The importance of collaboration in a crisis

The importance of collaboration in a crisis

Kalyn Sims discusses Hexagon’s collaborative workspace and how it delivers new levels of coordination  

Elly Yates-Roberts |

In June, autonomous solutions provider Hexagon launched its cloud-native, software-as-a-service  collaborative workspace, HxGN Connect, as a way to bring together government agencies, industry organisations and other diverse entities to share information and coordinate actions when dealing with everyday incidents and major events. 

The use cases for a solution like this are massive, particularly for public sector organisations.  

“When an incident occurs, it’s not just one agency that responds, and many organisations still depend on picking up the phone to coordinate actions,” says Kalyn Sims, chief technology officer of safety and infrastructure at Hexagon’s Safety, Infrastructure & Geospatial division. “HxGN Connect enables all organisations across a city or region to view a common operating picture of what’s happening. But it goes well beyond viewing a common operating picture on a map. Organisations can collaborate and take coordinated action as well.” 

HxGN Connect displays data from multiple systems and sensors, including computer-aided dispatch systems, traffic management systems, asset management systems, weather systems, CCTV cameras and a variety of smart city sensors. This rich and diverse set of data enables users to collectively monitor real-time information to support critical decision-making. This includes the ability to track road closures, view utility outages and monitor sensor alerts.  

“Our platform enables multiple organisations, both public and private, to all view the same situation through a common lens. This could include city government, utilities providers, police departments, departments of transportation, departments of public works, community organisations and others,” says Sims. “This is a huge step. It provides a way to collaborate across organisations to manage incidents, get in front of impending issues, such as a flood, and even plan and monitor large events, such as a festival.”

Because of the challenge of bringing traditional, disparate operations of individual organisations together, Sims said she believes there is a real need and desire for a solution like this.

“I can remember sitting down with a number of neighbouring police departments almost two decades ago to brainstorm on how they could share data to support their crime analysis initiatives,” she says. “There is no doubt they wanted to collaborate, but they were let down by the technology challenges. By the time they could get their data out of their individual systems and into another centralised one, it was too late to be useful.

“There is no hesitation to work together by public sector organisations, but achieving cross-agency system integration is a challenge. That’s where we come in.”

While developing the platform, Hexagon worked with multiple collaboration partners and existing customers to inform the design process with relevant use cases, workflows and feedback.

“It’s been invaluable to engage our customers in the design and development process,” says Sims. “Their feedback has been incredibly useful to ensuring HxGN Connect is as effective as possible. These discussions have led to the discovery of HxGN Connect use cases we had not even considered.”

Hexagon’s collaboration workspace is built on Microsoft Azure and uses several Microsoft technologies for storage, maps and messaging.

“We’re definitely all in with Microsoft,” says Sims. “The company has been wonderful. From day one, the team sat shoulder to shoulder with us, reviewed our designs, provided feedback and assisted in troubleshooting. It’s been a great partnership. We continue to work with them to explore new Microsoft innovations that will benefit HxGN Connect customers.

“There’s no direct comparison with other solutions in this space,” she says. “There are companies that provide major event management systems, but we go beyond that.

“One of our primary differentiators is the ease of integrating data from a wide variety of external data sources, including systems, devices and sensors.”

This data integration is powered by another Hexagon product – Xalt | Integration. “And that is really our secret sauce,” says Sims. “We can build the integrations with external sources or customers can because Xalt | Integration is that easy to use. Xalt | Integration overcomes a big technical barrier to doing these types of projects.”

Another major factor that differentiates HxGN Connect is its data sharing framework.

“The technology barrier to a system like this is data integration, but the other barrier is more people-centric and surrounds the politics of sharing data,” says Sims. “Agencies need to control their data, but a solution like HxGN Connect is only as useful as the data that it can collate from disparate sources.

“So, we created a data sharing framework that allows every organisation to decide what data they want to share, what other organisations and roles within that organisation they will allow to see each type of data and the rules of sharing that data.”

With so much information shared in HxGN Connect, Sims and her team believe assistive artificial intelligence (AI) will help to prevent a “data deluge” for its users.  

“By assistive AI, we mean AI that’s helping to identify potentially time-critical information and proactively present it to the decision makers,” she explains. “With so much data, there’s no way that humans could manually review and assess it in time to make a difference. To address this challenge, we are developing assistive AI capabilities to correlate the data and alert users of links or patterns so they can analyse the information and make better informed decisions on what actions should be taken on the alerts.

“To reimagine our smart cities of the future, cities need to embrace agile solutions like HxGN Connect that help break down departmental silos and work with existing infrastructure and systems to achieve true collaboration.” 

This article was originally published in the Summer 2021 issue of The Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.

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