If you work in public safety you know how much you count on your mission-critical systems to perform the everyday work involved in running a 911 center. But did you ever stop to think how you equally rely on the support services that back these systems up? As the world of emergency communications becomes more complex by the day, there are greater opportunities for things to go wrong. That’s all the more reason to take a proactive approach when it comes to service and support. To get ahead of this trend, NICE recently announced its new Proactive Care service plan. I recently sat down with
Francis Carlo, Vice President of Public Safety Global Services for NICE, to learn more about it.
First off, how is this different from traditional maintenance and support?
Fran Carlo: It’s all about being proactive, as the name implies. Most customers don't understand that traditional maintenance agreements today are for fixing something once a problem occurs (otherwise called break/fix). This new plan we are offering is all about taking a proactive approach so they can prevent issues from occurring in the first place.
NICE’s Proactive Care plan was designed to complement our traditional support offering by adding five support options to proactively address problems before they get out of hand. These options include: Proactive System Monitoring, Routine System Health Checks, MAC Services (Moves, Adds and Changes), Training Subscriptions, and Customer Site Visits.
How did NICE come up with the idea?
Fran Carlo: We’ve had advanced maintenance services on the Enterprise side of our business for a while now. What really brought this to light for me, though, was about two years ago when we started seeing Motorola Solutions, a respected leader in the public safety space, shifting their maintenance offerings to fit more of a life cycle management approach. So what we’ve done is to map our offerings in a similar manner to provide added value to our customers.
Fran Carlo: The nature of technology in public safety is changing, and demanding new approaches. Before, everything was standalone, proprietary and hardware-based, so most fixes and upgrades were done in the field. Today, most solutions are software-based, run on third-party COTS hardware, and sit on IP networks. And they’re integrated with other systems, which adds to the complexity.
Many customers think that you just put a logger in a closet and it runs, but it doesn’t work that way. Historically, 50% of the support cases we encounter are situations where our system is impacted by outside things. Whether a system interoperates with, or sits on, the radio network or customer network, IT staff and third party IT providers will often make physical and logical changes. Unfortunately, they’re not always going to be aware of how these changes will impact connected systems, like the NICE solution. Even something as simple as changing an IP address can impact the ability to play audio recordings, stop archiving routines, or halt recording altogether. Simple upgrades to a phone switch, or just pushing antivirus or other updates to the desktop can all affect the logging solution, and these types of situations are not covered under standard maintenance agreements.
MACs (also called Moves, Adds and Changes) can also be problematic, and are not covered under standard maintenance contracts. Operating system updates, modifications to talk groups, upgrades to your telephone switch, any changes that alter network access or a firewall, or physically moving equipment – all these things can wreak havoc upon your recording system. About 30 to 50 percent of the support case calls we receive annually are for completely avoidable situations like this.
So how does NICE Proactive Care solve these problems?
Fran Carlo: NICE Proactive Care offers three levels of monitoring plans that provide 24/7/365 coverage for customers – everything from basic monitoring where we monitor system alarms, to the other extreme where we are proactively looking for every possible way to optimize a customer’s system. Customers can also subscribe to an annual block of support service time for MACs. With this subscription in place, the customer simply gives NICE a 2-week notice of any moves, adds or changes, and we will help the customer plan and execute the MACs flawlessly.
Can all of this be done remotely?
Fran Carlo: Yes, everything can be done remotely, and faster. That’s a big shift we’re seeing in the market with everything moving to IP. Now we can monitor and prevent support issues, and integrate into our customers’ operations as tightly as required. We can even run automated monthly health checks and report on predictive data to inform a customer when they may need more storage, for example.
Of course, as always, we will still support our customers on-site with field support technicians, but we can also do more than ever before remotely.
Why is this level of support essential for public safety?
Fran Carlo: 911 centers purchase NICE’s recording solutions and other applications for compliance, public safety, and legal regulations. There’s no room for error or failure when it comes to recording calls and being able to reproduce this information for evidence, whether it’s a criminal or civil matter.
Are there any other types of support issues that can be addressed through Proactive Care?
Fran Carlo: Yes, definitely. Most support issues can be addressed proactively through a) education, so customers know how to use the system, and/or b) by having monitoring in place to catch and avoid problems in the first place. I’ve addressed the proactive monitoring piece, so let’s talk a little about training.
Typically about 9% of the support calls we receive are what I’d categorize as “How to calls,” or customers calling because they don’t know how to use the system. Version upgrades, and staff attrition contribute to this, as does
our propensity to forget what we’ve learned in introductory training after about 90 days.
Traditional introductory training usually involves taking a class for a day or two to learn how to use the system, and then returning to work, where the trainee may only apply 10-20% of what they learned in any typical day. So what typically happens after that is the trainee forgets what he or she learned over time.
So how does Proactive Care address that?
Fran Carlo: Proactive Care takes a more dynamic approach to educating and training customers.
What do I mean by that?
Our philosophy is that we always need to be learning, re-learning, and practicing what we learn, just like pro athletes. Pro athletes take free throws daily, suit up for batting practice, and take their putts on the practice green. Learning how to use new technology works the same way.
With Proactive Care, customers can take advantage of on-site training courses, but they can also follow up by purchasing subscription-based training – for example blocks of hours they can use to attend refresher webinars, so they can brush up on skills throughout the year.