We decided to interview the driving force behind the PatrolMan suite of applications to get a better idea of what they're about, where they come from and of course where it's all heading.
Q. Tell us about your history with Neighborhood Watch projects.
A. My first recollection of them, was a meeting with Raymond Roos in Claremont. I was teaching unarmed combat at the time and Ray asked me to come along and teach their patrollers a few things. That was about 25 years ago. I remember his little home office having huge maps on the walls plotting crime and trends and reams of paperwork that he sifted through to find statistics. Since then I've been involved predominantly as Project Manager of the Milnerton Crime Watch which is one of the most advanced projects in SA today. Milnerton Crime Watch fields two permanent patrol vehicles on the road with paid patrollers and the community acting as eyes and ears. The patrol vehicles provide the response arm. It's a highly successful project with terrific support from the community.
Q. Where did the idea for an App come from?
A. For years I've hated the amount of paperwork we create at Milnerton Crime Watch. Every shift brings in two separate forms detailing their shift activities and incidents. Many years ago, I wrote a simple database to track statistics and trends from the paper based forms. PatrolMan is effectively an evolution of that made possible with modern tablet and smartphone technology. It took a lot of plotting and thinking to explode the initial concept and develop something truly unique and workable for a specific marketspace. I have a background in commercial security and risk assessment so a lot of that experience went into it as well.
Q. Why a hybrid design of App and Website? That's pretty unusual isn't it?
A. Actually yes. Most Apps are driven by data on the phone or on a remote server. Not many Apps actually provide access to the historical data via web. This way we cater to the administrative side of a NHW project as well as the on-the-road side. In time it's still going to grow from there too.
Q. Tell us about that, where's it all headed - what's the vision?
A. Ah, well I don't want to give too much away. There's some terrific functionality on the way that we know is going to make NHW's much more advanced and really on the edge with technology. All I'm saying is that it's going to involve push messaging technology as well as more interaction with the patrollers. We have some plans to grow and expand the back end as well to incorporate messaging and newsletter functionality that will facilitate a full NHW management solution. In addition to this we're researching a new toolset that we hope will be able to draw external data into the system. Data such as suspicious vehicles and persons noted in neighbouring areas etc. as well as a "push to facebook" for wider sharing of incidents.
Q. Sounds like PatrolMan has some exciting things ahead. What's the reception been like from the marketplace?
A. We've had a tremendous amount of feedback from users so far. A lot of it constructive criticism, some really interesting ideas for growth and of course a lot of compliments on its simplicity on the App level while many CPF's and NHW's are commenting on the flexibility of back-end website reporting that's making their monthly meetings more meaningful.
Q. So far we've seen no pricing on the App? What's with that - surely nothing in life is free?
A. Well no. At the moment we're toying with different business models around it. Make no mistake, App development at this scale is far from a cheap exercise. So far it's been completely self-funded out of passion and belief in what we can achieve, but there has to be a sustainable income along the way to encourage future development. What we're looking at is a model where the system itself for NHW structures is free and the App for the first 20 or so patrollers is free. The Lite app for the non-patrolling members however we're looking to peg at around R 120 per year for the data feed and SOS functionality. We may kick it up to R150 a year, with R30 being rebated to the NHW itself to encourage growth and help raise funds, it's still on the table at this stage.
Q. So no charges for now?
A. Nope, for the foreseeable future it's just about getting it out there and helping people modernise what they have in the way of neighborhood watches.