Hey Avaya! – WTF!

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A few weeks back, my colleague Guy Clinch, mentioned in his Avaya Connected Blog that there were some folks out there, that were spreading rumors that Avaya was exiting the Public Safety Business. While this is in no way true whatsoever, the rumor has persisted, and there are still a few jilted lovers out there that are trying to capitalize on it.

iStock_000002919063Small.jpgFortunately, Avaya operates in a true open ecosystem, and we have nothing to hide in our solutions and integration. On the other hand there are plenty of “wanna be” folks out there, that are banking on cops being cops, and not IT folks. But treating the Public Safety IT professional like a unknowing teenager going to the mechanic for the first time, is a dangerous game to play. “Sounds like you got a Sperry shaft going bad there, I’d get that replaced before it effects the springer valves and forces you to replace the whole hydraulic Gleason valve! Good thing I can do that for you for about $1500 . . . .cash”

Lipstick on the Pig
There has always been a fair level of mystique around Emergency Networks, but their operation is actually quite simplistic. Generation X has grown up around the internet, and understands technology much better than the Baby Boomers. This is why RFAI never really took off for NG9-1-1. All it did was deliver yesterday’s outdated ANI/ALI over an IP interface. Not much value there, just like you haven’t seen many Rotary Dial IP Phones.

Over the years that Avaya has been involved in public safety, both on the Nortel and the Avaya side of the house, one of the main FUD points (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) that was used by the competition was that “you don’t want a commercial call center answering critical life safety communications. That stuff is great if you’re selling insurance policies online, but were talking about people’s lives here!”

That is absolutely true; at least the part that says “we’re talking about people’s lives here”. You see, Avaya has been at the heart of the contact center business for decades, since it’s inception really, and in fact has been the primary developers of many of the current Work Force Optimization enhancements being deployed today. We took “Call Centers” and made them “Contact Centers” adding in database integration, we took those and made them “Collaboration Centers” bringing in multi-media and realtime communications. We have taken the worlds largest, most critical networks, hardened them, flattened them, and delivered resilient and reliable communications well beyond the 5 9’s demanded by many. Adding in multi-media communications like video, text and speech analytics that have taken these high volume collaboration environments to the next level. So while the legacy Public Safety vendors try to figure out, for the first time ever, how to get this done, Avaya has been quietly tweaking it’s existing capabilities to improve the workflow of Public Safety critical communications.

I’ll be the first to agree that typical call center telephone calls are about account balance inquiries and package delivery expectations or frequent flyer bonus mile programs are nowhere near as critical as someone having a heart attack or reporting their home is on fire. But at the same time, Avaya solutions understand how to deal with these ‘mass call events’ that often cripple the existing 9-1-1 network because of it’s poor point to point design. Utilizing advanced analytics of the additional data and contextual information delivered with a caller, intelligent routing choices can now be made utilizing the resources available in the network. Precious seconds previously wasted making routing and resource decisions manually will become a ting of the past, and the exact reason why a hardened communications infrastructure is absolutely critical at the core of any life safety communications network.

In the communications world, we measure a systems functionality, or horsepower, iStock_000019923878XSmall.jpgwith a rating called BHCC, or Busy Hour Call Completion. This is a measurement of how many calls a system can handle, assuming unlimited trunking, from a processor horsepower perspective. During the years of the “PBX Wars”, a systems BHCC was touted like a professional wrestler shows off his championship belt prior to a match.

As systems grew in size, Avaya and Nortel, used to slug it out each and every year trying to bump that number as high as it would go. The last I checked, the BHCC rating was an amazing 400,000.

Why is this important to public safety? That’s a simple question to answer, and a statistic you wont find published by the others. You see the latest trend, in what I categorize as “boutique PSAP providers”, is to include in their solution an IP-based PBX handling the call processing. Primarily, this is done for two reasons: cost and physical footprint.

From a cost perspective anybody can download the Asterisk IP PBX or one of it’s derivatives. It’s available for free on the Internet, and it actually performs quite a few advanced telephony functions. But that is not what worries me. My concern is that, since it is open source code, hackers on the planet can also have this same software on their laptop, and in their labs, and on the top of their list of sites that they want to try to penetrate. Also, if you can even find it, the BHCC rating is measured at about 100, compared to a resilient and reliable call processing platform measured at 400,000 BHCC. That’s a huge difference

With that, I’ll turn the question right around to those in the industry slinging FUD. “Would you want open sourced software that has been around for more than a decade in the hacker community running the middle core network of your emergency communications system?” Would you want that system to drop to it’s knees with as little as 100 simultaneous calls pumped into it?

Given the recent headlines where 9-1-1 systems have been failing and off line recently, I would think that most legislators and their voters would have a slight problem with that. To compound that problem, vendors are not able to hide behind a veil of secrecy. Tomorrow’s next generation emergency communications systems will have to be connected intelligently to the public network in order to retrieve all of this multi media rich information that will be coming down the pipe.

Consolidation is nothing to be feared
Emergency communications topologies are going to radically change with the deployment of NG9-1-1 networks. One major change that will happen, that is terrifying to many network administrators, is the dreaded “consolidation” of networks. Typically that gets people running for the hills, collecting ammunition for their shotguns, digging trenches and hunkering down for a long dragged out fight.

However in public safety, consolidation can actually be a very good thing. When a disaster hits, it will typically always be larger than what you can handle. And whether you have to bring in additional personnel from home, call them in off of patrol on the streets, or utilize the services of other agencies that are close by, you have a problem with communication over disparate systems, accountability, and a network nightmare to try to manage.

Since the early 1980s, the Internet has existed, and has been open for nearly everyone to connect with everyone else. While we all started off with just a few emails per day, we quickly became immersed in our communications, and added in new modalities such as instant messaging, videoconferencing, and any other peer to peer communication session you can think of. From a networking perspective, the core companies of Avaya and Nortel pretty much built the Internet backbone. It’s a technology that is directly in our wheelhouse, and we lead the industry in thought leadership around new technologies like Shortest Path Bridging. In fact during the world’s largest temporary networking event, INTEROP Las Vegas, the INTEROP Net core was running all on Avaya gear.

More than just the back room
While INTEROP was certainly cool, and the Avaya network operated flawlessly in a real time communications environment, the 9-1-1 center of the future, it’s going to require much more diligent call handling, or what we call skills -based routing to effectively deal with traffic into the system.

Most centers don’t have this problem today as the typical emergency call center is only 2 to 4 positions. In the small environments you don’t have the large mass of call takers with specific capabilities, in a small center it’s just you and a couple of other people. “Hey Susan, grab the stolen bicycle report on line 2. I’ve got a medical dispatch I’ve got to give to Barbara, and I’ve got an active shooter call.

NG9-1-1 is much more than texting to 9-1-1 and getting that message to the dispatcher. It’s about upgrading and advancing the public safety network so that “virtual consolidations” can happen at a moments notice, based on dynamic events and needs. It’s about taking the intelligence available in the network, as well as from the origination and points, and using that big data to make intelligent call handling decisions.

One of the best examples that I can give, and one that was acknowledged by FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai during the FCC super storm Sandy hearings in New Jersey and New York City, is that while calls to 9-1-1 were failing, as the system quickly became overloaded, you could pick up the very same telephone, and reach the airlines to check on the status of your flight as well as available options.

It’s a lot more than answering your call in the exact order it was received.
It’s about providing situational awareness at multiple levels.
It’s about using that situational awareness to make either automated, or manually assisted decisions when there is too much data to process manually and mentally.

It’s why we designed computers to begin with. Not to replace us, but to help us by enhancing our decision-making capabilities. That’s what next-generation 9-1-1 is REALLY about.

Want more Technology, News and Information from Avaya? Be sure to check out the Avaya Podcast Network landing page at http://avaya.com/APN . There you will find additional Podcasts from Industry Events such as Avaya Evolutions and INTEROP, as well as other informative series by the APN Staff.

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Thanks for stopping by and reading the Avaya CONNECTED Blog on E9-1-1, I value your opinions, so please feel free to comment below or if you prefer, you can email me privately.

Public comments, suggestions, corrections and loose change is all graciously accepted 😉
Until next week. . . dial carefully.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter @Fletch911


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Next Generation 9-1-1 is quickly becoming more and more of a reality in the Public Safety world each and every day, and many of the industry technology partners are asking Avaya “WTF?” you know . . . “What are The Facts?”

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