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How To Evaluate Evidence Management Systems- Part 2

January 12, 2021

In this webinar, Ben Townsend, the Founder and CEO of Tracker Products, talked about the process of evaluating evidence management software systems.  He explained the important criteria and features that you should be looking for. This was NOT a session that was intended to sell Tracker’s software or evaluate specific products, it was meant to educate you about the way to quantitatively evaluate the software options that are available. After the presentation, Ben responded to questions from the attendees and made some suggestions about questions that you should ask the evidence management software vendors. 

The first question was, “How do you correct a human error – made during data entry – in the chain of custody. If you enter the wrong badge number, or there’s a typo, how do you make that correction?”

Ben said, “You can go in and apply notes to it. But, what I don’t want to do, is to allow manipulation of that data because then all of a sudden I don’t have the original content in there. Within our application, there’s the ability to go in and make notes, but the actual chain of custody cannot be manipulated.”

The next question was, “Are auto-disposition functions customizable to meet the statute of limitation variable?” 

Ben said, “Let me speak broadly, so I’m not talking about just our application. The short answer is yes; with any effective evidence management software system you should be able to turn on those auto disposition notifications. Those notifications are going to be a different time length; if it’s a murder investigation versus found property. On found property, that notification is going to go out at 90 days. With a murder, it may be multiple years down the road before a summary notification even goes out. 

Any vendor that has auto-disposition features, like what I’m describing, is probably going to allow you to set the time for when the notifications go out. My biggest worry is… does auto-disposition even exist in other systems? Do they even have the ability to notify people when the evidence is up for review?”

The next question was, “Is the error correction note visible with exportable chain of custody records?”

Ben said, “Again, speaking broadly. That’s something you should definitely ask about with the evidence management software products that you’re considering. If you can manipulate data like currency… Let’s say, somebody entered a thousand dollars in currency – they accidentally put one too many zeros on it, it was only a hundred dollars in currency – that’s a sticky situation right off the bat. If it’s guns, drugs, or money… as an evidence custodian, you should not be manipulating that stuff. 

That’s where it goes back to the officer. If they manipulate it, the logging record indicates the date and time they’ve manipulated it. This is another broad subject… I would argue that officers should be entering their own evidence in your evidence management application. If you happen to be operating so they write information on paper and turn it into you and then you have to enter all that evidence into the software… I’m going to assume you’re spending the bulk of your day simply inputting evidence into the system and you don’t have time for disposition. 

So, I think any application you look at should include a feature that allows officers to enter their own evidence. If they do manipulate something, there’s going to be a logging record that indicates what it was before, and what it is now. But that’s why it’s so critical that their name is on that, not your name.”

RELATED: THE EVIDENCE MANAGEMENT ROLES OF CUSTODIANS AND OFFICERS

Ben added, “I’m going to skip a couple of sections in the evidence management evaluation form because we’re running out of time and I really want to focus on some of these miscellaneous features. There are a couple of items listed in here that you would have no idea how to ask and they are some of the most important questions on this form.”

evidence management webinar

“I’m going to start with row 70. Most people don’t even think about asking about modules. There is nothing more infuriating in this world when it comes to software than to see a demo of the application – where they show you every feature that they offer –  but then when you buy that software, all of a sudden you find out you bought the base application and didn’t get all of the modules you saw. They cost extra money.

I’ve heard people say they had to go back to their chief and explain that the $30,000 investment they made was $50,000 short of the full product. They have to explain to him that they didn’t understand the vendor sold modules to their product. Modules are infuriating. They are difficult to figure out. I know that there are people out there whose pricing sheets are five pages long. 

If they need five pages to explain how they price it, you’ll need a doctorate to figure out how it works. And, they’ve got modules for this, or modules for that, the possibilities of you figuring out what that application is going to cost you now, and in five years, is going to be very difficult. 

It’s no problem if you buy an application that has modules, but you’ve gotta know what you’re getting into. You should be able to understand all the different pricing components. And sometimes, it’s not just a module that costs extra money, it’s the number of people logging in! So, if you’re on a call with a vendor, and you’re struggling to figure out how they price the software, that’s a red flag right off the bat.

RELATED:  EVIDENCE MANAGEMENT SYSTEM DECISION GUIDE – 10 ESSENTIAL FACTORS TO CONSIDER

You also want to ask the question on line 67: How am I going to get all my legacy data into this product?

Who’s going to do all of that work? What does it look like? At Tracker, we discuss what the data import process looks like and how much help you’re going to get. I think one of the most important things you can ask your potential evidence management software vendor is: What does your support look like? 

In fact, test the support of that vendor. Before you buy the software product, call their technical support phone number. If they’ve got a chat system, get on their chat system. If they’ve got an email system, email that vendor and find out how long it takes them to respond to your request. If they suck at responding while you’re in the buying phase, what do you think it’s going to look like when you’re a paid customer. Support infrastructure is one of the most overlooked, but one of the most important things because, long-term, that’s what you’re going to be dealing with.

Another question to ask… When’s the last time you updated the software? Do you have a living, breathing product that’s getting updates or has it been five years since you’ve updated your application? My assumption is, if you’re using a product that’s on your infrastructure, it has not been updated in a very long time. And, updating it becomes a disaster, or you’ve got to pay for it or buy a new product. 

Alright. I would also get into inventory and discrepancy reports. How does the inventory module work with them? I’m talking about scanning all the barcodes, on all the items, and producing a report that tells you the discrepancies. You’ve got to understand how that works within the system. 

Row 65 asks, How does your software integrate with my RMS system? Have you integrated with an RMS system? How much is it going to cost me to get that done if I want to do that?

Rows 72 and 73: Training and Continued Education

When’s the last time some of you actually went to a training session for your software product? When’s the last time your vendor held training in your area; where other users of the system collectively met and learned together? Is that something that even happens? Ask your vendor. 

Buying a software product and then just throwing it in place is not going to fix your problems. Let me say that one more time… Software will not fix your problems. Software is one component to a larger process. Training and continued education matter. Ask them, How are you guys going to help me advance in what I’m doing? And if they don’t have a good answer to that, that should be a red flag to you. Or at least it should be a flag that you’re aware of.

The last one I would throw out… How many implementations of your software have you done? Is this your first rodeo, or have you been doing this for a while? 

You should also go out and find somebody else using the software and talk to them about it. The product should be based on all these evaluations; all of these characteristics that I’ve discussed today. In the end, like I said earlier, I have no problems if you say, I want the most affordable product. I don’t need that feature. At least you’ll be educated about what you’re not going to get.”

RELATED: EFFECTIVE EVIDENCE TRACKING SYSTEMS

Another question came in from an attendee of the webinar: How is data merging handled? Frontline officers are very vocal or resistant if they have to describe evidence in RMS and then again in evidence management programs.

“Ben said, “That’s a great question and this is where I’m going to have to get into my own opinion on that matter. The bulk of our customers are using our standalone evidence management system. So, their agency has simply taken the stance…. If you need evidence, it’s over there in that Tracker application. 

There are some organizations that we’ve done integrations with, for their RMS system, so that it’s a single entry. I completely agree with not having dual entry, but you may have a little bit of work to do, to get your agency to buy into the idea. We’re not going to do dual entry, we’re going to use that system over there. That’s evidence. That’s where it’s at.” 

Another question came in from an attendee:  “Is our agency’s data stored exclusively at our agency, is it all in the cloud, or is it stored in both locations?”

evidence management webinar

Ben said, “For the purposes of what I’m doing here today, that’s a question you absolutely should ask the evidence management software vendors. I have a line item for that up here under Physical and Digital Evidence. Speaking of us specifically, we have a cloud-based application, but we have two components. You can store the media in the cloud or you can store it locally on your own infrastructure and still use our cloud components.

I just saw somebody posted one of the age-old fights when it comes to buying systems… Just use the RMS application. Purely for monetary purposes, many agencies will say, I’m not going to go with a standalone application. We’re going to go with whatever the RMS system offers. I have two answers to that. 

Number one, make your RMS vendor answer all these questions. We’ve talked about this in some of our other webinars… If you go back to the chief and say something like, I want to use this because the RMS sucks, your chief does not care that you think it sucks.

You’ve got to have a better answer than that. Take this comparison document, go to the RMS vendor and say, Can you please answer all these questions? And then when you sit down with the chief, you say, Hey, I did an evaluation between the two and Chief…  I’ve got no problem with you saying we’re going to go with the more affordable one. But, I just need to make sure you’re aware that the RMS vendor scored 28 out of a 100, whereas the application I’m looking at was 98 out of a hundred. So Chief, could you sign the documents saying, you’ll take the liability of going with the cheaper one. Maybe don’t go that harsh, with where they accept the liability, but educate them on what’s going on.

That is the objective here… you are assessing your requirements and you are grading the different systems. This is simply a tool to help you make an informed decision.”

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.