When it comes to best practices for rip and replace technology projects, opinions vary from “if it ain't broken, don't fix it” to “big bang is best”. Most opinions fall into the middle ground of “improve what you can”, but this solution may not be not ideal in the long run. A business that takes the middle ground may find it extends the inefficiencies of a legacy system for just a few more years, after which a “big bang” replacement will be necessary anyway.
The biggest issue with sorting through these opinions is that many experts discuss replacing or upgrading entire IT infrastructures. In these circumstances, the advice provided is going to be irrelevant to a business that has identified inefficiencies in one area of its business because the cost and disruption of replacing an entire IT infrastructure to solve a problem in one area is not going to be worth it. It's the corporate equivalent of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.
However, the inefficiencies still exist, and the business has to decide whether to live with them, go for a short-term temporary fix, or rip and replace the offending technology. In the majority of cases, the decision will depend on how bad the inefficiencies are, what the impact is on the business, and whether the cost of ripping and replacing the offending technology can be justified in terms of enhanced performance or some other factor - such as security.
Let's Discuss Emergency Notification Systems
A good example of an inefficient technology that doesn't require the replacement of an entire IT infrastructure is emergency notification systems. In many businesses around the country, the emergency notification system solely consists of a federally-mandated fire alarm. The primary reason this is an inefficient system is because it alerts the workforce to every type of emergency situation, not just a fire.
A fire alarm not only sends the wrong signal to people when an incident such as an active shooter occurs (i.e. evacuate rather than hide), the system may not connect with the right emergency service - if it connects with an emergency service at all. Often valuable minutes can be wasted contacting 9-1-1, explaining the nature and location of an incident, and waiting for an emergency response - minutes that may not only cost a business time and money, but could also cost employees their lives.
Some businesses have tried to overcome this issue by implementing secondary text messaging and PA systems as an “improve what you can” solution. However, these too have their inefficiencies inasmuch as they provide limited information to an entire workforce, whereas more information to a segment of the workforce would often be more appropriate. As a result they maximize business disruption, while still failing to connect direct with emergency services.
Is a Rip and Replace Strategy Appropriate for Emergency Notifications?
This is largely going to depend on what system is already in place, what its inefficiencies are, and how ripping and replacing the existing system will enhance business operations, and - in this case - security. There are also limitations on exactly what parts of an existing system can be ripped. For example, fire alarms are federally mandated, so these have to stay in place. However, they could be integrated into a replacement system for when a fire actually occurs.
Some potential inefficiencies have already been discussed - the failure to inform the workforce of the nature and location of the emergency, sending a workplace-wide alert when only a localized alert is necessary, and time wasted in contacting emergency services. If you add to these not knowing if every employee at risk of danger has been notified, a failure to support two-way communication, and not being able to use the system to expedite disaster recovery, there is a strong argument for ripping and replacing whatever elements of the emergency notification system you can.
The ideal replacement emergency notification system should use multiple channels of communication to alert whichever segments of the workforce are in danger. It should be capable of notifying 9-1-1 to the nature and location of the emergency, have message monitoring capabilities to identify any targeted, unresponsive member of the workforce, and support two-way communication to increase situational awareness during an incident and resolve it as quickly as possible. Any features that can expedite disaster recovery or prevent incidents from happening in the first place are additional bonuses.
A multimodal emergency notification system can help address all the above inefficiencies and more. Targeted members of the workforce and 9-1-1 can be notified simultaneously of an emergency with just three clicks from any Internet-connected device. Message dispatch and receipt are monitored via a user-friendly incident command dashboard, through which affected members of the workforce can provide feedback on the incident so resources are directed where they are most urgently required.
To further accelerate emergency response and minimize downtime, system administrators can upload details of their premises. This feature provides first responders with information such as access routes, floor plans and utility cut-off points. If gates and doors are equipped with automatic locking mechanisms, the key codes can also be uploaded to the platform, as well as the contact details for security personnel and incident command.
With regard to expediting disaster recovery, some platforms also include a geo-polling function that can survey off-shift employees about their availability to work additional hours, while an employee safety mobile app extension includes an anonymous tip texting capability employees can use to alert HR to insider threats. As was discussed in this article about active shooter incidents in business, anonymous tip texting can help overcome the issue employees being reluctant to report a colleague displaying pre-attack behaviors.
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