Michael Rosen, Product Marketing Manager for PlantCML (an EADS North America Company), was one of several NG9-1-1 experts to join our NG 9-1-1 Panel Discussion at APCO recently.* In this Q&A interview, Michael touches on the impact of NG9-1-1 on operations and service levels, and shares some pointers on how you can ensure compatibility with legacy systems and processes, once you make the transition to NG9-1-1.
How do you see Next Generation 9-1-1 impacting operations and workflow processes?
Michael: The key is to design and maintain efficient workflows incorporating new information types without saturating your network resources, overwhelming your human operators, or multiplying your equipment footprint. The existing model typically involves “adding a monitor” to the operator’s desktop for each new critical communications tool or functional capability (radio, call-taking, CAD, mapping, MIS, etc.) brought into the contact center, along with a corresponding PC under the desk and a supporting server in the backroom for each application. The new model for NG9-1-1 must involve consolidation of resources to allow for intelligent multi-functional consoles and shared computing hardware and switching resources, since most PSAPs already employ 4-10 desktop monitors per telecommunicator, miles of physical cabling, and equipment rooms stocked from floor-to-ceiling with racks of communications equipment.
Next Generation 9-1-1 will involve bringing new types of IP-based front-end inputs into the PSAP, while ensuring compatibility with legacy systems and processes that will remain in a mixed-mode of operations for many years to come. The challenge for PSAPs will be to incorporate new capabilities within existing operational processes wherever possible, assimilating multiple-stream, multiple-source, multiple-destination data without being flooded with new information. This can best be accomplished by employing “pull” strategies that deliver the specific information only when needed, upon demand of the operator, subject to security access controls.
What workforce challenges do you envision will be brought about by the onset of NG service delivery?
Michael: The overall workforce in the United States is aging, perhaps even more so within the government sector. Technology adoption takes place along a bell-shaped continuum ranging from “early adopters” to “laggards” and everything in between. Younger workers typically – although not always – tend to employ more technology-based tools throughout their lives (both work and personal), having been exposed to tech gadgets from a very early age and employing them in daily usage. Late-career professionals, on the other hand, may exhibit more reluctance to adopt new tools and technologies, eschewing change or complexity (possibly fearing both) or simply preferring for things to remain as they have always been.
PSAPs will need to address these varying technology adoption rates and differing proficiency levels by adjusting their recruiting efforts – perhaps by screening for technology aptitude in the hiring process – and by providing continuous training to ease operator stress and reduce burnout levels that could lead to higher turnover. Contact centers will be forced to design effective multitasking environments that do not generate “information overload” in the face of increased pace of work and potentially higher stress levels. They may also have to confront union issues with respect to staffing ratios, in response to a perceived workload increase.
To help encourage the workforce to embrace new skills critical to the success of NG9-1-1, Multimedia Communications can be treated operationally as a distinct skill set to be earned and mastered on a voluntary basis, with a corresponding reward/compensation structure supporting the acquisition and upkeep of these new skill sets. On the technology side, Multimedia Communications could be utilized in a skills-based Automatic Call Distribution (ACD) environment, thereby directing these Next Generation “calls” (received via video, SMS, etc.) to specific trained operators who possess the requisite skills to handle multimedia calls.
What are your primary concerns surrounding Next Generation equal access and compliance issues?
Michael: As a responsible community of public safety and public service suppliers and frontline professionals, we must ensure equal protection for all citizens. That means not letting some groups get left behind – whether through inadvertence, poor system design, or over-reliance on advanced technologies that do not promote equal access. There are numerous “gaps” that currently exist and should be mitigated where possible: (1) Socio-economic technology gaps which determine who has access to computers and smart phones and who does not; (2) rural/urban broadband service level differentials based in part on population and geographic features; (3) mobile 3G/4G limited coverage areas based on carrier penetration and investment/payback decisions; (4) the especially vulnerable speech- and hearing-impaired communities; and (5) special access challenges by persons with physical and mental disabilities.
Equal access is not just a worthy and laudable goal … it’s also the law! Public sector agencies must minimize their legal exposure when contemplating the implementation of advanced communications methodologies so that they are made available to all citizens on an equal basis. In pursuit of these ends, the Department of Justice (Civil Rights Division) recently issued a series of proposed new regulatory changes covering equal accessibility to services delivered over the Internet, specific access to Next Generation 9-1-1 services by means of new devices and new modes of communications, and furniture and equipment covering everything from desks and chairs to automated electronic information kiosks which are beginning to show up in increasing numbers in fulfillment of routine public service functions (e.g. DMV automobile registration renewals). The DoJ press release and individual Advance Notices of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) documents can be found here http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2010/July/10-crt-850.html and here http://www.ada.gov/anprm2010.htm.
*Michael Rosen is a Certified New Product Development Professional (NPDP), holds an MBA in Information Systems, and has 10 years Public Safety experience encompassing telephony, CAD, RMS, JMS, mobile, and biometrics. His primary expertise is in the area of multi-product integrated information and communication systems.