HxGN RADIOPodcast

PSAPs and data: how to respond to a changing public safety landscape

Historically, PSAPs have utilised separate systems for unique functions, but how can public safety agencies adapt to a changing world that prioritises agility and resiliency? In this episode, Ralph Diment, Director of Industry & Product Marketing for Hexagon’s Safety & Infrastructure division, discusses both the challenges and opportunities agencies face with the expansion of data volume and diversity.

JW:  Hi, and thanks for tuning in to Public Safety Now on Hexagon Radio. I’m your host, John Whitehead, Vice President of Sales for U.S. Public Safety at Hexagon Safety & Infrastructure division. So, on our last episode, we spoke a lot about ESInet, andt really steered into the delivery of data, whether it’s voice, video, text, or just information coming into the 911 PSAPs… information that dispatchers and first responders really want. On this episode, we’ve got a person here, Ralph Diment. He’s our Director of Industry & Product Marketing. And I just want to have just a conversation about where’s the industry going: how does data work within the industry? And whether you’re from the vendor side or sitting out there in the actual seat, I think this will be a just a fun time to sit here and talk to Ralph. So Ralph, how we doing today?

RD:  Great, John. It’s a pleasure to be here. I always like talking to you, and I always come away learning something as well.

JW:  Yeah, that’s awesome. You and I have had many conversations here. And so, Ralph, you got a pretty cool background, but you didn’t start off in public safety, did you?

RD:  Oh no, that’s right. I actually started off in very large civil-engineering infrastructure projects. Some pretty amazing construction works around the globe. So things like the Hong Kong Airport, all the new reclamation they did there, all those fancy Palm Islands in Dubai and things like the channel tunnel. So really look about how are you going to extend a city infrastructure and work out, anticipate which sort of problems you might face.

JW:  Very interesting. And I’m assuming people that are listening to this, by your accent, they’re probably thinking, “Southern Alabama accent, right there”. No, I’m just kidding. You’re from the UK, right? Isn’t that where you’re from?

RD:  That’s right. Yeah. So born and bred in the UK and get to travel around occasionally, but I’ve kept the accent.

JW:  Nice, nice. So there you go. Well, it sounds great on this episode. So tell me, what’s it like? A lot of the people that we’ve spoken with here over the last year have been right here in the U.S. What’s it like being from the UK but having this influential role here as you’re developing solutions for a U.S.-based public safety audience?

RD:  Well, it’s really fascinating because you get to talk to public safety agencies and increasingly relevant to that are other industries as well, right around the world. And you get to learn from different approaches. So you have obviously different cultural contexts. You have even different attitudes to technology and data and even how people interact with public services. So having that broad perspective, it gives you opportunities to look at slightly different ways to do it and see opportunities that maybe exist in one country that you can bring to another. And having a cross-industry background and view, as well, is also increasingly relevant because the thing that’s becoming clear with public safety is it’s no longer just an issue that public safety agencies can or even should try and face by themselves. It really is a collaborative effort more and more these days.

JW:  Yeah. You know what, it really is. And what I like about your background, Ralph, is that you don’t come from public safety, and that to me is a positive in your role because a lot of times – myself included –we get into that rut of, “Well, we’ve always done it this way”, right? I mean, it’s the way public safety works, and you hear different things like that. And I like your background being able to come in, maybe looking at it through a different set of lenses, if you will, and being able to come up with something unique.

RD:  Yeah. I think that’s true of a lot of advancements. If you look at innovation in any aspects of society applying technology, it’s not invention. It really is taking things that have already been invented, and just looking at new ways to apply them to where they become usable and have value and utility. Yeah. Think of your smart phone. If there was nothing new in a smart phone. We had cameras, we had GPS, we had mobile phones. It was just bringing that all together that suddenly transformed a fairly dull utilitarian device into the preferred method of interacting with technology around the globe. So yeah, it’s having that ability to see naturally that opens up as opportunities.

JW:  Yeah, now that’s a good analogy, right? It’s the same thing, just done a little bit differently and maybe streamlining and doing things a little bit… What are some of the biggest changes? I mean, how long have you been here, Ralph? How long have you been with us?

RD: Oh, forever. I was a customer for five years, and I use a lot of other technologies as well. But then I joined as an application engineer back in 1995, so coming up on 25 years. And then worked in defence, in utilities, in transportation government, and more recently, in the public safety arena, and then moved from a technical support role into pre-sales, then business development, and eventually into marketing.

JW:  Nice. Yeah. It feels like forever. I know, I mean it’s been a bunch of years, but then all of a sudden I look back and it doesn’t seem like it’s been that long. I started as a customer actually in ’95, so the first eight years I was out in a customer site using the Intergraph products. And then whenever I came over here to Intergraph and now Hexagon, I’m coming up here on 24 ½ years with the product – 16 ½ years at the actual company. So it’s been interesting to see the ebb and the flow and how things change. I mean, man, when I started, we were back on a UNIX/CLIX operating system. Today we’re talking Cloud, we’re talking pushing this data up into an Azure environment, and it’s very interesting that things have changed. What are some of the biggest changes that you’ve seen in public safety, just since you’ve been working?

RD:  I guess some of the initial CAD systems. So those, yeah, they were UNIX-based and things like mobile positioning, but it was a wider space. I think the thing that is entirely different in the recent years is just that complete transformation. I don’t think that’s an exaggeration. It is a transformation in the flexibility of the technology, the ability to integrate, to share data, to coordinate processes. So you’re getting a much more effective tool for everyone. You’re getting much more streamlined operations, more task-oriented tools. The user interfaces are just completely different now – way clearer, more intuitive, less distracting in terms of the things you need to see are right in front of you.

And then the other side of it is your ability to really leverage data. It’s incredible, the wealth and richness of information that can be brought into the control room, but in a way that’s re-usable. And then equally that information can flow out to the fields to give the responders a much better idea of maybe who they’re looking for or what situation is. And then equally taking that operational data and just the analytical tools that are available now are way more accessible, way more powerful and not even limited simply to reports and analysis, but really real-time decision support and hints and suggestions you can pass to an operational workflow, which is taking a lot of that pressure off those guys to really feel like they have to constantly be aware of everything that’s going on. It just can say, “Hey, this might be of interest”. And yeah, because not an extra little edge to feel secure and maybe share some really powerful information to their colleagues to help a response situation.

JW:  Yeah. You mentioned a couple of things in there. It’s interesting and I’ll tie that back to a comment you said earlier, when we come to smart phones. I mean, it really is taking multiple devices and putting it into one smart phone device, if you will. And you commented on that when it came to the changes over time when it comes to CAD, right? I mean at the core, today’s CAD systems are still creating incidents, dispatching units, maintaining those units’ status, showing us some mapping details, and then ultimately clearing that and pushing that data onto other systems. So if you just look at the CAD workflow itself – at its core – hey all do the same thing, and they all meet that minimum. It’s these additional items that really make the difference.

And as I stated at the beginning, last episode we spoke with Darren Riley with Mission Critical Partners, and he mentioned the importance of these call centers being able to take in this kind of data, and as you just said, being able to utilise that data as needed. How do you think agencies, though, are handling that much data coming in or that type of data coming in and that data flow?

RD:  Yeah, I think that’s really where people are standing at the crossroads now. If you’re on an older legacy type of system, then it’s quite hard to change the really fundamentally in the way they’re operating, which is essentially what we’re asking to happen. You’re changing from answering a telephone with a fixed line call to really just receiving data. I think it’s fewer than 20% of calls are made with landlines now. So the call itself is data. People are trying to push in chat messaging, sending in videos, and really if your system isn’t intrinsically designed in that new complex hybrid IT world that we living today, it’s really difficult to extend them in a way that will give you a solution that’s viable for the operator. Canceling the telephone or the call for service isn’t itself standalone.

JW:  Yeah, it’s interesting because over the years we’ve seen these silos, right? CAD data sitting in one location, records management for police sitting in another, fire records in another. Plus then you’ve got all these mobility apps and mobile products that are running out in the field. And I think to your point, making sure that that data can flow across all of those is extremely important because it does no good if all of a sudden information’s coming in, and a dispatcher has it, but yet can’t forward that information on or that information doesn’t automatically flow throughout the system. And I think that that’s where you’re going, right?

RD:  Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. Yeah, it’s all about connecting for streamlined operation, but also enabling you to fully harness that data to give you whatever extra edge or insights or shaving some seconds off a process that you might need, and also collaboration externally with your partner agencies and the second- and third-tier responders.

JW:  Yeah, I always find it… It’s interesting, right? For those of us that get together and we’re sitting here over dinner or something, having a conversation about this, it sounds easy. It really does. How do you go out, though, to the public safety professionals? How do you go out and give this message that you just gave, but how do you focus on the importance of that, in getting them into a unified system and having agencies understand?

RD:  Well, that’s the challenge because I think most agencies are aware that there’s a need for radical change. I mean, they’re under so much pressure. What they’re being asked to do is so different from what it was even 10 years ago. And at the same time, the resources are really constraints. So it’s a real dilemma. So I think the problem is with that huge wave of change coming towards you and you’re being pulled in all these different directions, you can almost be the deer in the headlights. You don’t know where to start. So I think one of the important parts of discussing this whole process of change in the public safety mission is really to find a way through, to try and find ways where you can start on that journey to put in some tangible steps that will solve some of your issues today, but you can also build on those, moving you towards that new modes of operation.

So certainly, being much more connected in information and process flows. So moving away from that, as you said, that siloed approach where you look at each function as its own function, and you try to solve the problems within those. You’ve really got to take a step back and look holistically at what your information and process needs are and really then how you would plan out your technical evolution to build out to where you need to get to.

JW:  Yeah, I know that that was a big thing as Hexagon began years ago – developing their On Call suite in their latest release of CAD and mobility products and records management for police. I know that that was really one of the core factors to be able to do, right? We want to make sure that these products are put together, and, if you will, that was the big-picture view of how these on-call suites should all work together, let information come through and flow back and forth seamlessly.

RD:  Yeah, absolutely. And then you get the ability to really have connected data so you can start using that to really prioritise and inform your own policies. And then I think because there’s so much change in public safety demands, a really important next step is to be able to communicate that out to the public and the politicians because, if you’re proposing very significant changes in terms of what you’re doing and if people don’t understand what you’re being asked to do, then you get into that situation of a disconnect, either with trust or just public support for what you’re doing. Some very, very interesting reports that keep highlighting, such as those on an Ipsos MORI public perception survey, really showed that people’s understanding of the risks and hazards… maybe it’s violent crime or terrorism… it was completely out of touch with reality.

And if you don’t have that connection between what you’re being asked to do and the reality, it’s difficult for people to understand whether you’re doing your job effectively or if you need to invest because actually crime has changed, for example. I think two years ago in the UK, cyber crime incidents actually surpassed physical crime, real, tangible, traditional old-school crime. So that means you have to have a whole new set of skills and new tools, and it’ll take resources like officers off the beat to sit in office and plow over computer screens. And if the public doesn’t understand that, all they see are fewer police on the beat and they think you’re not doing your job properly. So it’s really important to have metrics, evidence-based facts that you can then communicate and say, “This is all the reality, so we’re doing this. If you’re not supportive of that, then you have to be aware of the consequences”. And I think without that evidence-based communication, it’s almost impossible to have a meaningful dialogue and make progress and carry people with you.

JW:  Yeah, it’s no longer just a gut reaction. It’s no longer just, “Oh, there’s some crime occurring in this area. Let’s put some more officers on the street there”. It’s no longer just working from the gut. There’s a lot of great data out there, and analyzing that data and being able to make that data actionable is really the key. But we’ve spoke about that numerous times on this show and just talking to the importance of that. I laugh because I think public safety communications, and immediately we think a dispatcher talking to a police officer, a dispatcher talking to a firefighter. But to your point there, the communications are also just important of what we’re sharing and giving back to the public. What are we giving back, and what are we allowing our citizens in our city or county or state to understand what’s going on? Because to your point, I might see one less officer or a handful of less officers on the street, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not busy. And that doesn’t mean that they’re not helping me as a citizen stay safer, because a lot of this stuff now isn’t happening on the street. It’s not the strong-arm robbery. It’s the fact that they’re breaking into someone’s PC, and they’re stealing their identity, and they’re taking it slower or they’re taking it in one big hit from their account. So it’s a very interesting change in the world and how we’re reacting to that I think is important, at least from a public safety point of view.

Where do you see some other shifts coming in? I mean, these are just some of the changes that you and I’ve seen over the last few years. What are some of the other big shifts that you see coming in here over the next decade or so in public safety?

RD:  Well, I think you’re hinting at it in that last statement. I mean, crime used to be someone in your neighborhood would come and break into your car, and the local police guys would go and investigate it. But yeah, now it’s not going to be the local guys breaking into your bank account, and you might not even be in the same country. So there’s a huge need to realign how we invest in public safety resources in a way that is actually effective in solving the problem. I think that’s equally true of incidents that happen within cities. The public safety agencies themselves can respond a little bit more quickly. They can use technology to be smarter and maybe picking up an incident that’s developing sooner.

But ultimately we’re seeing problems that really the public safety agencies, even if they collaborate amongst themselves, they can’t solve them. They can respond to them, but they can’t address the root cause. And there’s increasing pressure and awareness of that situation. And I was just reading a fantastic report called Policing Vision 2025. And in the intro there, it says that we have to get out of that agency mindset where I’m going to look at a problem purely within my own operational parameters but also budgetary. So really a city needs to come together and talk about some of these problems and work out how they’re going to solve them, even to the point of maybe how they’re financed because they really do need a collaborative solution to address the underlying causes, and then all the different service functions within the city can work together on deploying that result. So, I think that’s really where the future’s going to go.

And maybe another thing we’re already seeing is a change in the way the public interact with emergency services, really driven by technological change and people’s experience of one-stop portals for interaction with service providers. And they expect the same thing from public safety agencies. They expect to be able to communicate through whatever channel they prefer. They want a single point of contact and not to have to go and hunt around and find a different method because they have one issue one day and a different issue another day. And then also to have that persistence of the relationships. So, the service knows whoever they’re talking to about the problems they’ve been experiencing instead of having to go and re-count all those issues every time they talk to a new person.

JW:  Yeah, it is interesting to see how the expectations have changed, the expectations of, “What do you mean I have to dial three digits now to report an emergency? Why can’t I just text that? Why can’t I just use the latest social media platform to make contact with that?” And agencies attempting to keep up with that, I mean, it can be overwhelming. It can definitely be, I think, a little scary at times just because of how quickly things change.

But I think back to some of the items that you and I have talked about here just today and in other conversations, it doesn’t need to be scary. It doesn’t have to be. There are platforms, there are programs, and vendors like Hexagon can assist with those types of change management aspects, if you will. So with that, how do you think agencies, besides bringing in others, and as I’ve said on other shows, you’re not the first agency to do this, so please reach out to your NENAs and the APCOs and those big associations that are out there to assist. But besides that, how do you think agencies can prepare for this shift that’s happening now and/or coming in the future?

RD:  Well, it takes leadership. So this really is the responsibility of the senior managers within agencies to set a vision and make sure the whole teams are aware of that, engaged, and working towards those common goals. And I think that really is to say taking that step back from “This is how we do it today,” and say, “What do we need to do in the future?” And then from that, you can work out what data you need to capture, what the flows are, and then what the capabilities are to really deliver that vision. And certainly in terms of… that vision has to be broader than just internally within your organisation. It needs to look at how you’re going to collaborate with the public, with other services, and increasingly with businesses and commercial agencies within your cities.

JW:  Yeah, very cool. And how about yourself, Ralph? Twenty-five years now with Hexagon, and you’ve done a lot of change, it sounds like, just in your own career. How do you see your role in all of this changing? What’s next for you, Ralph?

RD:  Oh, good question. I mean, if you’d asked me, I think, at any point the five years previous – and 10 and 15 – I think my view would have been quite different from the realities as it developed. I mean that’s one of the real joys of working in technology companies is it’s always something new. It’s always new challenges. It’s fascinating because it’s always based around problem solving. You’re looking for practical, deployable solutions to real-world issues, and as those issues change and the technology changes, that will always keep churning. So, yeah, I was like, “Come back in five years and ask, and I might have a good idea”. But as long as I can keep, yeah, doing that same type of real… using your inquiring approach and dealing with all these really fascinating customers out there because I think that’s the thing that really makes it so enjoyable is you meet such diverse organisations and people, and they’re all out there doing a great job, and if you can help them do it a little bit better, then that’s really rewarding.

JW:  Now, well, you’re doing some good work, and I appreciate all the input that you’ve given myself and the U.S. Public Safety business unit over the years. You’ve been a huge assistance there, and I see that continuing as we move forward and things continue to change. With that, I just want to thank you, Ralph, for hanging out with me here a little bit. It was great. I think you’re our first international guest on the podcast here, so I’m excited about that. And for those of you listening, to hear additional episodes or learn more, visit us at hxgnspotlight.com, and thanks for tuning in.