In a recent discussion with a technology officer from a large law enforcement agency, license plate recognition (LPR) came up. His feedback was very candid: "We aren't very interested in LPR," he said. "It doesn't work that well." This comment was shocking; I have seen LPR work in the most demanding scenarios. After further discussions, the story opened up quite a bit more, and it was one that was all too familiar. An LPR bid was put on the streets and the lowest bidder got it. Surprisingly, the four systems did not meet their expectations.
When it comes to guns, no officer will buy the cheapest; it's all about reputation and quality. When that tool is needed, it MUST work well. Not to compare LPR to guns, but let's borrow from that logic a little. If your agency has decided to adopt LPR, would you willingly purchase a solution that works poorly to save 10%? Of course not!
Part of the problem is the purchasing process that is widely adopted. Create a bid spec and the lowest bidder gets it. This works amazingly well when buying office supplies or other commodities. But when it comes to fighting crime, not all tools are created equally. And we may find ourselves getting the wrong product because it met the RFP and was the lowest bidder (Let's be honest, we've all seen this before).
In a recent contract we dealt with, the agency took a different approach: a point-based system where the contract goes to the solution with the highest points. Something like allocate close to 40% on price, 20% on service, and 40% on performance. Basically what they are saying is price is not everything; that is the fundamental principle behind it. Step one was to separate the qualified bidders, and then they had a "shoot out". The agency gave points for price, service, and of course performance. They quickly filtered out the vendors whose cost was low and whose solution may have met the black and white specs but was poor.
In the end, two bidders made the shortlist, and four weeks of testing on two pilot cars yielded the winning candidate.
If you think this is a lot of effort, it is. But if you view the investment and the potential payoff of having a great tool for your force, it should be well worth the effort. After all, price isn't everything. (Know anyone who bought a brand new '84 Hyundai Pony for about 5K?)