When terrorists flew planes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, the ensuing chaos and catastrophe exposed the inability of disparate public safety agencies and networks to support emergency service responders in a major crisis.
The 9/11 experience prompted the US Government to create both the Home Affairs department and a First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) with authority to set up and operate a single network for public safety communications.
Both agencies have been pivotal to leading a whole-of-government approach to public safety, building a national approach to fighting terrorism, crime and cyber attacks.
This same strategic opportunity to build a unified pan-Australian approach to public safety is what prompted the Federal Government to establish its own Home Affairs agency.
In NSW, a similar all-of-government approach is being taken through the formal standing up of the NSW Telecommunications Authority, with a specific statutory mandate to consolidate government communications networks – echoing the US FirstNet approach.
This critical leadership role is already paying dividends with the Telco Authority leading COAG’s development of a new public safety mobile broadband platform, last week releasing a request for proposal for a proof-of-concept trial.
Join The Mandarin and a panel of experts for a free breakfast seminar in Canberra on November 29.
We will discuss how critical infrastructure delivers and underpins services that are essential for everyday life – such as transport, energy, communications and public safety.
Watershed for key government infrastructure
The emergence of strong Australian public sector leadership to align cross-jurisdictional public safety strategies and operational frameworks comes at an important pivot point.
It provides a real opportunity to deeply reconsider not just public safety infrastructure and capabilities but, more broadly, the many related mission-critical systems government oversee.
These include transport networks, smart cities infrastructure, mobile blackspots, air traffic control, energy markets and utilities management. These systems all require similar capabilities, features and digital approaches to those that will be needed for the operation of public safety systems and networks.
They are also the backbone of the emerging industry 4.0 era, the next great industrial revolution built around massive device networks, super-powerful cloud computing systems, intelligent systems and high-performance software-driven networks.
These technologies are coming together to create a once-in-a-generation opportunity to strategically redesign the mission-critical systems that manage and operate Australia’s infrastructure.
To date, providers of safety, emergency services and critical transport and utility infrastructure have relied on incremental technology upgrades. But the rapid emergence of all-digital communication and business systems presents policy thinkers a powerful chance to consider the whole area of mission-critical infrastructure, of which public safety is but one part.
Exploiting this type of strategic platform thinking around mission-critical systems will enable governments to build key capabilities faster (and far more efficiently) and to rapidly roll out innovative and data-led applications across the entire universe of critical infrastructure.
As governments consider the different sorts of investments being considered around 5G and LTE mobile systems, the timing for this more holistic approach becomes imperative.
Towards common standards
An exemplar of this type of holistic thinking is the requirement for much greater interoperability, and the need for a standards-based approach, built around common platforms and shared data.
This comes as legacy communication systems are evolving and becoming software-driven, offering a real opportunity to tightly link business and communication systems, opening a whole new world of intelligent services and applications.
Similarly, the explosion in remote devices and autonomous vehicles (road and rail) and aircraft (drones) is challenging authorities to rapidly develop common standards. Common standards enable data to be easily shared across the various ecosystems these key infrastructures support.
Common standards and APIs also let governments modularise applications and enrich core platforms with constant feature improvements, which can be rapidly rolled out across multiple environments. Apple’s App Store is an example where platform thinking and standardised environments has spurred huge development and innovation.
Designed well, this type of platform thinking promotes innovation at scale, building a rich ecosystem of service providers who “compete” to enrich the capability of the platform.
Security by design
Another important area where holistic, mission-critical thinking is imperative is around security. Key systems need security to be deeply designed at core, to ensure against malicious espionage, but also against rogue actors seeking to manipulate devices and infrastructure.
As we move rapidly into an era of large-scale device and asset management – IoT beacons, autonomous vehicles, remote sensing – the need to build a whole-of-system approach to security is critical. This ranges from permission management, privacy consent, and auditing of activities for compliance and performance.
To the extent a system is only as secure as its weakest link, the management of public safety and critical infrastructure demands an end-to-end approach. The shift to all digital systems — networks and business systems — becomes a powerful opportunity to industrialise security and promote trust in these systems
Perhaps the biggest prize that comes from taking a holistic view across the whole span of critical infrastructure is the ability to develop system architecture built for the data era.
Early exemplars of predictive analytics are already showing good results around border protection and identifying prospective criminality. Data matching and data forensics are similarly showing very promising gains for public safety and infrastructure managers.
Cyber security is a poster child, where advanced analytics is proving very useful to deter breaches and in the mitigation of breaches.
At the same time, data and AI offer big opportunities to automate and prioritise large-scale customer-facing systems — such as Triple Zero — enabling operators to focus on major challenges and high-impact incidents and behaviours.
To take full advantage of these capabilities, systems need to be designed to enable real-time data integration and sharing, and to let advanced machine-learning applications do the heavy lifting and triaging of responses.
As governments face a deluge of data, it is critical the approaches they take around the systems that manage key infrastructures are aligned and interoperable.
Building major capability
The emergence of strong co-ordinating governmental leadership, coupled with a unique technology inflection point, has created a hugely powerful opportunity to strategically embrace the entire mission-critical infrastructure sector as a whole.
There are the obvious efficiencies of not replicating multiple systems and applications. But the big wins for government are in creating a secure, robust and innovative platform, designed for the data era, that will rapidly build out the infrastructure and capabilities Australia needs to ensure it takes full advantage of the industry 4.0 era.