E911 getting a little "Smarter"?

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Next month 911 will turn 45 years old in the US, and like many of us is getting a little wiser with age. Most people assume that the 911 system is a large intelligent network of information that knows everything about everyone. However, as the old saying goes, “garbage in, garbage out”. So, when you’re sitting in your cubicle on the 27th floor of a large office building, and you make a 911 call, but can’t speak, you can certainly expect a large gathering of emergency service personnel on the street directly in front of your building, but if you expect them to rush to your cubicle, in many cases, that’s just not going to happen because they either do not have the data, or the data they have is meaningless to them.

Typically if you call from your home you can expect a much more accurate response, mainly because there is typically a single building at a particular address, and searching a few thousand square feet is easily accomplished. But all of this just gets the first responders to the location of where they’re needed. Providing emergency health data can give 911 and first responders the tools they need to better protect you and your family.

Smart911_Logo.jpgThis sounds like a great idea, however there is no mechanism in place within the 911 network, to collect store and distribute this type of information. This is where Smart911(TM) comes into play with a service that is completely free to its subscribers. This relatively new emergency service is used in PSAPs in more than 26 states and offers you the ability to create a profile for your family that displays key details to emergency responders in the case of an emergency. When you have a profile with Smart911(TM) , the information you entered shows up in front of the call taker answering your 911 call, providing them with important information about individuals associated with a particular telephone number.

I first saw Smart911 at the APCO show in Philadelphia, two years ago, and seeing the huge value, immediately became a Smart911(TM) subscriber. The information I provided in my profile is stored safely and securely in the Smart911 private network, and includes details about my residence, the floorplan, medical conditions for all my family members, as well as medication information and doctors telephone numbers. I even include emergency contact numbers for additional relatives, as well as pictures of my daughter that could be immediately used in the case of a kidnapping for example.

In my profile, I have information about my pets and their veterinarian contact information. If there were a fire at my house, and no one was home, at least that information would be provided to public safety where they could make arrangements in the event one of my additional “family members” needed medical assistance.

When you dial 911 today, there are 240 characters available in a database record that is displayed to the dispatcher. Most of that information is taken up with important data like the street name, the house number, directional indicators such as North, South, East and West.

There simply isn’t any room to store any pertinent additional data. Next generation 911 services will solve part of this problem by including references to additional data. Although that’s coming very quickly, what I take advantage of collecting that data today and getting it into a format that can be used for next generation 911. And if you happen to live in an area that serviced by Smart911(TM), you can take advantage of that right now. If your local PSAP doesn’t subscribe to Smart911 services, there is still value in entering your information. In addition to my home telephone numbers, I have all of the mobile numbers used by my family in my Smart911 profile. That way when I’m traveling to an area like Washington DC for example, that is a Smart911(TM) subscriber, and I were to dial 911 from my cell phone, they too would see my personal profile.

If you want more information on this free service for citizens, you can visit them on the web at www.smart911.com where you can set up your free public safety profile, and enter your ZIP Code to see if smart 911 is active in your area, and you can also follow them on Twitter @smart911.


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Until next week. . . dial carefully.

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Call it what you will: Multi-channel, Omnichannel—It isn’t about the Contact Center!

At this point, we know that most companies are competing exclusively on the customer experience (83%, according to Dimension Data). McKinsey Insights shows that effective customer journeys are impactful: increase revenue by up to 15%, boost customer satisfaction by up to 20%, and turn predictive insight into customers’ needs by up to 30%. The issue isn’t that companies fail to understand the importance of the customer experience (CX). The problem is that over half of companies today fail to grasp what is arguably the single most important driver of a successful CX strategy: organizational alignment.

This isn’t to say that companies aren’t taking the necessary steps to strengthen their CX strategies. Looking back five years ago, 92% of organizations were already working to integrate multiple interaction channels—call it multi-channel, omnichannel, digital transformation—to deliver more consistent, contextualized experiences. The needle is moving in the right direction. However, companies will find themselves in a stalemate if they limit the customer experience to the contact center.

Customer Experience is the Entire Brand Journey

That’s right, the customer experience is NOT about the contact center. In fact, it never was. The customer experience is instead about seamlessly supporting consumers across their entire brand journey regardless of where, when, how and with whom it happens. This means supporting not just one business area (i.e., the contact center), but the entire organization as one living, breathing entity. This means supporting not just one single interaction, but the entire experience a customer has with a company from start to—well, forever. After all, the customer journey never truly ends.

Are companies ready for this future of the customer experience? Perhaps not: 52% of companies currently don’t share customer intelligence outside of the contact center, according to Deloitte.

Executives are planning for not only contact channels to expand but most are expecting these interaction journeys to grow in complexity. It’s clear that a contact-center-only structure doesn’t cut it anymore. At today’s rate of growth and change, it’s easy to see how a CX strategy can miss the mark when the entire customer journey is being limited to the contact center. Imagine how much stronger a company would perform if it supported the customer experience as the natural enterprise-wide journey it is? A journey where interactions take place across multiple channels and devices, unfolding across multiple key areas of business (i.e., sales, HR, billing, marketing)?

Imagine, for instance, a hospital immediately routing an outpatient to the travel nurse who cared for him last week, although she is now on the road to her next location. Imagine a bank being able to automatically route a customer to a money management expert after seeing that the last five questions asked via live chat were about account spending. Imagine a salesperson knowing that a customer attended a webinar last week on a new product launch and had submitted three questions—all before picking up the phone. Imagine a retail store associate knowing you walked in and that you were searching online for formal attire.

Contextual Awareness is Critical

Today’s CX strategy is no longer about asking the right questions: it’s about having the right information at the right time to drive anticipatory engagement. It’s no longer about being able to resolve a customer issue quickly. It’s about building an authentic, organization-wide relationship based on contextual awareness. In short, this means companies being able to openly track, measure, and share customer data across all teams, processes, and customer touch points. This ability either makes or breaks the CX today.

So, are you near the breaking point? Consider that nearly 40% of executives say their agents’ top frustration is that they can’t access all of the information they need. Less than 25% of contact centers today enjoy full collaboration on process design with their entire enterprise. Connected customer journeys and the overall CX are now top areas of focus as most organizations support up to nine channel options. CX will encounter a dramatic shift of reimagined customer engagements that will be able to incorporate technologies such as artificial intelligence, IoT, analytics, and augmented reality and virtual reality.

The bottom line is this: organizations must support an enterprise-wide customer journey to support the future of the CX now! They must share contextual data inside and outside of the contact center, and they need seamless and immediate access to that data anytime, anywhere, under any given circumstance. Above all, organizations need the right architectural foundation to support this anytime, anywhere ecosystem—otherwise, even their best moves will always result in a draw.

Get out of the Queue: Drive Your CX with Attribute Matching

At this point, nearly every company is working overtime to realign around two simple words: customer experience (CX). So much so that nearly 90% of companies now compete solely on CX—a drastic increase from 36 % in 2010—and 50 % of consumer product investments are expected to be redirected to CX innovations—like attribute matching—by the end of this year.

But what exactly does the CX consist of, especially in today’s new world of digital business innovation? This next-generation CX is supported by several advanced technologies—big data analytics, omnichannel, automation—however, these investments are all aimed at driving one thing: contextualization.

The rise of contextualized service—the ability for companies to not only gain insightful information about their customers but also deliver information in a way that is relevant and meaningful to customers based on individual circumstances to improve their experience—has evolved the CX to a point where it looks virtually nothing like it did as recently as 10 years ago. Whereas consumers once primarily focused on the act of purchasing, driven by such things as product quality and price, they now focus on the richness of brand relationships, driven by the personal value that companies deliver throughout the customer journey. Just consider that 70% of buying experiences are now based on how customers feel they are being treated. This is the key factor that sets apart market leaders like Amazon, Trader Joe’s, and Apple from the competition.

According to Accenture, there is an estimated $6 trillion in global revenue up for grabs due to dissatisfied customers constantly switching providers. The ability for companies to offer contextualized service is vital for operating at the speed of the consumer and capturing more of this market share. There’s just one thing preventing companies from seizing this limitless potential: the traditional call queue.

Every customer is familiar with the call queue. This is the place where statements like, “Your call is important to us. Please continue to hold,” and “Let me transfer you to a specialized team who can help you with that” perpetually live. It’s where exhaustive efforts to route customers to the correct service rep become lost, or where consumers must repeat the same information to multiple agents across different teams. It’s the greatest barrier preventing companies from being more dynamically connected to their consumers, and one of the greatest reasons why customers reduce their commitment to a brand.

Driving Contextualization with Attribute Matching

In a world where customers demand a profound level of connection and transparency, organizations can no longer support a contact center environment in which calls are distributed among agents who are organized by function (i.e., sales, service, support). In today’s smart, digital world, companies must transform the traditional call center into an integrated, digital communications hub. This means moving away from a siloed, metric-driven queue and instead working to put customers in touch with the best organizational resource depending on their exact need or circumstance as immediately as possible. The most effective way to achieve this is to migrate from archaic infrastructure towards an integrated, agile, next-generation platform built on open communications architecture.

Open communications architecture allows organizations to seamlessly collect, track and share contextual data across various teams, processes, and customer touch points. This integrated environment supports a real-time data repository from which businesses can pull from to route customers based on needs beyond traditional characteristics (like language preference). Rather, the technology allows companies to build customized learning algorithms that drive anticipatory engagement, enabling them to match customers based on next-level variables like personality, emotion and relatability.

Imagine, for example, a hotel routing a customer directly to an IT staffer after seeing that the person tweeted about a poor in-room Wi-Fi connection. Imagine a bank being able to route a customer to a money management expert after seeing that the last five questions asked via live chat were about account spending. Imagine an athletic apparel company matching a customer with an agent who is an avid runner after noticing that the individual recently signed up for a 5K.

The future of the CX means creating and continually building a contextualized view of customers throughout their entire brand journey. It means going beyond customer service to establish unparalleled, organization-wide relationships. It means transforming peoples’ lives, verses simply answering questions. This is what companies must work to align themselves with. The good news is that technology has evolved to a point where they can now easily, effectively and cost-efficiently do so.

Interested in learning more or getting beyond the queue to Redefine Your Customer and Employee Experiences? Contact us. We’d love to hear from you.

Reducing the Risks of Distributed Denial of Service Attacks

Picture what may just be one of the scariest scenarios in your career: The network has slowed to a crawl. You can barely hold a management interface, let alone control the network elements involved. The attack propagates, and as it does you watch your services drop one by one. Panic sets in. You’re experiencing a Denial of Service (DoS) attack. All resources are focused on stamping this fire out—and that may very well be the intention of the attackers.

A DoS attack might be a smokescreen to get you to focus elsewhere while the intruder goes about covert business in a much safer fashion, leaving little forensics afterward.

DoS attacks are an easy thing to comprehend. Even the term Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) is an easy extension. But the strategy behind why they’re used and their intent can vary dramatically. A DoS attack can occur in an array of sophistication. Here’s a quick breakout from the simplest to most complex attacks:

  • Network Level attacks:

    The simplest ones—TCP, UDP, ICMP, Floods

  • Reflective/Amplified attacks:

    Service focused—DNS, NTP, SNMP, SSDP, Specific floods

  • Fragmentation:

    Session specific—overlaps, missing, too many

  • Application specific:

    Repetitive GET, slow READ or loop calls

  • Crafted:

    Stack and protocol level, buffer resources

These methods are often overlapped in a targeted fashion. In essence the attack is a series of waves that each hit in varying degrees of sophistication and focus. Other times the attack is relatively primitive and easy to isolate. The reason for this is that in the simplest levels, it’s an easy thing to do. As an example, a disgruntled student, upset over a new vending matching policy, could mount a DoS attack against his or her school administration. On the other end of the spectrum is a much darker orchestration, the sleight of the hand to get you to look elsewhere. This is typically the signature of an Advanced Persistent Threat (APT).

Unless an attack is very simple and short-lived, it needs to be distributed in the way it operates. It needs to be generated from various points of origin. This is referred to as a DDoS attack. The attacker needs to coordinate a series of end points to execute some particular event at the same point in time or perhaps, in more sophisticated examples, as phased against a time series. For a DDoS attack, the attacker requires a command and control (C2) capability. This means that they need to have access and response to the compromised systems. This is referred to as a Botnet.

Botnets do not have to be sophisticated to be successful. They only have to implement a simple set of instructions at the right point in time. Let’s take the recent reflective/amplified DDoS attack on Dynamic DNS services on the East coast of the U.S., which affected several large firms such as Amazon and Yahoo. The attack was mounted from residential video surveillance cameras. Even though there was no direct intrusion, the firms were impacted. Which leads us to two lessons.

Lesson number one: Security in IoT needs to be taken more seriously in the product design stages. Perhaps the concept and treatment of residential security systems needs to be rethought.

Lesson number two: As we move to outsourcing and cloud services we need to realize that we spread the reality of our exposed risk. Due diligence is required to assure that service providers and partners are doing their role in end-to-end security. But do you recall I mentioned that the source of the orchestrated attack was from the residential network? This brings about a new degree of challenges as we look at the new world of consumer IoT.

How do we maintain security in that sector? Clearly the residence itself should uphold best practices with a well-maintained and monitored gateway. But let’s face it, this is generally not going to happen. The monitoring of behaviors and abnormalities at the provider interface level is the next best catch and many providers are moving to reach this goal.

The other key point to remember about botnets is that in order to command, one has to control. This can happen in various ways. One is automatic. It infects and sits until a predefined time and then activates. This is the simplest. Another method requires true C2. Either way, bad code gets residence or existing code gets leveraged in negative ways. You should be able to pick out the anomalies.

Proper design with hyper-segmentation can greatly reduce the risk of propagation from the initial infection. The botnet is contained and should be readily identified, if you’re watching. Are you?