August 8, 2023 by Jessica Bouwhuis

Flex: 40 Years of Innovation

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Industries: 9-1-1 & Law Enforcement Federal Fire & EMS

Topics: Command Center Software CAD Human-Centered Design Records and Evidence

Happy 40th anniversary to one of our favorite hybrid software suites, Flex! For the last four decades, Flex has provided public safety software customers with reliable, customer-driven and innovative solutions for CAD, Mobile, Records and Jail. Flex was the flagship product of Spillman Technologies for more than 30 years before becoming an integral part of Motorola Solutions’ connected public safety ecosystem in 2016. 

A Rich History

Although Spillman Technologies began its mission of bringing reliable innovation in 1983 when it released its first public safety software package in cooperation with the Cache County Sheriff’s Office in Logan, Utah – an agency who is still a proud Flex user today – the software’s story begins even earlier than that.

In the mid-1970s, a man by the name of Richard Spillman developed the original idea behind Flex while completing a senior project for a computer science course at Utah State University. The assignment was to design a tax roll and budgetary accounting system for Cache County, Utah. His system worked well, and while collaborating closely with several county officials, he learned that one of the county’s additional needs was for a law enforcement software program that could manage records and information. Richard soon realized the need for reliable public safety software was not unique to Cache County – it was industry-wide. In 1978, the idea for Spillman Technologies was born and on August 30, 1982 the company was officially in business under its first name, Spillman Data Systems.

By this point, Richard and his team were very familiar with their home county sheriff’s office and worked together with them to release their first software package the following year. To put this in perspective, in 1983 the personal computer had not even been invented yet! The smallest computers were still the size of desks and the internet was only barely debuting. 

Building and demonstrating the product was quite an effort. To show the solution to a customer, they would borrow a large pickup truck and tie the computer down in the bed. Once they arrived at their destination, they would park as close as possible to the building and run a power cord outside to the computer, which remained in the bed of the pickup truck. Then they would carry in a terminal and string a cable from the computer into whatever room the demonstration was taking place, typically through an open window. Such workarounds seem almost unimaginable now, yet they show the resilience of the Spillman team as they evolved Flex over the years into one of the most stable and proven solutions in the industry.

Growing A Complete Solution

In 1985, Spillman released Force – a precursor to the solution that would become Flex. The software included six modules: Criminal Information, Jail Management, Civil Processing, Fleet Vehicle Maintenance, Business Information, and Personnel. By 1988, only three years after its initial release, Spillman had approximately 120 Force customers across the country. The company continued to develop software solutions that encompassed the most critical aspects of public safety operations: Records, Computer-Aided Dispatch, Mobile, Corrections, Fire/EMS, Resource, and Data Sharing. The system soon amassed more than 30 integrated modules that catered to agencies’ unique needs. Today, Flex includes more than 80 integrated modules and interfaces that allow customers the flexibility to build the right solution for their agency.

In the mid 2010s, the system was renamed Flex, which remains to this day. In 2016, Flex passed from Spillman Technologies to Motorola Solutions in an acquisition that would prove to underscore the passion, concern and foresight that ignited Richard Spillman’s idea for Flex back in the 1970s. Now, as part of Motorola Solutions’ connected public safety ecosystem, Flex is enabling next-generation integrations for improved efficiencies and workflows.

40 years of flex

Strong – And Better Looking – Than Ever

Since 2016, Flex has undergone many changes, but it has always remained dedicated to partnering with and bringing proven solutions to public safety agencies across the nation. As part of the Motorola Solutions ecosystem, Flex is now backed by more resources and funding than ever before, enabling the team to continue to improve Flex performance and overall user experience. A great example of this is with Motorola Solutions’ human-centered design team, which is currently putting hundreds of hours of research and design into developing a new user interface (UI) for Flex. 

The team is first focusing on Flex Records, since so much of Flex is built around an agency’s records management system, but the upgrade will be applied to all aspects of Flex (CAD, Mobile, Records, Jail). Although this will bring a long-awaited facelift to the product, the new UI means much more than just an updated color scheme. By starting with a human-centered design approach, the team is ensuring that each change minimizes risk while remaining intuitive to the software’s unique customer base. Particularly for public safety, a human-centered design is critical because lives truly depend on the user’s ability to quickly use the application in the most efficient way. The design team behind the Flex refresh are well-versed in high-velocity human factors and understand how to create high-performing solutions that can match those high-stress situations. With enhanced usability built around the way that customers work in today’s challenging environments, Flex will once again demonstrate its core commitment of providing customers the tools and resources to meet their unique needs.

From its humble beginnings in Logan, Utah to now being part of the most extensive end-to-end public safety software portfolio, Flex has had quite the journey. Striving to continually be at the forefront of public safety software, Flex has evolved over the years into one of the most stable and proven solutions in the industry. Whether you’ve been here from the start or just recently joined us, thank you for your continued partnership. There is a lot in store for this beloved product and we can’t wait to share it with you in the coming months and years. 

For Flex, 40 years is truly just the beginning.

To learn more about Flex and all of the exciting new features coming its way over the next year, visit motorolasolutions.com/flex.

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  • Jeanne Weed

    Jessica, I enjoyed reading this blog – especially the part about the early days and stringing together demos. How far we’ve come! Can’t wait to see the new UI that’s being informed by human-centered design and customer usage. Happy 40th anniversary Flex – and to all the people who continue to make this software suite possible – Motorolans and customers alike!

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