Define your project scope
Decisions used to be easy in the world of analog conventional systems – just add channels/base stations when and where needed, at the existing or new radio sites, maybe re-program some radios, and you were done.
With the advent of digital networks and wide area trunking technology, the answer is no longer so clear. Ever-increasing technical complexity and continuous competition make the situation even more challenging. Even securing ball-park estimates for your options may be very difficult to obtain.
Replace or upgrade?
At first sight an upgrade (incremental changes in hardware, software and licensing) sounds easier and cheaper, but a closer look may reveal that first impression to be false.
There are several reasons for this.
- Your incumbent vendor is unlikely to offer you best pricing unless competitively challenged.
- In some cases, the quantity of hardware and software upgrades needed to bring your system to the next platform may be so significant that the cost may be higher than starting anew.
- Be wary of requirements for dual mode (old proprietary and new open standard) subscriber radios – that requirement alone may be more costly than a complete new network and new subscriber units.
- Some proposed upgrades and migration plans may be an attempt to replace your system – forklift style – while avoiding the competitive process. This is especially true where older proprietary systems are concerned.
It is tempting to simply let your incumbent vendor upgrade your existing system. However, upgrading via non-competitive purchase is only recommended under very specific circumstances:
- your current system is performing very well,
- current running costs are acceptable,
- you have a good relationship with your vendor and local service provider,
- you do not require significant capacity expansion or improvement, or
- you need only small incremental changes (such as adding a site, a channel, a software feature).
If all of the above conditions are true for you, you may be better off talking directly to your current vendor, manufacturer, dealer or system integrator. Otherwise you should prepare for an open procurement process.
But more often, replacing your system will lead to better technology, which is also more cost-effective in the long run.
Join an existing large system?
As a stand-alone system owner, you may be under pressure to join larger, typically state-wide, systems. Should you?
In some cases the answer is simple. Larger systems operators are aware of the financial uncertainty these arrangements can bring, and can sometimes offer irresistible incentives:
- excellent system performance and functionality,
- low maintenance cost,
- excellent technical and logistical support,
- low initial investment,
- sophisticated interoperability options,
- even generous financial credits that enable you to use the system subscription-free for several years.
Unfortunately, not all large systems are equally well-run and well-financed. You risk relinquishing local control over your own system while submitting yourself to inferior services, obsolete technology and the potential for unpredictable cost increases.
The most important considerations are governance and financing. Is the system operated and financed in a way that gives you a high level of confidence in its ability to provide reliable performance to your first responders, at a reasonable and predictable cost?
No Public Safety official can vouch for elected officials and future decisions, including those impacting system performance and costs. But a system that is performing well and financed well is your best indicator of its future performance. Such a system is unlikely – though it cannot be guaranteed – to experience disruptive changes or pose insurmountable budgetary challenges.
Ultimately, as a decision maker you must satisfy yourself that you are thoroughly informed so that you can weigh up the benefits and risks of any agreement you enter into.
Doing nothing is rarely an option. However, occasionally such a decision can be justified. For example, the call for change may be prompted by an extraordinary failure of a system that otherwise is performing to the full satisfaction of the users. If the reasons for failure are fully understood and easily remedied, maintaining the status quo is fully justified.
Perhaps an antenna system failed during a major storm as a result of lightning damage. While the public, the media and politicians might call for drastic change, no technology can provide 100% immunity to the forces of nature and all technologies are vulnerable to some external factors. In this case you should write a report explaining what has happened and justify your course of action – immediate remedies and long term options.
Another hypothetical situation may be the desire of your local leaders to load your system with hundreds of additional non-first responders. You are running a proprietary technology system with expensive subscriber units, all subscribers’ needs are met. Expanding your system to accommodate the additional users is likely to be much more expensive and disruptive than building a separate, low-cost network for the additional users.
Write a simple report explaining your recommendation providing some budgetary comparison.
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