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The connected officer

What does increased mobility mean for officers and their ability to respond to incidents? In this episode, Waylon Kenning, OnCall mobile product manager, discusses the growth of mobility field solutions for public safety as well as the future of connectivity, including increasingly linked devices, the Internet of Things, and what this all means for public safety.

BK: As our world continues to become increasingly more connected, public safety agencies are devoting more and more resources to technology that raises the responders’ level of adaptability. One such example can be found in the connected officer. Waylon, thanks for joining us.

WK: Thank you.

BK: Appreciate it. All right, so tell us about the origin of the connected-officer concept.

WK: Okay, so when we started looking at officers in the field, in the past we’ve had a very, I think, product-centric portfolio. So you would do some dispatch, and then you do some records, you’d switch between apps. But if you’re an officer, you don’t really care so much about the different apps that are on your phone; you actually just want to do your job, and your job consists of this workflow. And the concept of the connected officer really flips our thinking rather away from particular apps, more to what is that workflow of that officer that’s in the field? And then, how do we have apps that support that, how do we look at the relationship between those apps and the data that flows between them? So that when you’re an officer, you don’t really care which app you’re using; you’re just trying to do your job.

BK: As long as it works.

WK: Exactly. And that’s really at the heart of the connected officer. We’re putting the officer in the middle of that development rather than the products.

BK: Nice. Okay, so you’re getting their feedback, you’re finding out what’s working, what isn’t working, and then adapting it from there.

WK: Yeah, pretty much.

BK: Okay, that’s great. I love that. How has public safety connectivity changed over time?

WK: What I’ve seen is connectivity is getting better. In the past, connectivity, 3G was a bit patchy, you might not have coverage everywhere you were, and so you would tend not to rely so much on mobility. You’d rely on the radio, would be your primary form of communication. These days, as we’ve moved toward better connectivity, officers have the ability to carry a phone that has apps. Those apps are always connected; they provide access to data all the time. And that decreases the reliance on radio, which, in turn, frees up the radio for more important types of communication, not always having to say, “Hey, I want to run these license plates. I want to look up this person.”

BK: Sure.

WK: And it would take up most of the radio airtime.

BK: Absolutely. Okay. And that’s what I was going to ask, so that’s good to know. So you’re keeping the frequencies open for important calls

WK: Yeah.

BK: —or more serious calls, I guess would be the better term in that.

WK: Yeah. And the volume of those quite simple, “I’m going to do a person check. I’m going to do a vehicle check,” they would consume most of that radio airtime. And that radio airtime’s finite, and it’s shared between everybody. You don’t want to have to sit there and sort of wait your turn while you’re trying to run a license plate.

BK: Exactly. Well, aren’t those monitored, too—frequencies? So are the apps more secure in that sense, too?

WK: Yeah, absolutely.

BK: That’s great.

WK: When you’re using an app, it’s all going to be a virtual private network. It’s all going to be encrypted. There’s not going to be anyone who’s going to be eavesdropping on what you’re doing, which can sometimes be a bit different with the radio.

BK: Interesting. Yeah, that’s very true. So what are some of the biggest benefits that you’ve seen for these agencies, besides what we’ve just talked about?

WK: Well, I think that as there’s more connected connectivity, these apps are going to be running on consumer devices. Consumer devices such as iPads and iPhones and Android devices are a lot cheaper to implement. So cost of having that connectivity is going down. Also, when you’re using your smartphones or tablets, you’re used to a really simple user interface, this consumer user interface. And the apps that are being developed are being developed in the same way. So they’re being designed to be very easy to use, which reduces the amount of burden it takes to use these apps. Enterprise software, when I look at it, it all looks like it’s really hard and from 1996. You don’t want that on your phone, you don’t want it on your tablet; you want a very modern experience.

BK: Absolutely.

WK: And so that’s kind of some of the benefits I’m seeing as we move towards that app-style world.

BK: Now question on that: Is this allowing them—you see their laptops in their vehicles. Is this allowing them to pretty much be mostly on phones now versus on the laptops? I mean, I’m sure they’re still using those, but is it moving towards that?

WK: I think it depends on the workflow context. So you want to be able to get access to information on your phone. You want to carry that phone when you’re in someone’s house; when you’re next to someone’s vehicle, you can see all that. But you’re probably not going to do your whole police report or your ambulance report on a phone. So I do think it’s different interfaces for different parts of the workflow, but it gives you the choice. So in the past, there hasn’t been the choice to say, “I want to do everything from my smartphone.” And some agencies are being really bold, and they’re committing, really, to a smartphone-only future.

BK: Hm, interesting.

WK: Yeah.

BK:  But it’s very complimentary, which is good, either way. We may have already answered this question, but a little bit more information on the relationships between officers and dispatch. How has that changed with this new implementation?

WK: Hm. Yeah, so, we talked a little bit about the less usage of radio-for-information queries, but I think there’s also a greater focus on being able to update the dispatch. So in the past, there might’ve been on radio, you can only say so much stuff. We had this sort of congestion on the radio airtime. These days, all the officers have the ability to enter data on their phone, to update the situational awareness and provide more information to dispatchers from the field. And so I think that is quite important.

BK: Yeah, absolutely. Excellent. So what are some successful examples of agency implementation?

WK: I don’t know if you can tell from my accent, but I’m from New Zealand. And for me a really big highlight is New Zealand police. And New Zealand police have over 9,000 officers, and we’re a really early adopter of some of our mobility products. So big one: Mobile Responder[rr1] . And that saved them around 30 minutes per officer per shift. And so basically, it’s a force multiplier. It’s like having more officers in the field.

BK: Nice. So what does that mean for the public, then?

WK: Well, for the public, you’re going to have more informed officers, so they’re aware of what’s going on. You’re going to have a faster awareness of the changing situation, so you’re not going to have officers who are sort of left out of the loop. And you’re going to have more officers who are going to be out in the field who are aware of what’s going on, rather than coming back to the station, getting updates, all that kind of stuff. So this New Zealand police, they described it as more street than station.

BK: Very good. So the results, obviously, are excellent. You know, we’re seeing this, you’re seeing great implementation of these, but I’m sure there’re going to be some agencies that are going to be sitting there thinking, “Well, it’s expensive. Maybe they’ve got an old school approach.” What advice would you give to these agencies that are looking to utilize it or maybe are kind of on the fence about it?

WK: Yeah, so, I’m seeing, there’s kind of, like, two generations of mobility. First generation is laptop-based mobility, but a laptop, it sits in a vehicle. In this new generation of mobility, smartphones and tablets. And I think if you’re part of that first generation, then the thing you should be considering is what device form factor you want to go with. You know, a tablet is nice, and there’s more screen real estate, but it’s pretty hard to carry a tablet on your hip. And I’ve seen agencies do that, and they’ve spent the money, and then they’ve said, “Oh, actually, officers aren’t carrying them around.” So they’re moving towards these sort of bigger phones, you know, iPhone Pluses and all that sort of stuff. So, consider the device form factor. And I think, consider personal use. And that’s actually a really big one, which is you want an officer to carry this device on them, and you want them to carry it all the time. So, there’s no point just, when they’re on the shift, they’ll carry it; when they’re off the shift, they put it in the drawer, and they leave it alone. Because an emergency can happen any time. In New Zealand, we had a big earthquake in Christchurch. When that happened, police wanted to know: Where are our officers? And it’s pretty hard to say, “Oh, they’re all sitting in a desk drawer at the station.” That’s not a very good answer. So to enable that, you have to consider, we want this phone to be the primary device of the officer. We’re probably going to have to expect some personal usage. What does that personal usage look like? Can they install personal apps? How do you control and manage that? But a good quote from the New Zealand police was, “We trust our officers with guns; surely we can trust them with phones.”

BK: I like that. That’s great. What do you think is next on the horizon for public safety connectivity?

WK: Well, I think that, unsurprisingly, there’s more and more data that’s happening. There’s this deluge of data. It’s coming from Internet of Things devices, there’s more situational updates, and I think it’s going to be technology that helps officers deal with that deluge of data. And it could be wearables, so they can get alerts to them faster. Those wearables can monitor their health conditions. And if an officer is down, then they can detect that and generate alerts themselves. I think a bit of a look toward maybe audio user interfaces. So it’s very nice to have a phone, but you don’t want to have officers staring at a phone all day long. I have a hard enough time doing it myself. So you want to be able to maybe start to communicate just using audio, kind of like Siri, if you’re familiar. And also, AI Smart Advisors. So you have all this data coming in; how do you know which of it is relevant? How do you know which of it is important right now? And I think that’s where artificial intelligence can go some way toward saying, “Oh, actually, all of that stuff, you don’t have to worry about that at the moment. But this stuff here, it’s quite important.”

BK:Well, this is very exciting. Yeah. Thank you for sharing this, Waylon. Thanks for your time, too. Appreciate it.

WK:  Quite all right. Thank you very much.

BK:  For more information on today’s topic, do go over to hexagonsafetyinfrastructure.com. And, of course, to learn even more and listen to additional episodes, head over to hxgnspotlight.com. And thank you for joining us here on HXGN Radio.