Changing the Game:
While the age-old adage “Don’t fix it if it’s not broken” still holds true, there are times when change is required to move the yardstick ahead. When reviewing 9-1-1 emergency services for commercial enterprise networks, the same holds true. With everything we must understand in the network, E9-1-1 is just one more thing we don’t have time to learn, and IT administrators often tend to believe that what sounds logical and appears to be the most obvious. This is often erroneously considered to be the accepted and safest path, despite the availability of alternative, more cost effective options.
By nature, we are creatures of habit, but we do retain a creative streak. We innovate, we invent, and we remain on a constant quest to improve the things we build, making our lives easier, as well as more efficient. At times, we experience exceptional moments of clarity, sporadic visions of innovation, and the much more rare epiphany that often brings forward the greatest innovations.
A classic TV commercial from the 1970’s can quickly sum this up; “SMACK! I could have had a V8!”
Whether you liked that product or not, I would venture a guess that we all have referenced that “Meme” for the various epiphanies that we have experienced throughout life. If nurtured, and brought through the appropriate workflows, these ideas can become the ones that bring forth the game-changing innovations.
I had ‘the epiphany’ to just keep it simple and down to the basics
In a recent interview for an AVAYA CONNECTED blog article, I commented on an incident that has stayed top of mind with me the past 24 months; that of course is Kari’s Law. I reflected on when I was crafting the requirements for this legislation, I had ‘the epiphany’ to just keep it simple, and down to the basics. After all, maybe the complexity behind the current MLTS Model Legislation was the reason that very little progress was being made, almost to the point where growth had stagnated.
An industry workgroup under NENA had drafted Model Legislation a decade earlier, but despite those great efforts, minimal legislative progress had been made. Why have these efforts stagnated? It is likely that, as engineers, we dove so deep into the technical side of the problem providing solutions to the location issues, we neglected the basic premise of 9-1-1: ACCESS TO THE 9-1-1 PSAP. After all, if 9-1-1 is not reachable, the rest of the solution becomes irrelevant.
Of course, all aspects of 9-1-1 are necessary with some of them being quite complex. With the industry just becoming comfortable with VoIP, and understanding the mobility it afforded telephony users as well as the impact on E9-1-1 services. Administrators had done a decent job managing expectations and deploying networks that were safe, and many solutions flourished selling services to update the ANI/ALI Public Safety Database providing details to the PSAP dispatcher.
“[But] everyone else does it another way”
I am regularly asked why so many people fight the requirements for deploying enterprise E9-1-1 solutions.? My response is that this is essentially due to the perception that solutions are costly and difficult to manage; a fact that is untrue, as the basic functionality required is included in the core functionality of most MLTS PBX systems, including Avaya. While in some cases, these features may not be sufficient to solve a few of the most complex problems. Even the most complex campus deployments and larger systems still require a core solution, and when properly utilized the right implementation can significantly reduce the price of external solutions; or even minimizing the overall need for them. Because E9-1-1 is a bit of a ‘black art’, and not well understood, it is often off-loaded to external applications, where the Enterprise looses control over what is happening. Typically, I stay clear from this architecture, but while at a recent user event in Detroit, I was challenged by the fact that “everyone else does it the other way” so that MUST be the best way.
If this premise were true, then all innovation would ultimately stagnate, and nothing would ever change. If the Wright brothers never tried at Kitty Hawk, we would have remained Earthbound, if innovators and inventors like Bell and Edison, didn’t push their limits, or if evolution stopped with the initial deployment, think of the great things we would be missing today. These accomplishments mainly apply to technology related concepts. Token Ring introduced us to shared media and the concept of a network. Ethernet expanded that into ‘networking networks’ and the notion of the ‘Internet’, arguably one of the most significant points on the modern network timeline, was born and evolved into the digital fabric it is today linking humanity at a global level. I am sure the manufacturers of Coaxial cable wondered how they could maintain their segment of the business.
For years, we have been led to believe that the existing legacy ANI/ALI databases are the only way to convey information to the PSAP for commercial enterprise networks. In reality, very little information can be conveyed in this way, and the information is of little value to the dispatch of services. Situational Awareness is my new Best Practice for E9-1-1 in the Enterprise; and putting that information in the hands of the people that need it, and the devices they need it on.
As conditions change and additional information is available, we need to utilize that context, and make it available to those responding that can use the information. While understanding the origination point of the emergency is important, let not forget that in many instances it is the information that surrounds the situation that becomes the most relevant. For example in a fire, a heat map supplied by the Building Management System can provide important information for 1st responders, that are enroute to the scene.
Our E911 networks can no longer be based on ‘best effort routing’ logic
We must change the baseline of how we make decisions, and the information we rely on. No longer will the archaic standards from our past support the new and innovative modalities that are commonplace in commercial networks today. We can no longer apply ‘best effort routing’ logic that does not take into consideration priority traffic and a shortest path routing schemas. When networks were originally built, they mostly just carried email, and web browser traffic. Based on that, these constructs may have been deemed sufficient. But today, traffic is multimodal, it needs to remain secure, and it needs to have some core level of assuredness when it comes to service delivery. And when that is said and done, we need to deliver it to the right people.
Mark J. Fletcher, ENP is the Chief Architect for Worldwide Public Safety Solutions at Avaya. As a seasoned professional with nearly 30 years of service, he directs the strategic roadmap for Next Generation Emergency Services in both the Enterprise and Government portfolios at Avaya. In 2014, Fletcher was made a member of the NENA Institute Board in the US, in 2014 – 2015 he served as co-chair of the EENA NG112 Committee in the European Union, providing valuable insight to State and Federal legislators globally driving forward both innovation and compliance.