Other Perspective on Innovation and EM

Professionals of Electronic Monitoring (EM) are talking about what is missing in current EM solutions and why they don’t notice any significant improvements, not to mention innovations. I heard a lot during the years about such anticipated improvements/innovations. Just to mention a few:

  • Communication with the offender
  •  Inter-agency work
  •  Supporting decision makers
  • Comprehensive reliability

Usually, the hidden assumption is that these “goodies” should originate from the EM vendors.

In this post, I would like to focus on some of the reasons explaining why the vendors don’t meet the expectations, and specifically on how the procurement process affects it.

Before analyzing the reasons, lets put things in context. The EM industry presents almost the same solutions for already many years. You will probably not be able to identify new significant features that did not exist 10 years ago. If you visit the CEP conferences, you see almost the same, each session. The only new and significant feature that I can recall, during the last several years, is the fingerprint verification.

Innovation, from my perspective, is something that will be a game changer.

 A few examples:

  • A new approach to communication with offenders via the EM system
  • Information rather than data generated by the EM system
  • A new bracelet approach that reduces the 24/7 physical and mental weight

Why don’t we see such innovations?

Let’s look at a life cycle of a typical EM contract period: after a tedious process of a tender and appeals, finally the contract has been signed and deployment started. From this phase on, the EM operators are mostly busy with the daily life of the program, focusing on the primary goal – supervision of the offenders. Most operators are not technology driven, and neither should they be. They don’t have the time to investigate new options for improving their work performance and neither to explore options for achieving the social goals.  So, at the end of the contract period, they are familiar with their own system. Equipped with their system experience, the operator is now required to formulate a new tender. In the common case, the new operational and technical spec parts of the tender would look like the current system plus some items that are kind of modifications. It means that even if the current system contains deprecated technologies or limitations which no longer apply, these are perpetuated. While reading a typical tender specification, one can get the impression that most of the requirements deal with the internal work flow and less about topics that should drive the original EM social goals. Even when the EM customer has a great new idea that can enhance the system capabilities, writing it, for the first time, in the tender spec, is too late, since the development phase may take much longer than the tender due date.

The vendors, on the other hand, cannot take the risk of developing new significant capabilities. At the end of the day, beyond the requirements, there is always the assumption of the “good old” app, or “more of the same”. If this new capability is unique, it will most likely not be a mandatory requirement and, as an optional one, cannot guarantee sufficient compensation (In tender terms), that can justify the vendor’s risk. Think about a vendor that develops a video communication between the agency personnel and the offender. Development of such a capability costs a lot, in terms of human resources and technology investment. If this vendor is not convinced of getting a competitive advantage – it will not go for this risky adventure. This vendor will prefer to fix some bugs or add additional filtering that may add something.

One may ask, what is the difference between the EM industry and other industries, in this context?
I assume the followings are:

  • In most industries there is a continuous dialog between providers and customers, even if not formal. Example are enterprise software providers receiving feedbacks from customers, hundreds (and maybe more) of specific conferences enabling the collection of the “customers and providers spirit”, many posts and internet information, etc.
  • The industry market size – Since most of the EM projects in Europe are small, most of the vendors are struggling with relatively low revenue projects. Each new developed capability is divided among a relatively small number of subjects. Within this ecosystem, the vendors must increase their certainty concerning their development efforts.

To summarize:

  • There is a gap between the policy makers, EM program managers, procurement department and the EM vendors. Usually, the vendors have basic communication with the EM program managers and procurement managers, but not a continuous dialog with the policy makers and influencers.
  • There is no mechanism to facilitate: raising an idea, checking, testing, creating a demand and implementation of new capabilities
  • Most of the tenders’ specifications are almost the same as the current system
  • There is no process supporting improvements and new capabilities

What can we do about it? In next posts.