As I discuss the benefits and strategy of Next Generation 911 (NG911) with my customers, I often reflect on how similar the NG911 strategy is to the contact center strategy of years ago. To show you what I mean, let’s first examine the primary goals of the Next Generation 911 standard:
Support multimedia contacts and services (e.g. text messaging, images, video, telematics, etc.);
Deliver accurate caller location in real-time; and
Provide interoperability at county, region, state and national levels.
These are ambitious objectives for a 911 industry that is still largely entrenched in analog technology from the 1970s. The positive side, however is that these new, ambitious NG911 migration initiatives are conveniently very similar to the technology we’ve seen used in call centers for the past 15 years.
VoIP for Call Centers
In 2000, Voice Over IP (VoIP) began to gain traction in the business environment and was the core technology used to establish call centers overseas. As the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) became more popular, call centers using VoIP adopted the SIP standard. The result? Most call centers today are using SIP for voice communications.
Call Centers to Contact Centers
While some use the terms “call centers” and “contact centers” interchangably, they are different. In fact, as new forms of communication became more popular with users, call centers evolved into contact centers to meet the needs of their customers – customers who wanted to seamlessly communicate with businesses via text or through the web and social media.
To address this shift in customer communication needs, businesses expanded their call centers beyond handling traditional voice calls by providing support of these new channels, such as social and web chat, becoming contact centers.
A Similar Evolution for PSAPs
The Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) that handle 911 calls for a community share a common user base to call centers, so NG911 is really a manifestation of PSAPs following a similar evolution as call centers. Because the same citizens who communicate with contact centers using modern technology are expecting to communicate with PSAPs in the same manner.
In order to address this same shift in communication, NG911 has standardized on SIP for 911 communications, because it is a flexible and distributed architecture that is media and session independent. In short, SIP encapsulates all forms of media communication in one standard protocol.
Contact Centers vs. NG911 PSAPs
As we compare contact centers to NG911 PSAPs, we can see similarities. For example, texting to a 911 center requires the same basic technology as a user communicating with a contact center via web chat. While the originating device may be different, the interaction in the PSAP for text messaging follows the same interaction in a contact center for web chat.
Similarly, the policy routing capabilities defined by NG911 that determine which PSAP should receive an emergency call is equivalent to the contact center routing rules available in advanced Automatic Call Distribution (ACD) and skills-based routing systems. In a distributed contact center environment, ACD technology has the ability to route calls to the contact center that has agents available to handle the call. For NG911, the policy rules take into account the location of the caller and the availability of PSAP call takers before routing the emergency call to the PSAP best equipped to accept the call.
Call Center Technology for NG911 Migrations
The similarity in NG911 requirements to contact center capabilities today suggests that PSAPs planning on migrating to NG911 should consider off-the-shelf call center technology. It can be a great alternative to the traditional 911 solutions that instead try to handle NG911 requirements as an add-on to the standard E-911 solution.
Major switch manufacturers (Unify and Avaya) and contact center companies (Genesys and Enghouse) offer contact center products that can easily be adapted to meet NG911 standards. Unify sells their Openscape product suite that allows a PSAP to accept and route voice, text and social media communications to available call takers.
Of all of the vendors providing contact center solutions for the commercial market, Unify has been the first to use their carrier-grade telephone switch and contact center solutions as a base for an NG911 solution called Openscape First Response (OSFR). Baltimore County, Maryland, has implemented the Unify OSFR products for their geo-separated, redundant PSAPs and brags to be the only NG911 solution currently in the state of Maryland. Moreover, their cost to implement their NG911 PSAPs was far less expensive than competitive solutions.
A Simple Solution with Familiar Technology
As daunting as the rise NG911 may seem, the fact that the technology already exists today in contact centers around the world should put you at ease. Yes, there still should be some level of urgency for PSAPs to make the move. But this urgency shouldn’t scare you away from NG911 overall, as migrating can be as simple as implementing proven and reliable contact center technology familiar to users and agents alike.