Modernising Modern Device Management in Emergency Services

Emergency services workers are at the very frontline of keeping people safe. In order to serve the public, they are completely reliant on the rugged devices they use, both inside and outside of their vehicles. However, if these mission-critical devices are not deployed and managed properly, this can result in significant downtime on the frontline.

written by: Drew Braithwaite, Sales Engineering Manager, Panasonic TOUGHBOOK

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Traditional Device Management Isn’t Always Compatible for Mobile Workers

In an always-on environment, emergency services workers often don’t have time to keep mobile devices secure and operational. When there is no downtime, how can they continuously update the base image of the device to customise and validate operating systems, applications, drivers, and settings? 

And, whilst rugged devices have improved significantly in their capabilities and performance, many emergency services workers still use traditional methods to ensure devices are delivering an optimum performance.

All Panasonic TOUGHBOOK rugged devices using Windows operating systems are a good example. Traditional deployments and updates rely on offline media deployment, using the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) or Microsoft Endpoint Manager, previously known as System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM).

This requires each device to be connected to on-premises servers and networks to update, this is unrealistic for mobile device users. After long shifts in the field, devices are either frequently left idle in the station or operations centre until the next period of usage, or they are immediately utilised again by the next team. There simply isn’t time to take them offline.

With sometimes hundreds of devices in use within the largest emergency services fleets, traditional, manual image updates can take significant time, an unwelcome addition to the existing list of administrative jobs that emergency services workers must complete, when in the field and back at base.

However, even the best update plans can go awry on occasion. If this results in devices failing to work properly, emergency services users must ask themselves what the potential cost could be, including first responders who are unable to respond to an incident on time.

The Journey to Modern Device Management

Unfortunately, whilst many organisations would like to adopt increasingly modern deployment methods, integrating this with existing processes may seem like an impossible first step. However, this is a process that can vastly increase efficiency and uptime for truly mobile workers. Therefore, key questions organisations need to consider are: What does the device ecosystem look like, what issues are they experiencing, how are they keeping devices secure, and how can they make it easier for emergency services workers to undertake an already challenging job.

Modern Device Management (MDM) is based on automating the configuration of new devices with the correct operating systems, applications and settings, at hyper scale. Devices can be deployed using Microsoft’s Autopilot – for example if rugged devices are being deployed for the first time or devices are being updated. Microsoft’s cloud-based Intune solution can manage devices, applications, and access control in the field, with software updates and patches requiring a simple internet connection.

This ensures that battery and connectivity performance, security, and reliability are always at an optimum level, thereby increasing user satisfaction.

Use Mobility Specialists

To manage mobile device ecosystems effectively, truly mobile devices must be treated as such, and not viewed in the same way as desktop devices.

Such measures include testing applications on cellular networks, such as 4G and 5G, before being deployed in an emergency services vehicle. Without such testing mission- critical information may not be available when it’s needed. For example, if the application has an inherent fault which means it doesn’t sync properly over cellular networks – and is instead tested using an on-premises Wi-Fi connection, this could result in important information not being accessible.

Furthermore, if cellular drivers are not updated as part of major operating system updates connectivity issues may hamper end users from using applications, such as mapping technology. This may prevent them from reaching their intended targets in time.

The complexity of moving to an MDM approach means emergency services organisations should turn to mobility experts that have extensive experience of deploying and managing mobile devices in the field. Traditional device management methods can result in devices being left idle when they are needed most. If testing and maintenance is not carried out on a regular basis, this can result in the device being removed from the fleet entirely, affecting operational efficiency and severely increasing total cost of ownership.

Outsourcing an MDM approach can be daunting for emergency services organisations, but it will provide the peace of mind they need to know that their devices are performing optimally whenever they are called upon, no matter how challenging the environment. 

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