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How To Evaluate Evidence Management Systems- Part 1

January 6, 2021

In this webinar, Ben Townsend, the Founder and CEO of Tracker Products, talked about the process of evaluating the evidence management software options that are on the market today.  He examined the important criteria and features that you should be looking for. This was NOT a session for selling software or evaluating specific products, this was meant to educate you about how to quantitatively evaluate the options that are available. 

Ben opened the webinar by saying, “I’m going to show you some tips and tricks that I think are important when it comes to evaluating any software. But we are going to focus on evidence management software today. Now, for those of you that are Tracker clients, don’t run off. I’m going to show you something that I’m going to guess you didn’t have access to when you were evaluating software.

And, for those of you that are not using an evidence management system or you’re in an RMS product, odds are at some point you’re going to be looking to upgrade. I hope you look back on this and say that was very valuable, as far as helping you get into a better position of evaluating these systems. 

RELATED: “JUST USE THE RMS,” RESPONDING TO FOUR WORDS THAT MAKE EVIDENCE MANAGERS CRINGE

What it really boils down to, is based on what your requirements are; which system best meets the needs. That’s what we’re shooting for… your needs. Plus, what do all of these systems provide and which one gets you the closest to getting exactly what you need.

I’m going to talk for a moment about the Architecture of the customizable spreadsheet you’re looking at [see image below]. We’re going to talk about Dashboards, Statistics, and Graphs. We’re going to get into Searching and Extracting Data. These are all what I believe are major necessities to any effective evidence management system. Then, we get into doing Transactions, Customization, Reporting, Tasking, Major Features of an effective software application, and then we get down to the very bottom of Miscellaneous features. 

Click Here to Get the Free Evidence Management Comparison Worksheet

You’ll notice, in the image above, that every one of these rows is a different features. I would suggest that you discuss them with whatever evidence management vendor you’re looking at. Each one of them has been weighted as a one, two, or three. One being the least important, because it’s got less weight to it. Three being something absolutely critical that you should be looking for.

Let’s just pretend that you’re looking at three different software vendors for evidence management systems. You should be able to send this exact Excel doc to them and say, Does your software have this? To what degree would you need to build it out to get it there? Or, if you’re considering Tracker’s SAFE software, simply tell me what your answer is to each one of these components. In the end, that will give you three scores for three systems based on your requirements. Then, you can review them and know, That one right there easily got us closest to what our requirements were.

There are things in here that might be missing. You might think, Hey, pricing is a core component to what I’m interested in. From my standpoint, I don’t think pricing should be on a list like this. I think it’s something that does go into the evaluation; meaning, if you’re looking at two products that are both a 95 out of 100 you might say, Well, I’m going to go with the more affordable one, because it’s got all of the features and comparisons

I think most people don’t understand what they’re getting into, and they just look at price and say, Oh Hey, that’s the cheapest one. I’m going to go with it. Which is okay, so long as you understand what you’re NOT getting. 

Now that you understand how this document is laid out, let me take a moment to explain some of these different areas. Alright… the first section addresses the Architecture of the software. This is the one area many people don’t even dig into because they’re looking for features of the software… Does it do this, does it do that? And, they don’t even consider the actual architecture of the product.

So, the first thing I have on here… Is this a browser based system? Am I installing it on my hardware? Where is this software going to reside? Generally the closer the product is to a cloud-based/browser-based application, odds are it’s newer architecture. 

There are a lot of products out there on the market where you’re going to install it on your desktop and the software is 20 years old. It’s the same product they sold and installed back in the year 2000. And in technology terms, something that was developed in 2000 is archaic. If you say, I’ll take that, keep in mind that if you buy a 20 year old system, the odds of it doing email alerts, and notifying officers of evidence disposition requests… that’s probably not going to happen.

RELATED: EVIDENCE MANAGEMENT SYSTEM: OFF THE SHELF VS BUILDING INTERNALLY

The next part on here that I think is really important is Compliances. Is this product CJIS compliant? Does the company you’re talking with even know what CJIS is? They should be able to answer that question.

I’m going to skip down on my document to row number 8… Mobility. Does it matter whether or not my officers can collect evidence in the field and enter it onto a mobile device? We are living in a world of newer technology, so… does it matter whether you can use this device to enter evidence? You’ve got to ask the vendor the question, What is your mobility platform?

Because of Covid, there is a real necessity for people to look at evidence remotely because they’re working from home now. I guarantee you that six months ago, you would have never thought about that as a necessity. You may say, I don’t care about mobility. That’s fine, you can delete that off the document. But, remember that things are constantly evolving, and you need an application that will adapt to the demands of the future. 

Okay. Let’s go down into the next section and talk about Dashboards, Graphs and Statistics. One of the most important things, in a quality evidence management system, is your ability to get statistics and data. If I were to walk into your evidence room tomorrow and ask you 100 questions about your evidence… for example, How much evidence have you brought in in the last year? How much of it has been disposed of? How much of it have you returned to owners? Can you give me the value of all your currency, all your drugs, and everything else? 

To me, if you cannot answer those questions within a reasonable amount of time, odds are you don’t know what’s on your shelves. If you don’t know what you’ve got and you cannot get statistics like that, how are you going to be effective at disposition? To me, the most critical component of disposition is knowing what you’ve got, when can it be disposed of, and what is the process with which you’re going to go through disposition? If you can’t get that answer within minutes, you’re going to be really behind the eight ball when it comes to actually disposing of evidence.

Now, we’ll move onto the next part, which is Searching and Data Extraction. For example, I can see that I’ve got 300 items that meet the disposition criteria that I’m looking for. How am I going to use that information now? So, now I’m going to go in and select all these items. I may kick it out to an Excel document, I may want to email it to somebody else and say, Hey, you were asking me about all of this evidence. Here’s an Excel document showing you all 300 items that meet that criteria. 

RELATED: EFFECTIVE EVIDENCE TRACKING SYSTEMS

One of the most important questions you can ask the vendor, when you’re looking at their evidence management application, is… How much can I do with the information myself versus how much external support do I need? Do I have to go to the vendor to get the data I need, or can I navigate the software, and understand the data myself? The more people you have to get involved in the process of figuring out what your data is, the slower – and more costly – it will be. These answers have got to come very quickly. The data that you need is always the most relevant at the exact moment you need it.

Alright, so moving on to the next one. Physical and Digital Evidence. Your worlds are no longer just physical evidence. Now you have to manage all of these digital components of evidence. So, some of the questions that I would ask is… Does your application allow physical and digital evidence to be managed within the same software product? Does the software handle chain of custody? In fact, I’ve got it written on row 29, Do you offer a digital chain of custody? Does your software offer the ability to see every time when somebody downloads that file?

When an officer goes in and reviews a case, they’re not only looking at a list of all their physical evidence and saying, Yeah, keep this, get rid of that. They’re also looking at the digital evidence and saying, I don’t need that stuff anymore. If digital evidence piles up on your hard drive, you’ll have the same problem as with your evidence facility… you’ll eventually run out of room. 

Alright, the next one… I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this because I believe every software product out there is going to do Transactions. Check in, check out, moves. 

But, when you’re using the plugin for your RMS system; I’ve heard people say… In order to check out a hundred items, I have to go through 100 different  transactions. I mean, how awful would that be? How much time would it take to sit there and go through 100 items to check each one of them out? You should be able to go in and use a barcode scanner or – in my world, a mobile device – to check out a hundred items. And this should be done very quickly; and you should be able to get digital signatures on it. 

Let’s go to row 34… Unalterable Chain of Custody. If your software allows you to manipulate chain of custody, how reliable is the chain of custody?

Alright, the next one I think is unbelievably important. It is a question you should ask your vendor… Can I build my own Custom Data Collection fields? Why ask that question? Well, what happens when something new comes up in this world and now all of a sudden your chief says, You know what… going forward, I want you to submit an annual report to me that shows how many pieces of evidence you brought in that were potentially exposed to COVID 19? 

Right now, your answer would probably be, I wouldn’t even know how to do that. Do you want me to get a piece of paper out and write them all down? In that scenario, you would need to be able to go in and add a data collection point to the item entry screen. And the question goes right back to what I said a little bit ago. Who’s going to do that work? Do you have to get technical people from the vendor involved?

You should be able to go in, and within a moment’s notice, create a new data collection field. Then, you can easily run searches on that specific evidence. You can also go into your item label and add that piece of data. 

Okay. The next component in here is Reporting. Again, I would very simply ask the question… If I want to build my own report, my own nice PDF stylized report, and I want to put my logo on it and I want to create a custom field… The simple question, again, is, Who’s going to do all that work? And if it’s the vendor, it’s going to cost you money and time to get that done. You know, ask the question… How does report customization work? 

RELATED: RATING YOUR EVIDENCE MANAGEMENT SYSTEM

Alright, now we’re going down a little closer to the bottom of the listing here. The next one is Tasking and Communicating with other people about evidence. And here’s why I think that is important…. when it comes time to dispose of a piece of evidence – that’s eligible for disposition and you want to get rid of it – without using an effective evidence management system, you’re going to send an email to somebody, you’re going to make a phone call, or you’re going to print out a piece of paper and deliver it to them. Most likely, in all three of those scenarios, you’re going to get ignored. Down the road, you’ve got to go back and do the same process again. 

I want a tasking communication component in the software that essentially works like email. You go in and you create a task for somebody and you say… Hey, I want to get rid of this evidence. Are you cool with that? And now they’re going to get an email saying they’ve been assigned a task. They can’t ignore it, because if they do they know you’re going to bump it up to their commander. The task doesn’t get closed out until they respond to it. 

And the most important piece of that is… five years from now when you’ve already disposed of the evidence, but now it looks like that piece of evidence has turned up missing. Have you ever gone back to look for that piece of paper? Have you ever gone back to look for an email from five years ago? How much do you want to rely on that piece of paper to back you up about getting rid of that evidence? 

I guarantee you that we’ve all got stories of… that thing was lost and I don’t have a record of it. With tasking, it’s always in the software. It cannot be altered. It cannot be deleted. And you’ve got a record that… Not only did I ask you to dispose of that evidence, but here was your response on this date, at this time. 

Okay, we’ve got four more sections to cover and we’ll have this all wrapped up in 10 minutes. The next one that’s listed is Major Features. These are big things that you want to talk to that vendor about. The first one is Disposition Notification; what I call auto-disposition. Essentially, I would ask this question, How are you going to help me ramp up my disposition of evidence?

It’s going to be either, I can’t help you with that. Or, You can print out pieces of paper that you can distribute to the officers. Those are really bad answers; fraught with problems. I want a system that’s going to automatically send out an email notification to somebody saying, This evidence is up for review. What do you want to do with it? With our software product that is the single greatest feature clients can implement, because, in the end, most people would say my biggest problem is disposition. So, if we can ramp up the disposition process, that is going to be what I call a Major Feature. 

The next one I’m going to list as Workflow with email or SMS notification. So, I would simply ask the question… If somebody were to log in and manipulate currency, can my finance person get a text message? Again, it speaks more to the development level of the product. 

The very last topic is Mobile Device Capability. To me, you should be looking at software that’s going to operate on a mobile device. You certainly want to get some insight as to how much the vendor is thinking about mobility because it speaks to the technical ability of the software.”

Tracker Products and The Evidence Management Institute want to give you something productive to think about during this time of uncertainty… a series of free evidence management training and panel discussions. Watch and comment on the recordings here, or – to get in on the discussion – join the Evidence Management Community Forum.

Tracker Product’s SAFE evidence tracking software is more than just barcodes and inventory control, it’s end-to-end chain of custody software for physical and digital evidence, resolving each of the critical issues facing evidence management today. To learn more about Tracker Products, CLICK HERE.

Or, if you’re interested in Evidence Management Training from our partner company, VISIT EMI HERE.