Editor’s note: Originally published in Field Service, a quarterly print magazine from Field Service Digital and ServiceMax from GE Digital. Check out the full magazine in print or online

ShotSpotter has an ambitious goal to help improve public safety. And a valuable lesson learned convinced the company’s leaders that it could do the most good by going all in on service.

“Eyes in the sky” have become an indispensable tool for city police, as video from surveillance cameras lets law enforcement officers review evidence of a shooting, robbery or assault, and quickly identify a suspect. But police departments are discovering another powerful tool for tackling gun-related crime as it’s happening: “Ears on the ground.”

The outdoor acoustic technology created by ShotSpotter lets police track incidents of gun violence in real time. Founded in 1995 in Newark, Calif., ShotSpotter pairs an array of sensors with software to detect a singular noise—the sound of a gunshot. Its software first analyzes the sound to eliminate false positives (such as firecrackers), then triangulates it to pinpoint an exact location where police can respond to incidents instantly. Today, more than 90 cities in the United States and abroad have deployed ShotSpotter’s system.

But for the system to truly help communities reduce gun violence, ShotSpotter’s network of more than 8,000 sensors in the United States—about 15-20 per square mile across more than 450 square miles—must always be listening. Originally, police departments shouldered the task of maintaining the sensors, but they soon found the process unwieldy. As ShotSpotter President and CEO Ralph Clark explains, “We were selling a valuable product that was difficult for our customers to deploy and use effectively.”

The solution? The company’s field service team took over the responsibility of 24/7 maintenance. With that shift, ShotSpotter transformed itself from a company that sold crime-fighting technology into one that provides crime-fighting services.

Eliminating the IT Burden on Police

Many early adopters of ShotSpotter’s acoustic surveillance technology were sophisticated police departments with ample resources, according to Clark. But cash- and resource-strapped police forces in small and midsize cities often hesitated to invest in the system because they worried about their ability to manage ShotSpotter’s complex technology, including servicing sensors in the field.

The IT burden not only made potential customers wary while frustrating many existing ones—it also hindered ShotSpotter’s ability to grow as a company, says Clark.

“We were asking police departments to do all of the things that we do for them now,” he explains. “Their focus should be on safety and protection, not managing IT infrastructure.”

The company decided to pivot to a services model about seven years ago, shortly after Clark joined the team. By tasking its field service teams with monitoring and repairing the technology, ShotSpotter has been able to perfect sensor placement and reduce device downtime. This has not only increased customer satisfaction—it’s helped police departments improve safety in the communities they serve.

We were asking police departments to do all of the things that we do for them now. Their focus should be on safety and protection, not managing IT infrastructure. — Ralph Clark, CEO, ShotSpotter

For ShotSpotter’s clients, device downtime and imprecise data can take a human toll. Without functional sensors, police departments can’t respond to incidents of gun violence quickly, which could negatively impact public safety. And if police officers are not armed with accurate information about a gunshot’s precise location, they could put themselves at risk when responding to an incident.

Streamlining Data for Local Talent

Initially, ShotSpotter tried to manage its new service division using a patchwork of Excel and Salesforce solutions. However, this was a time-consuming, cumbersome and unreliable method for tracking maintenance histories, locations and service commitments for ShotSpotter’s thousands of installed sensors.

“There was just no way to scale or measure service metrics within the old system,” says Jeff Jaeger, field operations manager at ShotSpotter.

Another challenge for the company: managing a dispersed team of third-party technicians. ShotSpotter relies almost exclusively on local third-party contractors who need accurate location, scope and on-site contact details for every installation and repair job. And equipping techs with reliable information is crucial, as ShotSpotter’s sensors are often located on private buildings in dense urban areas.

In many ways, we’re on the same digital transformation journey as our customers. We’re replacing inefficient and imprecise processes with technology to become more effective. — Ralph Clark, CEO, ShotSpotter

To improve its management of devices and field service personnel, ShotSpotter turned to ServiceMax. It rolled out the cloud-based field service management solution in 2014, and now operates using an integrated overview of device locations, maintenance histories and one-site contacts across its extensive installed base.

A Journey of Digital Transformation

Thanks to improved service management systems, Jaeger can now track third-party contractors’ performance to ensure they complete the expected number of jobs and do the work properly—the first time. More than that, he can better understand how ShotSpotter’s devices are working in the field.

Jaeger says troubleshooting used to involve a lot of guesswork, but now ShotSpotter’s local techs can record and report everything they see or hear on-site. Together, Jaeger and the technician can troubleshoot a problem or tweak a sensor’s location.

Image: Unsplash

“In Chicago, for example, we were able to determine that sensors weren’t participating because it was windy by the lake,” Jaeger says. In the past, such anecdotal information would have been lost through email or in an Excel spreadsheet.

“In many ways, we’re on the same digital transformation journey as our customers,” says Clark. “We’re replacing inefficient and imprecise processes with technology to become more effective.”

Clark says that ShotSpotter’s embrace of the services model, and the advanced technology solutions to support it, is helping the business to scale globally “in a reliable and cost-effective way.” It’s also allowing ShotSpotter to deepen and extend relationships with its customers by providing them with more value.

“When you provide a service, you have to earn your keep,” Clark explains. “You also must provide value, which must be greater than the cost of delivering it. By digitizing and automating day-to-day work that’s critical to delivering a high level of service to our customers, we can focus on finding new ways to create value for them—and for our business.”

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ABOUT Jane Irene Kelly

Avatar photoJane Irene Kelly, who has two decades of professional writing, editing and reporting experience, writes about business and technology. She is a graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and resides in Pennsylvania.