mobile computers, video surveillance equipment, and ubiquitous access to data, there’s a growing need that the channel can fulfill.

The latest research from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics revealed that local police departments report using computers for a variety of law enforcement functions, including records management (79 percent), crime investigation (60 percent), information sharing (50 percent), and dispatch (49 percent). The same study found that well over half (61 percent) reported using video cameras in patrol cars. Those statistics were reported by the bureau in 2010 and are projected to be even higher when the next survey is released.

I recently spoke with industry experts from Brother Mobile Solutions and Panasonic System Communications Company of North America about IT sales opportunities in the public safety market for the channel. What follows is their candid advice and feedback for resellers interested in this market.

Understand Police Departments’ Data Collection Needs
Unlike customers in other vertical markets like retail or manufacturing, public safety agencies have very different needs. “First off, the speed of data collection is critical in this vertical,” says David Crist, senior VP of sales and marketing at Brother Mobile Solutions. “Data collection plays an important role in code enforcement, drug interdiction, and accident reporting — and the speed of the data collection is closely linked to public interest and officer safety.”

Hal Bennick, public sector senior business development manager at Panasonic System Communications Company of North America, concurs and adds, “Not only is speed important, but police work requires extensive data documentation. Officers must complete exhaustive reports not for their own internal purposes, but for use in court proceedings.”

Providing law enforcement agencies with data collection solutions that enable them to quickly and accurately enter and capture information electronically (e.g. driver’s license data, insurance forms, accident details) in the field greatly reduces the need for follow-up paperwork and allows officers to serve more citizens.

“Another emerging data collection need police departments have is collecting digital video evidence,” says Bennick. “Law enforcement has specific requirements for video systems, including the ability to ensure video is stored in a tamper-proof manner following chain of custody requirements, so it can be used in court.”

Identify The Public Safety Decision Maker
As you can imagine, the buying decision makers in public safety are very likely to be different from those you’re used to working with in other vertical markets. According to Bennick and Crist, the public safety decision maker could have any one of the following titles: IT director, CIO, deputy director, captain, acting commander, chief, sheriff, or procurement officer. “What’s important to keep in mind, however, is that even after you identify the decision maker, this person or group of persons probably won’t have complete control over the timing or size of their budgets,” says Crist. Even though this can make sales projections trickier for your company, there is an upside that comes with winning a project with a police department or municipality. “This is a very tight, collegial market where the participants don’t compete with one another,” says Crist. In fact, once a reseller completes a successful project with one municipality, there is a good chance that customer will be willing to serve as a personal reference for other municipalities.

Sell Bundled Solutions And Integration Expertise
After understanding the common needs of public safety organizations, you’ll want to consider specific solutions to sell. Some of the most common solutions include rugged laptops/tablets, vehicle mounting hardware, cellular 4G access for Internet and wireless data communications, mobile printers, rugged scanners/bar code readers, and video capture systems. “Agencies dealing with large amounts of video evidence and other data will also need solutions for managing data storage,” says Bennick.

Crist advises VARs to become integration experts, too. It’s important that you know how to install the right power and USB cables, software, computers, and mounting equipment to allow the technology bundle to operate seamlessly. “Power supply is always one of the biggest challenges VARs can help their clients resolve,” he says. This entails not only ensuring mobile devices can be docked and charged while in the vehicle, but they have adequate battery power to work for extended periods away from the vehicle.

As you’re learning about your prospect’s mobile computing and data collection needs and interests, be sure to ask questions about their printing needs and current printer inventory. “Older printers, and inkjet printers of any age, should be replaced with mobile versions designed specifically for the field environment,” says Crist. “Mobile thermal printers are most appropriate because they’re dust-, vibration-, and drop-resistant; plus, they’re compact and have power supplies that conform to cars, motorcycles, or the body. There are no ink cartridges or toner to stock and replace, and mobile thermal printers can withstand extreme temperature variations.”

Security is another key component to include with your bundled solution, and Bennick advises VARs to keep advanced authentication in mind when procuring tablets for clients. “Two-factor authentication can take many forms, from simple username and password combinations to more complex facial recognition and risk-based authentication,” he says. “Addressing your client’s security needs with your bundled solution can make the purchasing process much smoother for end users. Make sure to offer several authentication options, as each client’s use case can be different.”

Know The Public Safety Market Drivers
There are many factors driving the adoption of new technology in the public safety market, but legislation is one of the primary areas where VARs need to stay current. “We recommend paying close attention to electronic citation legislation in the states where you do business,” says Crist, who then directed me to the State of New Mexico government website (www.nmlegis.gov) and showed me a new act that went into effect July 1, 2013, permitting public safety agencies in New Mexico to substitute paper-based traffic citation systems with electronic systems — with the provision that traffic violators were still required to receive a physical copy of the citation.

A VAR located in this geography could use the above information to focus its sales and marketing efforts on selling e-citation bundles to public safety agencies, making sure to include mobile printers to ensure agencies comply with the requirements of the law.

For VARs, systems integrators, and ISVs looking for new growth opportunities, the public safety market offers a myriad of IT solution and service possibilities. By following Crist’s and Bennick’s advice, resellers can shorten their learning curves and start winning new business deals much sooner.

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