Billy MacInnes
July 31, 2014

Prisoners go free

Anyone in any doubt as to just how important service and training is in the overall IT proposition should take stock of a story that appeared recently on the web site for The Dallas Morning News.

According to the report, 20 inmates had to be released from custody because problems with a new police records management system meant the authorities were unable to get the paperwork done within the required three days of arrest to keep them there.

While the majority of those released prematurely were suspected of property crimes, four of them had been arrested on felony domestic violence charges.

Deputy police chief Christina Smith compared the situation to getting a new car. “You needed a new car, but you’re not familiar with where all the gadgets are on it,” she said.

Richard Todd, president of the Dallas Fraternal Order of Police, complained “at this point, it does not appear to be a very user-friendly programme”. He told The Dallas Morning News that the switch to the new system had been “a nightmare” and “a mess”.

Police chief David Brown told a City Council Budget, Finance and Audit Committee hearing that some officers had received training on the system, provided by a company called Intergraph based in Huntsville, Alabama, but may have forgotten how to use it.

From the outside, this does not appear to be a smooth technology rollout. How can it be when 20 suspects receive a get out of jail free card because users can’t work the new police records management system properly?

Police chief Brown suggested part of the problem was that there were “three generations of cops working for us. Some of the younger cops get it much quicker and better. Some of the veterans have more difficulty with technology, so it takes a little bit more of a learning curve”.

That may be true but surely the whole point with any system is to ensure as many people as possible can use it, not just the technically literate? If the new police records management system appears daunting to many of the police in Dallas, the chances are it’s not going to be used properly.

In these types of implementations, it’s the responsibility of the employer and the software developer to ensure as many people as possible can use the system confidently before it goes live. That should mean pitching the training to people who “have more difficulty with technology” rather than drawing false comfort from the ability of younger employees to “get” technology much quicker and better.

That’s something anyone seeking to implement a system that requires users to make changes or learn new ways of working should keep in mind. It’s not about who “gets” it but who uses it.