How software is changing public safety
We are in the early stages of seeing what software and data can do for public safety and enterprise organisations.
Modern critical communication systems have evolved from away from standalone, analog, voice-based solutions and have swiftly merged with the world of IT to produce high-tech, data-intensive, flexible voice and data systems that provide increased levels of safety and capability.
That transformation is being driven largely by software. So it’s no surprise that some of the biggest providers in the market are focusing greater attention on agile software development. One of these is Motorola Solutions, which has reinvented itself from being a pure radio hardware manufacturer into an end-to-end ‘communications and intelligence’ provider for public safety agencies and mission-critical businesses.
To find out where Motorola Solutions sees the industry heading, we spoke with the company’s first-ever Head of Software, Andrew Sinclair.
How does software fit into the bigger critical communications and safety picture?
Motorola Solutions has been serving the critical communications industry for 90 years internationally and 50 years in Australia. Today we are seeing a growing need for data-based technologies that provide our customers with the same value they have come to expect from mission-critical communications.
My organisation is responsible for bringing mobile applications and related services to users in the field, as well as enhancing control centre environments through our integrated suite of software. I lead a global team of software designers, developers and engineers who are responsible for a range of activities spanning user experience design, cloud computing and data analytics through to the application of artificial intelligence (AI).
How has your experience prepared you for what you need to achieve at Motorola Solutions?
I was at Microsoft and Skype around a decade ago when the telephony industry was installing a lot of large hardware in data centres and many people were focused on PBX phone systems and all of their features. After analysing the environment, we concluded that what enterprises really needed was a cloud-based communications system integrated with their daily workflow.
So the opportunity for Skype to disrupt the industry was clear — not only by kickstarting the voice-over-IP movement, but also by introducing a range of productivity tools to help organisations manage their workflows.
Although the customers and market I’m working with now are different to those at Skype, the principles and the opportunity are the same.
Motorola Solutions is best known as a hardware provider. What’s driving the need for more software capabilities in the sector?
Emergency services and enterprises are dealing with more complex threats to safety and business continuity. At the same time, they have constrained budgets and are expected to do more with less even as expectations keep rising.
In many command centres you will see workers having to manage and transcribe information across disparate systems that don’t integrate well. This wastes valuable time and can put lives at risk. Having the right software solutions that are properly integrated will help organisations to save time, save ‘clicks’ and, ultimately, save lives.
The same principle applies for field workers managing complex and challenging tasks, often under extreme pressure. Providing the right data at the right time can enhance their situational awareness, streamline their workflows and help them to make better decisions to protect their communities or business operations.
What impact are new data sources and apps having?
They are already having a major impact but there are many opportunities for innovation yet to be realised. For critical communications customers it’s no longer about having devices, infrastructure and software in isolation — it’s about all of these elements working together as integrated, end-to-end solutions.
The availability of affordable and powerful cloud computing is driving new capabilities including AI, predictive analytics and other forms of business intelligence. And systems that can ingest large volumes of data, such as video, can be used to predict potential issues before they occur.
How do acquisitions, such as Gridstone, tie in with your plans?
Gridstone has been a smart acquisition for our company. It gave us more than 60 application developers in Australia with specialised skills in creating mobile apps to help public safety and enterprise companies overcome their workflow challenges. The team understands public safety and enterprise environments and develops intuitive, easy-to-use apps.
Motorola Solutions also continues to acquire and invest in new capabilities to round out its technology portfolio. Our acquisition of Avigilon added an advanced video surveillance and analytics platform to our stable, complementing the technologies we have for crime analysis and prediction and for digital evidence management through our CommandCentral portfolio.
We also collaborate with partners such as the artificial intelligence (AI) company Neurala to develop AI solutions that can learn at the edge and automatically search for persons and objects of interest.
Motorola Solutions held its most recent hackathon in Australia earlier this year. Why are hackathons important?
The thing I really like about our Australian hackathons is the way they bring together the software development industry and public safety agencies. This year’s hackathon in Melbourne was significant because it was the first time a university team won the event, instead of a mature software firm.
The winning team from Swinburne developed a concept to help emergency services and community members identify and share information about potential hazards such as landslides and fallen trees. Since their win, they have presented their solution to senior management from the Victoria State Emergency Service and improved their application with further feedback.
Where will innovation take public safety and enterprise organisations?
I think we are still in the early stages of what software capabilities and the power of data can do for these sectors.
Video will continue to grow through the ubiquity of smartphones, CCTV cameras in our cities and body-worn video used by first responders. A simple piece of data such as a car’s registration plate number can be quite powerful when correlated with other sources to determine where a vehicle has been or if it was involved in an incident.
We’ll also see the emergence of more ‘real-time crime centres’ using video. Public safety agencies will be able to identify new data patterns through greater integration of their voice communication, computer-aided dispatch, records management and video analytics systems.
Software will get smarter and easier to use for critical industries, enabling field workers to use chatbots trained on the specific language of their industry, so that they can continue to work ‘heads up’ and ‘hands free’. New capabilities in AI, machine learning and IoT will be developed from building blocks available in the cloud, helping organisations to better manage their daily workflows.
The era of digital transformation for critical industries has begun and it’s an exciting time to be involved.
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