We’re just about to finish the first full Airwave year since the budget cuts were announced (for most users, the Airwave year ends at the end of March). It’s a good time to review what you’ve managed to achieve, and work out what you need to do next. If you’ve not done or tried anything yet, this is the perfect time to start.
The first and most important thing to do is to work out what it is you’re trying to achieve. My last article (How to control your Airwave costs – Wireless Nov/Dec 2010) dealt primarily with cost control. What has become apparent in the time since then is that the techniques I discussed (tracking talk group footprints over time, separating active and passive listening, setting site and occupancy budgets for each talk group and assessing the impact of each of these on the billing calculation, amongst others) are useful in three distinct areas.
Discover the underlying detail of your Airwave charges (specifically the additional traffic). If you understand in detail where the money is going, you can make intelligent decisions about how
you might plan your usage for better financial efficiency. You should be aiming to use the network the way you want to, to support your operational plan. Accept the additional traffic on the network when it’s where you want it, but make the adjustments necessary to take out the additional traffic you don’t want or need.
You can also see in detail how your teams on the ground are actually using the Airwave network. This proves useful in understanding not only the communication patterns behind your Business As Usual but also any local or national events you may have held (or suffered!).The importance behind this ability to carry out event analysis was brought into sharp focus in the aftermath of the widespread disturbances in the UK last year.
For your annual review, the ability to understand in detail what Business As Usual or pre-planned events actually look like on the ground means you can validate the contingency plans you have for any type of situation. It also means you can carry out very detailed reviews of what actually happened, and how that differed from what you expected.
Being ready for what comes next
Clearly it’s not an immediate priority, but once you begin to understand in detail how you use your current communication system, you are better placed to contribute to the process of defining what follows the current Airwave contract, including any potential changes. If you leave it until the last minute, it may well be too late for your voice to be heard.
An annual review
An annual review of your communication strategy shouldn’t take up any more time and effort than is necessary, but if you are committed to intelligent and managed use of Airwave a review can help focus efforts to get the most from it. Here’s a five point plan for what your annual review should cover.
• Understand in detail how the last Airwave year went. If you’re not identifying the underlying patterns of your usage, you can’t be in a position to make a detailed assessment on whether things are or are not going as planned. This needs more than just following a few high level totals and averages. Your own data is available from the time you first started using the Airwave network. Make best use of it.
• Assess whether things did or did not go according to plan. Are your talk groups behaving as planned or expected? Are your occupancies keeping within acceptable limits? Are your talk group footprints staying where you’d planned or budgeted? Is your use of status messaging producing the results you anticipated? What about your use of point-to-point calls and telephony? Remember, there is no right or wrong answer for how to use these features. It is for you to decide how they can most effectively support the way you want to carry out your operational responsibilities.
• Decide what action to take when things didn’t go according to plan, and how to capitalise on your success when they did. You might have set a target of reducing cost or occupancy or traffic in a particular area; you might have set a target of being able to respond more quickly or more effectively. It’s this assessment that needs the involvement of the groups affected; from operations, from the control room, from communications, and possibly from senior management.
• Consider any further changes you might want to make to your communications strategy. These changes might follow on from your own initiatives or from an external assessment (such as the National Policing Improvement Agency’s (NPIA) Airwave Max report). They might follow on from changes in your operational structures, or from other assessments of how your strategy needs to change in preparation for upcoming events.
• Finally, you should be thinking about whether the method you’re using to follow progress is sufficient to allow you to keep up to date, react where necessary and communicate it effectively to the right people. To quote Ken Blanchard: ‘Feedback Is the breakfast of champions.’ Do you regularly keep the operational teams informed of how things are going? Do you let them know in ways that are relevant and useful to them? For instance, quoting Erlangs or Traffic Units is fine when talking inside the Airwave group, but other groups might find the concept of ‘minutes-per-hour’ more useful.
Have your say
Remember, this is the end of the first full Airwave year since the budget cuts were announced and the start of the second. The challenge for all of us is to achieve demonstrable savings while maintaining operational effectiveness, and we all still have a lot to learn about the things that can be readily achieved and the most effective tools and methods for achieving them.
For police forces, the NPIA is doing its part with Airwave Max, but it can’t achieve anything in isolation. If you have any comments in this area, any ideas or things you’ve tried, now is a very good time to be sharing them.