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When Robert Fields, CIO for the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, arrived on the job three years ago, he found that the department's legacy network was seriously deficient. But a new approach to its network architecture, bringing together voice, video and data for troopers on the move, is now helping the department target more innovative IT goals -- and save the state money at a time when budgets are especially tight.
The decision also proved the old adage, "You get what you pay for."
Around 2010, the department "had just purchased these lowest bid, low-quality network switches," Fields said. "When I got on board, they weren't working and they weren't effective for a 24/7 law enforcement agency. It was putting officers' lives at risk."
Fields began rebuilding the network from the ground up, choosing to switch over to new network hardware from Cisco Systems that "enabled us to get the cost-efficient, reliable and secure connectivity that we needed," he said.
More importantly, the revamped network and improved throughput have helped the department realize its vision of connecting patrol officers, managers and other department officials with field offices and troop headquarters around the entire state of Florida via video technology.
"We installed video solutions at 15 locations and began conducting Florida Highway Patrol [FHP] command staff meetings, remote interviews and field manager meetings over video and immediately saw [a return on investment]. It was a huge success," Fields said.
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Not only has the system saved travel costs, it has improved the ability of troopers to do their job. "It's a utility that can keep guys on the road," said Major Steve Williams of the FHP, who was speaking via video from his patrol car during a recent Cisco webcast. "Historically, troopers had to come back to the station to have face-to-face meetings with their supervisors."
New components in the network architecture have also saved the department time and money when troopers upload video content wirelessly to and from their patrol-car dashboard cameras to field offices.
Fields and his team installed dashboard cams in 1,000 patrol cars, funded in part through a federal grant. But the initial upload time was about three hours. It meant that troopers sitting in their cars had to be paid overtime while the video content -- typically about 1.5 GB per shift -- was uploaded.
But by deploying access points and antennas in the designated parking areas for uploading video, using a system also engineered by Cisco, the troopers were able to reduce the upload times to just seven to 15 minutes, according to Fields.
"Monetarily, it would have been $1.2 million for the year in overtime," he said. "That was a cost that we instantly stopped as soon as we put in the new technology."
FHP officials, meanwhile, are able to meet online more consistently, using Cisco's Telepresence videoconferencing product, which has made coordinating enforcement and planning efforts more productive, and has significantly reduced travel and associated costs.
Another piece of the department's network architecture is a Cisco voice-over-IP system that has improved response times and reliability at dispatch centers. With the new voice equipment, dispatch centers can pass calls from one another if volume gets heavy and "self heal" -- if one center goes down, the others take over automatically.