Unify Blog

By Paul Bender, Global Public Sector Marketing

Enhancing interagency collaboration

Within both an agency or base, the ability to share lines from a dispatch console with support or supervisory personnel can literally mean the difference between life and death. The latest dispatch consoles using standards-based SIP technology can share lines with ordinary desk phones and easily bridge personnel on mobile devices.

With all this technology available to posts, camps and stations, the question is how to take dispatch and command and control forward – without exploding budgets or impacting operational continuity and effectiveness.

Addressing federal priorities

Delivering on DoD emergency response modernization initiatives is a multi-dimensional task and requires solutions and initiatives able to address the following priorities:

  • Simplify the dispatch interface – enabling operators to work efficiently
  • Empower operators with additional capabilities – increase the effectiveness of dispatch personnel
  • Bridge multiple communications types – without a complete post infrastructure replacement
  • Enable preconfigured alerts and notifications – to enable the fastest response to defined scenarios
  • Enhance off-post partner collaboration – create an environment of seamless information sharing, joint planning and response
  • Extend call monitoring and reporting – assuring reporting and compliance
  • Assure security and resilience – information assurance, security to supporting both 24x7x356 service availability and regulatory compliance

Where to start

The first step in delivering this broad set of requirements is an audit of existing communications infrastructure to access both current capabilities and potential points of leverage. While fiscal responsibility certainly requires existing IT assets to be maximized, in any military environment solution functionality must be prioritized. One option to consider, that is a confirmed DoD priority area, is virtualization.

Already a mature strategy in the private sector, the ability to place infrastructure and applications in a datacenter dramatically reduces operational support costs and eliminates significant levels of capital spend. Virtualizing a command and control emergency dispatch environment offers both financial and operational opportunities for the DoD.

The key point is whether the virtualized communications environment is held on servers on-premise or in a hosted environment. And the direction of travel depends on multiple considerations – not least the technical capabilities of onsite IT support staff.

What is not up for discussion, however, is the significant cost savings and instant scalability advantages of deploying an IP-enabled, software-based dispatch solution – moving away from the traditional TDM-based hardware environment to create a flexible, lower cost and more easily deployed environment.

Next generation command and control

Having explored deployment options, the next step is to think about dispatch capability on post, camp or station. The realities of effectively responding to an incident adds a level of communications complexity rarely seen in the preceding decades. Likewise, a rapidly increasing number of communication channels puts pressure on, and offers greater opportunities for, command and control center dispatchers.

Let’s look at the kind of capability questions of most importance to an on-post dispatch environment:

  • Can first responders on their way to the incident be conferenced in to an on-going call with their cellular phone or radio?
  • If there’s no cellular coverage could an IP to radio communications link be established between different parties?
  • Should remote decision-makers and experts need to be consulted, how do dispatchers avoid the roadblock of voicemail?
  • During a major incident how quickly can multiline conferences be established, the right people brought in, and key information disseminated to local populations and affected customers?

Answering these questions is central to effective emergency dispatching – which doesn’t end with activating first responders. The dispatcher is (or should be) the vital conduit of communication and information between all parties involved in a major incident. And to make it happen, they need the right tools.

Even small scale events may require more than a handful of people to ‘be in the loop.’ Everyone needs to be informed at the appropriate level, at the appropriate time, and with the appropriate information. Prioritizing who needs to speak to whom; which calls (and people) have priority; and how best to avoid being locked into voicemail cycles is critical.

Voice to video

As previously discussed, extending functionality beyond voice to video and social channels offers additional information gathering and decision-making opportunities outside of conferencing. Real-time video from the field can be particularly valuable. Today’s social networks allow users to live-stream from their cell phones and tablets. There is no reason the same cannot be done in an EOC environment.

 Breaking in

Dispatchers also need multiple lines open at any one time. They must be able to break into ongoing conversations if new information is passed from the field. And they need to be able to do it securely. This is not simply a regulatory compliance exercise – lives are at stake and information security is crucial.

And, voice quality matters. A cracking line from the field is of little use when information clarity is needed to make the big calls. This is often overlooked in the deployment of dispatching solutions.

Likewise, the dispatcher’s own experience can often be overlooked – which is dangerous when so much of the coordination and resolution rests on their shoulders. These skilled people need to be operating at peak performance. They can’t do it if their tools are complicated, time consuming or prone to dropped lines or missed calls.

 So what does a ‘good’ solution look like? Already working with the largest armed forces around the world, our recommended approach encompasses connectivity, collaboration, call quality and, of course, an intuitive experience to get the best out of your dispatchers. My next blog is a bit a shameless plug for our vision of what next generation emergency response should look like.

Posted in Public Sector

By Mark Vogel, Education Specialist at Unify

MV1

When people think of remote working, working from home, flexible working, “anywhere working,” (call it whatever you please) the stereotypical picture that pops into everyone’s head is a middle aged person with bedhead in his/her pajamas and slippers on a conference call, on mute, dealing with screaming kids, dogs barking, door bells ringing, and the television blaring in the background.

While these typical scenarios are undoubtedly alive and well, please allow me to tell you my story on how being an “anywhere worker” helped me overcome severe herniated discs  (L4,L5,)  and back surgery without causing me to take a sick day, waste a vacation day, or go on disability over the course of 13 months.

My name is Mark Vogel and I am a 25 year-old- marketing manager from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Ever since I was a kid (and still today) I’ve enjoyed  living an active lifestyle whether it is playing ice hockey, snowboarding, mountain biking, or weight lifting. I’ve also had my fair share of injuries over the years consisting of broken bones, torn ligaments, and concussions, but I never had any back problems.

In February 2016 I was (ironically) traveling from Philadelphia to London UK for a week long business trip. I had flown on a Friday night so I could meet up with a friend to attend the Arsenal vs Hull City football (soccer) match, do some London site seeing, and adjust to the time zone to rid myself of any jetlag and be ready to participate in a tradeshow on Monday.

Well somewhere in between sleeping awkwardly on the 8 hour flight from Philadelphia to Heathrow, lugging a heavy backpack around the airport terminals, cheering for Arsenal at the Emirates, riding the London Eye, visiting Buckingham Palace, and eating fish and chips, I managed to mysteriously suffer a back injury.  I woke up Sunday morning in debilitating pain to the point where I couldn’t stand up straight and my body looked like a human question mark. I was completely crooked and in rough shape, but I still managed to make it through the tradeshow and my meetings.

When I arrived back in the United States I immediately saw my doctor who diagnosed me with a pinched nerve and prescribed both muscle relaxers and physical therapy to ease my pain. However, the pain persisted and actually became even more unbearable.  Long story short, I went back to the doctor with results from an MRI that came back positive for L4- L5 herniated discs.

Quick anatomy lesson:

Discs are the cushions between a person’s vertebrae that allow the spine to flex and bend. They can also act as shock absorbers. When one of these discs is damaged, it can press on a person’s nerves which may cause pain, numbness, and/or weakness in the neck, back, arms, and legs.

In my case I had a severe lumbar lateral shift, lower back pain, and radicular pain radiating down the back of my left leg from my glute to my calf. On top of those complications, I physically could not sit for more than 10-20 minutes or stand for more than 30 minutes on a good day. The only moderate form of relief I would get would be lying flat on my back. But regardless of what position I was in I couldn’t get rid of the throbbing and burning leg pain and tightness.  I was referred to an orthopedic spine specialist and a neurologist to get me on the right track to recovery. With me being in my mid 20’s the doctors and I wanted to try everything we could to avoid going down the surgical path.  My regimen consisted of physical therapy, chiropractic adjustments, and acupuncture 3-4 times a week in addition to disc decompression, epidural injections, and muscle relaxers/pain medication.  The combination of treatments only offered temporary relief.  After month 11 my symptoms starting getting worse to the point where the doctors and I mutually agreed that it was time to get the surgery.

All of that aside, me being an “anywhere worker” allowed me to cope with my injury in ways that simply would not have been possible in a traditional 9am-5pm office based job. I would like to highlight 4 key examples below.

  1. For starters and as I stated above, I could not sit for more than 10- 20 minutes so I would not be able to endure the morning and evening rush hour commute to and from the office.
  2. Being an “anywhere worker” meant I was able to easily transfer positions throughout the work day while still being able to answer emails, join conference calls, share my screen to collaborate with colleagues, and complete my work. All while being able to have the freedom to take a break and lay down when needed, again very difficult to do in a more formal office setting.
  3. Although I couldn’t get on a plane and travel, I was still able to change out of my sweats and put on a shirt and tie to join and host video conferences with customers.
  4. Above all being an “anywhere worker” allowed me the flexibility to schedule my doctor’s visits and physical therapy sessions around my work schedule without asking my manager to grant me permission to leave the office for an hour or two.

 

When you do the Math, my regimen required me to spend a little over a month away from work.  In an office based environment this amount of time off would be unacceptable and would have required me to burn sick and vacation days and possibly even mandated me to go on disability.

However, when a company provides its workforce with the proper communication tools, being remote or out of the physical office doesn’t mean that the employee is away from his/her work. Even as I was driving to my doctor’s appointment, standing outside the waiting room, or sometimes even while on the disc decompression table I was able to stay fully engaged on conference calls and respond to time sensitive information via text from my mobile device. Or I could simply set my presence to “unavailable back in an hour” and respond to my colleagues when I returned. And since my office and my home are the same place, I am easily able to start my day earlier or work later whenever necessary.

As I write this blog I am recovering from surgery. And although I am disappointed that the ultimate resolution required surgery, I am very thankful and fortunate that my employer Unify is a huge advocate of remote and “anywhere working.”  My colleagues and I are fully armed with the proper unified communications tools to work in any kind of environment and handle anything life throws our way.

Not only did my employer support me, but I supported them too. There was no financial impact to them in having to bring in a temporary staff member, and my colleagues didn’t have to bear the burden of my workload as I was still able to manage this all myself.  In fact, about 90% of my colleagues didn’t even know I was managing a back injury in addition to my work unless I personally informed them.  Using our communication and collaboration technology meant that it was business as usual (with some added pain).

So yes while the remote working visuals of working in a coffee shop, on a beach, or in your pajamas come with the territory, remote working also allows all employees including those who are suffering from an injury or illness to remain as productive if not even more productive than working in a traditional office environment-so long as they are backed with the proper communication tools to succeed.

That is my story and I would love to hear yours!

How has being an “anywhere worker” had a positive impact on your life?

Have you ever had to use a vacation day to go to a doctor’s appointment?

If your employer doesn’t support remote working or flexible work hours let’s have a discussion as to why not.

Thank you for reading.

 

P.S. I did just so happen to write this blog in my pajamas

#Remoteworking #Anywhereworker #Newwaytowork #Flexworking

About Mark:

Mark Vogel started as an intern with Siemens Enterprise Communications/Unify in 2013 while he was studying marketing and finance at West Chester University.  Upon graduating with his bachelor’s degree, he has since become Unify’s Global Education Marketing Manager and has emerged as a subject matter expert in the education vertical.  He is responsible for the creation and execution of Unify’s education marketing collateral and campaigns that stems from analyzing industry trends and building rapport with university decision makers, students, and key influencers.  Mark is a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and digital native who enjoys staying active, spending time with friends and family, traveling, and supporting the Philadelphia Flyers. Follow him on Twitter @MarkRVogel

 

 

 

 

Posted in Mobile Working

We’re expanding our award winning shared services center (SSC) in Sofia, Bulgaria. The SSC was originally intended as a 150 person service center providing finance support to 4 countries. It has grown now to a 325 person facility that provides multi-functional (finance, supply chain, IT and Marketing) services to 18 countries, 52 legal entities covering nine languages and multiple time zones. See our 14 vacancies in Sofia below:

Read more ›

Posted in Unified Communications

 

By Paul Bender, Global Public Sector Marketing

As I hinted at in my March 17 blog, the Department of Defense (DoD) certainly recognizes the barriers to developing effective incident response: budget and resource constraints, outmoded IT infrastructures, unchecked technology evolution and the growing need for inter-service collaboration. These are all potential stumbling blocks and present a real challenge.

Ultimately, the DoD has a historical problem. The dispatch environment on DoD posts, camps and stations were simply not built for the digital world in which they must now operate. The lack of scalability and flexibility in these aged Emergency Operation Center (EOC) infrastructures is now hampering efforts to modernize and improve response. Add poor communications functionality and bandwidth limitations into the mix and the scale of the legacy problem becomes clear.

Of course, the EOC has changed over time too. We have seen various efforts to centralize on-base command and control/emergency response into a single facility. Success, it must be said, has been limited. Yet the ability to deliver a truly coordinated response certainly exists, and with today’s secure and virtualized technologies personnel don’t have to be in the same location to respond effectively.

A future vision, available today

Extensive though these challenge may be, they are not insurmountable with the right communications tools and approaches. For example, today’s modern dispatch systems are able to integrate all those multiple communications channels and devices – offering bridging solutions between radio, IP and satellite channels – without the need to invest in entirely new on-post infrastructures. And, of course, by bringing together the various modes of conversation quickly and easily, complex operations run in stressful emergency situations can be seamlessly and smoothly managed.

Continuous communications

Operators can leverage technologies like SIP and WebRTC to bring communications together on a single touchscreen console or mobile device. They can push a button to talk on the radio; push another to talk on the phone; and easily add other buttons for specific operational requirements, such as to start an emergency conference call that dials out to critical personnel, asks them for a PIN and drops them into a conference.

Operators can, from a single console, easily join phone conversations with radio talk groups or push another button for intercom capabilities, whether it’s point to point or a broadcast announcement to everyone in the command center. In the case of a major event, these consoles can be programmed with a button that when pressed will dial every phone in building, base or municipality to play a message. The bottom line is that a single communications console eliminates the need for operators to struggle between multiple devices.

Emergency Command Center anywhere

IP communications also provide opportunities to instantly build an EOC at any location connected to the internet – simply by running the communication and dispatch console on a laptop or mobile device. In an emergency, users can even dispatch or control operations from home or another office. Removing physical limitations and barriers from command center operations through all-IP technology can drastically improve response time and operational flexibility.

Extending response capabilities

EOC operators have access to video from mobile units as well as presence information, screen sharing and texting on their single console. For example, in an active shooter scenario mobile security personnel with iPhones or Android devices can stream their video to the command center, giving command personnel live video from multiple angles.

To aid in evacuation or management, EOC personnel can screen share to the mobile devices to display building maps, exit routes or emergency protocols. Real-time unified communications are a must for situations such as these, and operators are now more strongly positioned to manage and respond to a wide range of threats and mission-critical events.

Now, let’s take a look at how federal priorities align with DoD emergency response modernization initiatives. Stay tuned for the next blog!

Posted in Public Sector

By Paul Bender, Global Public Sector Marketing

 

The diversity and proliferation of communications channels and devices requires growing numbers of ‘bridging technologies’ to ensure effective intelligence gathering and collaboration.

The speed of response, so critical in active shooter and similar time critical events, is hampered by legacy IT infrastructures and complicated dispatch environments while the need to integrate dispatch technologies into the wider command center environment uncovers a range of technical and operational integration issues.

Technology aside, an effective response calls for seamless conversations between multiple stakeholders on the base and beyond its borders with civilian law enforcement and emergency services personnel.

As recent events at Fort Hood and San Antonio highlight, the faster the response, the more controlled the emergency. A modern dispatch solution — one that brings together diverse channels and media, simplifies the dispatch environment and addresses technical integration challenges — is critical to ensuing next generation safety and response on Department of Defense (DoD) posts, camps and stations.

From integration to interface

A typical Emergency Operation Center (EOC) dispatch position has multiple devices and consoles for communications. There’s a console for talking on radios (or portable radios), there’s a console for talking on telephone lines (or regular desktop telephones), and there are satellite communications, intercoms and paging systems. There are handsets, headsets and footswitches, gooseneck microphones, various external speakers, keyboards and mice all related to voice communications.

In addition, the typical operator faces a large array of screens and keyboards providing critical information related to the incident. It’s not unusual to see multiple screens facing a single operator.

In this type of environment, simplifying communications is critical. Switching between devices, from a radio console to a telephone console, or even from one mouse to another can take time, cause mistakes and can lead to disaster. Bringing together the various modes of conversation quickly and easily makes operational sense in stressful emergency situations.

Many EOCs still run on outdated Time Division Multiplexing (TDM) technology for voice and radio traffic. In this older TDM world, command center personnel are tied to specific locations and expanding to remote users or disaster recovery sites is difficult and expensive.

Then there’s the often-overlooked question of usability. In purely practical terms, the ability to respond rapidly and effectively to an on-post incident depends on the effectiveness of the operator. In turn, the operator’s effectiveness depends on the kit they have in front of them – whether that’s a dedicated dispatch terminal or a software-based dispatch application on a secure laptop.

The usability of the interface therefore is crucial – the ability not only to consolidate the multiple screens, mics, telephones, but to create a single, easy-to-use interface with hot buttons, shortcuts and pre-configured pages to simplify the user experience as well as decluttering the space. Effective incident response on posts, camps, and stations is an increasingly complex challenge: How are you handling the proliferation of communication channels and devices?

 

 

Posted in Public Sector

If you are visiting Enterprise Connect this year, then make sure you leave ample time to discover everything that Unify has to offer.  You will find us right inside the door at booth 1061.

  1. We will bring your communications digital workplace to life:

We will take you on a journey of scenarios that you will be able to relate to – and see in action – discover how Unify can ease the pain of disjointed or aging communications, and show you a simple migration path to effortless collaboration and joined-up business processes – taking you to the cutting edge of communications technology.

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Posted in Unified Communications