By Paul Graeve
It is a huge understatement to say that most fire chiefs do not have an IT background. But in today’s world, managing an IT department has become part of a fire chief’s job.
Every year, as gear and trucks continue to become more advanced and connected, fire chiefs find themselves managing IT infrastructure far beyond anything they ever imagined. Moreover, as these advanced trucks and gear capture more and more data, the size of fire departments’ IT budgets increases. By the year 2020, your fire department will be collecting and managing 40 times the data you’re currently managing. This is a daunting challenge facing every fire chief.
However, by embracing Software as a Service (SaaS), departments can dramatically simplify their IT requirements and slash their IT budgets. Imagine a world where an entire IT department consists of a $100 per month Internet connection. By embracing SaaS, such a reality is possible. You can put your fire department on a path to reach this goal right now.
Make It a Goal
To help start moving toward this goal, make sure all software products your department purchases from this point forward are SaaS solutions. Push your current software vendors to move toward providing you with an SaaS solution by letting them know that this is your goal. Start exploring alternate SaaS solutions to meet your needs.
SaaS as a service works by providing software over the Internet that departments use through any Web browser. VineLight Fire Intelligence is an example of fire service software being delivered as SaaS. There are numerous advantages SaaS offers over traditional software. First, and most importantly, SaaS runs on a vendor’s servers, not on a department’s servers. SaaS eliminates the need for departments to purchase and manage their own servers. This dramatically slashes IT expenses as it eliminates the need to purchase servers, firewalls, and the IT staff required to maintain them. If a fire department had nothing but SaaS software solutions, it could quite literally cut its IT department to nothing but an Internet connection and a laptop or tablet for administrative personnel.
Another advantage of SaaS is immediate software releases. When an SaaS vendor adds features and enhancements to its software, they are available immediately the next time a department logs into its system through a Web browser.
Probably the biggest advantage of SaaS is cost. Typically SaaS software is sold as an affordable annual subscription that costs a small fraction of purchasing traditional software. VineLight’s average fire department pays VineLight around $3,000 a year for an annual subscription. To purchase such a business intelligence platform and get it set up to meet a fire department’s needs would be at least $100,000 and probably significantly more. SaaS vendors can charge so much less for their solutions because they are able to spread the expenses of their servers and software licenses over all their customers.
One critical thing to know about SaaS is that a department is shifting storage for its data from local servers to an SaaS vendor’s database servers. Thus, it is critical that when a department negotiates its SaaS contracts it ensures that its service level agreement (SLA) with its SaaS vendor clearly states:
- The department still owns its data and all the rights to that data.
- The vendor agrees to share the department’s data with other SaaS vendors of the department’s choice.
- The vendor agrees to share the department’s data via processes and methods that the department specifies.
- The vendor will not sell the department’s data to anyone without the department’s written consent.
- The vendor will back up the department’s data in multiple locations to ensure it is never lost as a result of a catastrophe.
These are critical terms to include in an SLA with any SaaS provider that should not be negotiable. If an SaaS vendor will not agree to these terms, a department should eliminate it from consideration. There is no reason any SaaS vendor should hold data hostage and prevent a fire department from sharing and using its data as it sees fit. Any vendor that will not readily agree to these terms does not have a fire department’s best interests at heart.
A good SaaS vendor should not only agree to share a department’s data with any other SaaS vendor of its choice but should have an application programming interface (API) to facilitate this sharing. An API allows any vendor to access the data hosted by the fire department’s SaaS vendor. The hosting vendor simply supplies the other vendor with the API credentials and instructions, and data can flow freely and securely between any two SaaS vendors. Target Solutions and Safety Pad are examples of SaaS fire service vendors providing an API to their customers to facilitate data sharing. Fire chiefs should push all software vendors to move toward SaaS solutions with an open API to facilitate data sharing between all their SaaS systems.
Making sure SaaS vendors are going to protect and share data is the most important consideration when evaluating them. However, there are several other considerations. If the SaaS solution is mission-critical to operations, then the SaaS vendor must be able to demonstrate multiple redundant systems that ensure a mission-critical SaaS solution is online 100 percent of the time. Departments should require their mission-critical SaaS vendors to provide documentation of their redundant systems, and third-party auditors should verify the documentation is accurate. Acceptable redundant systems would be replicated in real-time to multiple disparate locations so that a major catastrophe in one location does not bring down a department’s systems.
Also, SaaS vendors should have their servers running in Level 4 data centers to help ensure uptime. Level 4 data centers are the highest level of redundancy with no single point of failure, and departments should consider nothing less for their mission-critical SaaS solutions.
Peace of Mind
Given the above considerations and the growing challenge for fire chiefs to manage IT departments, there is one more significant advantage to SaaS solutions-peace of mind. This peace of mind comes from the fact that if a department embraces SaaS, it has offloaded its IT department to its SaaS vendors. A fire chief no longer has to be a fire chief and an IT chief. SaaS vendors are in the IT business and thus are able to hire top-notch IT talent and purchase all the critical systems-Level 4 data centers, servers, backup devices, and so on-to efficiently and effectively deliver SaaS software. The bottom line is that by embracing SaaS, a fire department gets out of the IT business!
SaaS is the future of all software, and whether it’s three years from now, five years from now, or 10 years from now, fire departments will be completely run by SaaS software solutions. The faster departments embrace SaaS, the sooner they will slash their IT budgets, simplify their IT requirements, and let fire chiefs get back to being fire chiefs instead of IT chiefs.
PAUL GRAEVE is the founder of VineLight Business Intelligence. He has more than 12 years of experience designing and implementing business intelligence systems in numerous industries.